The Grasp Drugs Have on Colombia
The paper is going to examine the effect and extent to which drugs have a grip on the country of Colombia. This subject runs deep into the Colombian culture, and effects a huge range of people. People all the way from the President clear down to the farmer/peasant. Drugs and drug trafficking are part of the every day society, the economy, and severely tangled in the political structure.
The first, and largest, problem is that of Politics. The Colombian government is wrought with corruption. “The endemic corruption that undermines the drug war is rooted in the high profits that make it a rational choice for government officials and police and military officers whose low salaries cannot compete with traffickers’ bribes.” (Bertram, Blachman, Sharpe, Andres p.170) These bribes are often used by drug dealers to buy legislators. In 1995 several congressmen, the attorney general, and the president’s campaign advisor were indicted for accepting drug money for their cooperation. It is hard to truly speculate today how many government officials are actually on the payroll of the drug cartels. Officials can make anywhere from $5,000 to $70,000 and beyond to just turn their heads and look the other way. This bribery has seeped its way through all levels of anti-narcotic forces as well. This is to say that those who are there to fight the problem aren’t fighting at all, and are even profiting from it. On a large-scale one drug lord by the name of Jose Gonzalo Rodrigues Gacha was said to have spent millions of dollars to pay of an entire army brigade.
At the present time the main question is what can be done to change the government and make it legitimate. In the past there have been many attempts to regulate the drug cartels. Most of these have had a very bloody, to say the least, result. An example of this was August 18, 1989 when drug dealers assassinated Senator Luis Carlos Galan. He was the leading candidate for president, and in his platform was a call to strengthen action against the dealers. In retaliation the current president, Barco, made the same decree. United States president George Bush soon endorsed him. The United States would then indite any dealers that could be captured. The cartels soon realized what would happen if they were sent to the U.S. These criminals would stand trial, and were guaranteed to be put in jail for years. If they were not sent to the U.S., and simply kept in Colombia they would see little jail time. In most instances they would pay their way out of jail, and be right back into the drug trade as soon as they hit the street. This crack down against drugs was with good intentions, but it had serious negative repercussions that soon hit the government. “The drug dealers responded with a massive bombing campaign centered in Medellin and Bogata.” (Wiarda and Kline p.191) These bombings were not specifically aimed at anyone in particular. They were to kill as many people as they could…government officials or the innocent. After the bombings had ceased so did the tough regulations on the narcos. In other words, when the narcos do not like some piece of legislation, or something the government is doing it can have it changed in a matter of time. All they have to do start the aimless bombings, and killing innocent people. These people have nothing to do with drugs and the government will back off. In thinking about this, what course of action does this leave the Colombian government? It is just not possible to set there and watch innocent men, women, and children be killed for something they didn’t want part of. This makes legitimacy an issue now too. The people of Colombia see their government officials and military turning their head for the cartels, and taking the drug money bribes daily. Why should these good honest people then have any faith in the government or feel that it is legitimate. The people see the government as ineffective, and in competition with the cartels. To be legitimate Colombia must have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force and be the only viable channel for solving disputes. Since they were not able to do this at all they have little legitimacy, hence the public will not and does not follow.
The next area is a very bloody one, and drugs to some extent promote it. This is the violence that goes on daily. This violence can be carried out on government official who do not take bribes, and refuse to help the narcos. It may come in many different forms as well. It is not unheard of to pay some people on the street to go beat up someone’s mother, brothers and sisters, and even their close friends. The scary part is that all this can be done very cheaply. There are many poor people in Colombia and to find one that will do this type of thing for a low price is not hard. They all need money and will do whatever it takes. In some more severe cases they may become sicarios, or hired killers. Sicarios are responsible for large numbers of dead. They will kill for as little as 3,000 pesos, or ten American dollars. This makes life extremely dangerous knowing that anybody you walk by on the street could have a ten dollar bullet with your name on it. To complicate this even more is that there is no set age for these killers. “In 1984 a man was killed when to sicarios pulled up next to him on a red motorcycle and shot him in the head with a machine pistol,” (Rosenburg p.270) The man pulling the trigger turned out not to be a man at all, but a sixteen year old boy. This is common in the case of judges. They are a center for violence. When a judge is trying a case that deals with drugs he may be persuaded in many different ways by the cartels. He could be offered a bribe, if that fails he might be sent several letters on his behalf and on the behalf of his children. He may watch as everyone close to him is assaulted, or all of these things may not occur and the drug lord will just have him shot or blown up. Another source of violence is the powerful paramilitary groups. In some instances these groups have taken over areas and instituted their own law. They are trying to act in the place of the weak national government. “The deadly paramilitaries find their justification in the inability of the state to offer protection to the land owners, cattle ranchers, rural entrepreneurs, drug-trade entrepreneurs from the economic and military pressure of the guerillas.” (NACLA report) In parts of Colombia the paramilitary violence has brought about displacement that has destroyed the social fabric of the community, church, and what political organizations that had formed. Instead of offering security and some form of government these paramilitaries have served as just another means to tear Colombia apart.
The third problem Colombia faces is that of the economy. Farming is the job of an immense number of Colombians. The problem with this is that there is only one crop that can make them the kind of money they need to survive. This crop is coca, and it is used to make the drugs that so rampantly control the country. The farmers are very upset with this current state. They don’t all wish to add to the problem. “In 1996, over 200,000 farmers and peasants from the coca-growing regions of the country marched on their capitals, protesting the fumigation and demanding viable economic alternatives to illicit crop cultivation.” (NACLA report) This movement shows that the people want to help the drug problem, and that they do want a way out. Until there is some alternatives given they will continue protesting the spraying and the government attempts to kill their illegal crops. These farmers can’t allow this, although the crops are illegal it is what the need to survive. The bottom line is that they need an economical option to coca production. Once this is done it should cut down on the coca production in Colombia. It will come into the country from other places, but this will make it somewhat more difficult for the cartels. Another side of this must be taken into consideration as well. If there is an alternative given will the cartels up the price that they give to the farmers now to keep them producing? Will they make it another offer the farmers can’t refuse? Only time will tell.
It is a severe understatement to say that the problem that drugs present to Colombia is far reaching. They encompass every part of the nation. It is a careful balancing act to fix this problem. The government has to find a way that allows them to take steps against the production of drugs. When they do this they must minimize the effects the drug dealers can have on them. If they do anything to strong they will again encounter a severe loss of lives. They must also understand that this is a necessary evil. That is to say if they want to get this done some lives may have to be lost. This is an extremely hard idea to take. A human life, especially that of the innocent killed by a car bomb, is a hard thing to bargain with. It will be a long a treacherous journey to a stable government that has control.
Bertram, Blachman, Sharpe, Andres. Drug War Politics The Price of Denial. Los Angeles
University of California Press 1996
Wiarada, Kline. Latin American Politics and Development. Boulder Colorado
Westview Press Inc. 1996
Rosenburg, Tina. Children of the Cain Violence and Crime in South America. New York
Penguin Group Publishing. 1991
Macdonald, Scott B. The Latin American Drug Trade. New York:
NACLA Report on the Americas, Nov-Dec 1998 v32 i3 p25(6)