Colombia Peace Deal: The end of drug trade?

unacto1The following article is written by Luciana Prado, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers.

On June 23rd, 2016, after four years of arduous negotiations, the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia/Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) have signed an accord on a bilateral cease-fire and the disarmament of rebels. These will be two of the last major obstacles needed to end 51 years of ongoing unrest, a conflict which is responsible for killing more than 220,000 lives.

The ceremony for the Colombian Ceasefire Agreement (or FARC-Government Ceasefire and Disarmament Accord) was held in Cuba and was attended by key figures from countries involved in the negotiations, which included Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, and Norway. The FARC and the Colombian government have been carrying out talks in Havana since 2012, towards an agreement that encompasses political participation, land rights, illicit drugs and victims’ rights, as well as transitional justice.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed admiration for the negotiating teams and their diplomatic skills, all of which represent the possibility to “achieve peace with dignity for all concerned”.

Although the peace deal is not entirely conclusive, it symbolizes an important development towards an accord to end to the fighting. The deal reflects the willingness of both sides to negotiate the disarmament of 7,000 FARC fighters, and start their transition to civilian life under the protection of Colombia’s security forces, their lifelong enemies. Currently, the government is also undergoing negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army/Ejército de Liberación Nacional), Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group.

Under the accord, monitoring and verification efforts have been outlined, overseen by members of the Colombia government, the FARC, in addition to a United Nations political mission in Colombia approved by the Security Council in January of the current year. This international element of monitoring and verification efforts is comprised of unarmed political observers, and for the most part member of the Community and Latin American States (CELAC). The political mission also manages mechanism’s units, and is responsible for publishing reports, settling disputes, and issuing recommendations on matters of implementing the peace deal.

A fascinating result of this deal will be that all FARC’s armaments are to be received by the UN Mission in assistance for build 3 monuments in the country symbolizing peace. Geographically, 23 “Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization” characterized by zones and encampments will be established as municipalities, where FARC guerrillas will gather, and as per the accord, the group will have its responsibility over. However, these jurisdictions may not be used “for demonstration of political character”. In addition to not allowing any civilians in the encampments, the government may provide services necessary for the reintegration of FARC’s soldiers into civilian life, such as issuing national identification cards, while FARC may be permitted to implement orientation and education to fighters within these zones.

But how will this impact the narcotics industry? And what does that mean for those who depend on this industry for their livelihood?

The Colombian government, along with the international community, agree that at the heart of this deal lies the end to the illicit drug trafficking of cocaine, which is used by FARC to finance its missions and also by locals of Putamayo as currency. However, in regions of the country such as Putamayo, in the south of Colombia, pickers rely on coca leaves harvesting as the main source of their livelihood as they are sold for 50 cents a gram but allowing them to make almost five times more (US$ 26) a day than if they were to harvest other crops (US$6). By risking arrest and criminal charges, they work at the very bottom of the multimillion industry of cocaine production, but make comparatively more profit from this industry to sustain their families, than alternatives. With the peace deal, this is expected to change dramatically, with many unemployed and other families financially crippled.

As a Marxist-Lenist rebel group and one of the eldest left-wing guerrilla armies, FARC claims that their struggle entails a fight in favour of peasants while addressing issues related to unemployment and alternative crop development. As per the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC), the group is responsible for raising between $500 and $600 million annually from illicit drug trade to fund its missions and means to fight the enemies of class, and was responsible for supplying 50% of the world’s cocaine and reaching more than 60% of American consumers. Therefore, the deal will make a relative negative impact on those working in the coca plants if social nets are not there to protect the livelihood of peasants.

As pointed out by the Brookings Institution, coca production is unlikely to be entirely ceased overnight however, after the peace deal was ruled in favour by the Colombian high court on July 18th and a referendum is held, the deal is likely to bring sustained efforts to promote a better quality of life and a range of options to Colombian peasants who now depend solely on the profitable coca plantations, as well as the families who fear for having their children recruited by the group. In order for this accord to be successful the Colombian government must make an absolute and substantial commitment to the lives of the peasants who rely on coca production to have their daily needs met. If the social investment necessary to develop ways to make alternative crops profitable and viable to provide peasants with an alternative and formal livelihood does not come through however, peasants are likely to go back to how things were thereby strengthening the illicit drug trade that has brought so many deaths over the last five decades.


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