Source: The Christian Science Monitor
23 May 2008
By: Mark Schneider
Drug use is up, and Colombian farmers are unfairly targeted. Let’s
Every year, White House officials describe the US counterdrug policies
in the same glowing terms used to describe the Emperor’s new clothes:
We’re snuffing out coca crops and cracking down on those who grow them.
But they leave out two important facts: More cocaine is coming out of
South America than ever before and more young Americans are using than
when the Bush administration took office.
Officials tell us they’ve made progress in eradicating tens of thousands
of acres of coca by spraying chemical weed-killer from airplanes
protected by heavily armed helicopter gunships.
They tell success stories about hundreds of tons of coca paste and
cocaine they’ve seized on Colombian roads and on the high seas. They
speak proudly of the coffee, beans, and vegetables harvested under
Colombian and US alternative development projects.
But there are key facts missing in their description of the Emperor’s
counterdrug-policy wardrobe. When Plan Colombia (the multibillion dollar
US assistance program targeted at curbing drug smuggling and supporting
Colombia against armed guerrillas) started, coca was cultivated in 12 of
Colombia’s 34 provinces. Today it is grown in 23 of those provinces.
In 2006, after five years of Plan Colombia, four years of the regional
Andean Counterdrug Initiative, and after spending $5.5 billion, some
1,000 metric tons of cocaine were produced between Colombia, Peru, and
Bolivia, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. That’s about
the same amount that was produced in 2002 when President Álvaro Uribe
The head of the White House Office of Narcotics and Drug Control
Program, John Walters, admitted at a press conference in Haiti recently
that last year that cocaine production had risen to 1,400 metric tons in
2007 – a whopping 40 percent hike. Not surprisingly, his staff is
scrambling to rephrase that.
Washington is focusing on the most easily replaceable link of the
cocaine production chain – the impoverished campesino – through aerial
spraying and forced eradication. These poor farmers feel unfairly
singled out, since too many at the top of the chain – drug traffickers
and illegal armed combatants – survive or are quickly replaced by
equally brutal traffickers. This administration’s policy of targeting
the poorest is wrong.
Law enforcement and interdiction are essential to control drug
trafficking, but not sufficient. A massive increase in rural development
would provide a far better chance of reducing the drug supply flowing
from the Andean ridge countries than eradication alone.
Colombia is faced with a continuing insurgency, which finances itself
from drug revenues, and the Peruvian and Bolivian coca growers are among
the continent’s most impoverished indigenous communities. That’s why
it’s so important for Washington to support a massive increase in rural
infrastructure investment, rural governance, and public service
extension into those communities now.
Congress made a good start last year by voting to shift Plan Colombia
funding away from military to economic development and rule of law.
Unfortunately, the administration opposed it. Now Congress needs to go
one step further and push this administration, and the next one, to
rethink a counterdrug policy that has not achieved its goals.
Fundamental changes are needed in both supply and demand policies if
there is going to be a decline in cocaine trafficking into the US.
In 2002, just under 9 percent of the US population from 12 to 25 years
of age admitted to using cocaine the previous year. In 2006, the same
percentage said they snorted cocaine. Since the population has grown,
simple math shows that in absolute terms many more used cocaine.
A one-size-fits-all demand reduction policy essentially aims to put
everyone who touches cocaine in jail – whether they are one-time or
weekend users, addicts or traffickers.
Certainly for traffickers, the only option is more effective law
enforcement that works closely with other nations to go after their
money, their assets, and their structures.
For cocaine users, it is time to build on the best models of dealing
with addicts through a public health lens, with hospitals, clinics, and
treatment replacing jails. And a massive public service effort should be
launched to target recreational users that equates cocaine use with
drunken driving – unacceptable destructive behavior. Their weekend fun
kills young people in Colombia and Los Angeles and Miami. It has to stop.
Producers and consumers in the Andes, the US, Europe, and the Southern
Cone must come together and admit that the Emperor’s counterdrug
wardrobe is threadbare. It needs new fabric and a new design – a top to
bottom overhaul of counternarcotics thinking.
Mark L. Schneider is senior vice president and special adviser on Latin
America at the International Crisis Group, an international conflict