Drug Control: Narcotics Threat From Colombia Continues to Grow

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-06-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                   United States General Accounting Office

GAO                Report to Congressional Requesters

June 1999
                   DRUG CONTROL

                   Narcotics Threat From
                   Colombia Continues
                   to Grow

United States General Accounting Office                                                              National Security and
Washington, D.C. 20548                                                                        International Affairs Division

                                    B-280937                                                                              Letter

                                    June 22, 1999

                                    The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
                                    Chairman, Caucus on International
                                     Narcotics Control
                                    United States Senate

                                    The Honorable John L. Mica
                                    Chairman, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice,
                                     Drug Policy, and Human Resources
                                    Committee on Government Reform
                                    House of Representatives

                                    In 1998, we reported on U.S. and Colombian efforts to address illegal
                                    narcotics activities in Colombia. We pointed out that both governments
                                    faced significant challenges in meeting the threat posed by drug traffickers
                                    and insurgent groups that support them.1 As you requested, this report
                                    updates the narcotics situation in Colombia and highlights U.S. and
                                    Colombian efforts to address drug-trafficking activities in Colombia and
                                    the continuing challenges each government faces to combat these
                                    activities. Specifically, we examined (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. (A list of related
                                    GAO products on drug control issues in Colombia is at the end of the

Results in Brief                    Despite the efforts of U.S. and Colombian authorities, the illegal narcotics
                                    threat from Colombia has grown since we reported last year. Today,
                                    Colombia remains the primary source country for cocaine products for the
                                    U.S. market.

                                    • For the third year in a row, coca cultivation has increased so that
                                      Colombia is now the world’s leading cultivator of coca.

                                     Drug Control: U.S. Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing Challenges
                                    (GAO/NSIAD-98-60, Feb. 12, 1998).

                                    Page 1                                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

• 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.
• Colombia is now the major supplier of heroin to the eastern part of the
  United States.
• In the past year, 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.

The government of Colombia has undertaken a number of initiatives to
address the narcotics threat. These include the initiation of peace talks
with the insurgents; the development of a national drug control strategy;
the establishment of a joint military-police task force to combat drug
traffickers; the development of a new counternarcotics unit within the
Colombian army that will be fully screened for human rights abuses; and
the implementation of legislative reforms on extradition, money
laundering, and asset forfeiture. In 1998, these efforts led to the seizure of
record amounts of cocaine and arrests of drug traffickers. However, illegal
drugs from Colombia remain readily available in the United States.

Despite these initiatives, the government of Colombia faces a formidable
challenge in overcoming a number of significant obstacles in addressing
the narcotics problem. The Colombian military has several institutional
weaknesses that have limited its capability to support counternarcotics
operations. In addition, government corruption, budgetary constraints, and
a weak judicial system have hindered the Colombian government’s ability
to reduce drug-trafficking activities.

The United States has had limited success in achieving its primary
objective of reducing the flow of illegal drugs from Colombia. 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. The United States has also had difficulties
supporting some counternarcotics activities in Colombia due to U.S.
cutbacks in drug detection and monitoring support. Furthermore, over the
years the Colombian military has reportedly been involved in abusing
human rights, such as arbitrary detention, and as a result, U. S. legislation
has restricted the provision of U.S. assistance to Colombian police and
military units if there is credible evidence of human rights violations.
Finally, the growing involvement and strength of insurgent groups in the
areas where coca and opium poppy are grown complicate U.S. support for

Page 2                                            GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

             counternarcotics activities. For example, the sharing of intelligence
             information with the Colombian military creates an operational and policy
             dilemma for U.S. officials in drawing a distinction between support for
             counternarcotics versus counterinsurgency activities.

Background   One of the goals of the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy calls for a
             15-percent reduction in the net flow of illegal drugs from source countries,
             including Colombia, by 2002. To achieve this goal, the United States has
             provided substantial assistance to Colombia in order to (1) disrupt and
             dismantle drug-trafficking organizations, (2) reduce the availability of
             drugs through eradication and enforcement efforts, and (3) strengthen
             Colombian institutions to enable them to support a full range of
             counternarcotics activities. This strategy recognizes the importance of the
             government of Colombia’s gaining control of the area where most
             drug-trafficking activities occur and expanding counternarcotics support to
             the Colombian military to enable it to improve its counternarcotics

             Data provided by the Departments of State and Defense indicate that
             between fiscal year 1990 and 1998, about $625 million in U.S.
             counternarcotics assistance has been provided to the Colombian National
             Police (CNP) and the Colombian military for equipment, such as
             helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, weapons and ammunition, logistical
             support, and training. In October 1998, the Congress authorized another
             $2.6 billion over a 3-year period to enhance international eradication,
             interdiction, and crop substitution efforts.2 Of this amount, the Congress
             appropriated $690 million for fiscal year 1999. According to the State
             Department, $173.2 million has been earmarked to support CNP and
             military counternarcotics initiatives. The funds will be used for procuring
             six Black Hawk helicopters, ammunition, and weapons for the CNP;
             upgrading the capabilities of CNP UH-1H helicopters; and enhancing the
             capabilities of the Colombian Air Force. According to the State
             Department, the CNP should begin receiving this assistance in mid-1999.

             Last year we reported that Colombia was restricted from receiving some
             counternarcotics assistance as a result of the President’s decisions to
             decertify Colombia in 1996 and 1997 because it was not fully cooperating

                 The Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act (Title VIII of Division C of P.L. 105-277).

