COLOMBIA AS DRUG SOURCE Smuggling and the commerce in contraband have been a way of life in Colombia for nearly 500 years. Approximately 1,000 miles (1609 km) of largely unpatrolled Pacific and Caribbean coastline and vast tracts of mostly uninhabitable territory— ranging from tropical jungles in the south, to rugged Andean mountain slopes in the east, to sparsely populated deserts in the north—have made Colombia a haven for smugglers of illegal COCAINE, MARIJUANA, and, most recently, HEROIN. Violence, cor ruption, inadequate control by the central government over much of its territory, and an ineffective judicial system have hampered Colombia's drug-control efforts. Consequently, Colombian cocaine is the single largest supply of that illicit drug to be smuggled into the United States.
During the 1980s, despite positive law enforcement and crop-control programs, Colombian laboratories processed large volumes of (COCA PLANT) (Erythroxylon coca) into cocaine; by the 1990s, their sophisticated trafficking infrastructure had diversified into heroin production and distribution, adding to the already large Asian and Mexican supply in the United States. To reduce the level of violence and achieve peaceful coexistence throughout the country, the Colombian government offered a type of amnesty, or plea bargain, to major drug traffickers willing to surrender and cease their trafficking operations. However, by the late 1990s, the government had shifted its approach, employing the military and law enforcement to attack narcotics cultivation, processing, and trafficking.
Colombia has powerful, often violent, trafficking organizations based in the major urban areas of Medellin and Cali, as well as the oldest continuous political insurgency in the Western Hemisphere, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Although the extradition treaty with the United States is no longer constitutional, the Colombian government has implemented the strongest drug law enforcement efforts of any Andean country. In the 1990s, Colombia began efforts to eradicate its burgeoning crop of opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), but met with little or no success. It also attempted to enhance the investigation of drug crimes through the development of a new code of criminal procedure; tougher chemical control; anti-money-laundering, asset-seizure, and evidence-sharing procedures.
Colombia was a signatory to the 1961 SINGLE Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. It has signed but not yet ratified the 1988 U.N. Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Although money laundering is not illegal in Colombia, the government is actively tracking narcotics proceeds (e.g., exchanging tax information and writing tougher financial disclosure laws) to improve its drug-investigative capacity.
By 1991, cocaine cartels in Colombia had diversified into the more lucrative heroin trade by cultivating opium poppies on the slopes of the Andes. (Drug Enforcement Administration)
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