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Election 2010 and US Drug Policy in Latin America [FEATURE]

This month's election returns, which resulted in the Republican Party taking back control of the US House of Representatives, have serious, if cloudy, ramifications for progress on drug policy on the domestic front. Similarly, when we look south of the border, where a cash-strapped US has been throwing billions of dollars, mainly at the governments of Colombia and Mexico in a quixotic bid to thwart the drug trade, the Republican return to control in the House could mean a more unfriendly atmosphere for efforts to reform our Latin American drug policy.

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Plan Merida funding on the line?
Or not. Analysts consulted by Drug War Chronicle this week said it was too soon to tell. They varied on the impact of the Tea Party movement on Republican drug policy positions, as well as reaching differing conclusions as to whether the Tea Party's much-touted allegiance to fiscal austerity will be trumped by mainstream Republican militarism, interventionism, and hostility to drug reform.

Since 2006, and including Fiscal Year 2011 budgets that have not actually been passed yet, the US has spent nearly $2.8 billion on military and police aid to Colombia, with that number increasing to roughly $7 billion if spending back to the beginning of Plan Colombia in 1999 is included. Likewise, since 2006, the US has dished out nearly $1.5 billion for the Mexican drug war, as well as smaller, but still significant amounts for other Latin American countries and multi-country regional initiatives. Overall, the US has spent $6.56 billion in military and police assistance to Latin America in the past five years, with the drug war used to justify almost all of it.

Even by its own metrics, the US drug war spending in Colombia has had, at best, limited success. It has helped stabilize the country's shaky democracy, it has helped weaken the leftist guerrillas of the FARC, and it has managed to marginally reduce coca and cocaine production in Colombia.

But those advances have come at very high price. Tens of thousands of Colombians have been killed in the violence in the past two decades, Colombia has the world's highest number of internal refugees, widespread aerial spraying of coca crops has led to environmental damage, and paramilitary death squads linked to the government continue to rampage. Some 38 labor leaders have been killed there so far this year.

The results of US anti-drug spending in Mexico have been even more meager. The $1.4 billion Plan Merida has beefed up the Mexican military and law enforcement, but the violence raging there has not been reduced at all. To the contrary, it has increased dramatically since, with US support, President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the cartels at the beginning of 2007. Around 30,000 people have been killed since then, gunfights are a near daily occurrence in cities just across the border from the US, and the flow of drugs into the US remains virtually unimpeded.

That is the reality confronting Republicans in the House, who will now take over. The shift in power in the House means that the chairmanship of key foreign affairs committees will shift from moderate Democrats to conservative Republicans. Current House Foreign Relations Committee chair Howard Berman (D-CA) will be replaced by anti-Castro zealot Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), while in the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Elliot Engel (D-NY) will be replaced by Connie Mack (R-FL).

Other Republicans on the subcommittee include hard-liners Dan Burton (R-IN) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA). But there will be one anti-drug war Republican on the committee, Ron Paul (R-TX).

"Ileana and her committee will try to stir things up more, but it's too early to say what that means for drug policy," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. "She'll do anything she can to screw over the Castro brothers, and that is the lens through which she sees the world."

That could mean hearings designed to go after Castro ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who threw out the DEA several years ago, and whose country is cited each year by the State Department as not complying with US drug policy objectives. But beyond that is anybody's guess.

"I think you might see a change of tone," said Adam Isaacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. "You'll see Venezuela portrayed more and more as the drug bad guy, but neither Ros-Lehtinen or Mack can see much beyond Cuba," he said.

"If you bought the premise that the drug war was an extension of the Cold War, you could have a brand new Cold War framework here," said Isaacson. "They won't be able to buy a lot of Blackhawks, but they can use it as another way to beat up on the Obama administration."

"I think not much is going to change," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "To the extent the need is to cut money, Republicans might want less funding for these programs, but that's a big if. But this is a different sort of Republican, and so there may be the possibility of a left-right coalition to quit funding Plan Colombia. I'm not sure the Republicans can keep their people in line on Mexico and Colombia."

