Revised 9:00AM on 4/29/18: I added two more options to the table based on a suggestion from Twitter user @gabrielvc.
Colombia’s government, faced with record-high levels of coca cultivation, is considering using drones to spray herbicides over the fields.
This is less indiscriminate and risky to public health than spraying from aircraft, a program the U.S. government paid for between 1994 and 2015. It’s safer for the eradicators, who would be less vulnerable to snipers, ambushes, landmines, and booby traps in the fields.
But ultimately even a billion-dollar swarm of drones wouldn’t solve Colombia’s coca problem. Here’s a really simplified matrix I threw together today illustrating why, by looking at all the main options.
As you can see here, in my view, only one of the options promises to bring coca cultivation under control in the long term. That’s the one where Colombia actually governs its territory effectively with a minimum of corruption or abuse. That’s the hardest of these options to pursue, and the least immediately rewarding. But all of the others are just partial fixes.
(This matrix leaves out the “legalize cocaine” option, which isn’t a near-term possibility. Because the drug is more addictive than most, legalization advocates confront a widespread belief that legalized use would carry too high a social cost.)