Colombia: Tackle drug trade in way that supports peace, not war – new report

The issue of drug trafficking in Colombia must be addressed in a way that supports lasting peace and avoids fuelling violent conflict - according to a new study by International Alert.

The study, titled Rethinking drug policy from a peacebuilding perspective: Colombia-Peru, looked at cocaine trafficking on the border of Colombia and Peru, as well as Brazil’s role as the main drug consumer in Latin America and transit point to Africa and Europe. It found that drug trafficking fuels a vicious cycle of weak governance, illicit economies and unequal power relations in the region – factors that contribute to violence.

The study was published in the wake of Colombia signing a revised peace accord in Havana, Cuba on 12 November 2016, after the initial document was rejected by Colombian voters in October.

According to Alba Centeno, a spokesperson for Latin America at International Alert:

“After 50 years of war in Colombia, drug trafficking and organised crime pose a serious challenge for peacebuilding in the country. The new peace agreement provides a great opportunity to have a different conversation around the ‘war on drugs’ issue. Going forward, we must ensure that counter-trafficking policies are conducted in a way that support peace, rather than sustaining the cycle of violence or creating new conflicts.”

In practical terms, the study recommends a shift away from ‘hard’ security responses to drug trafficking towards promoting alternative economic opportunities for people at the Colombia-Peru border, where coca production and trade is often the only source of income. Policies must also tackle corruption, political co-optation, silence or isolation, which sustain the phenomenon, the study recommends. Finally, counter-narcotics agreements between the different countries involved must be re-activated.

Centeno added:

“The Colombian and Peruvian states must understand the fragility at the border and take measures to contribute to better livelihoods and human rights of the communities living there.”

International Alert’s study was conducted with the support of the Foundation for an Open Society (OSF). It also looked at the cases of Afghanistan and Nigeria.


Notes for editors:

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Colombia and Peru have a long history of drugs, crime and violence. Drug trafficking has permeated all spheres of public and private life in both countries.

The conflict in Colombia was deepened by the use of drug trafficking as a source of financing for the war beginning in the 1980s, which brought to light – among other things – the links between presidential campaigns and drug cartels, leading to what many in the mid-1990s called a ‘narco-state’.

Today, the Colombian state continues to fight the armed groups and the so-called criminal gangs that engage in illicit economies, among them drug trafficking. In spite of this, Colombia remains the world's biggest cocaine producer.

The study focused on parts of the border between Colombia and Peru, which is approximately 1,626 kilometres long and encompasses the departments of Putumayo and Amazonas in Colombia, and Loreto in Peru.

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