"Obama has been unyielding when it comes to maintaining the status quo on hemispheric drug policy," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "He hasn't come up with any new programs or expressed any sympathy for the progressive drug policy initiatives coming out of Latin America. He is not going to allow himself to be accused of being soft on drugs. All hope for reform is gone, and there is little likelihood that the administration will come up with any drug-related initiative that will cost more money than we're spending now or that would challenge the pro-drug war lobby that now exists. I don't think we will see much activity on this front," he predicted.

Nor did Birns look to Tea Party-style incoming Republicans to break with drug war orthodoxy. He cited campaign season attacks from Tea Party candidates that Washington was "soft on drugs" and suggested that despite the occasional articulation of anti-drug war themes from some candidates, "the decision makers in the Tea Party are not going to sanction a softening on drugs in any way."

"I'm not aware of a single reference to the prospective drug policy of the new class of representatives," said Birns. "It seems to have become desaparicido when it comes to hemispheric policy."

"The Tea Partiers are very vague on foreign policy in general, and we're seeing things like John McCain coming out and attacking Rand Paul for not being interventionist enough," noted Tree.

Despite calls from conservatives for vigorous budget cutting, Tree was skeptical that the Latin American drug war budget would be cut. "In the Heritage Foundation budget cut report, for example, they killed ONDCP's funding and foreign assistance, but nothing from the military budget," he noted. "Maybe they can find some common ground on the drug war, but I'm not holding my breath."

"We haven’t heard them say too much yet," said Isaacson, disagreeing with Tree. "But they don't have any money. The Tea party wants to cut the budget and the foreign aid budget is most vulnerable. Even the Merida Initiative could be in play," he said.

But, Isaacson said, the old-school hard-liners are already at work. He cited a Wednesday conference on Capitol Hill called Danger in the Andes, which explores the "threat" from Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

"A lot of these new guys went," he said. "John Walters, Roger Noriega, and Otto Reich were there. Good to see some new faces," he laughed painfully.

"We still don't know much about the Tea Party when it comes to foreign policy," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "Whether these guys will follow their budget-cutting instincts and look to reduce foreign aid and the military presence abroad, or whether they will follow the neoconservative wing of the party that believes in empire and strong defense and pursuing interventionist policies all over the world is the question," he said.

"I expect more of the same under the Republicans," said Hidalgo. "I don't foresee big changes. This Tea Party is going to play conservative when it comes to the war on drugs," he predicted. "But I haven't seen a single Tea Partier say what they believe on this issue. We have to give them six months to a year to show their colors."

Mexican Marines being trained by US Marines
The Tea Party movement has already shown conflicting tendencies within it when it comes to foreign policy in general and US drug policy in Latin America in particular, Hidalgo argued. "Some part of it is militaristic and interventionist, like Sarah Palin. On the other hand, there are people link Rand Paul, who stands for a non-interventionist foreign policy and who thinks drug policy should be reassessed," he said. "We don't know how that is going to play out."

But Hidalgo strongly suggested he thought that it wasn't going to be in a reformist direction. "Even though the Tea Partiers believe in smaller government, the movement has been hijacked by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party," he said. "Its biggest names are Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, both of whom are ultraconservative Republicans. I would be pleasantly surprised to see Tea Party representatives come into office and say the war on drugs is a failure, a big waste of money that has failed miserably. They claim they will look at every single budget item, and what better way to cut spending? I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

One thing that managed to win reluctant Democratic votes for funding the drug wars in Colombia and Mexico was human rights conditionality, meaning that -- in theory, at least -- US assistance could be pared back if those countries did not address identified human rights concerns. With tens of thousands dead in both Mexico and Colombia in the drug war, with widespread allegations of torture and abuses in both countries, the issue should be on the front burner.

In reality, human rights concerns always took a back seat to the imperatives of realpolitik. That's likely to be even more the case with Republicans in control of the House.

