In the fall of 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the country’s long-running insurgency group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC), earning the Colombian President Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. The peace deal provides an unprecedented opportunity not only to end decades of vicious violence, but also to achieve robust peace, justice, and development of Colombia’s marginalized rural areas. How Colombia will address the country’s illicit economies, including drug cultivation and trafficking that have long fueled the violent conflict, will significantly influence the sustainability and quality of the peace and was one of the key negotiating points between the FARC and the Colombian government. After years of drug suppression efforts, coca cultivation in Colombia expanded vastly over the past two years, stimulating calls for restarting aggressive eradication and giving rise to claims that the coca boom in Colombia is once again prompting an increase of cocaine use in the United States. Yet premature and inappropriate counternarcotics measures can jeopardize the peace in Colombia without easing drug use problems in the United States.
On May 1, the Latin America Initiative at Brookings hosted a panel discussion to examine the drugs-peace dynamic in Colombia and drug use trends in the United States, providing recommendations for harmonizing peace and justice objectives in Colombia and smart drug policies in the United States. Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America described the FARC peace deal agreement points regarding the illegal drug cultivation and trade. In addition to giving her reflections on recent counterdrug measures in Colombia, Brookings Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown provided a comparative assessment of the effectiveness of counter-drug policies in post-conflict settings. Beau Kilmer, co-director of The RAND Drug Policy Research Center, examined drug trends in the United States and their impact on Colombia. Brookings Senior Fellow Ted Piccone moderated the session and provided his reflections on security and democracy in Colombia.