             Page 3                                                              GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                         with the United States in reducing drug trafficking.3 This restriction was
                         lifted in 1998 when the President decertified Colombia but granted a “vital
                         national interests waiver” that allowed Colombia to continue receiving
                         counternarcotics assistance. On February 26, 1999, the President certified
                         that Colombia was fully cooperating with the United States in its
                         counternarcotics efforts.

The Nature of the Drug   The drug-trafficking threat from Colombia has increased over the past
                         several years—coca cultivation has increased by 50 percent since 1996,
Threat From Colombia     cocaine production is projected to rise by 50 percent, and Colombia has
                         become the primary supplier of heroin to the eastern United States. The
                         challenge of reducing drug-related activities has become more difficult as
                         two insurgent groups, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC)
                         and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have expanded their involvement
                         in drug trafficking while paramilitary groups have stepped up their illegal
                         narcotics operations.

                         In August 1998, the U.S. embassy in Colombia reported that although the
                         Colombian government continues to disrupt drug-trafficking activities of
                         the major drug cartels, there has not been a net reduction in processing or
                         exporting refined cocaine from Colombia or in cocaine availability within
                         the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration
                         (DEA), several billion dollars flow into Colombia each year from the
                         cocaine trade alone. This vast amount of drug money has made it possible
                         for drug traffickers to gain unprecedented economic, political, and social
                         power and influence in Colombia. Moreover, according to DEA, while two
                         major groups (the Medellin and Cali cartels) dominated drug-trafficking
                         activities during the late 1980s and early 1990s, today there are hundreds of
                         smaller and more decentralized organizations. These groups are now
                         capable of producing “black cocaine” that hinders detection and are

                           Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2291j), requires the President
                         to certify by March 1 of each year which major drug-producing and transit countries cooperated fully
                         with the United States or took adequate steps on their own to achieve full compliance during the
                         previous year with the goals and objectives established by the 1988 United Nations Convention Against
                         Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. If a country does not meet the statutory
                         objectives, the President can either deny certification or grant a vital national interests certification,
                         which recognizes that the requirement to use sanctions would threaten the vital national interests of the
                         United States.

                         Page 4                                                              GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

improving their transportation capabilities by manufacturing boats capable
of carrying up to 2 tons of cocaine at high speeds.4

In March 1999, the State Department reported that Colombia remains the
source country for over three-quarters of the world’s cocaine. Moreover,
DEA has recently reported that, in the past 4 years, there has been a
dramatic shift in the U.S. heroin market from Southeast Asian to
Colombian heroin, especially in large East Coast cities such as New York,
Boston, Newark, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. According to U.S. estimates,
Colombia produces about 6 metric tons of heroin annually.

The State Department also reported that total coca cultivation in the
Andean region has substantially declined in Peru and Bolivia since 1996.
However, figure 1 shows that Colombia has now become the primary
source for coca cultivation, as drug traffickers have increased their coca
cultivation in the areas that are not under governmental control.

  “Black cocaine” is created by a new chemical process used by drug traffickers to evade detection by
drug-sniffing dogs and chemical tests. The traffickers add charcoal and other chemicals to cocaine,
which transforms it into a black substance that has no smell and does not react when subjected to the
usual chemical tests.

Page 5                                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Figure 1: Trends in Andean Region Coca Cultivation, 1996-98

                   1996                                     1997

                           32%                                     41%

                       23%                                 24%








Source: Department of State.

In just 3 years, Colombia has surpassed Peru and Bolivia as the world’s
leader in coca cultivation. Gross coca cultivation estimates in Colombia
increased from 67,200 hectares in 1996 to 101,800 hectares in 1998, a rise of
about 50 percent. Most of this increase occurred in two areas—Caqueta
and Putumayo. In addition to the expansion of cultivation in known coca-
growing areas in southern Colombia, the United States has identified two
new growing areas in northern Colombia—Norte de Santander and San
Lucas. The new growing areas are, for the most part, controlled by the

Page 6                                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Increased Coca Yields May     In February 1999, a U.S. interagency report on Colombia concluded that
Expand Cocaine Production     new fields of coca leaf, similar to the type typically found in Bolivia and
                              Peru, are now being grown in Colombia. The new coca is believed to be
                              more potent, as it has a substantially higher cocaine alkaloid content than
                              the type of coca most commonly found in Colombia. The study noted that
                              this new coca, coupled with existing fields of coca, could increase potential
                              Colombian cocaine production estimates from 1998 levels of 165 metric
                              tons to between 195 and 250 metric tons, or as much as 50 percent, over the
                              next 2 years. According to DEA, the production figure could be even
                              greater if the cocaine-producing laboratories are more efficient at
                              producing cocaine from the new coca leaf than their counterparts in Peru
                              and Bolivia.

Greater Insurgent and         According to Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department
Paramilitary Involvement in   officials, insurgent and paramilitary organizations are increasingly
                              becoming involved in drug-trafficking-related activities and are controlling
Drug-trafficking Activities
                              more territory. Active insurgent groups and their growing involvement in
                              drug-trafficking activities over the past several years are complicating
                              Colombia’s ability to reduce drug trafficking. The most active insurgent
                              groups are the FARC and the ELN. These two groups are estimated to have
                              as many as 20,000 personnel. Additionally, the number of municipalities in
                              the rural areas of Colombia in which the FARC has a presence has been
                              increasing: the insurgents currently can exercise some degree of control
                              over 40 percent of Colombia’s territory, an area equal in size to Texas, east
                              and south of the Andes (see fig. 2).

