Colombia's failed peace-deal vote could make its cocaine problem worse

colombia cocaine

On Sunday, Colombia’s peace plan to end a 52-year war between leftist rebels and the state was voted down, with Colombians casting about 54,000 more “no” votes than “yes” votes, out of more than 13 million ballots cast.

The failure of the peace plan has sent both sides scrambling to figure if the deal negotiated over four long years can be saved or modified.

The longer the situation lasts, the more likely it is that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who were set to disarm a week ago, slip back into one of their most lucrative enterprises: cocaine production.

FARC rebels have been a mainstay in Colombia’s production of coca, the precursor ingredient for cocaine, for the last few decades, controlling as much as 70% of the country’s production and therefore about 40% of the world’s supply of the drug.

A central part of the rejected peace deal was the rebel group’s extrication from the cocaine trade and the eradication of coca crops around the country.

Colombia FARC rebels peace deal cocaine production

“Colombia laid out in the peace accords a new strategy that was going to be based on communities voluntarily eradicating coca, with the FARC actually helping to eradicate,” Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said during a conference call the day after the voting.

“There is a pilot project for this new strategy being launched in a part of northwestern Colombia that involved active-duty FARC members and military and others beginning” to remove coca crops and replace them with legal crops, such as bananas and coffee. The program, among others, is likely to be “on hold,” Isacson added.

Colombia cocaine production

Whether those programs can go forward depends on whether FARC leadership, the Colombian government, and the Colombian opposition find a way to salvage the deal.

If the “political limbo” lasts two to three weeks, the FARC won’t revert back to the drug trade and other criminal enterprises, said, Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s senior associate for the Andes, said during the call. “But over time, if they don’t have the means to be able to sustain themselves and their forces they will very much regress back to extortion rackets and to being part of that trade.”

The timeline that has developed already suggests FARC rebels will fall back on their old activities.

According to Insight Crime, Colombian Congress President Mauricio Lizcano has estimated that forming a new commission to negotiate with Colombia’s opposition over potential modifications to the deal will take at least a month. 

Colombia cocaine paste foodSuch a timeline not only means that FARC rebels will have to find a way to finance their presence in encampments around the country; it also will likely go past the October 31 date to which President Juan Manuel Santos has extended the bilateral cease-fire in effect since August.

Some factions of the FARC rejected the negotiations and have continued criminal activities. Reports cited by Insight Crime indicate some FARC elements have already left the group form new criminal groups. 

As time passes, the potential grows for FARC rebels who complied with the peace process to join their more recalcitrant compatriots, which would almost certainly mean the recent spikes in coca production in Colombia will only continue.

“Colombia for the moment is without a real strategy in place for getting rid of coca, because what they have on paper can’t be implemented,” Isacson said.

SEE ALSO: Take a look inside the dirty process that produces one of the world’s most valuable illegal drugs

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