Colombia, South America, has a drug problem. For years, the government has fought to crush the country’s illegal narcotics trade. Drug production continues. But there’s hope. Some efforts seem to be moving the nation away from chaos and lawlessness—and toward order and peace.
Colombia is a world leader in growing coca. The plants flourish in Colombia’s towering Andes Mountains. From there, growers ship leaves around the world.
Some Andean peoples chew coca leaves or make them into tea. They believe the leaves help overcome altitude sickness, fatigue, hunger, pain, and thirst.
However, coca is also the main ingredient used to make cocaine, a highly addictive illegal drug. Drug gangs use violence to control and recruit new members—even children. Coca growing and harvesting cause chemical pollution, forest damage, and soil erosion. The drug trade harms Colombia’s people and its culture—a real-life case of how “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)
The Colombian government has tried to rid the country of the drug plague. For years, drug enforcement officers tried spraying plants from the air. But that method exposed farmers and villagers to possible cancer-causing chemicals. Next, government workers trekked into remote areas to visit coca farmers and offer money to help farmers switch from drug crops to cocoa or coffee. One program even promised land ownership if farmers stopped growing drugs for five years.
Those programs didn’t work well. The biggest problem was Colombia’s lack of roads and transportation that would allow farmers to take legal crops to market quickly. Produce spoiled, and many farmers lost money.
Last year, the military tried a new method. They yanked up thousands of coca shrubs. The acreage for growing coca dropped . . . but coca production increased.
Those mixed results suggest short-term removal efforts have made a difference. But they also show that drug groups have improved their production and farming techniques. Sadly, coca production continues in conflict-ridden border regions, nature reserves, and other areas without a strong government presence.
The surge in coca production has put a strain on Colombia’s usually close relations with the United States. It’s also challenged the country’s ability to bring peace to rural areas where violent groups still control territory.
Juan Carlos Garzón is a drug policy expert at Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation. He claims there are few alternatives to help farmers switch from growing coca long term.
“Eradicating is a short-term solution,” Garzón says. “The question is what to do long term.” Colombia would do well do find the answer before the country’s problems become worse.