                              Page 7                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Figure 2: Areas of Colombian Insurgent, Paramilitary, and Drug-trafficking Activities

         Caribbean Sea



             , ,


          Paramilitary activities
          Insurgents activities        Peru
          Opium poppy growing areas

          Cocaine coca growing areas

Source: U.S. agencies.

According to U.S. estimates, two-thirds of FARC units and one-third of ELN
units are involved in some form of drug-trafficking activity. Some of the
insurgents have assisted the drug traffickers in providing security for
cocaine-processing laboratories and other drug-trafficking-related

Page 8                                                       GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                         activities and in storing and transporting cocaine within Colombia; they
                         also appear to be engaged in localized opiate trafficking within Colombia.
                         Although DOD has reported that the insurgents probably earn between
                         $500 million and $600 million annually from these activities, State
                         Department officials stated that this estimate has not been confirmed. U.S.
                         embassy officials said that monies from the units involved in drug-
                         trafficking activities support insurgent activities throughout Colombia.

                         According to U.S. officials, the current alliance between the insurgents and
                         the drug traffickers poses a clear challenge to Colombia’s ability to conduct
                         effective counterdrug operations. The Colombian government has little or
                         no control over most of the areas where drug-trafficking activities are
                         occurring. DEA reported that the presence of FARC units in Colombia’s
                         eastern lowlands and southeastern jungle areas was especially
                         troublesome. According to DEA, these areas include most of the coca and
                         opium poppy cultivation and most of the major drug-trafficking production

                         Paramilitary groups emerged during the 1980s as self-defense forces in
                         response to insurgent violence. Current U.S. estimates indicate that these
                         groups have between 4,000 and 6,000 personnel. In 1998, DEA reported
                         that certain leaders of some groups have become major drug traffickers.
                         U.S. officials do not have estimates on the amount of income that these
                         groups derive from illegal drug activities.

                         U.S. officials stated that the paramilitary groups operate with relative
                         impunity in parts of northern Colombia. According to the U.S. embassy,
                         paramilitary groups also appear to have established a permanent base in a
                         major coca-growing area in southern Colombia where there is a heavy
                         concentration of insurgents.

Colombia’s               The Colombian government has taken a number of steps to improve its
                         counternarcotics efforts. It has entered into peace negotiations with
Counternarcotics         insurgent groups; issued a counternarcotics strategy; developed a joint
Efforts, and Obstacles   military and CNP task force and proposed the creation of a military
                         counternarcotics battalion; achieved record cocaine seizures and
Faced                    continued to arrest drug kingpins; and pursued efforts to implement
                         legislative reforms in extradition, money laundering, and asset forfeiture.

                         Despite these activities, the Colombian government faces obstacles in
                         attempting to reduce drug-trafficking operations. These obstacles include

                         Page 9                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                     budgetary constraints, corruption, a military with limited capability, and a
                     weak judicial system.

Peace Negotiations   After his 1998 election, in an effort to end over 40 years of violence,
                     Colombian President Pastrana initiated peace negotiations with the FARC
                     and the ELN on November 7, 1998. To bring the insurgents into the peace
                     negotiations, the Colombian president established a demilitarized zone for
                     the FARC, covering about 42,000 square kilometers. The initial proposal
                     placed the zone off limits to CNP and Colombian military actions for a 90-
                     day period, which was supposed to end on February 7, 1999.

                     However, in January 1999, the FARC broke off negotiations until April 1999
                     because paramilitary groups allegedly killed 130 inhabitants in a village
                     while negotiations were occurring. According to the State Department, the
                     FARC demanded that the Colombian government take more aggressive
                     action against these paramilitary groups before further peace talks can
                     occur. In February 1999, the ELN also broke off negotiations until a
                     demilitarized zone in its primary area of control was established. This zone
                     would include the two new coca-growing areas in northern Colombia.
                     State Department officials stated that the government of Colombia has not
                     taken any action on the ELN’s request. Peace negotiations with the FARC
                     resumed in April 1999 and have resulted in an agreed-upon, 12-point
                     agenda. Moreover, the Colombian president extended the time frame for
                     the demilitarized zone.

                     According to the State Department, the United States supports a process to
                     achieve peace and break the linkage between the insurgents and drug
                     traffickers. This, according to the State Department, should enable the
                     CNP and the military to carry out their counternarcotics programs more
                     effectively in the long term. However, U.S. officials have expressed
                     concerns about the peace process and its potential impact on
                     counternarcotics operations. According to U.S. officials, the government
                     of Colombia lacks a clearly defined negotiating strategy. In addition, U.S.
                     officials are concerned that U.S. and Colombian counternarcotics efforts
                     could be limited by an indefinite extension of the 90-day cease-fire zone or
                     by expanding the area of the demilitarized zone to include other drug-
                     trafficking areas under insurgent control. State Department and DOD
                     officials informed us that to fulfill promises the Colombian government
                     made to the FARC, the governments of Colombia and the United States
                     have agreed not to allow certain types of overflights, such as surveying
                     coca-growing areas, through the demilitarized zone.

                     Page 10                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Counternarcotics Strategy   In September 1998, the State Department reported that an important factor
                            in U.S. and Colombian counternarcotics cooperation would be the
                            development of an integrated national counternarcotics strategy. The
                            Colombian government issued an initial strategy, entitled “An Integrated
                            Policy on Drugs for Peace,” in October 1998. The strategy addresses the
                            implementation of alternative crop development, eradication and
                            interdiction efforts needed to reduce illegal drug production, legislation
                            and institutional reforms to combat drug-trafficking organizations,
                            demand-reduction programs to control Colombian consumption of illicit
                            drugs, environment actions, and efforts to strengthen international
                            cooperation in dealing with illegal drug-trafficking activities.