"There is not going to be much sympathy to human rights as a driver of US policy," said Birns. "The Republicans initially used human rights as an anti-communist vehicle; it was never meant to be used against rightists. Given that the Obama administration has been conspicuously silent on Latin America, human rights, like drug policy reform, is an issue that has largely disappeared from the public debate. If anything, the noise level of things to come on drug policy will be significantly lowered. Whatever was in the air about new approaches has pretty much been put to bed for the winter."

"On Plan Merida, the Democrats attached human rights conditions because of concerns the Mexican army was committing human rights abuses," said Hidalgo. "It's an open question whether a Republican House will be less concerned about human rights when it comes to helping Mexico, or will they say we should cut spending there?"

For Hidalgo, the big election news in 2010 was not the change in the House of Representatives, but the defeat of Proposition 19 in California.

"Before the vote, several Latin American leaders, including Colombian President Santos, said that if it were to pass, that would force Colombia to reconsider its drug policy and the war on drugs and bring this issue to international forums like the United Nations," he said. "That gave many of us hope that Colombia would precipitate an international discussion on whether to continue the current approach or to adopt a more sensible approach like Portugal or the Netherlands," he said. "Now, that is not going to happen."

Washington, DC
United States

Time for Latin America to Reconsider Prohibition (Opinion)

Location: 
Erika De La Garza, program director of the Latin American Initiative at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice, and William Martin, the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the Baker Institute, opine on the general failures of drug prohibition and what direction Latin America should go.
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle (TX)
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/7280128.html

Bolivia Repeals New Law Limiting Coca Leaf Sales

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Presidential Palace, La Paz (Phil Smith for Drug War Chronicle, 2007)
Faced with protests and road blockades from angry coca growers, the Bolivian government said Monday it was annulling a new coca production law that would reduce by two-thirds the amount of coca leaves producers could sell. But even that move may not be enough to end the dispute between the government of President Evo Morales, himself a former coca grower union leader, and the main Yungas growers' association.

The government last month approved the new law, which limited coca growers to selling five pounds of leaf a month, down from the current 15. The now-repealed law would also have given the central government control over sales, which are currently controlled by local communities. The government said it passed the bill in a bid to reduce the sale of coca leaf to cocaine traffickers.

Minister of Government Sacha Llorenti Solid told a Monday press conference that the law would be repealed because the government had failed to consult with all coca growers. "Because of this, and recognizing this mistake, we have gone back and annulled the law, and make clear that any changes will be made in consultation, by consensus and in coordination with social organizations," he said.

coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region (Phil Smith for Drug War Chronicle, 2007)
Llorenti also called on growers to stop blocking roads in the Yungas coca-producing region, saying there was no reason to continue the protests. But Ramiro Sanchez, head of ADEPCOCA (the Coca Growers' Association of the Department of Yungas), said not so fast.

"These are not guarantees for us and are not enough to lift the road blocks," he said. "That's why they need to come down here. We can't engage in dialogue up there" in La Paz.

Sanchez said protestors, which he numbered at some 4,000, would stay despite the repeal of the coca law because coca growers still had issues they wanted the government to address. He cited improvements in roads and the construction of a coca industrialization plant.

While Morales has long been sympathetic to coca growers and their needs, and while coca growers have traditionally supported his Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, tensions have flared this year. In May, two people were killed after police were sent in to clear another roadblock.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer, behind Peru and Colombia.

La Paz
Bolivia

Peruvian President Equates Drug Legalization with Barbarism and Euthanasia

Peruvian President Alan García said Monday he is absolutely opposed to drug legalization and warned that legalizing marijuana will take society down the path toward euthanizing the elderly.  He vowed a constant fight "on all fronts" against drug use and the drug trade.

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Alan García
Peru is now the world's leading producer of coca, from which cocaine is made. In recent weeks, García has angled for a larger share of US drug-fighting dollars.  The stimulating herb has been used as an energy booster and hunger suppressor since time immemorial in the Andean region.

García said Monday that his anti-drug efforts will focus on eradication and alternative crops, as well as interdiction and money-laundering.  A reinvigorated eradication campaign has already led to renewed strife in the countryside, where tens of thousands of peasant families make a living from coca. Two weeks ago, hundreds of coca growers seized a hydroelectric plant in Ucayali province and blocked highways in the region to protest eradication efforts. Police later regained control of the plant, but the region remains restive.

