Abstract: Vanda Felbab-Brown’s chapter in Ungoverned Spaces: Alternatives to State Authority in an Era of Softened Sovereignty, Harold Trinkunas and Anne Clunnan, eds. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010) explores the “lack of governance,” or more precisely, the lack of “official or recognized governance,” in the domain of illicit economies.
The emergence of illicit economies is an expression of the limits of state capacity or state will to enforce domestic or international regulations. Not only is the intensity of resources required by states to eliminate illicit economies frequently very high and beyond the capacity of the state, but the high rents it garners from illegality may well tempt the state to tolerate the illicit economy. The state, especially if weak, may choose to co-opt the illicit economy or even deliberately set up one. The chapter examines the nexus of conflict and illicit economies. It argues against the common assumption that state efforts at suppressing illicit economies, such as the eradication of illegal drug crops, inevitably weaken belligerents. Inherently difficult, such policies frequently fail in their goal of substantially reducing the belligerents’ financial income, while they often have the greatly damaging effect of losing the hearts and minds of the population.
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The Duque government’s drug policy in Colombia is taking on a progressively ominous and counterproductive direction. It threatens to undermine the incomplete and struggling peace process, misdirect law enforcement resources, augment the alienation of coca farmers from the state and undermine human rights and drug users’ access to health services in Colombia. With their emphasis on criminalization of even drug possession for personal use and forced eradication, the announced policies clearly cater to the Trump administration’s doctrinaire and discredited drug policy preferences that harken back to the 1980s. But without sustainable livelihoods already in place, forced eradication will not sustainably reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production. The dominance of zero-coca thinking in Colombia whereby a community has to eradicate all coca first before it starts receiving even meager assistance from the state never produced positive results in Colombia.