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Americans losing the war on Afghan opium

The Hamilton Spectator (Canada)

Colombian Seeks to Persuade Congress to Continue Aid

The New York Times

NATO pulls ad after Afghans say it endorsed poppy farms

Chicago Tribune

U.S. estimates find no Bolivian coca increase under Morales

La Paz
San Diego Union-Tribune

Feature: Drug Czar Reluctantly Admits Cocaine Prices Have Dropped in Quietly Released Report

On Monday, the US Coast Guard unloaded nearly 20 tons of cocaine it had seized last month off the coast of Central America, the largest maritime drug bust in US history. Will it make any difference? Not if the history of US cocaine interdiction efforts is any indication.

Two years ago, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), John Walters, proudly announced that interdiction and eradication efforts were working based on a rise in cocaine prices. But in a just-released study, "Connecting the Dots: ONDCP's (Reluctant) Update on Cocaine Price and Purity," the Washington Office on Latin America's (WOLA) John Walsh reports that Walters' loudly announced price increase was only a blip that has since been reversed. Unlike his earlier announcement, Walters has not trumpeted these findings.

Among the key points in the report:

  • Preliminary US government data, quietly disclosed by ONDCP, indicate that cocaine's price per pure gram on US streets fell in 2006, while its purity increased. (Increasing purity effectively constitutes an additional price decrease.)
  • These latest estimates, continuing a 25-year trend, suggest that cocaine supplies are stable or even increasing.
  • This is so despite $31 billion spent on drug interdiction and crop control efforts since 1997, including $5.4 billion spent in Colombia -- the source of 90 percent of cocaine in the United States -- since "Plan Colombia" began in 2000.
  • The updated cocaine data fully reverse a short-lived price increase that the White House drug czar's office heralded in late 2005. That rise in prices and decline in purity, which received much media attention at the time, proved to be a less than impressive fluctuation, as skeptics at the time suggested would be the case.
  • The available evidence indicates that cocaine's continued low and falling prices are driven largely by ongoing robust cocaine supply, rather than by a slackening or collapse in demand.
  • The new cocaine price and purity estimates offer further evidence that the continued US emphasis on forced crop eradication, with "Plan Colombia" as its most visible and costly centerpiece, has failed to affect drug supplies at home.

America's supply-side efforts to reduce cocaine use by stopping it from getting to the US have failed. Or, as Walsh put it: "A perennial goal of US anti-drug policy has been to disrupt supplies enough to constrain availability... this effort, however, has consistently failed to achieve lasting increases in drug prices or reductions in drug purity levels. Rather, cocaine prices have been in general decline since 1982. And according to new estimates, which the White House drug czar's office quietly provided to a US senator in January, this decline continued apace in 2006."

And while Walters and his fellow drug warriors are always promising that progress is just around the next corner, the annual Drug Threat Assessments from the National Drug Intelligence Center show that little changes:

  • April 2004: "Both powder and crack cocaine are readily available throughout the country and overall availability appears to be stable."
  • January 2005: "Key indicators of domestic cocaine availability show stable or slightly increased availability in drug markets throughout the country..."
  • January 2006: "Cocaine is widely available throughout most of the nation, and cocaine supplies are relatively stable at levels sufficient to meet current user demand."
  • October 2006: Despite record levels of cocaine lost or seized in transit toward the United States, "there have been no sustained cocaine shortages or indications of stretched supplies in domestic drug markets."
Purity-adjusted cocaine price chart, prepared for ONDCP by the RAND Corporation. (See the WOLA report for full-size version.)
"It's way past time to bring our expectations for this kind of drug control policy in line with reality," Walsh told Drug War Chronicle. "That reality is that the record makes clear it is extremely difficult to drive up prices for any length of time. We need to put the supply control effort in proper perspective: Even if in its best case scenario, it is preventing cocaine from being much more readily available, it is marginal to the real issue, which is the question of demand and the consequences of drug use."

