Drug Control:

Efforts to Develop Alternatives to Cultivating Illicit Crops in Colombia Have Made Little Progress and Face Serious Obstacles

GAO-02-291: Published: Feb 8, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 2002.

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Since the early 1970's, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has helped Bolivian and Peruvian growers of illicit crops find legal ways to earn a living. The experiences in Bolivia and Peru indicate that effective alternative development demands a strong host government commitment to a comprehensive array of counternarcotics measures and years of sustained U.S. assistance. Chief among the specific lessons for Colombia are that progress requires host government control of drug-growing areas and a political will to interdict drug trafficking and forcibly eradicate illicit crops as well as a carefully coordinated approach to these efforts. USAID began targeting Colombia's poppy-growing areas in 2000 and expanded its program to include coca-growing areas in 2001, but most activities will not begin in earnest until 2002. The experiences in Bolivia and Peru suggest that alternative development in Colombia will not be successful unless the Colombian government controls coca-growing areas, has the capacity to carry out sustained interdiction operations, and the ability to effectively coordinate eradication and alternative development activities.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's work on U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) alternative development programs in Colombia resulted in financial savings of $31.7 million. On November 29, 2001, GAO held an exit conference with USAID officials to explain in detail GAO's conclusions and recommendations on a review of alternative development programs in Colombia. On December 11, 2001, GAO sent to USAID for agency comments a draft of its report, "Drug Control: Efforts to Develop Alternatives to Cultivating Illicit Crops in Colombia Have Made Little Progress and Face Serious Obstacles." The report noted that the alternative development program in Colombia is not likely to achieve success until, at a minimum, the Colombian government can provide the security in the coca-growing region that is essential for carrying out sustained interdiction and eradication operations, providing safe access to project sites, and attracting the private investment needed for long-term income-generating development. The report included a recommendation that USAID update its plans and spending proposals for Colombia to take into account the extreme difficulty in gaining access to the coca-growing regions. On December 27, 2001, based in large part on the findings and recommendations in GAO's report, USAID suspended its program in Colombia and began revising its approach there. On March 19, 2002, USAID officials confirmed that they were revising their approach. They told GAO that they were halting large agro-industry and other projects that could not succeed in Southern Colombia, where the necessary security does not exist. In their place, USAID is initiating social infrastructure and other projects in Southern Colombia that are not as dependent on security. USAID is also launching efforts in regions of the country beyond Southern Colombia, where the security situation is much more favorable. By making these adjustments, USAID saved $31.7 million from being wasted on programs that could not succeed, enabling it to redirect these funds to activities and regions in Colombia that offer a greater likelihood of success. Congressional action was rendered moot.

    Matter: Because of the serious obstacles impeding alternative development in Colombia, Congress should consider requiring that USAID demonstrate measurable progress in its current efforts to reduce coca cultivation in Colombia before any additional funding is provided for alternative development.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's work on U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) alternative development programs in Colombia resulted in financial savings of $31.7 million. On November 29, 2001, GAO held an exit conference with USAID officials to explain in detail GAO's conclusions and recommendations on a review of alternative development programs in Colombia. On December 11, 2001, GAO sent to USAID for agency comments a draft of its report, "Drug Control: Efforts to Develop Alternatives to Cultivating Illicit Crops in Colombia Have Made Little Progress and Face Serious Obstacles." The report noted that the alternative development program in Colombia is not likely to achieve success until, at a minimum, the Colombian government can provide the security in the coca-growing region that is essential for carrying out sustained interdiction and eradication operations, providing safe access to project sites, and attracting the private investment needed for long-term income-generating development. The report included a recommendation that USAID update its plans and spending proposals for Colombia to take into account the extreme difficulty in gaining access to the coca-growing regions. On December 27, 2001, based in large part on the findings and recommendations in GAO's report, USAID suspended its program in Colombia and began revising its approach there. On March 19, 2002, USAID officials confirmed that they were revising their approach. They told GAO they were halting large agro-industry and other projects that could not succeed in Southern Colombia, where the necessary security does not exist. In their place, USAID is initiating social infrastructure and other projects in Southern Colombia that are not as dependent on security. USAID is also launching efforts in regions of the country beyond Southern Colombia, where the security situation is much more favorable. By making these adjustments, USAID saved $31.7 million from being wasted on programs that could not succeed, enabling it to redirect these funds to activities and regions in Colombia that offer a greater likelihood of success.

    Recommendation: Because USAID faces serious obstacles to achieving widespread voluntary coca eradication in Colombia, the administrator of USAID should update USAID's project plans and spending proposals for coca elimination in Colombia to take into account the extreme difficulty in gaining access to the coca-growing regions to ensure that funds are used as effectively as possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of State: Agency for International Development

 

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