Drug Control:

Narcotics Threat From Colombia Continues to Grow

NSIAD-99-136: Published: Jun 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 1999.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the narcotics threat from Colombia, focusing on: (1) the nature of the drug threat from Colombia; (2) recent initiatives of the Colombian government to address the threat, and obstacles it faces; and (3) the status of U.S. efforts to assist the Colombian government in furthering its counternarcotics activities and reducing the flow of illegal narcotics to the United States.

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.

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