"The Peruvian government has a firm position: I am absolutely against the drug legalization," García said after opening the 20th meeting of the Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) of Latin America and the Caribbean. Human beings "cannot kneel before their own powerlessness," he said.

"I think this (drug legalization) is like opening the way for the degradation of human beings, because if we legalize marijuana as a soft drug then we will legalize cocaine as hard drugs, and finally we will also legalize the elimination of the elderly, as in the old societies, because they can no longer contribute to the production," he said.

García added that his government's position is firm and will not change before he leaves office next July "even though those who raise the flag of the drug legalization are very intelligent and well-known and noisy." He said he will always oppose advocates of ending drug prohibition because "they represent, without knowing it, the backward step of the human being in his path to freedom, which is basically the way of his conscience, i.e. to use his skills without escapes through drugs."

Not only will drug legalization lead to killing grandma, García said, it will lead mankind down a death spiral to "fascist barbarism" and genocide.

García's sentiments put him out of step with a region that is increasingly amenable to ending the decades long war on drugs. Former heads of state from Columbia, Brazil, and Mexico have called for an end to the drug war, while Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have depenalized simple drug possession.

Lima
Peru

Fultility 101: Torching a Drug Lab in Peru, the No. 1 Coca Grower

Location: 
Peru
Drug prohibitionists are still playing one of their favorite games -- "whack-a-mole" with cocaine in South America. Peru's anti-drug police are locked in an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse in the Ene and Apurimac River Valleys against drug runners, many of whom are aligned with a remnant band of about 200 leftist Shining Path guerrillas. But, as usual and for ever more, the government appears to be losing the battle.
Publication/Source: 
http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE67P3S220100826
URL: 
http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE67P3S220100826

Colombia Court Declares Military Base Deal With U.S. Unconstitutional

Location: 
Colombia
The U.S. was denied greater access to Colombian military bases when a joint base deal aimed at combating drug trafficking among other things was deemed unconstitutional by Colombia's Constitutional court. The deal was reached after Ecuador refused to renew the lease on the US military base of Manta almost three years ago. During his refusal, President Rafael Correa said, "If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorian base in the United States."
Publication/Source: 
PBS (VA)
URL: 
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/blog/colombia-rules-u-s-military-deal-unconstitutional/5980/

Colombia: Welcome to a drug lord's playground

Location: 
Colombia
Drug prohibition is responsible for a lot of harm to poorer people, with unequal ratios of land distribution being a type rarely discussed. Over the years, traffickers are believed to have acquired more than 9 million acres — representing about 8 percent of Colombia's best grazing and farm lands. So far, the government has managed to expropriate only about 250,000 acres, less than 3 percent of the total land.
Publication/Source: 
Tucson Sentinel (AZ)
URL: 
http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/nationworld/report/080210_escobar_ranch

Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

The United States has been trying to suppress Colombian coca production and cocaine trafficking since at least the time of Ronald Reagan, but the contemporary phase of US intervention in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. As Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) security analyst Adam Isaacson pointed out Wednesday in a cogent essay, "Colombia: Don't Call It A Model," it was on July 13, 2000, that President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion package of mainly military assistance known as Plan Colombia.

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Plan Colombia coca eradication scene
Plan Colombia was supposed to cut Colombian cocaine production in half by mid-decade, and while total US expenditures on it have now risen to $7.3 billion, that goal was clearly not met. But, a decade down the road, there has been some "progress." The leftist peasant guerrillas of the FARC have been seriously weakened and are operating at half the strength they were 10 years ago. Violence has steadily decreased, as has criminality. The Colombian state has been strengthened -- especially its military, which has nearly doubled in size.

Still, as Isaacson notes, those gains have come at a tremendous cost. Thousands have been killed at the hands of rightist paramilitary groups aligned with powerful landowners and political elites, and while those paramilitaries officially disbanded several years ago, they appear to be reconstituting themselves. The seemingly endless "parapolitics" scandals linking the paramilitaries to high government actors demonstrate that the price of "progress" in Colombia has been corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.

