Measures taken by the government to combat the drug trade; arrests and prosecution of police officers or state officials involved in the drug trade; government agencies established to fight the drug trade; and recent successful operations to curtail the drug trade, 1996-98 [COL29843.E]

Please find attached two reports, one of them a summary prepared by the U. S. government Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in March 1997, which is the most comprehensive overview on the subject found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

A mid-1996 Spanish-language report describes the Anti-narcotics Division (Division Antinarcóticos, DANTI) of the Colombian National Police (Policía Nacional de Colombia, PNC), noting that its two main activities are the eradication of illegal coca and poppy crops, and interdiction efforts aimed at disrupting and dismantling trafficking networks (11 July 1996). The latter consist mostly of airborne raids against clandestine laboratories that produce drugs (ibid.).

DANTI forces are assigned to five anti-narcotics zones strategically distributed throughout the country: Santa Marta, in the North; Bogota, in the centre; Tuluá, in the West; San José del Guaviare, in the East; and Puerto Asís, in the South (ibid.). All five contingents are as mobile as circumstances require, independent (albeit under the national command of DANTI), and "global"—meaning that they include groups for interdiction, intelligence, and judicial police work (ibid.). DANTI benefits from bilateral agreements between the governments of Colombia and the United States, which include the services of military and civilian advisors, and the opening of an air school in Mariquita where the PNC receives aerial eradication training (ibid.).

In December 1996 a report cited the head of Colombia's anti-narcotics police force announcing the results of his force's work as follows:

40 tonnes of cocaine and cocaine paste (PBC) captured in the first 11 months of the year; 230 tonnes of 'ready for export' baled marijuana destroyed; 24,000 hectares of illegal crops sprayed with herbicide (18,000 ha. coca and 6,000 ha. poppies); 8,000 tonnes of inputs confiscated (mainly precursor chemicals) (Andean Group 19 Dec. 1996, 6).

Nonetheless, the report comments:

But the magnitude of the task still ahead was underlined by the discovery, on the same day, hidden in the jungle near Miraflores, department of Guaviare, of a laboratory capable of processing 48 tonnes of cocaine a month. Some 33 tonnes of inputs were also found, together with microwave ovens, washing machines, electricity generators, pumps and other equipment. Only one arrest was made when police and soldiers burst in, though the installations could comfortably accommodate 500 (ibid.).

The same report states that "the government refused to back proposed legislation that would give military courts more powers to try civilians, while exempting armed forces personnel from investigation by the public prosecutor's office," and adds that "the military complain that they hand over suspected drug-traffickers and terrorists to the civilian authorities, only for them to be freed by the courts" (ibid., 7).

One report summarizes Colombia's anti-drug efforts during 1996 and 1997 as follows:

[Colombia] made notable progress during this period, including the capture of the leaders of the Cali cartel, the eradication of large portions of illicit crops in comparison to other drug-producing nations, the confiscation of comparatively large amounts of drug shipments, the approval of legislation to revoke the ownership of properties obtained through illicit narcotics activities and to increase sentences for drug-related crimes, and the reintroduction of the issue of extradition, prohibited by the 1991 constitution (Current History Feb. 1998, 64).

In late-1997, after the arrest of "the king of the South American heroin trade" in Bogota and a number of other high-level arrests by Colombian police, it was reported that the government of Colombia was cooperating more closely with the governments of Peru and the United States (Andean Group 26 Aug. 1997, 3).

A 1998 Colombian news article reports that

The governments of Colombia and Venezuela [...] signed two bilateral cooperation agreements to fight drug trafficking and crime in the two countries.

The first one concerns controlling and overseeing precursor chemicals that are essential for the illegal processing of drugs and hallucinogenic substances. The two nations committed themselves to exchange information about commercial and customs operations and the distribution of basic precursor chemicals. They will also share available information about organizations and persons involved in the processing, purchase, sale, import, export, re-export, transport and storage of these products.

This agreement will come into force in 30 days and the list of precursor chemicals and other chemicals, which will be subjected to the control of the two countries, will be available 90 days later.

The other agreement involves police cooperation and it was prompted by rising crime against people, goods and services in the two countries. It includes "speedy and efficient" mechanisms to prevent public order disorders and crime in each territory, particularly at the border area.

The joint actions are limited by the jurisdiction of each country's police forces and they also involve the creation of a permanent system to exchange information on all those who have been charged, prosecuted and condemned, as well as data pertaining to criminal organizations operating in the two countries (El Espectador 29 Apr. 1998).

In March 1998 the United States Department of State stated that:

Colombia is engaged in a broad range of narcotics control activities. Through aerial spraying of herbicide and manual eradication, Colombia has attempted to keep coca, opium poppy, and cannabis cultivations from expanding. The government has committed itself to the eradication of all illicit crops, interdiction of drug shipments, and financial controls to prevent money laundering.

