|Colombian drug traffickers and guerrillas
pose a national security threat to the United States and
increasingly to Europe.
- Drugs. Illegal drug cultivation and production from
Colombia supplies up to 75 percent of all the cocaine sold
worldwide. Colombia is now the source of between $10 billion and
$100 billion worth of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. annually, 1 costing taxpayers an
estimated $110 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity.
2 Europe is third in
consumption behind North and South America, and rapidly catching
up. Over 220 tons of cocaine flowed to Europe last year-double the
amount that entered the continent in 1996. It is believed that
cocaine use in the European Union increases by 10 percent each
year, rivaling the rise in cocaine consumption in the United States
during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Terrorism. Guerrillas in Colombia violate human rights,
attack law enforcement authorities, kill and kidnap, and pose a
threat to the entire region. 3 The Revolutionary Armed forces of
Colombia (FARC) kidnapped and fatally shot two American
missionaries in Colombia in 1996, 4 and in 1998 abducted four American
bird-watchers in the Colombian jungle. 5 Apart from attacking Americans, the
guerrillas build ties with terrorist groups from other parts of the
world. As their strength and influence have increased, the rebels
have expanded their activities and ties internationally. Colombian
guerrillas are now active in northern Ecuador, eastern Panama,
Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela. The FARC accepted help in making bombs
and antipersonnel mines from the Irish Republican Army. 6 It reportedly exchanges
drugs for arms through the Arellano Felix drug cartel in Mexico and
through Middle Eastern smugglers operating out of Paraguay.
Both of these problems, which began in the 1960s and expanded
through the 1980s in Colombia's depopulated and largely ungoverned
countryside, were mostly ignored by the government. By the
mid-1990s, U.S. counternarcotics assistance had helped the
Colombian government defeat drug trafficking by organized cartels.
But the Clinton Administration justifiably suspended U.S.
assistance from 1994 to 1998 when it suspected that President
Ernesto Samper received campaign contributions from drug kingpins.
This suspension, however, had the unintentional effect of aiding a
marriage between independent drug lords and Marxist guerrillas.
In November 1998, incoming President Andrés Pastrana
found that both drug traffickers and guerrilla groups had expanded
in numbers and resources. 7 Unsure of whether the United States
would resume counternarcotics aid, and aware of America's
reluctance to intervene in a guerrilla conflict, he granted the
largest rebel group, the FARC, a Switzerland-sized sanctuary to
achieve a cessation of hostilities. Two months later, he initiated
what he called a "peace" dialogue-a series of open-ended talks. The
FARC has used the sanctuary to expand its operations to over 70
percent of Colombia's countryside, increase its troop strength from
10,000 to an estimated 17,000, cultivate drug crops, hold kidnap
victims, make bombs, and organize attacks on rural villages. The
lack of government protection in this area led to a dramatic growth
of paramilitary groups, exacerbated the violence and chaos, and
contributed to the displacement of more than 1.5 million citizens
and incalculable damage to infrastructure and the environment. 8
The European community has become a champion of the country's on
again-off again dialogue with the FARC since six European nations
joined a group of 10 "friendly" countries to witness the peace
talks 9 on March 8, 2001,
between the government's peace negotiator and FARC leader Manuel
"Sureshot" Marulanda, culminating in a declaration calling for a
cease-fire. As the year progressed, the FARC refused to cooperate
and finally walked out of the talks. When Pastrana threatened to
close down the FARC sanctuary in January 2002, European diplomats
and a U.N. emissary persuaded the guerrillas to return to the
dialogue-delaying what should have been a day of reckoning for
Colombia's most dangerous group. Since then, the deterioration of
the situation and the intransigence of the FARC and its kidnapping
of Senator Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay on February 20, 2002, have
led the Colombian government to end the peace negotiations.
Since September 11, both the United States and its European
allies have begun to take terrorism and groups that engage in it
far more seriously. Both should label Colombia's guerrillas as drug
traffickers and terrorists, and cooperate on a strategy to bring
them to justice or defeat. Now that the day of reckoning is at
hand, the United States and its European allies should act together
to support the growing resolve of the Colombian government to
defeat the guerrillas and curtail drug trafficking.
1. Based on street prices of $20 to $200
per gram and an estimated 500 metric tons of cocaine arriving in
the United States in 2000. See National Drug Intelligence Center,
"National Drug Threat Assessment 2002," December 2001, at www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs/716/cocaine.htm
(January 14, 2002).
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse,
as quoted in "2000 National Drug Control Policy Annual Report," at
(October 27, 2000).
3. Stephen Johnson, "Helping
Colombia Fix Its Plan to Curb Drug Trafficking, Violence, and
Insurgency," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1435, April 26,
4. Evelyn Tan Powers, "New Study
Shows Upturn in Attacks Against Americans," USA Today, November 13,
5. David Adams, "Colombia's Leftist
Rebels Kidnap Four Americans," St. Petersburg Times, March 27,
6. See David Lister, "Colombia Says
IRA Sent 25 to Train Rebels," The Times, January 8, 2002, and David
Williams and Michael Seamark, "IRA Man Held in Colombia 'Linked to
Gerry Adams'," Daily Mail, August 16, 2001.
7. According to Colombian
government sources, the country's illegal armies made more than $1
billion in 1998, with half coming from the drug trade. See Angel
Rabasa and Peter Chalk, Colombian Labyrinth-The Synergy of Drugs
and Insurgency and Its Implications for Regional Stability
(Arlington, Va.: RAND Corp., 2001), p. 32.
8. Between January 1999 and
December 2000, rebels brought down 630 electrical pylons, while
repeated attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil
pipeline spilled 496,000 barrels of oil, contaminating rivers and
streams, causing production to fall and the government to lose $35
million in royalty revenues, according to Colombia's Office of the
Vice President, "Progress Report on the Presidential Program for
Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law," April 2001.
9. The group includes Canada, Cuba,
France, Italy Mexico, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and