Drug Control:

Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing Challenges

T-NSIAD-98-103: Published: Feb 26, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 1998.

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GAO discussed its review of counternarcotics efforts in Colombia, focusing on: (1) the nature of the drug-trafficking threat in and from Colombia; (2) the political, economic, and operational implications of the U.S. decisions to decertify Colombia in 1996 and 1997; and (3) U.S. efforts to plan and manage counternarcotics activities in Colombia.

GAO noted that: (1) the narcotics threat from Colombia continues and may be expanding, as Colombia remains the world's leading manufacturer and distributor of cocaine; (2) according to recent 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; (3) significant obstacles, such as corruption, violence, and involvement of Colombian insurgent groups in drug-trafficking, impede U.S. and Colombian counternarcotics efforts; (4) since the initial decertification decision in March 1996, Colombia has taken several actions to address U.S. concerns, but U.S. officials believe Colombia must now fully implement newly passed laws on asset forfeiture, money-laundering, and trafficker sentencing and show a willingness to investigate and punish corrupt officials; (5) decertification had little impact on Colombia's economy because discretionary sanctions were not applied by the President; (6) however, mandatory economic sanctions required by the decertification decisions led to the termination of some U.S. economic aid and resulted in actions that may have hurt some U.S. businesses; (7) when the initial decertification decision was made in March 1996, the Department of State was not prepared to determine whether some assistance intended for Colombian police and military could continue to be provided; (8) it took State, in conjunction with other executive branch agencies, about 8 months to make this decision, resulting in the delay or cancellation of about $35 million in programmed counternarcotics assistance; (9) the U.S. counternarcotics program in Colombia has continued to experience management challenges, (10) State and the U.S. Embassy were unprepared for the financial consequences of State's 1996 decision to expand aerial crop eradication; (11) due to unplanned expenditures to support the effort, other Embassy counternarcotics activities, including interdiction efforts, demand reduction within Colombia, and efforts to strengthen Colombian law enforcement institutions, were scaled back or lost support; (12) State did not take adequate steps to ensure that equipment included in a $40 million assistance package from Department of Defense inventories could be integrated into the Embassy's plans and strategies to support the Colombian forces; (13) as a result, the package included items that had limited usefulness; and (14) assistance was delayed for months while State and the Embassy sought to ensure that assistance was not going to units suspected of human rights violations.

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