                            According to the State Department, the strategy provides a good
                            framework because it closely parallels elements of the U.S.
                            counternarcotics strategy, lays out a solid foundation for cooperation
                            between various donors and the Colombian government, clearly describes
                            Colombia’s legal framework for attacking illegal drug-trafficking activities,
                            and recognizes the social and economic costs of the drug trade in
                            Colombia. While the State Department acknowledged that the strategy
                            contained many positive elements, it also contained a number of
                            weaknesses. For example,

                            • the strategy’s emphasis on alternative crop development programs in
                              the coca-growing areas of Colombia is based on the assumption that
                              independent peasant farmers grow the majority of coca in small plots,
                              rather than large-scale drug traffickers using hired labor;
                            • the strategy does not establish specific time lines or measures of
                              effectiveness to evaluate the progress made in implementing alternative
                              development programs and reducing the supply of illegal drugs;
                            • the strategy does not precisely define the military’s role in reducing
                              drug-trafficking activities;
                            • the strategy does not clearly identify how the supply reduction activities
                              will be funded or what the funding requirements are for these activities;
                            • the strategy does not develop a concept of coordination between law
                              enforcement and alternative development efforts.

                            Moreover, DEA officials stated that the strategy did not address the
                            extradition of Colombian nationals; improvements to prison security;
                            mechanisms for protecting judges, prosecutors, and witnesses; and
                            improvements to legislation covering asset forfeiture and money
                            laundering. According to the State Department, the Colombian

                            Page 11                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                               government is aware of these concerns and is in the process of addressing

Colombian Military’s           The U.S. and Colombian counternarcotics strategies recognize that the
Counternarcotics Initiatives   Colombian military needs to become more involved in counternarcotics
                               operations, particularly in areas not under government control, if the flow
                               of illegal drugs from Colombia is to be reduced. In response to military
                               defeats in southern Colombia, the Colombian government created a Joint
                               Task Force in March 1998 consisting of military and CNP units in the
                               southwestern area of Colombia to retake control of the territory from the
                               drug traffickers and insurgents. According to U.S. officials, the task force
                               has supported CNP counternarcotics operations such as seizing cocaine

                               Moreover, according to DOD, the Colombian government is in the process
                               of establishing a counternarcotics battalion with an estimated strength of
                               about 950 personnel. The battalion will be dedicated to conducting its own
                               counternarcotics operations and supporting CNP operations. Currently,
                               one company of the battalion is operational and has been fully screened by
                               the State Department to ensure that there is no credible evidence of human
                               rights abuses. According to the State Department, the battalion should be
                               fully operational by January 2000. The U.S. Southern Command
                               (SOUTHCOM) estimates that the battalion would require in excess of $70
                               million worth of equipment and training to become fully operational. Of
                               this amount, approximately $60 million would be to provide helicopters.
                               DOD recently designated $3.5 million to provide counternarcotics
                               equipment to the battalion, but it indicated that no decision had been made
                               on the total level of U.S. support that will be provided.

Seizures and Arrests           The Colombian government has continued to make progress in seizing
                               drugs and arresting key leaders of drug-trafficking organizations. In March
                               1999, the State Department reported that Colombia had seized a record
                               amount of coca products in 1998--almost 57 metric tons—and had also
                               destroyed 185 cocaine laboratories. Before that, the U.S. embassy
                               reported, in August 1998, that the CNP had captured the heads of a number
                               of key Colombian drug-trafficking organizations, including major figures of
                               a key cocaine-processing organization. The State Department also
                               reported in March 1999 that the CNP special investigative units, which
                               conduct long-term investigations of drug-trafficking organizations, were
                               credited with 63 arrests.

                               Page 12                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Legislative Initiatives   Over the past several years, the Colombian government has enacted several
                          major pieces of legislation designed to reduce drug-trafficking activities.
                          These include extradition, anti-money laundering, and asset forfeiture
                          legislation. While Colombia’s legislative actions represent positive steps,
                          their implementation has been slow.

Extradition Legislation   In December 1997, the Colombian congress passed a bill to repeal the 1991
                          constitutional ban on the extradition of Colombian nationals but did not
                          make it retroactive, thus blocking extradition for offenses committed
                          before December 17, 1997. The United States wanted the law to be
                          retroactive because it hoped to extradite to the United States drug kingpins
                          from the Medellin and Cali cartels that were in prison on drug-related
                          charges when the bill was passed. In response to this concern, the prior
                          Colombian president filed a suit to remove this clause from the bill, but the
                          Colombian constitutional court voted to uphold the nonretroactivity

                          The United States made its first extradition request for a Colombian
                          national in December 1998; however, to date the individual still has not
                          been surrendered to the United States because he is awaiting a court
                          hearing. Furthermore, the United States has requested the provisional
                          arrest for extradition of four more Colombian national drug traffickers.
                          According to the State Department, three of these individuals have been
                          arrested and are awaiting a judicial decision by Colombia’s Supreme Court,
                          but the fourth remains at large.

