Alum lectures on Colombia drug crisis
With problems such as violence, a drug-based economy, and unwanted international intervention, the country of Colombia has faced major obstacles on its road to political and social stability. Russell Crandall '94, a MacArthur Assistant Professor of Political Science at Davidson College, addressed these issues in his Tuesday evening lecture entitled "Drugs, Terror and Civil War in Colombia: New Directions for US Policy." Crandall, who recently published Driven by Drugs: U.S. Policy Toward Colombia, made clear in his lecture that he had a personal, as well as academic interest, in the political and social issues in Colombia. Working as a human rights activist in Colombia, Crandall saw first hand the toll that the drugs and violence took on both the Colombian community and landscape.
In his lecture, Crandall began by explaining that Colombia has been fraught with violence since the 1960s when leftist guerrilla insurgents began fighting in the countryside and provincial cities. Rather than weakening over the decades, these groups "are stronger today than ever," said Crandall. Furthermore, he said, "right-wing paramilitary groups have launched an undeclared war on suspected civilian supporters of the guerrillas, destabilizing an already chaotic situation in Colombia."
On top of the political clash between left-wing liberals and right-wing conservatives, he discussed the unchecked drug problem. Cocaine, the main export drug, began as a crop in Bolivia and Peru. The raw or partly processed cocaine would then be shipped into Colombia where it would be refined in labs and then exported to other countries, including the United States.
The United States took action against the drug trafficking in the 1980s by targeting the actual crops as well as the Colombian kingpins, but this pushed production into more unstable and rural southern Colombia. Crandall explained that farmers who had been growing coffee were now growing cocaine and, to make matters worse, the crops were now located in areas controlled by the guerillas. Labs that had once been easy to target now became localized and the drug operations, once concentrated, became "ma and pa" type operations.
Paramilitaries in Colombia then began a "reign of terror" against civilians so as to get at the guerrillas indirectly. Essentially, by means of the drug wars, the U.S. had destabilized an already faltering Colombia. In 1998, when conservative party candidate Andres Pastrana was inaugurated, the playing field changed. Crandall explained that Pastrana wanted peace, but the United States, well practiced in the art of war, "did not have a peace policy." The result of much deliberation was "Plan Colombia"-a project to reinforce the Colombian government's fight in the age-old civil war, financed in part by the U.S.
Since Pastrana took office, conditions have improved significantly, "but this does not mean that narcotization has ended" said Crandall. "As long as the United States continues to make the drug war the overriding focus of its policies toward Colombia" as it has in the past, Colombia's political and social future will remain on unstable ground.
Professor Crandall has served as a consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations Project on Restored Democracies, and has worked as a project analyst for Catholic Relief Services in Quito, Ecuador and Bogotá, Colombia. Presently, Crandall is serving as a consultant for the Department of Defense on Colombian Politics.