And the war continues, albeit at a lower level. Some 21,000 fighters from all sides and an estimated 14,000 civilians died in the fighting this decade, and all the while, peasants were planting and harvesting coca crops, and traffickers were turning it into cocaine and exporting it to the insatiable North American and, increasingly, European markets.

While Colombian and US policy-makers have hailed Plan Colombia as a "success," neither Isaacson nor other analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week were willing to make such unvarnished claims. "'Success' has come at a high cost," wrote Isaacson. "Colombia's security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by 'collateral damage,'" including mass killings, other human rights abuses, and the weakening of democratic institutions."

"Success has eluded efforts to achieve Plan Colombia's main goal: reducing Colombian cocaine supplies," wrote Isaacson. Despite years of aerial eradication, coca remains stubbornly entrenched in the Colombian countryside, showing a significant decline only last year, after Colombia switched its eradication emphasis from spraying to manual eradication. "This strategic shift appears to be reducing coca cultivation, for now at least. In 2009 -- a year in which both aerial and manual eradication dropped sharply -- the UNODC found a significant drop in Colombian coca-growing, to 68,000 hectares."

But, as Isaacson and others note, that decline has been offset by increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. In fact, total coca cultivation in the region has remained remarkably consistent since 2003, at about 150,000 hectares per year.

"If you look at it from point of aiding the Colombian government to fight against the FARC and other insurgents, it has worked," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "A decade ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state, with the FARC controlling large swathes of territory and threatening major cities. Today they are terribly weak and on the run, and much of their leadership has been killed," he noted.

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coca seedlings
"Due to the widespread use of helicopters and the fact that guerrillas don't have that kind of mobility, the Colombians and Americans have been successful in shrinking the area of operation available to the guerrillas, and that has hurt the guerrillas' ability to recruit," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "A few years ago, there were maybe 16,000 FARC operating in six or seven major theaters, and now it's about half that. But that doesn't necessarily mean the FARC is finished; we haven't seen any sign of that. Their options are fewer, but they are far from disappeared. Plan Colombia has been successful in empowering the Colombian military, but not so much in solving the problem of the FARC insurrection."

"On the military side, the counterinsurgency, there has been definite progress," agreed Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs and counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution. "The situation in the late 1990s was very bad. The FARC was in the hills above Bogotá, and the paramilitaries were highly organized. Today, the FARC is much weaker, land travel is more possible, and other security indicators also show progress. That said, the FARC is still around in substantial numbers and can jeopardize security and economic development in particular areas. And the paramilitaries are back, even if the Colombian government insists they are not the paramilitaries. They are, for all intents and purposes, just like the paramilitaries of the 1980s and 1990s."

"The idea was that if they suppressed the coca, the capabilities of the FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitaries would be substantially weakened," said Felbab-Brown. "They said that if you eliminated coca in Colombia, the conflict would end, but I don't think you can bankrupt the belligerents through eradication. That didn't pan out. In some places, the government was able to diminish at least temporarily economic flows to particular elements of the FARC, but that was the result of military operations, not eradication," she argued.

"A lot of people say the FARC have lost their political agenda, that they are just traffickers, but I don't subscribe to that view," said Felbab-Brown. "If someone wants to conduct a rebellion, they have to have a way to finance it. I don't think the FARC is any different. One of the big accomplishments of the US and the Colombian military was taking out a lot of top FARC leaders," she continued. "Their current leaders have been out in the jungle so long, they suffer from a lack of intellectual imagination. But the FARC are peasant guerrillas, with a few intellectuals and students, and they were never strong ideologically. There is no equivalent of Comrade Gonzalo [of Peru's Shining Path] or Mullah Omar or Bin Laden for the FARC. And I think they've run out of ideas. Times have changed, and the ideological story they want to tell the world and their members is crumbling, but it's not the case they are just interested in money. They still want power, they still believe in narratives of war and conquest, but they don't have anything to frame it with anymore."