Anti-money laundering     Money laundering has been a criminal offense in Colombia since 1995. In
Legislation               February 1997, the Colombian government enacted legislation that
                          increased penalties for money laundering connected with drug trafficking.
                          The statute includes penalties of up to $50,000 for individuals and
                          $2 million for institutions, and possible jail sentences of 6 to 15 years. As a
                          result of this legislation, the Colombian banking system strengthened
                          “know your customer” rules to monitor large or suspicious transactions.
                          Banks are now required to maintain records and to regularly report
                          currency transactions exceeding $7,000 as well as any “suspicious”
                          transactions. For example, if multiple deposit transactions are made below
                          the reporting requirement over a short period of time, they should be
                          reported as “suspicious.”

                          According to the State Department, more than 20 Colombian banks were
                          under investigation for money-laundering activities in 1998; however, there

                          Page 13                                            GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                               has been only one money-laundering arrest and no convictions. The State
                               Department also noted that the Colombian bank inspectors are evaluating
                               compliance with the reporting requirements. The United States is
                               providing courses on investigating and prosecuting money-laundering
                               crimes to the various Colombian officials responsible for implementing the
                               anti-money laundering legislation and regulations.

Asset Forfeiture Legislation   In 1996, Colombia passed an asset forfeiture law designed to seize assets
                               from individuals involved in illegal activities, including drug trafficking. In
                               March 1999, the State Department reported that multimillion-dollar
                               seizures had occurred against current and former major drug traffickers
                               and their relatives from the Medellin and Cali cartels. Furthermore, over 40
                               forfeiture cases were pending against high-ranking drug traffickers.
                               However, there has been only one case in which seized assets were actually

                               According to the State Department, this dismal performance can be
                               attributed to several factors, including the lack of political will on the part
                               of the prior Samper administration; the corrupting influence of the drug
                               kingpins trying to protect their assets; and Colombian government efforts
                               to define and refine the administrative, bureaucratic, and legal procedures
                               for the final forfeiture and disposition of assets. At least five major and
                               several lesser government entities are involved in the process, and
                               coordination among them is inadequate. According to the State
                               Department, the current president has acknowledged the need to reform
                               the process.

Obstacles Facing the           The Colombian government faces a number of obstacles in reducing drug-
Colombian Government           trafficking activities, including handling budgetary constraints, overcoming
                               corruption, addressing military weaknesses, and strengthening its judicial

Budgetary Constraints          Severe budgetary constraints could limit the Colombian government’s
                               ability to support counternarcotics initiatives. In March 1999, the State
                               Department reported that the Colombian government was unable to
                               increase its counternarcotics commitment because its national budget was
                               facing its worst crisis in decades, with annual deficits ballooning to
                               5 percent of gross domestic product. The report concluded that the
                               Colombian government will have a difficult time funding counternarcotics
                               operations and controlling the areas where illicit crops grow in 1999.

                               Page 14                                            GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Corruption             Widespread corruption within all sectors of the Colombian government is a
                       major factor affecting counternarcotics operations. In 1998, DEA reported
                       that drug-related corruption existed in all branches of the government,
                       within the prison system, and in the military. In March 1999, the State
                       Department reported that drug-related corruption in all branches of the
                       government continued to undermine Colombia’s counternarcotics
                       effectiveness. The report noted, for example, that in November 1998, U.S.
                       Customs and DEA personnel searched a Colombian Air Force aircraft in
                       Florida and found 415 kilograms of cocaine and 6 kilograms of heroin.
                       Several Air Force officers and enlisted personnel were arrested in
                       connection with the incident. Also, in March 1999, the State Department
                       reported that President Pastrana had made eliminating corruption a major
                       initiative of his government.

Military Capability    The Colombian military is hard pressed to provide security for key facilities
                       throughout the country and simultaneously engage insurgents, drug
                       traffickers, and paramilitary groups in rural areas. According to DOD, the
                       Colombian military lacks a long-term strategy and effective leadership;
                       suffers from poor morale; and has inadequate equipment, logistics, and
                       training. In the past year, the Colombian military has suffered major
                       defeats from the insurgents, and insurgent groups are moving into more of
                       the territory where drug-trafficking activities are primarily occurring.
                       Additionally, in October 1998, DOD officials at the U.S. embassy reported
                       that a Colombian Army unit responsible for performing counternarcotics
                       missions in southern Colombia did not control land communication and
                       had conceded the use of the road network to the insurgents and drug
                       traffickers. According to the Director of the U.S. Office of National Drug
                       Control Policy, the recent offensives by the insurgents and the resulting
                       military defeats suggest that Colombian security forces will be unable to
                       conduct effective antidrug operations in regions where guerrilla forces
                       dominate and control the area.

Weak Judicial System   According to the State Department, Colombia’s weak judicial system
                       continues to adversely affect its counternarcotics efforts. U.S. embassy
                       personnel stated that less than 3 percent of all cases, including drug-related
                       ones, are prosecuted in Colombia. These officials attributed Colombia’s
                       dismal prosecution rate to various inefficiencies in the investigative
                       process and court backlogs. As a result, any crime, including drug
                       trafficking, has a significant chance of going unpunished.

                       Page 15                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Challenges Facing U.S.   A major goal of the U.S. counternarcotics strategy for Colombia is to
                         reduce the availability of drugs. To do this, the United States concentrates
Counternarcotics         its efforts on supporting eradication and interdiction activities of the CNP
Efforts                  and the military. The United States faces several challenges in trying to
                         achieve its objectives, including eradicating enough coca and opium poppy
                         to reduce Colombia’s net cultivation, providing adequate resources for
                         detection and monitoring support, assuring that counternarcotics aid is not
                         provided to Colombian military and CNP units where there is credible
                         evidence that human rights abuses have not been addressed, and
                         determining when it is appropriate to share information with the
                         Colombian military on insurgent activities for planning counternarcotics

Eradication Efforts      U.S. and Colombian efforts to eradicate enough coca and opium poppy to
                         reduce the net cultivation of these crops have not succeeded to date.
                         Figure 3 shows that, despite significant increases in spraying, only about 30
                         percent, or 35,400 hectares, of coca crop were eradicated out of 123,400
                         sprayed between 1996 and 1998.

