Colombia's Peace Agreements Pose a Challenge to the War on Drugs

July 1, 2016 - By Camila Ruiz Segovia

Last week, Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, and Timoleon Jimenez, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla group, announced a historic ceasefire, bringing an end to five decades of civil war. The result of four years of negotiations in Havana, the ceasefire agreement is viewed as the last step needed before the ratification of Colombia´s Peace Accords, in which drug policy reform plays an important role. When implemented, the Peace Accords will provide an opportunity to reverse some of the damage and violence associated with the War on Drugs in the South American country.

Colombia’s conflict is complex, multifaceted, and cannot be solely attributed to the impact of Drug War policies. Yet, illicit drug trafficking has contributed to the country’s violence through militarization, massive population displacement, and marginalization of rural populations. Cocaine production and trafficking also served as the main source of revenue for the financing of the guerrillas.

In light of the harm caused by the drug prohibitionist regime, the Peace Accords contain an entire chapter addressing the drug problem in Colombia. Under this chapter, the FARC agrees to permanently suspend all its activities and financing through the illegal drug market. But the core of the chapter focuses on a model of comprehensive agrarian reform and crop substitution. The model’s goal is to encourage farmers to give up coca crop production in exchange for land, food, job security, and technical assistance, and without facing legal charges associated with previous illicit crop production. Further, the chapter also calls for the decriminalization of drug consumption and pushes for a health and evidence-based approach to drug use.

Centered on agrarian reform, Colombia’s Peace Accords prioritize reparations for one of the country’s groups most affected by the conflict: the rural population. Historic state absence in the countryside pushed farmers into illegal crop production for subsistence. By providing state benefits, the Accords seek to empower a marginalized group that had depended on the illegal drug market.

And yet, Colombia’s Peace Accords do not provide new policies for dealing with drug trafficking in the country, neither do they consider legalization as a potential alternative for reducing violence. They do not explore the possibility of a state-regulated coca market that would allow coca farmers to cultivate coca for industrial and traditional purposes in a licit fashion. The country’s controversial coca fumigation campaigns will not be cancelled either under the Accords, although they will be significantly reduced. Aerial fumigations will no longer be permitted, only terrestrial. Overall however, the Peace Accords aim to strengthen state capacity and presence beyond militarization, as means to deter Colombians, especially those on marginalized positions, from entering the illegal drug market.

In spite of some limitations in terms of drug policy alternatives, Colombia’s Peace Accords still represent a major step forward and a much-needed effort by those affected by the conflict. By providing comprehensive alternatives to coca producers and calling for drug decriminalization, the Accords pose a challenge to War on Drugs while having the potential of reversing much of the damage caused by these policies. In response to a past of war and violence, the Accords envision a future of peace for people of Colombia.

Camila Ruiz Segovia is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance and a rising junior at Brown University.

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