As Walsh shows in great detail in the report, ONDCP suppresses the cocaine price and purity numbers that hurt it politically and trumpets those that support its claims. That's no surprise to Matt Robinson, professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University and co-author of Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"This is more of the same from ONDCP; it's not surprising at all, although it's very disappointing," said Robinson. "What we showed in our book is that they selectively choose and present statistics that support their case and they ignore or downplay statistics that don't support their case, and that's what this report shows them doing as well," he told the Chronicle.
coca eradication operation
Robinson also noted that when Walters trumpeted a blip upward in cocaine prices in 2005, ONDCP was up to its old trick of cherry-picking short-term data that supported its case while ignoring the overall trend over time. "Once again, we see a very short-term focus on a specific time period while ignoring long-term trends. That's exactly what we found historically."

"Unfortunately, this is not a surprise, more like par for the course. As we found several times looking at ONDCP over several years, this is a real typical pattern," said Renee Scherlen, professor of political science at Appalachian State and Robinson's coauthor. "In the present case, ONDCP chose to look at a snippet that doesn't really reflect a trend."

Academics and analysts aren't the only critics of ONDCP's "truthiness," to cite a term coined by Steven Colbert. Also skeptical is Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who wrote Walters a year ago asking for clarification of his claims. ONDCP may be making selective use of statistics to "provide a rosier but not necessarily more accurate picture of the current situation." Grassley is still un-persuaded despite further correspondence with ONDCP. "When it comes to statistics, I think it's fair to say they cook the books," Sen. Grassley told National Public Radio in a recent interview. "They use whatever statistics fit their public relations program."
coca seedlings
The cure for ONDCP's mendacity lies with Congress, said Robinson. "The simplest thing is for Congress to hold them accountable," he said. "Congress could mandate annual performance evaluations, but it doesn't. Congress has a chance to reauthorize ONDCP every five years or so, and that could be another occasion, but Congress doesn't have to wait for that," he said.

"The idea of holding congressional hearings and asking for them to be held accountable through oversight is one path to follow," Scherlen concurred. "To analyze policy, we have to have accurate information. We want to know what works and what doesn't. You don't have to oppose the war on drugs to request that we have good information and that ONDCP present data that is truthful."

Southwest Asia: Drug Trade a Pillar of the Afghan Economy

The opium trade generates $6.7 billion a year, with much of that money staying in the hands of farmers and local traffickers, Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Mohammed Daud Daud told reporters at a Kabul press conference last Friday.
opium poppies
The opium trade also generates jobs, creating posts for some 110,000 Afghans involved in the traffic, Daud said, citing figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). That's not including the two million people involved in poppy production across the country. Daud estimated that farmers garner about 20% of the money generated, or about $1.4 billion last year, making opium far and away the country's top cash crop.

The division of proceeds between Afghan and foreign traffickers is unknown. Also unknown is just how much of the profits are ending up in the coffers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, although all observers conclude they, too, are profiting from the trade.

They're not the only ones. Daud told the press conference anti-drug forces had arrested more than a thousand people in the past three years, including government officials.

Afghanistan provides more than 90% of the global opium supply, from which heroin is derived. According to the UNODC, this year's harvest will be another record-breaker, despite the limited eradication efforts of the Afghan government and its Western backers.

WOLA/TransAfrica Forum: Aerial fumigation contributing to the worst recent humanitarian crisis in Colombia

