Colombia Peace Process: The abandonment of the PNIS and the resumption of the “war on drugs”

Undoubtedly, the economic, political and social dimensions of drug trafficking have been one of the main factors favoring the persistence of the armed conflict in Colombia. The Peace Agreement includes a chapter aimed at transforming the logic of the failed war on drugs with comprehensive programs to transform the most affected territories, hitting the strongest links in the chain and adopting a differentiated penal treatment for the weakest sectors such as growers and consumers; Integrated National Program for the Substitution of Illicitly Used Crops – PNIS, contemplated in point 4 of the Peace Agreement.

However, a succession of errors in its implementation, the economic interests of powerful national and international drug traffickers, added to the strong opposition of certain sectors within the State, among other factors, blocked the policy of substitution of illicitly used crops and have caused its failure in the most critical territories of the country1.

One of the strongest blows to the solution to the problem of illicit drugs posed in the Peace Agreement is the war on drugs policy that the current government has resumed.

Since his inauguration as president, Duque made the decision to stop entering into voluntary substitution agreements with communities. This type of agreement had been celebrated since the Santos government, reaching a total of 99,907 families linked to the program; however, the number of linked families was frozen at that figure due to Duque’s decision, and despite the constant requests from families and communities to be linked to the program.

The government’s compliance with the commitments assumed with the 99,907 families linked to the substitution program has been limited to food assistance payments, ignoring the commitments assumed in terms of productive projects and technical assistance, a situation that limits the possibility of maintaining the substitution processes in the long term.

Although the commitments to the almost one hundred thousand families have been partially fulfilled, the government has not fulfilled the total of approximately 188,030 families that signed collective substitution agreements, which indicates that about 48% of the families that expressed their willingness to advance in voluntary substitution did not enter the Program. Given that several of the municipalities partially covered by the PNIS had non-individualized voluntary substitution collective agreements, a gap has been created in the policy that makes it increasingly difficult to differentiate the territories that ought to be subject to voluntary substitution measures from those where forced eradication ought to operate2.

The Duque government has taken advantage of this gap to promote operations of forced eradication in various regions of the country, which has led to the militarization of the territories, situations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law violations, since the operations of the Public Force have been characterized by a disproportionate use of force, as well as the attack and destruction of civilian property.

It should be kept in mind that the Agreement allows for the advancement of forced eradication operations, but only in a subsidiary manner, with the understanding that agreements with the communities for substitution processes should be prioritized.

The government has taken the decision to restart aerial spraying activities with glyphosate: since October 27, the Minister of Defence reported that the details are being finalized to comply with the requirements imposed by the Constitutional Court and to be able to restart this practice. This government decision has provoked various criticisms from various sectors of civil society, due to the negative consequences it has on the environment, the irreversible illnesses it causes in human beings, and the strong impact it has had on the economy of many families who decided to participate in the PNIS.

As it has been implemented, the PNIS has not been able to advance in all of the established goals, despite the fact that families have voluntarily eradicated 41,000 of the 50,000 hectares established as a goal in the PND 2018-2022, with a reseeding percentage of 0.2%. It should be noted that between 2018 and 2019, there was a 9% decrease in the number of hectares with coca crops at the national level, from 169,000 in the first year to 154,000 in the second, and a 13% reduction in the municipalities where the PNIS operates, from 109,569 hectares in 2018 to 94,900 in 20193.

The impasses facing the implementation of the PNIS are due to Duque’s unwillingness to comply with the provisions of point 4 of the Agreement, despite the communities’ insistence on being included in the program. On the contrary, in addition to carrying out forced eradication processes, with the consequent violation of rights that this entails, Duque has decided to implement a policy called “Custom-made”, a substitution strategy that only covers 50,000 of the 154,000 hectares of coca planted and does not promote family production projects. Under this model, the financial resources will not come directly from the government, as was contemplated in the Agreement, but rather from national and local governments, unions and international cooperation.

The government’s unwillingness to comply with the PNIS is also reflected in the resources it allocates for its implementation. In 2019, resources for peace were allocated for forced eradication and the Strategic Zones for Comprehensive Intervention or “Future Zones”, even though the PNIS does not have sufficient funding to fulfill all of its commitments or to reach new territories.

Finally, one more element to take into consideration is the security situation at the territorial level. One of the major problems facing the implementation of the PNIS is the fact that the substitution agreements have been concluded without taking into account security conditions, and that the State does not have a policy of prevention and protection for the civilian participants in these processes. It should be borne in mind that the regions of the country with the greatest presence of coca crops are also the regions where the most killings of social leaders have occurred since the signing of the Peace Agreement. It is common for communities to be harassed by paramilitary groups in order to stop manual coca eradication operations.

1 Colombian Commission of Jurists: What are the patterns? Killings of social leaders in the post-agreement period. Available on:

2 Office of the Inspector General of Colombia. (September 2020) Second report to Congress on the state of progress of the implementation of the Peace Agreement.

3 Office of the Inspector General of Colombia. (September 2020) Second report to Congress on the state of progress of the implementation of the Peace Agreement 2019-2020.