Colombia and FARC Peace Accord: The Impact on the US Cocaine Market
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
U.S. drug users have had a love affair with cocaine for a long time. Every year, the drug’s popularity changes, as the user demographic becomes more affluent than the typical user of drugs that come across the border from Mexico, and demand is influenced by how fashionable cocaine becomes that year. Seizure statistics by U.S. law enforcement agencies – and the price of a gram of cocaine on the street – reflects its trendiness. However, events in the political realm developing in Colombia, the most common source of U.S.-bound cocaine may have a big impact on the drug’s domestic market.
Mexico is not Cocaine’s Original Source
Because most of the cocaine that enters the U.S. comes from Mexico, many people are under the assumption that Mexico is the ultimate source. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Peru was once the top producer of the drug, but Colombia moved into the top spot several decades ago. Originally, Colombian traffickers were able to move cocaine into the U.S. themselves, typically through the Caribbean into South Florida. However, with the dismantling of the Medellín and Cali cartels in the early 1990s, Colombian traffickers had to look for another way to get the drug into the lucrative US market. Enter the Mexican drug cartels.
Initially, Mexico served as the cocaine “trampoline” by which Colombian traffickers would hand over their shipments to Mexican traffickers, who would then move the product overland across the southwest border into the U.S. Mexican cartels first started accepting payment in cash, but then demanded the product as their payment. Eventually, they became so good at trafficking cocaine that they started dictating terms to the Colombian producers. This was one of the major historical developments that led to the rise of the Mexican drug cartels we know today.
Half of US Street Cocaine Comes from FARC
One of the major players in the Colombian cocaine market continues to be the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a communist narco-terrorist group more commonly known as the FARC. The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated that roughly 50 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States has touched the hands of the FARC at some point. While the FARC’s initial goal was to replace the Colombian democratic government with an agrarian communist government, they got involved in the cocaine trade in order to fund their terrorist activities. For decades, the FARC has been involved in bombings, the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and the kidnapping of hostages for ransom.
However, after many years of fruitless efforts towards disarmament, the Colombian government and FARC leadership have entered into a peace accord that promises to significantly reduce violence and drug trafficking activity in the country. At this point, it is difficult to say how long it will take for the logistics of the peace accord to be worked out. But it is also naïve to think that the FARC’s share of the cocaine trade in Colombia will disappear entirely. The question becomes, who will take it over, and how? Many criminal groups and drug trafficking organizations still exist across Columbia, and they are very hungry to eat up any leftovers that the FARC leaves behind.
The Effect on Drug Trafficking
As this transition occurs, it is also likely to have a major impact on drug trafficking agreements with Mexican cartels, as well as street prices in the U.S. Fortunately for Mexican cartels, although cocaine accounts for their largest profit margins, they are starting to see larger revenues derived from heroin and methamphetamine exports. Cartels can adjust their product offerings, so to speak, to compensate for changes in the drug market, although they will still likely feel at least a small financial pinch.
These concerns may also be all for naught, as there is always the possibility that the FARC will renege on its agreement to lay down arms and end of the drug trade in Columbia. Other criminal groups may also be quick to pick up on what the FARC leaves behind, with only a minor hick up in the cocaine logistics chain. Because the peace accords will probably take some time to fully enact, this will likely be a drawn-out process, and it will take some time for market changes to be fully noticeable.