[Courtesy of WOLA] Washington, DC April 7-- In the last 15 days, fighting between the Colombian military and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the activities of new illegal armed groups vying for control of drug routes is reportedly generating the internal displacement of an estimated 7,000 people. The Colombian Department of Nariño is experiencing one of the worst protection and humanitarian assistance crisis since Colombian President Alvaro Uribe began his second term in office. The U.S. financed aerial herbicide spray program (fumigations) compounds and exacerbates the myriad of hardships that Afro-Colombian communities are already facing: racism, disadvantaged access to state programs, food insecurity due to the internal armed conflict, internal displacement and vulnerability to human rights violations by the armed groups. “The current crisis in Nariño illustrates that the fumigation effort just makes matters worse for Afro-Colombians who wish to remain outside of the conflict,” argues Gimena Sanchez, Colombia Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). WOLA and TransAfrica Forum (TAF) visited Nariño in March to meet with local Afro-Colombian leaders who provided countless testimonies of how the U.S. funded fumigation effort fails to deter the cultivation of coca. Yet it does inflict tremendous damage on rural farmers’ food crops and their efforts to grow legal crops to sustain themselves. In El Charco area, the Association of Afrodescendant Women for Life (AMAV), an organization with hundreds of members who are attempting to ensure food security for their families and children and remain in their collective territories, informed the mission that fumigation planes destroyed their crops on six occasions in the months of February and March. WOLA and TAF were informed in numerous meetings that the combination of the internal armed conflict, drug related violence, human rights abuses committed by paramilitary groups that have re-grouped or not fully dismantled their operational structures, fumigation efforts, and declining respect for the land rights of Afro-Colombians linked to economic projects such as the cultivation of “African” oil palm is devastating for Afro-Colombian communities. “U.S. counter-drug policies are a failure, the fumigation program is destroying the livelihoods of Afro-descendants in Colombia. It is an outrage that anti-drug tactics used by the governments of Colombia and the U.S. destroy the lives of African descendants in both countries,” states Nicole Lee, Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum. Ms. Sanchez from WOLA points out: “U.S. policy makers must shift the Colombia aid package in favor of programs that support the land rights and alternative development proposals of ethnic minorities, as well as rights based durable solutions to the internal displacement crisis.” Since 2000, the U.S. has invested billions of dollars in aid to Colombia heavily skewed (an estimated 80%) towards security assistance and the aerial herbicide spraying of coca. Although one of the objectives of the aid is to curb drug production, the aid has not met this goal. Despite the spraying of over 2 million acres of illegal and legal crops in Colombia, cocaine production remains robust and cocaine is as available as ever on U.S. streets. According to WOLA Senior Associate for Drug Policy John Walsh, “The fumigation would be bad enough if it were simply wasteful and ineffective. What do the Colombian and U.S. governments suppose will become of these people? Fumigation isn’t the solution, it is part of the problem because it deepens reliance on coca by pushing poor farmers into even more desperate straits.” For more information contact: Joia Jefferson Nuri, Communications, TransAfrica Forum (240) 603-7905 Gimena Sanchez, Colombia Program, WOLA (202) 489-1702 ### To read more on Human Rights Issues in Colombia, and Foreign Aid Details, please go to the following link:

Latin America: As Blood Continues to Flow, Mexico's Opposition Calls for Drug Legalization -- Starting with the US

With the death toll from drug prohibition-related violence in Mexico at around 600 so far this year, the country appears to be on a path to match or exceed the 2,000 drug war deaths reported last year. While military operations authorized by incoming President Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) have led to arrests and drug seizures, they appear to have had no substantive impact on the multi-billion dollar a year business of supplying Americans with the illegal drugs they demand.
Javier González Garza
Now, as the nation ponders a fundamental reform of the government itself, the leading opposition party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) is calling for a National Agreement to Combat Organized Crime (read: the drug trade), which would include discussion of legalizing drugs.

The first rumblings came in the middle of last week, when Javier González Garza, the PRD's legislative coordinator in the Assembly, called for an end to the drug war. The endless war against the so-called drug cartels is fruitless, he said in an interview posted on the party web site.

"I believe that we cannot continue with this affair thinking we are going to combat the problem of the drug traffic without more radical measures," said González Garza. "One of these has to be the legalization of drugs in the United States. Then, we could begin to change things. Those military operations during this presidency, it's obvious that they are not obtaining results. I think that the US is the largest market and because of that, there is where we can achieve an international accord where we can pass to the next level, to legalize the consumption of certain types of drugs, and then eliminate this type of thing that is happening. That's one part," he said.
René Arce Islas
"The other part has to do with being able to think of other actions," González Garza continued. "This war, as it is now conceived, will cause us to lose everything; it doesn't make any sense. There have to be changes in that."

Then, last Friday, PRD Sen. René Arce Islas, secretary of the Senate's Public Security Commission, proposed the "National Agreement to Combat Organized Crime," including drug legalization. Ending drug prohibition is controversial, but reasonable, said Arce. "Evidently, that is a radical action that generates much controversy, but if we analyze it with maturity and serenity, evaluating the pros and cons, the risks and potential benefits, you cannot discard being able to arrive at an agreement that would, from our point of view and many specialists, do away with the drug traffic and the delinquency that accompanies it."

