U.S. Policy on ‘Drugs and Thugs’ in the Andes Cannot Achieve U.S. Regional Goals of Democracy, Prosperity, and Security, Concludes Council Commission

U.S. Policy on ‘Drugs and Thugs’ in the Andes Cannot Achieve U.S. Regional Goals of Democracy, Prosperity, and Security, Concludes Council Commission

January 7, 2004 2:54 pm (EST)

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January 8, 2004 - Over the past two decades the United States has spent billions of dollars and significant manpower in the Andes region to stem the flow of illegal drugs; assist local security forces in the fight against drugs, terror and insurgency; and promote free markets, human rights, and democracy. Yet the democracies of the Andean region—Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia— are still at risk, and the prospect of regional collapse is real and poses a serious threat to U.S. lives and interests.

This is the central finding of Andes 2020, a Center for Preventive Action initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Commission was chaired by the Honorable John G. Heimann, former Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury and founding chairman of the Financial Stability Institute; and Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman (USA, Ret.), former Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, and now Senior Vice President for International Affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Julia E. Sweig, Council Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of Latin America Studies, directed the project.

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The Commission attempts to redress what it considers to be a major weakness of current U.S. policy as embodied in Plan Colombia and the Andean Counter-drug Initiative: an overly narrow focus on counternarcotics and security issues, and the relative absence of complementary, comprehensive, regionally-oriented strategies. The Commission does not call for more resources— the United States currently spends some $700 million per year in the region— but rather a recalibration of U.S. financial and political commitments to sustain American engagement beyond Plan Colombia’s expiration in 2005.

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The Commission puts forth three objectives to rectify current policy. Determined action on these three strategic objectives will, over time, accomplish sustainable progress toward political, economic, and security goals that a policy focused mainly on supply-side counterdrug efforts cannot achieve:

I. The need to more equitably distribute political and economic resources and power in each country, with a commitment to strategic rural land reform.

  • Recommendations for the Andean governments include the imposition and enforcement of property tax; acceleration of land titling and registry; and the enactment of strategic, market-assisted land reform in an accountable and transparent fashion. On the latter point, the Commission strongly recommends that the Colombian government— with U.S. assistance— halt the ongoing, coercive land grab by left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary forces, and narcotraffickers. It is also crucial that Colombia’s asset forfeiture laws are effectively applied to ill-gotten land gains now in the hands of Colombia’s illegal armed actors and drug traffickers.

II. The importance of greater participation by the international community on a range of diplomatic, political, economic, social, security, and humanitarian issues.

  • Regarding illegal drugs, the Commission recommends a multilateral, multifaceted approach that combines financial incentives, broad international participation, and shared responsibility on both the supply and demand sides of the problem. This can best be achieved through a special development fund for drug cultivating countries, administered by the World Bank and sponsored by the major drug-consuming countries.
  • Other recommendations include amplified security assistance; a coordinated regional assistance strategy by international donors; targeted financial sanctions against narcotraffickers, paramilitaries, guerrillas, and their financial supporters; and greater human and financial resources to stem Colombia’s humanitarian crisis.
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III. The recognition that regional problems require regional approaches and that greater cooperation among the Andean countries is essential.

  • The region should strengthen the revenue generating systems of the Andes by cracking down on tax evasion, broadening the tax base, and moving toward a more progressive tax structure to reduce inequality.
  • The Andean governments should also work together to negotiate an Andean Free Trade Area until the advent of the Free Trade Area of the Americas; form an Andean customs union with reduced intra-regional tariff barriers; create social safety nets; and expand security cooperation between armed forces along border areas.

The Center for Preventive Action seeks to help prevent deadly conflicts around the world, find ways to resolve ongoing ones, and expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention. It does so by bringing together representatives of governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and civil society to develop and implement practical and timely strategies for promoting peace in specific conflict situations. CPA focuses on conflicts in countries or regions that affect U.S. interests, where prevention appears possible and when the resources of the Council on Foreign Relations can make a difference.

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Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.


Nancy Birdsall
Center for Global Development

Daniel W. Christman
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Nelson W. Cunningham
Kissinger McLarty Associates

Ian Davis
Occidental International Corporation

Mathea Falco
Drug Strategies

George A. Folsom
International Republican Institute

Sergio J. Galvis
Sullivan & Cromwell

Anthony S. Harrington
Stonebridge International, LLC

H. Allen Holmes
Georgetown University

John G. Heimann
Financial Stability Institute

Robert Orr
Harvard University

Mark Schneider
International Crisis Group

Barbara Shailor

George Soros
Soros Fund Management

Julia E. Sweig
Council on Foreign Relations

Arturo Valenzuela
Georgetown University

Alexander Watson
Hills & Company

Charles Wilhelm
Battelle Corporation

Jonathan Winer
Alston & Bird

James D. Zirin
Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, LLP


Fulton Armstrong
National Intelligence Council

Alberto Ibargüen
Miami Herald

Edward Jardine
Procter & Gamble de Venezuela and the Andean Region

James LeMoyne
United Nations

Carl Meacham
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

William L. Nash
Council on Foreign Relations

Janice O’Connell
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Rogelio Pardo-Maurer
Department of Defense

Linda Robinson
U.S. News & World Report

Thomas Shannon
National Security Council


Kathleen Jennings
Council on Foreign Relations

Michael McCarthy
Council on Foreign Relations

Alexander Sarly
Development Alternatives, Inc.

Jeremy Weinstein
Center for Global Development

Contact: Lisa Shields, Vice President, Communications, (212) 434-9888


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