Pubdate: Thu, 17 Aug 2000
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2000 The Miami Herald
Contact:  One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693
Fax: (305) 376-8950
Author: Brant C. Hadaway
Note: Brant C. Hadaway is a law student at the University of Miami. His article Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act will be published in the 2000-2001 edition of the University of Miami Law Review.


Congress and President Clinton recently approved a $1.3 billion in aid to
Colombia, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking. Unfortunately, Plan
Colombia is based on the authoritarian conceit that we can solve both the
problems of poverty in the Andes and drug addiction in America by exporting
guns, herbicides and helicopters.

In fact, this plan will only increase instability, displace the Colombian
peasantry and hasten the destruction of the rain forest while making the
drug trade more profitable than ever.

It is time to consider an alternative that recognizes economics, history
and human nature: The Colombian peasants who produce cocaine are responding
rationally to market forces in the best American tradition. Pick a coca
plant, process the leaves and out comes a substance worth nearly five times
its weight in gold! And the destruction of some coca plants only increases
the value of those that remain. It is senseless and arrogant for us to rain
death on Colombian farmers, while telling them what crops they can grow, to
protect Americans from their own appetites.

Only if we end prohibition, while reducing demand through education and
treatment, will market values for coca drop to a level that other crops
will become attractive to Colombian farmers.

Plan Colombia will lead to greater deforestation, because our policy of
spraying herbicides and sending military aid pushes coca cultivation deeper
into the jungle. As of 1997, more than 1.75 million acres of rain forest
had been cleared to make way for coca production. That figure is
undoubtedly higher today, and it rapidly will increase as our efforts to
eradicate coca become more aggressive. Because cocaine manufacturing occurs
beyond reach of regulators, it is estimated that more than 200,000 tons of
chemical wastes are dumped into the Colombian environment annually. Add to
this the herbicidal and our government's plan to wage biological warfare
using a fungus, fusarium oxysporum, and you have a looming ecological
catastrophe.It is arrogant for us to rain death on Colombian farmers.
Colombia's misery is inseparable from our own: incarceration rates, gang
violence, blood-borne diseases and police corruption are worse than ever,
and drugs have never been cheaper, purer, and more available. That despite
combined state and federal anti-drug expenditures of $52 billion annually
and rising.

Ending prohibition would create a huge ``peace dividend,'' here and abroad.
If legal entities were allowed to control the trade in coca and its
by-products, the drug cartels would cease to exist. Also, Colombian
peasants would have a legitimate way of making a stable income without
having to fear the multifaced pincer of FARC, the Colombian army,
herbicidal spraying and the paramilitaries. The peasants could safely
maintain their crops in one place, thus reducing the destruction of rain
forests and making the process amenable to environmental regulation.

In the United States, we would pull the rug out from under the street
trade. Legitimate traders in coca would be able to take their contract
disputes to court instead of the street. Drug users would pay taxes to
support treatment on demand, and law enforcement once again could focus on
public safety and violent crime. Legalization would not be a panacea, but
it would allow us to allocate public resources much more efficiently, and
it would give Colombia its best chance at peace.
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