The PRD and its allies control 157 seats in the 500-seat Assembly, while the PAN controls 206, and the party of the former "perfect dictatorship," which ruled Mexico for seven decades, the PRI, is reduced to third place with 106 seats. In the last legislative session, a bill that would have decriminalized drug possession in Mexico was on the verge of passage when pressure from the United States caused then President Vicente Fox to back away. Will another year's worth of drug prohibition-related horrors lead to a different result this time around?

Afghanistan, Plan Colombia and Drug Eradication: Problems and Solutions

Recent increases in opium production in Afghanistan presents a Catch-22 to U.S. policymakers. On the one hand, a November 2006 United Nations and World Bank report found that forced eradication of opium crops is driving poor Afghans into the hands of the Taliban, empowering crime syndicates and destabilizing the country. On the other hand, doing nothing about the heroin trade allows major drug traffickers to enrich themselves unfettered. Is there a third option? Rep. Carnahan has suggested licensing Afghan farmers to grow opium for legal pain medications, the way the international community diminished the drug trafficking problem in India and Turkey. Senator Sununu has suggested the U.S. buy the opium crops from the farmers and destroy them. Senator Biden has suggested switching the focus away from poor farmers towards disrupting the drug cartels that are moving the drugs. Some experts suggest building roads and schools and providing alternative employment to poor Afghans. Others suggest ending drug prohibition all together. This panel explores the problems posed by both opium production and opium eradication and offers possible solutions. It looks at not only what is going on in Afghanistan right now, but lessons that can be learned from eradication policies in Latin America and elsewhere. Speakers include: Vanda Felbab-Brown, Ph.D. - Research Fellow at the the Brookings Institution Ted Galen Carpenter - Vice President for Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Cato Institute Ethan Nadelmann – Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Sanho Tree – Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Please RSVP to Grant Smith at or 202-216-0035. Space is Limited. Snacks and beverages provided
Tue, 04/24/2007 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Washington, DC
United States

Latin America: More Trouble in Peru's Coca Fields

Tensions continue to rise in the coca fields of Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley, with a coca eradication team attacked over the weekend, a strike by growers bubbling up in Huánuco state, more tough talk from President Alan García, and a Wednesday announcement by the Peruvian police that they had found the link between growers and the violent remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.
coca waiting by the side of the road to go to market
The unrest comes just three weeks after a similar strike in Tocache province in San Martín state. That strike was settled by an agreement to halt forced eradication of coca crops, but the García government ended that moratorium last week, with the president himself calling for the "bombing" of coca fields and maceration pits.

Last weekend, as eradication commenced again, a team of almost 200 civilian and police eradicators were ambushed in Yanajanca in the Tocache district, leaving one civilian eradicator dead and five police wounded. While the identity of the attackers remains unknown, police were quick to note that the area where the attack occurred is an area where a Shining Path remnant led by "Comrade Artemio" operates.

On Tuesday, coca farmers in Tingo María and Aucayacu went on strike, as did their comrades in Leoncio Prado province. Few reports were in by mid-week, but farmers had vowed to block highways. Among other things, they are asking for a meeting with a high-level government delegation.

But President García Tuesday dismissed that call. "What delegation of high ranking officials?" he scoffed. "There is nothing to dialogue about because Peru needs to promote responsible agricultural development with alternative crop programs that will help put an end to drug production."

Drug traffickers are behind the strike, García claimed. "It is evident that drug lords are orchestrating the strike. Just as in Colombia where drug lords have purchased the protection of para-military guerrilla groups to protect their illicit operations, they have done same with groups of coca farmers who run around protesting, 'let me grow whatever I feel like growing' and I am here to tell you that is not how it works," the Peruvian leader said.

By Wednesday, Peruvian authorities had switched from traffickers to the Shining Path as the culprits. In a loudly trumpeted (and conveniently timed) bust, Peruvian Police announced they had "finally placed the link" between restive coca farmers and the Shining Path. Police claimed two Shining Path members were arrested in Aucayacu as they awaited a meeting with coca farmer representatives. Police said they found weapons, ammunition, Shining Path propaganda, and detailed plans for blocking roads during protests.

Peru is the world's second largest producer of coca behind Colombia. Some 60,000 peasant families grow about 100 tons of the bushy plant, much more than is bought up by the state coca monopoly as a legitimate crop.

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