"They are about more than just criminality," agreed Isaacson. "They're raising drug money to buy guns and those guns are for something. While their ideology may be pretty stunted at this point, they are driven by a desire to take power -- unlike, say, the Sinaloa cartel, which is driven by a desire to sell drugs. They hate Colombia's political class, and they represent that small percentage of peasants on the fringe. Those boomtowns on the frontier, that's where the FARC's base is. Wherever there is no government and people are on their own, the FARC claims to protect them. They are not bandits -- they are more dangerous than bandits."

The paramilitaries continue to wreak havoc, too, said Felbab-Brown. "They assassinate community leaders and human rights organizers," she said. "In some areas, they collude with the FARC; in others, they fight the FARC over cocaine routes and access to coca production. They are still a real menace, and it is very discouraging that they have come back so quickly. That shows the failure of the Colombian government to address the real underlying causes of the problems."

That has been a serious flaw from the beginning, the Brookings Institution analyst said. "At first Plan Colombia was aimed at root causes of conflict and coca production, but that was dropped, and in the Bush administration it morphed into a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency project. Economic development was a minor component of the plan, and the US never tried to pressure Uribe to take on economic redistribution and the distribution of political power, nor has the US been very vocal about human rights and civil liberties issues."

"When Plan Colombia was first conceived, it was primarily a domestic program aimed at drawing in the Colombian population, which at that time had become totally disaffected from the state," recalled Birns. "It was to emphasize economic development, nutrition, and education. It was the Clinton administration that militarized Plan Colombia and made it into a security doctrine rather than an economic development formula."

That only deepened in the wake of 9/11, said Birns. "Increasingly, Plan Colombia morphed first into a counternarcotics program than again into an anti-terrorist vehicle. The US began to define the FARC, which never had any international aspect, as terrorists. It was a convenience for the US policy of intervention to emphasize the terrorism aspect."

But at root, Plan Colombia was first and foremost about reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production. "It wasn't sold here in the US as a counterinsurgency effort, but as an effort to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market," Cato's Hidalgo pointed out. "If you look at the acreage of coca planted in Colombia, it has decreased, but the production of coca remains the same, and coca production is increasingly dramatically in Peru and Bolivia. Once again, we see the balloon effect at work."

"As the reduction took place in Colombia, it simply moved back to Peru, whence it originally came," concurred COHA's Birns. "Peruvian cocaine production is now half the regional total, so total cocaine production remains essentially the same, even though there has been a reduction in the role Colombia plays."

"One of the best measures to see if the supply of cocaine has decreased is to look at price, but what that tells us is that cocaine was 23% cheaper in 2007 than it was in 1998 when Plan Colombia was launched," said Hidalgo. "It is clear that Plan Colombia has failed in its main goal, which was to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market."

"We've tried everything," said Hidalgo. "Aggressive aerial spraying of fields, manual eradication, as well as softer measures to entice producers to adopt other crops, and it's all failed. As long as the price of cocaine remains inflated by prohibition, there is big profit and a big incentive for producers and traffickers to grow the plant and export the product to the US and elsewhere. The only way to curtail this is by legalizing cocaine. Other than that, I don't see this as a battle that can be won."

Felbab-Brown called the coca and cocaine production estimates "extraordinarily squishy," but added it was clear that Plan Colombia had failed to achieve its goals there. "The plan was supposed to halve production in six years, and that clearly was not accomplished," she said. "It would be false to deny there has been some progress, but it has not been sufficient. I think it was bound not to work because it was so heavily focused on eradication in the context of violence and underemphasized the need for economic programs to address why people cultivate coca. And the larger reality is even if you succeeded in Colombia, production would have moved elsewhere."

Counternarcotics cannot solve Colombia's problems, said Felbab-Brown, because coca is not at the root of those problems. "There is only so much that counternarcotics programs can do given the basic economic and political situation in Colombia," said Felbab-Brown. "You have a set-up where labor is heavily taxed and capital and land are lightly taxed, so even when you get economic growth, it doesn't generate jobs, it only concentrates money in the hands of the rich. The Colombian government has been unwilling to address these issues, and inequality continues to grow. You can only do so much if you can't generate legal jobs. You have to take on entrenched elites, the bases of political power in Colombia, and Uribe's people are not interested in doing that."