                         Page 16                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Figure 3: Trends in Colombian Coca Cultivation and the Effectiveness of Aerial
Eradication Efforts, 1996-98

1 2 0 ,0 0 0

1 0 0 ,0 0 0

 8 0 ,0 0 0
                 67,200                                                             65,930

 6 0 ,0 0 0

 4 0 ,0 0 0

 2 0 ,0 0 0               16,053                                                         13,650

                    1996                        1997                          1998

                      Ne t Cu ltiv a tio n    Re p o r te d S p r a y A c tiv ity      Co c a K ille d

Source: U.S. government data.

Figure 4 shows that opium poppy cultivation in Colombia has remained
relatively stable.

Page 17                                                               GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Figure 4: Colombian Opium Poppy Cultivation and Eradication, 1996-98
1 4 ,0 0 0

1 2 ,0 0 0

1 0 ,0 0 0                                                             8,996

  8 ,0 0 0                                                  6,972
                      6,300                                                       6,100
  6 ,0 0 0

  4 ,0 0 0

  2 ,0 0 0

                   1996                        1997                       1998

                     To ta l Cu ltiv a tio n   A v a ila b le f o r Ha rv e s t      Er a d ic a te d

Source: U.S. government data.

Beginning in October 1996, the State Department decided to significantly
increase the U.S. level of support and participation in aerial eradication
operations against coca and opium poppy. According to the State
Department, the estimated costs of supporting aerial spraying operations
for fiscal year 1999 could be as high as $68 million, an increase of about 350
percent over the $19.6 million actually spent in 1996. A significant portion
of U.S. assistance to this effort is carried out by a U.S. contractor. Between
80 and 90 contractor personnel are stationed in Colombia on either a
temporary or permanent basis. As a result of this effort, State Department
data shows that 107,381 hectares of coca were sprayed during 1997-98,
exceeding its goal of 50,000 hectares for this period.

Since 1996, nearly all spray activities have been conducted in two of the
three primary coca-growing areas in Colombia. U.S. embassy officials
stated that they would like to expand eradication operations during 1999
into the third primary coca-growing area, where U.S. estimates indicate
that coca cultivation increased from 19,000 hectares in 1997 to 30,100

Page 18                                                               GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                            hectares in 1998. However, the Colombian government has not granted
                            approval to begin spraying operations in this area. According to U.S.
                            embassy officials, the Colombian government is hesitant to start a massive
                            aerial eradication program without having alternative crop development
                            projects in the area due to the potential economic impact that the loss of
                            the coca crop would have on the farmers. These officials stated that
                            eradication efforts could increase popular support for the FARC, which
                            already controls most of the territory. According to the State Department,
                            the United States will not support alternative development programs in
                            areas until they are under government control.

                            The U.S. embassy began a concentrated effort to spray opium poppy in
                            November 1998. The effort is designed to sustain spraying operations over
                            time so that growers will find it uneconomical to continue cultivating
                            opium poppy.

Reductions in Support for   A second challenge facing the United States is providing sufficient
Detection and Monitoring    detection and monitoring resources to support Colombian and U.S.
                            counternarcotics operations in southern Colombia. The U.S.
                            counternarcotics plan for Colombia includes efforts to increase detection
                            and monitoring support from SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Customs Service.
                            The support generally consists of providing aircraft and radar.

                            SOUTHCOM data, however, shows that DOD and U.S. Customs have not
                            supplied the resources required to meet SOUTHCOM’s detection and
                            monitoring plans for the source zone countries, including Colombia,
                            primarily because of competing demands to support higher priority
                            missions, such as support to Bosnia and Kosovo. According to
                            SOUTHCOM, the total hours devoted to drug detection and monitoring
                            declined by about 16 percent between 1997 and 1998. Also, in 1998, U.S.
                            Customs, for security reasons, withdrew two aircraft that had been
                            stationed in Colombia over the past several years to track suspected drug-
                            trafficking aircraft. U.S. embassy officials stated that, as a result of these
                            shortfalls and reductions, it is now more difficult to follow suspect drug-
                            trafficking aircraft after they are detected.

                            Moreover, SOUTHCOM officials stated that their ability to continue
                            providing existing levels of detection and monitoring support could be
                            further eroded with the closure of Howard Air Force Base in Panama City,
                            Panama, on May 1, 1999. To compensate for this, the Secretary of Defense,
                            on April 16, 1999, approved a plan to open forward operating locations on

                            Page 19                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                              two Caribbean islands (Curacao and Aruba) and in Manta, Ecuador.
                              According to DOD, the forward operating location at Curacao and Aruba is
                              operational, and Manta is expected to become operational by mid-June

Balancing Human Rights        A third challenge facing U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Colombia is the
Concerns Against the          balancing of human rights concerns about abuses within the Colombian
                              military against the provision of counternarcotics aid to the Colombian
Provision of
                              military. Over the years, human rights organizations and the State
Counternarcotics Aid to the   Department have documented human rights abuses by the Colombian
Colombian Military            military, particularly by the Colombian Army. Human rights abuses have
                              included disappearances, arbitrary detentions, kidnappings, and torture of

                              According to U.S. legislation, Colombia’s security forces cannot receive
                              U.S. counternarcotics assistance if there is credible evidence that a
                              Colombian unit has committed gross violations of human rights unless the
                              Secretary of State determines that effective measures are being taken to
                              bring the responsible individual or individuals to justice.5 The State
                              Department has established screening procedures to determine which
                              Colombian units meet the requirements of this policy before providing U.S.
                              counternarcotics assistance.

