Drug ControlNarcotics Threat From Colombia Continues to Grow Gao ID: NSIAD-99-136 June 22, 1999
Despite the efforts of the United States and Colombia, the illegal narcotics threat from Colombia has grown since GAO's last report. (See GAO/NSIAD-98-60, Feb. 1998.) Today, Colombia remains the primary source of cocaine products in the U.S. market. For the third year in a row, coca cultivation has increased, and Colombia is now the world's leading grower of coca. More potent coca leaf is also being grown in Colombia. Colombia is now the major supplier of heroin to the eastern part of the United States. In the past year, the Colombian government has lost several battles to insurgent groups who, along with paramilitary groups, have increased their involvement in illicit narcotics activities and gained greater control over large parts of Colombia where drug-trafficking occurs. Although the Colombian government has launched several initiatives to counter the narcotics threat, the government faces significant obstacles. The Colombian military suffers from institutional weaknesses that hamper its ability to support counternarcotics operations. Government corruption, budgetary constraints, and a weak judicial system are also problems. The United States has had limited success in reducing the flow of illegal drugs from Colombia. Despite two years of heavy herbicide spraying, U.S. estimates show no net reduction in coca cultivation. In fact, coca cultivation actually rose 50 percent. The United States has had difficulty supporting counternarcotics efforts in Colombia because of cutbacks in U.S. support for drug detection and monitoring. Moreover, reported human rights abuses by the Colombian military have led the United States to restrict assistance to Colombian police and military units if there is credible evidence of human rights violations. Finally, the growing involvement and strength of insurgent groups in areas where coca leaf and opium poppies are grown complicates U.S. support for counternarcotics activities.
GAO noted that: (1) despite the efforts of U.S. and Colombian authorities, the illegal narcotics threat from Colombia has grown; (2) Colombia remains the primary source country for cocaine products for the U.S. market; (3) for the third year in a row, coca cultivation has increased so that Colombia is now the world's leading cultivator of coca; (4) more potent coca leaf is being grown within Colombia, which is likely to lead to an estimated 50-percent increase in cocaine production in the next 2 years; (5) Colombia is now the major supplier of heroin to the eastern part of the United States; (6) the Colombian government has lost a number of battles to insurgent groups who, along with paramilitary groups, have increased their involvement in illicit narcotics activities and gained greater control over large portions of Colombia where drug-trafficking activities occur; (7) the government of Colombia has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the narcotics threat; (8) these include: (a) the initiation of peace talks with the insurgents; (b) the development of a national drug control strategy; (c) the establishment of a joint military-police task force to combat drug traffickers; (d) the development of a new counternarcotics unit within the Colombian army that will be fully screened for human rights abuses; and (e) the implementation of legislative reforms on extradition, money laundering, and asset forfeiture; (9) in 1998, these efforts led to the seizure of record amounts of cocaine and arrests of drug traffickers; (10) the government of Colombia faces a formidable challenge in overcoming a number of significant obstacles in addressing the narcotics problem; (11) the Colombian military has several institutional weaknesses that have limited its capability to support counternarcotics operations; (12) government corruption, budgetary constraints, and a weak judicial system have hindered the Colombian government's ability to reduce drug-trafficking activities; (13) the United States has had limited success in achieving its primary objective of reducing the flow of illegal drugs from Colombia; (14) despite 2 years of extensive herbicide spraying, U.S. estimates show there has not been any net reduction in coca cultivation--net coca cultivation actually increased 50 percent; and (15) the growing involvement and strength of insurgent groups in the areas where coca and opium poppy are grown complicate U.S. support for counternarcotics activities.