A recent interview with William Brownfield provides an insight into how the United States views the current state of drug trafficking in Colombia, and the potential future of its criminal landscape in the midst of political change.
In conversation with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Brownfield revealed that despite a 50 percent drop in US cocaine consumption over the last eight years, the country has been experiencing a renewed rise in cocaine usage. Brownfield highlighted the fact that this trend -- which possibly began two years ago -- is occurring in "synchronization" with Colombia's increasing cultivation and production of the drug. The US official added that the South American nation should be seeing a further rise in cultivation in 2015.
The US official emphasized that Colombia is living through a period of complicated changes, namely the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the decision of the Colombian government to halt coca spraying with glyphosate. According to Brownfield, both factors require a rethinking of anti-drug policies in both Colombia and the United States. He suggested that the loss of coca spraying could be resolved through manual eradication, more sophisticated scientific and political strategies, and more collaboration in region.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy
Brownfield briefly added that the vast majority of Colombian drugs pass through neighboring Venezuela, proposing that drug traffickers see the route as being the cheapest and most efficient.
InSight Crime Analysis
Brownfield's claims that cocaine consumption is increasing in the United States is a new development that could shed light on Colombia's 44 percent spike in coca cultivation in 2014. InSight Crime coincides with Brownfield's predictions that 2015 will see a further increase (of up to 50 percent) in cocaine production. While there have been various hypotheses surrounding this jump, a growing demand up north could certainly be tied to Colombia's increased supply. However, it is important to keep in mind that the imminent peace deal could actually be behind the intensity of this rise, as the FARC can use higher production as political leverage and a financial safety net.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
The US official may have a point about the need for an alternative to aerial fumigation if the government wants to keep coca cultivation under control. However, merely focusing on manual eradication is unlikely to make a significant dent on overall drug production, and is furthermore made increasingly difficult by FARC booby traps and community protests.
The passing comment Brownfield made regarding Venezuela complements estimates that around 200 tons of cocaine are smuggled in from Colombia every year. But while Colombian neo-paramilitary and FARC groups are certainly involved, some drug trafficking in the region is handled by Venezuela's own "Cartel of the Suns," believed to be controlled by high-ranking military officers.