                              According to the State Department, all counternarcotics units of the CNP
                              and the Colombian Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have passed the
                              screening process. However, only three of six army brigades operating in
                              the major drug trafficking areas have passed. Of the three units, two are
                              actively involved in counternarcotics operations, and the other is minimally
                              involved. U.S. embassy personnel stated that unless other army units pass
                              the screening process, it will be difficult to provide the level of Colombian
                              military support that the CNP needs to effectively reduce drug-trafficking

Information Sharing With      A fourth challenge facing U.S. decisionmakers is the problem of when
the Colombian Military        information regarding insurgents can be shared with the Colombian

                                See the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act 1999 (Sec.
                              568 of sec. 101 (d), Division A of P.L. 105-277). The Congress also included similar language in the
                              Department of Defense Fiscal Year 1999 Appropriations Act ( Sec. 8130 of P.L. 105-262).

                              Page 20                                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

              military. U.S. guidance, initially issued in June 1998, restricted the sharing
              of any information on insurgent capabilities and activities unless it is
              directly related to an approved counternarcotics operation. However,
              within the area where most drug-trafficking activities occur, U.S. embassy
              officials stated that the drug traffickers and the insurgents have become
              virtually indistinguishable. As a result, U.S. officials are faced with making
              a difficult decision regarding when and if information on insurgent
              activities should be provided to the Colombian military.

              The following two examples demonstrate the dilemma that U.S. officials
              face in deciding whether to share information.

              • In August 1998, Colombian insurgents destroyed a joint military and
                CNP base that was also used by U.S. contractor personnel for coca
                eradication operations. The U.S. embassy did not know if it could share
                information about the insurgents with either the CNP or the Colombian
                military because the information was not directly related to
                counternarcotics operations. The U.S. embassy requested approval
                from U.S. agencies in Washington, D.C., but by the time it had received
                approval, the information, according to U.S. embassy officials, was
              • U.S. embassy officials have decided to routinely provide intelligence
                information related to the insurgents to Colombian units under control
                of the Joint Task Force. According to these officials, the information is
                being used to plan counternarcotics operations in an area controlled by
                insurgents; however, they do not have a system to ensure that it is not
                being used for other than counternarcotics purposes.

              U.S. officials informed us that new guidelines on information sharing were
              issued in March 1999. According to these officials, these guidelines
              recognize the increasing involvement of the insurgents in drug trafficking
              activities and their demonstrated abilities to attack counternarcotics
              operations, personnel, and infrastructure, and establish a better means to
              facilitate the exchange of information with the Colombian military on
              insurgent activities within the drug-trafficking areas.

Conclusions   The counternarcotics efforts of Colombia and the United States have
              resulted in record seizures of illegal drugs and the disruption of drug
              trafficking organizations. However, there has been no reduction in the flow
              of cocaine or heroin from Colombia. It appears that the cocaine threat
              from Colombia has worsened since 1996 and could deteriorate even further

              Page 21                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

                  within the next 2 years. Not only are coca cultivation and potential cocaine
                  production likely to increase, but also Colombia is now the primary
                  provider of heroin to the eastern United States. Moreover, insurgent and
                  paramilitary organizations have increased their involvement in drug-
                  trafficking activities, which has made it more difficult for the government
                  of Colombia to conduct counternarcotics operations in the areas under
                  insurgent and paramilitary control. Until the government of Colombia can
                  gain control over territory where drug-trafficking activities are occurring,
                  counterdrug operations will be difficult and dangerous, and pose a
                  formidable challenge to the United States and Colombia in their attempts to
                  reduce the flow of drugs from Colombia into the United States.

Agency Comments   DOD and State provided written comments on a draft of this report.
                  Additionally, we discussed the draft report with DEA and the Office of
                  National Drug Control Policy. DOD stated it had no objection to the report.
                  State stated that it considers the report to be a good and balanced summary
                  of the challenges facing the United States’ counternarcotics program in
                  Colombia. The other agencies agreed that the report accurately portrayed
                  the narcotics threat from Colombia, and U.S. and Colombian efforts to
                  address the threat. Each agency also provided technical comments which
                  we incorporated as appropriate.

Scope and         To address the nature of the drug threat from Colombia, we received
                  briefings and analyzed documents from U.S. law enforcement, intelligence,
Methodology       and military officials and reviewed documentation such as cable traffic,
                  drug eradication and interdiction reports, and studies in Washington, D.C.;
                  at SOUTHCOM in Miami, Florida; and at the U.S. embassy in Bogota,
                  Colombia. To address Colombian and U.S. counternarcotics efforts and
                  the challenges faced by both governments, we visited various agencies
                  involved in antidrug activities in Washington, D.C.; Miami, Florida; and
                  Bogota, Colombia. In Washington, D.C., we interviewed officials and
                  reviewed planning, implementation, and related documents and reports
                  concerning drug activities in Colombia at the Office of National Drug
                  Control Policy; the Departments of State, Defense, the Treasury, and
                  Justice; and other federal agencies. In Miami, we interviewed U.S. officials
                  at SOUTHCOM and reviewed documents related to counternarcotics
                  activities in Colombia. In Colombia, we interviewed U.S. embassy officials,
                  including the Ambassador, and analyzed reports and documents of various
                  agencies responsible for implementing U.S. counternarcotics objectives in

                  Page 22                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Colombia. We also interviewed officials from the CNP and the U.N. Drug
Control Program. Officials from the Colombian Ministry of Defense were
not able to arrange a time to meet with us.

