Learning from Colombia’s experience  

Faced with an insurgency and drug problems, the Philippines can take a page or two from the Colombia experience.

With a population of about 48 million, the third-most populous in Latin America, Colombia is the world’s largest supplier of cocaine. It also has a 52-year-old insurgency movement, triggered by the assassination of a popular leader in 1948.

The insurgency and drug war in Colombia have displaced 7 million of its citizens, and about 250,000 people have been killed. Its rebel movement has strong ties with Cuba’s communists.

Colombia’s economy has features like the Philippines, with its services sector (60 percent), industry (30 percent) and agriculture (10 percent) and a GDP growth rate of 4.7 percent (2015).

In the United States, since 1971 when President Richard Nixon “declared war on drugs”, as did every American president after him, the war on drugs failed to solve the drug menace. Every year the US Federal government spends $15 billion as contribution to the global antidrug war.

In the 1990s the US-sponsored “Plan Colombia” sprayed the cocoa plantations (source of cocaine) to kill the plants. But the Colombian farmers became destitute. So the rebels-communists, instead of uprooting the plants, made a “modus vivendi” with the farmers (protection with taxation) and even manufactured and trafficked cocaine to sustain their operations—aside from their lucrative kidnap for ransom activities, similar to the Abu Sayyaf.

Colombia has two active rebel groups: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), with a 7,000 force and the National Liberation Army with 2,000.

Compared to Colombia’s drugs and rebel problems, the Philippine war on drugs would look like a kindergarten party. Last year a historic Peace Program was signed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Echeverri (alias Timochenko), with the Vatican, Cuba and Spain in attendance. (Like the Philippines, Colombia was also colonized by Spain).

However, when the peace accord was submitted to 13 million voters in a referendum, the “No” vote won by 63,000 votes. At the center of the “No” campaign was former President (now senator) Alvaro Uribe who recently met with US President Donald J. Trump for undisclosed reasons.

The peace negotiations, however, continued.

For the cocoa farmers (cocaine growers), the Colombian government offered land reform and livelihood projects.

For the rebels, they were offered “restorative sentences” (not a jail term) in selected sites in Colombia in exchange for full confession. Through the United Nations, there is now an orderly surrender of arms by about 9,000 rebels.

The biggest kicker was the liberal entry of the rebels into mainstream politics such that FARC is now a legitimate political party vying for power.

Of course, there are objections to the deal described as a possible  “leftist takeover” of government and “rewarding the rebels for their offenses”. Some members of Colombia’s military and the vigilantes allegedly responsible for 45,000 “extrajudicial killings” in the past years are scared they may instead face “selective justice” under the new coalition.

Yet, Colombia’s approach seems to be working. Killings and gunfights have significantly been reduced. The greater problem, however, is still the cocaine plantations, which have expanded to 180,000 hectares under cultivation.

This was after the US stopped the spraying of the plants when it was found out that glycosphate, an ingredient of the herbicide “Roundup”, used to spray the plants were carcinogenic and harmful to humans.

The Colombian government had to provide the cocoa growers land to till and livelihood opportunities, for democracy will not thrive when people suffer
from hunger.

Still, the Colombia experience is proof enough that decades-old insurgency can end peacefully with prosperity for all as an objective.

But first, the rule of law must be restored. A theory has been proven that “drug trafficking flourishes in countries with open conflicts and an endemic lack of the rule of law”. Examples given are Afgha-nistan, Colombia and Mexico.

The Philippines, on the other hand, is at the cusp of achieving “peace with the Reds” in the effort of the government to end this fratricidal war.

Let’s all support the Duterte administration’s efforts to achieve lasting peace.


Bingo Dejaresco, former banker, is a  financial consultant and media practitioner. He is chairman of both the Professional Development and Broadcast Media of Finex. But his views here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex. E-mail:



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