Drug Control:

U.S. Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing Challenges

NSIAD-98-60: Published: Feb 12, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of drug control efforts in Colombia and the impact of the 1996 and 1997 U.S. decisions to decertify Colombia as a drug-fighting ally, focusing on: (1) the nature of the drug-trafficking threat from Colombia; (2) the political, economic, and operational implications of the decertification decisions; and (3) U.S. efforts to plan and manage counternarcotics activities in Colombia.

GAO noted that: (1) the narcotics threat from Colombia remains and may be growing, and U.S. efforts in Colombia continue to face major challenges; (2) the United States has had limited success in persuading the Colombian government to take aggressive actions to address corruption within the government, which limits its ability to arrest and convict traffickers; (3) for its part, the United States has had difficulty implementing a well-planned and coordinated strategy to assist Colombian authorities; (4) according to recent Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration reports, the cultivation of coca leaf in Colombia increased by 50 percent between 1994 and 1996, and the prevalence of Colombian heroin on the streets of the United States has steadily increased; (5) since the initial decertification decision in March 1996, Colombia has taken several actions to address U.S. concerns; (6) at the initial decertification decision in March 1996, State was not prepared to determine whether some programmed assistance intended for the Colombian police and military could continue to be provided; (7) it took State, in conjunction with other executive branch agencies, about 8 months to decide what could be provided; (8) as a consequence, about $35 million in programmed counternarcotics assistance was cancelled or delayed; (9) however, the overall operational implications of the cutoff on U.S. and Colombian counternarcotics program is unclear; (10) the U.S. counternarcotics effort in Colombia has continued to experience management challenges; (11) State did not take adequate steps to ensure that equipment included in a 1996 $40 million assistance package from the Department of Defense inventories could be integrated into the U.S. Embassy's plans and strategies to support the Colombian police and military counternarcotics forces; (12) as a result, the assistance package contained items that had limited immediate usefulness to the Colombian police and military and will require substantial additional funding to become operational; and (13) moreover, the military assistance was also delayed for 10 months because State and the Embassy could not reach agreement with the government of Colombia over acceptable end-use provisions to ensure that the assistance was not being provided to units suspected of human rights violations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In concurring with the GAO recommendation, the Department of State said that it is working to improve staff and interagency coordination to form assistance packages that provide aid that most appropriately fits Colombia's needs. In communications with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, State has emphasized the importance of setting priorities on prospective requests for assistance and has proactively anticipated maintenance and training equipment to ensure the optimal use of the assistance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in close consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council, should take steps to ensure that future assistance authorized under section 506(a)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 is, to the maximum extent possible, compatible with the priority requirements identified in U.S. counternarcotics programs and that adequate support resources are available to maximize the benefits of the assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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