But Uribe will be gone next month, replaced by his elected successor, Juan Manuel Santos. That could mean change, said Isaacson. "He's not as ideologically to the right as Uribe, some of his appointments indicate people who actually have an interest in governance, and he is the principle author of the program they're carrying out in the countryside to get the state and not just the military out there," he said. "He could also be more open to the idea of peace negotiations than Uribe was."

That may or may not be the case, but Plan Colombia under whatever president is not going to solve Colombia's drug problem -- nor America's, said Isaacson. "At home, we need to reduce demand through treatment and other options," he said. "In Colombia, as long as you have parts of the country ungoverned and as long as members of the government have nothing to fear if they abuse the population, there will always be drugs. Colombia needs to build the state and do it without impunity. We built up the Colombian military, but there was no money for teachers, doctors, or any public good besides security."

Huff Post: UN Drug Policy in the Dark Ages

I'm on Huffington Post again tonight, with a post chastising the UN (and western governments generally) for: 1) continuing the ludicrous coca runaround in South America's Andean region for another year; and 2) turning a blind eye year after year to the indirect support that western funds and cooperation gives to the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses, mostly in Asia and the Middle East. Check it out here -- comments welcome in either location. If you haven't already, check out our Chronicle articles on these two topics here and here.

Latin America: Peru Ousts Colombia as World's Largest Coca Producer, UNODC Says

Peru has regained its traditional role as the world's leading producer of coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). UNODC noted the shift in its World Drug Report 2010, released this week.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/global-coca-growing-un-2010.jpg
UN breakdown of coca growing by nation, with total. Note that the drop in cultivation beginning in 2001 coincides with the introduction of high-yield coca seeds, and so does not necessarily reflect production levels.
Peru now accounts for 45% of the global coca crop, compared to 39% for Colombia and 15% for Bolivia. This marks the first time since 1997 that Peru has eclipsed Colombia as the world's largest producer. Unlike Peru and Bolivia, Colombia had not traditionally been a coca producer, but that changed in the 1980s as Colombian drug trafficking groups began encouraging the planting of the crop at home.

UNODC cited a steady decline in production in Colombia over the past few years for the shift and argued that it showed the Colombian government's US-backed anti-drug policies were working. Coca cultivation declined by 16% in Colombia last year, according to the UNODC, marking a decline of 58% since production peaked a decade ago.

"The drug control policies adopted by the Colombian government over the past few years -- combining security and development -- are paying off," said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa.

The Colombian government, too, joined in lauding itself. "This success is thanks to the democratic security policy and its integral approach to the fight against drugs, including manual eradication and aerial spraying of coca crops," it said in a statement. "The sustained efforts of the Colombian authorities have led to a significant reduction in the global supply of cocaine," it added.

Not so fast, buckaroo. Global cocaine production was down only an estimated 5%, according to the UNODC. And, it noted: "It appears that, despite radical changes within countries, total cocaine output has been fairly stable over the last decade."

And in a classic example of the balloon effect, the decline in coca and cocaine production in Columbia has been matched by steady increases in Peru. Coca cultivation there has increased by 55% over the past decade, UNODC said. Coca production in Bolivia has been relatively stable, the report found.

Dr. Arlene Tickner of the University of the Andes in Bogota told the BBC that, rather than being a success, Plan Colombia had only pushed production beyond Colombia's borders. "As a drug policy, I think it has been a relative failure," she said. "If we look at the Andean region as a whole what we see is not only that coca crops are basically the same size as the year 2000 but also that the potential cocaine production from those crops is the same as well."

The Peruvian government took issue with the UNODC, with Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde telling reporters Wednesday that UNODC figures did not jibe with either US DEA or Peruvian estimates. That is true, but the UNODC is comparing its figures to previous UNODC figures, not those of the DEA or the Peruvians.

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