US drug policy has become increasingly privatised in recent years as the US government contracts private military and security companies (PMSCs) to provide intelligence, logistical support and training to state security forces in drug-producing and –transit states. As the cases of Colombia and Mexico illustrate, this privatisation strategy is having a damaging impact on these already fragile environments.
As activists around the world participate in a Global Day of Action against criminalisation of drug use, evidence from the multi-billion dollar War on Drugs in Colombia suggests that militarized suppression of production and supply has displaced millions of people as well as the problem, not least to Mexico. The wrong lessons are being exported to Central America and beyond, but a groundswell of expert and popular opinion internationally is calling for alternative approaches to regulating the use and trade in drugs.
With skills and expertise in fighting insurgencies and drug trafficking networks, Colombia’s armed forces are increasingly being sought for engagement in similar security challenges in West Africa. But increasing Colombian engagement gives rise to a number of important questions – not least of which is the goal and expected outcomes of replicating militarised approaches to the war on drugs that have already failed in Latin America.
In Colombia there are many regions where poverty and the absence, or weak presence, of the state has facilitated the emergence of violence by armed groups. Among these are the Afro-Colombian communities of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó in the Urabá region. Whilst the Colombian government fails to fully develop social development programs (including education, health and infrastructure) and sustainable economic development policies to assist marginalised communities, the people of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó will remain poor, uneducated, vulnerable, and at risk of lose their territories once again.