The expanding cocaine trade in Colombia is undermining President George W. Bush’s effort to push through a free-trade agreement with his southern neighbor. Despite opposition from Democracts, Bush is trying to seal a deal before he leaves office in January by hitching it to a bailout for U.S. automakers. Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, has argued that free trade would produce jobs in Colombia that would provide alternatives to the illegal drug trade. With the global economy in the cellar, that argument has lost much of its luster.
Now it appears the cocaine business is stronger than previously thought. As the United States was pouring $5 billion into Colombia to fight drugs over the past eight years, particularly cocaine, the country’s drug cartels were finding new routes through West Africa and shipping their wares to expanding markets in Europe, Africa, and South America. The U.S. General Accounting Office reported last week that instead of reducing the cultivation and production of drugs by 50 percent, the stated goal of the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia, Uribe has presided over an increase in coca cultivation of 15 percent and an increase in cocaine production of 4 percent.
The report was ordered by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, meaning President-elect Barack Obama, one of the main barriers to the free trade deal, probably took note.
Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe, center, gestures, during a graduation ceremony for new police officers in Bogota, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. At left is Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, at right, the commander of Army Forces Gen. Freddy Padilla.(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)