Where Drug Deals are Most Likely to Happen in Colombia

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A new report that tracks the variables linked to drug seizures in Colombia’s major cities could help inform the government’s approach against microtrafficking.

The report — produced by Colombian think-tank Foundation Ideas for Peace (Fundación Ideas para la Paz – FIP) and the Ministry of Justice — looks at microtrafficking in five major cities, including the country’s three largest: BogotáMedellín and Cali.

(Disclosure: the FIP was formally a sponsor of InSight Crime.) 

By looking at marijuana, cocaine, and crack cocaine (known as “basuco”) seizures in each city during 2014, the study examines whether other variables — such as the proximity of the seizure to other reported crimes, like robbery or homicide — has a relationship to where drugs are most frequently seized.

In some instances, the study could not establish a relationship between where drug seizures occurred and other variables. This was the case when it came to cocaine seizures in Bogotá and marijuana seizures in Medellín.

In Cali, however, the study found that drugs are more likely to be seized in a certain place if other types of drugs — whether it be marijuana, cocaine, or crack cocaine — were seized nearby. This implies that in contrast to Bogotá and Medellín, Cali’s microtraffickers may be more likely to sell all three types of drugs within a smaller chunk of territory. 

The report also showed that in Medellín, there appears to be a relationship between where crack cocaine is seized and where violent crime occurs. This suggests that crack cocaine may have a greater impact on Medellín crime rates than other illicit drugs.

In both Bogotá and Cali, marijuana seizures are more likely to happen in close proximity to schools, possibly pointing to high rates of youth marijuana use. 

Bogotá – Variables influencing where drug seizures occur

Variable  Marijuana seizures  Cocaine seizures   Crack cocaine (“basuco”) seizures
ATMs      
Bars      
Schools  X    
Homicides 2014  X    
Personal Injuries 2014    
Motorcycle Robberies 2014      
Vehicle Robberies 2014      
Business Robberies 2014      
Personal robbery 2014      
Parks  X    
Universities      
Basuco seizures 2014      
Cocaine seizures 2014  X    X
Marijuana seizures 2014      

Source: Foundation Ideas for Peace

Medellín – Variables influencing where drug seizures occur

Variable  Marijuana seizures  Cocaine seizures   Crack cocaine (“basuco”) seizures
ATMs    X  
Banks      
Bars      
Bus stops      
Casinos      
Schools     X
Homicides 2014     X
Personal injuries 2014     X
Motorcycle robberies 2014     X
Business robberies 2014    
Street robberies 2014      
Large transport stations      X
Hospitals      
Parks      
Restaurants      
Universities      
Basuco seizures 2014    X  
Cocaine seizures 2014    
Marijuana seizures 2014    X  X

Source: Foundation Ideas for Peace

Cali – Variables influencing where drug seizures occur

Variable  Marijuana seizures  Cocaine seizures   Crack cocaine (“basuco”) seizures
ATMs      
Banks    
Bars      
Bus stops      
Casinos      
Schools    
Homicides 2014      
Personal injuries 2014  X  
Motorcycle robberies 2014      
Business robberies 2014    
Personal robberies 2014  X  X  
Large transport stations  X    
Hospitals      
Parks      
Restaurants      
Universities      
Basuco seizures 2014  X  X  
Cocaine seizures 2014  X    X
Marijuana seizures 2014    X  X

Source: Foundation Ideas for Peace

An explanation of the report’s methodology for calculating the relationship between drug seizures and these select variables is available here.

The report also includes multiple policy recommendations for the Colombian city governments with regards to confronting microtrafficking. These include:

  • Defining which parts of an urban area are most affected by microtrafficking based on police data, then prioritizing which of these areas are most in need of intervention, based on how vulnerable the local population seems to be. 
  • Strengthening the implementation of the Colombian police’s “Plan Cuadrante” strategy. This involves dividing neighborhoods into smaller geographical units, or “cuadrantes,” and then practicing community policing there. Other branches of the Colombian police, including the intelligence unit (known by its Spanish acronym SIPOL) and the investigative police (known as the SIJIN) should also increase their activity and presence in microtrafficking hotspots. Meanwhile, the transport and rural police should focus on interdicting drugs found moving through or entering the city, the report stated.
  • The Attorney General’s Office should prioritize prosecuting criminal networks rather than small-time dealers. The report noted that those caught selling or transporting drugs are usually addicts or women, and are viewed by larger criminal organizations as easily replaceable when it comes to moving product. 
  • Implement programs aimed at increasing social capital in certain neighborhoods. This would include job creation schemes and “support centers” for addicts. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Increased domestic drug sales in Colombia — as well as a reported rise in drug consumption —  has long been a concern for President Juan Manuel Santos’ government. In 2013, police launched a so-called “war” against the domestic drug trade, which had a special focus on identifying (and in some cases destroying) specific sales points where drugs were exchanged and consumed, known colloquially as “ollas.” 

SEE ALSO:  Colombia News and Profiles

As implied by the FIP and Ministry of Justice report, the Colombian government could do well to complement that strategy with a more nuanced, long-term approach to combating microtrafficking. Prioritizing the neighborhoods most in need of police and social intervention based on police seizure data is a good first step. Recognizing the variables that influence where drugs are seized could also do much to help city governments fine-tune their priorities. 

Additionally, the report’s admission that focusing on prosecuting a select few drug trafficking higher-ups would be more effective rather than arresting hundreds of small-time dealers is a welcome bit of progressive drug policy, in a region where enforcement of tough drug laws remains the norm.

However, based on larger trends within Colombia’s underworld, the country’s domestic drug market is more likely to expand rather than contract in the near future. Since 2006, Colombia’s criminal groups have been focused on feeding the domestic drug market as an additional (and easier) source of funds, rather than investing all their efforts in transporting drugs overseas to the US and Europe. And amidst reports that guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) are encouraging increased coca production before reaching a peace agreement with the government, this could also end up impacting Colombia’s domestic drug market. 

Other countries in Latin America have also seen their internal criminal dynamics impacted by a growing domestic drug trade, perhaps most notably in Argentina. Ultimately, successful implementation of a well-rounded anti-microtrafficking strategy in Colombia could yet provide a valuable model for the rest of the region to follow.  

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