The information on Colombia’s laws in this report does not reflect our
independent legal analysis but is based on interviews and secondary

We conducted our review between September 1998 and May 1999 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

We are sending copies of this report to other congressional committees; the
Honorable Madeleine K. Albright, the Secretary of State; the Honorable
William S. Cohen, the Secretary of Defense; the Honorable Lawrence
Summers, the Acting Secretary of the Treasury; the Honorable Janet
F. Reno, the U.S. Attorney General; the Honorable Barry R. McCaffrey, the
Director, U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy; the Honorable
Thomas A. Constantine, the Administrator, DEA; and the Honorable Louis
Freeh, the Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Copies will also be
made available to other interested parties upon request.

If you or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please call
me at (202) 512-4268. The major contributors to this report were Ronald A.
Kushner, Allen Fleener, Ronald Hughes, Anthony Padilla, and Rona

Jess T. Ford, Associate Director,
International Relations and Trade Issues

Page 23                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control

Letter                                                                                          1

Appendix I                                                                                     26
Comments From the
Department of State

Appendix II                                                                                    27
Comments From the
Department of Defense

Related GAO Products                                                                           31

Figures                 Figure 1: Trends in Andean Region Coca Cultivation, 1996-98             6
                        Figure 2: Areas of Colombian Insurgent, Paramilitary, and
                          Drug-trafficking Activities                                           8
                        Figure 3: Trends in Colombian Coca Cultivation and the
                          Effectiveness of Aerial Eradication Efforts, 1996-98                 17
                        Figure 4: Colombian Opium Poppy Cultivation and Eradication,
                          1996-98                                                              18


                        CNP      Colombian National Police
                        DEA      Drug Enforcement Administration
                        DOD      Department of Defense
                        ELN      National Liberation Army
                        FARC     Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces
                        SOUTHCOM U.S. Southern Command

                        Page 24                                      GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Page 25   GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Page 26   GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Appendix I

Comments From the Department of State                      AppenIx

              Page 26          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Appendix II

Comments From the Department of Defense                    AppeInx

              Page 27          GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Page 28   GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Page 29   GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Page 30   GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
Related GAO Products

             Drug Control: Status of U.S. International Counternarcotics Activities
             (GAO/T-NSIAD-98-116, Mar. 12, 1998).

             Drug Control: Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing
             Challenges (GAO/T-NSIAD-98-60, Feb. 26, 1998).

             Drug Control: U.S. Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing
             Challenges (GAO/NSIAD-98-60, Feb. 12, 1998).

             Drug Control: Delays in Obtaining State Department Records Relating to
             Colombia (GAO/T-NSIAD-97-202, July 9, 1997).

             Drug Control: Observations on Elements of the Federal Drug Control
             Strategy (GAO/GGD-97-42, Mar. 14, 1977).

             Drug Control: Long-standing Problems Hinder U.S. International Efforts
             (GAO/NSIAD-97-75, Feb. 27, 1997).

             Review of Assistance to Colombia (GAO/NSIAD-96-62R, Dec. 12, 1995).

             Drug War: Observations on U.S. International Drug Control Efforts
             (GAO/T-NSIAD-95-194, Aug. 1, 1995).

             The Drug War: Colombia Is Implementing Antidrug Efforts, but Impact Is
             Uncertain (GAO/T-NSIAD-94-53, Oct. 5, 1993).

             The Drug War: Colombia Is Undertaking Antidrug Programs, but Impact Is
             Uncertain (GAO/NSIAD-93-158, Aug. 10, 1993).

             Drug Control: Increased Interdiction and Its Contribution to the War on
             Drugs (GAO/T-NSIAD-93-04, Feb. 25, 1993).

             The Drug War: Extent of Problems in Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela
             (GAO/NSIAD-92-226, June 5, 1992).

             The Drug War: Counternarcotics Programs in Colombia and Peru
             (GAO/T-NSIAD-92-9, Feb. 20, 1992).

             The Drug War: Observations on Counternarcotics Programs in Colombia
             and Peru (GAO/T-NSIAD-92-2, Oct. 23, 1991).

             Page 31                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
                   Related GAO Products

                   Drug War: Observations on Counternarcotics Aid to Colombia
                   (GAO/NSIAD-91-296, Sept. 30, 1991).

                   Drug Control: U.S.-Supported Efforts in Colombia and Bolivia
                   (GAO/NSIAD-89-24, Nov. 1, 1988).

                   Drug Control: U.S. International Narcotics Control Activities
                   (GAO/NSIAD-88-114, Mar. 1, 1988).

                   Status Report on GAO Review of the U.S. International Narcotics Control
                   Program (GAO/T-NSIAD-87-40, July 29, 1987).

                   Drug Control: International Narcotics Control Activities of the United
                   States (GAO/NSIAD-87-72BR, Jan. 30, 1987).

(711362)   Leter   Page 32                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-136 Drug Control
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