A decade ago, before Mexican cities became bloody front lines, the biggest battles in the drug war were taking place 3,000 miles to the south, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. Colombia made headlines as a hotbed for violence, a large part of it tied to the cocaine trade. Drug money was fueling a long-running civil war, kidnappings for ransom were rampant, and a general sense of lawlessness prevailed. In the late 1990s, Colombia announced a plan to restore order. This evolved into a military-based effort, with U.S. backing, to curtail cocaine production and weaken insurgents.
Today, as Mexican troops enter their third year of deployment to destabilize the cartels that move drugs north, it is tempting to look to Colombia for a template. The streets of Bogota and other urban areas are safer, and tourism revenue has picked up. Yet the drugs are still coming. The U.S. has spent several billion dollars since 2000 on anti-drug efforts in Colombia, including aerial spraying to destroy coca crops. Yet cocaine production increased 4 percent from 2000 to 2006, says the Government Accountability Office. Colombian drug traffickers are not gone, just different. Experts say that if there is a lesson to be learned from Colombia’s experience, it is that as long as there is a demand for drugs, someone is going to provide the supply.