Corruption and intimidation by traffickers complicate the drug-control efforts of many institutions of government. Despite a major overhaul of the Colombian judicial system as a result of the 1991 Constitution, changes have yet to produce successful prosecution of narcotics traffickers. Colombia passed a revised criminal procedures code in 1993 which permits traffickers to surrender and negotiate lenient sentences in return for cooperating with prosecutors. In December 1996 and February 1997, however, the Colombian Congress passed legislation to toughen sentencing, asset forfeiture, and money laundering penalties. In November 1997, the Colombian Congress amended the constitution to permit the extradition of Colombian nationals, albeit not retroactively--which could have the effect of shielding major traffickers from justice in the United States and other countries where they committed their crimes. The legislation is currently being reviewed by the Constitutional Court. The Colombian Government permits extradition of foreigners resident in Colombia.

On March 1, 1996 and again on February 28, 1997, President Clinton made the decision not to certify Colombia as fully cooperating with the U.S. or taking adequate steps on its own to meet the objectives of the 1988 UN Convention on drugs. The U.S. concluded that there was a lack of effort at the top levels of Colombia's government to push for legislative and judicial reforms to strengthen Colombian government institutions' ability to fight narco-trafficking. Under the certification legislation, the U.S. Government was required to halt non-humanitarian and non-counternarcotics aid to Colombia and to vote against loans to Colombia by certain multilateral development banks. U.S. law provides for the discretionary imposition of economic sanctions, which were not imposed.

On February 26, 1998, the President determined that the vital national interests of the United States require that U.S. assistance to Colombia be provided to meet the increasing challenges posed to counternarcotics efforts in Colombia. The President thus granted Colombia a national interests certification, which waives the restrictions of decertification and allows for broader U.S. engagement with Colombia in the fight against illegal narcotics.

Colombia, along with other drug producing and drug transit countries, will be reviewed for counter-narcotics performance again at by March 1, 1999 and each successive year.

The legislation allowing the confiscation of goods acquired by illegal means, originally passed in December 1996, was approved by the Constitutional Court in late-1997 (Andean Group 26 Aug. 1997, 2). The law, described as an important blow to the illegal drug trade, was used immediately thereafter against drug traffickers, and was to be used against government corruption and organized crime in general (ibid.).

The recent high-profile case of Fernando Botero, a former defence minister who was jailed "for stuffing drug money into President Ernesto Samper's 1994 campaign chest," raised controversy because he only served one-third of his 90-month sentence (Latin American Weekly Report 17 Feb. 1998). However, the release was granted "in accordance with Colombian legislation, because he confessed, cooperated with the authorities and spent his time in detention working and studying" (ibid.).

In March 1998 the Andean Newsletter, published in South America, highlighted Colombia's advances in its fight against drug trafficking as follows:

The Colombian case in unique as it has to carry out concrete anti-drug activities against a backdrop of extreme conflict.

[...] The list of achievements could also include the recent capture of Victor Carranza, who is behind one of the country's most bloodthirsty paramilitary groups and also has ties to cocaine traffic.

On the legislative front, the approval of the extradition of Colombians, the signing of an agreement for maritime interdiction, a law which revokes ownership of illegal goods, as well as increased sentences for drug crimes, constitute favourable points for 1997. In reality, the Clinton government continues to hold a more understanding attitude regarding the country, but not with its government. Events such as the release of Fernando Botero, the debate about the penal alternative law, as well as the non retroactive nature of extradition, may well play a role in this situation.

Also in early 1998, the Washington Post reported that "about two-thirds of FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and half of ELN [National Liberation Army] units are involved in drug trafficking, according to U.S. and Colombian intelligence sources," adding that a distinction between anti-guerrilla and anti-narcotics actions "has become difficult to make" (10 Apr. 1998). The same report states that

According to U.S. military sources, there are about 200 U.S. military personnel in Colombia. About half are assigned to operate and protect two large radar bases that were installed in recent years to track flights of planes piloted by suspected drug traffickers. The rest are involved in a variety of training missions... (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Andean Newsletter [Lima]. March 1998. No. 133. "Anti-Drug Certification: A Need For Change."

Current History [Philadelphia]. February 1998. Arlene B. Tickner. "Colombia: Chronicle of a Crisis Foretold."

El Espectador [Bogota]. 29 April 1998. "Agreements to Fight Drug Trafficking and Crime Signed with Venezuela " (BBC World Summary/NEXIS)

Latin American Regional Reports: Andean Group [London]. 26 August 1997. "Court Approves Confiscation Law" and "'El Ministro' Arrested."

_____. 19 December 1996. "New Cartels Struggle For Control."

Latin American Weekly Report [London]. 17 February 1998. "Botero Released After 30 Months; Former Defence Minister Granted Full Remission."

_____. 19 December 1996. "New Cartels Struggle For Control."

United States Department of State Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. March 1998. "Background Notes: Colombia." [Internet] www.background_notes/colombia_0398_bgn.html [Accessed 5 Aug. 1998]

United States Information Agency (USIA). 11 July 1996. "Firman revision del acuerdo de apoyo a la policia antinarcoticos." [Internet] wwwhpoan.html[Accessed 10 Aug. 1998]

The Washington Post. 10 April 1998. Douglas Farrah. "Colombian Rebels Seen Winning War; U.S. Study Finds Army Inept, Ill-Equipped." (NEXIS)


Andean Newsletter [Lima]. May 1997. No. 135. "Andes: Tense Regional Situation, Agreements and Important Visits," p. 4.

United States Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. March 1997. "Colombia." [Internet]http:// [Accessed 7 Aug. 1998]