Pubdate: Mon, 29 Dec 2003
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2003 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Author: James D. Zirin
Note: James D. Zirin, a partner in a New York law firm, is a member of the 
Council on Foreign Relations.
Bookmark: (Treatment)


The illegal drug trade may be the only free market left in the world.
It operates without tariffs, taxes or unions. It is the classic
economic model: low production costs, dependable avenues of
distribution, a price structure dictated solely by supply and demand,
and, with more sophisticated methods of money laundering, a way of
getting huge returns quickly.

But drug trafficking is contrary to U.S. laws and policy. And drugs
are a dagger to the heart of civilized society. Yet U.S. policy has
done nothing to deal with the core of the problem -- curtailing
demand. At the same time, the United States has spent much and
accomplished precious little when it comes to eradicating the supply.

Washington's counter-narcotics policy has since the 1990s focused
almost exclusively on supply-side interdiction of South American drug
sources, which account for most of the cocaine and heroin in the
United States. The bilateral strategy, authorized by Congress in 1999,
is a $1.3 billion aid package known as Plan Colombia, the primary
feature of which is spraying land where the coca and opium poppies

The plan was so named because drug traffic in the 1990s was directed
by Colombia's infamous Medellin and Cali drug cartels. The effort
ended those cartels, but the drug dealers soon re-emerged with
mini-cartels and para-militaries operating out of Colombia and other
countries in the region.

Plan Colombia has been a wrongheaded failure. It has done nothing but
exacerbate the central problem of Latin America -- lack of per capita
economic growth. It has only hurt the impoverished rural farmers who
grow coca or poppies along with legitimate crops as the only means to
support their families.

The cartels of narco-terrorists, large and small, continue to reap the
spoils of the drug harvest. Hardly a drug kingpin has been killed or
captured under Plan Colombia since Pablo Escobar in 1993. Most of
those at the highest echelons of the drug trade live luxuriously with

The evidence on exfoliation, moreover, is less than convincing. The
Bush administration released new figures last month showing that coca
cultivation in 2003 in Colombia and Peru was less than in 2002. But
roiled by decades-long civil conflict, Colombia is virtually a failed
state, and it is highly unlikely that it can hold the line next year
on narcotics production. And in Bolivia, cultivation increased by
almost 20 percent.

So, although U.S. counter-narcotics policies have been superficially
effective on a country-by-country basis, they have failed to stem the
tide in the region overall, where acreage cultivated has remained the
same over the past four years.

The government has lost sight of the "D word" -- demand. Secretary
of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld paid lip service to the concept when
he said in August as he was leaving for Colombia: It's "a demand
problem. It's a problem that a lot of people who want it; a lot of
people with money who will pay for it. ... And that you can
squeeze it down in one country to zero and you don't change at all
the amount of the product that ends up in the United States
because it's demand that determines how much is going to get in there."

However, although the administration claims 45 percent of its
counter-drug funding goes toward reducing demand, there is still no
comprehensive government-sponsored public awareness and prevention
campaign, no discernible improvement in access to effective treatment
and rehabilitation programs and no ratcheting up of community law

So what is the way forward? First, stop the fumigation program and
make supply-side interdiction efforts more effective by focusing
directly on the narco-terrorists -- degrade their operations and drain
the swamp of laundered funds on which they subsist. Then the United
States needs to spur domestic rehabilitation programs.

A Rand study in the 1990s found that, in a single year, $34 million
invested in treatment reduced cocaine use as much as the $783 million
spent for programs targeting the source in foreign countries or the
$366 million for interdiction. Yet the Bush administration still
spends most of its annual global drug-control budget on supply-control

Instead, the focus should be on the demand side. Target the major
dealers and distributors rather than the street pushers. Fund enhanced
domestic media and community campaigns. If the word on the street is
that it is cool to do drugs, the word in the schools and on television
must be that drugs ruin lives and destroy families.

As for Latin America, we can redeploy at least some of the Plan
Colombia funding into economic development, land reform, strengthening
the rule of law and other effective programs geared to improving
political stability in the region. The rule of free markets is that
where there is demand, supply will find a way to it. Shift U.S.
priorities to stemming demand.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake