Pubdate: Thu, 30 Dec 2004
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2004 The Palm Beach Post
Authors: Robert Weiner, Dino Manalis
Note: Robert Weiner was spokesman for the White House Office of National 
Drug Control Policy from 1995 to 2001. Dino Manalis is a foreign-affairs 
specialist with Mr. Weiner's public affairs consulting company, Robert 
Weiner Associates.


A Nation Addicted To Profits From Cocaine

With new federal statistics showing that one of every six teens still 
abuses illegal drugs on at least a monthly basis, perhaps we need an 
additional approach to end this decades-long crisis. While President Bush 
and Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe praised progress and expressed a 
commitment to continue to fight narco-terrorism, they did not provide 
additional resources to combat the poverty that fuels the drug trade and 
violence in the first place in the No. 1 drug supplier to America.

According to the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 
more than 90 percent of the cocaine and most of the heroin entering the 
United States comes from Colombia. With help from the U.S., Colombia has 
been fighting a 20-year drug war and 40-year civil conflict. Since 2000, 
American taxpayers have paid more than $3.3 billion helping Colombia fight 
the "war on drugs," making that relatively small democracy (population 40 
million) the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid.

In order for Colombia -- and the U.S. -- to win these battles, Washington 
and Bogota must strengthen economic conditions so that financial dependence 
on the illegal drug trade can subside permanently, in addition to the 
direct drug eradication programs that are beginning to work.

Why help Colombia at all? Despite the death or arrest of major Medellin and 
Cali cartel leaders, Colombian drug cartels remain among the most 
sophisticated criminal organizations in the world, controlling cocaine 
processing, wholesale distribution chains and international markets.

Former U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey helped develop "Plan Colombia," a 
counter-narcotics and security policy that finances personnel training, 
arrests, drug seizures, coca and poppy eradication, intelligence support 
and financial controls to prevent money-laundering. In addition, the U.S. 
provides equipment to the Colombian armed forces and police through the 
military assistance program, foreign sales and the international narcotics 
control program From August 1998 to October 2003, 146 people were 
extradited to the U.S., most on narcotics charges. Four hundred U.S. troops 
and 400 advisers are deployed in Colombia, and President Bush has asked 
Congress to double those numbers.

Since 2000, coca cultivation has been reduced by about half. The CIA's 
World Factbook indicates cultivation of coca is falling by about 10 percent 
to 15 percent each year. Although Plan Colombia is working, Colombia 
remains the world's leading supplier of refined cocaine and is a growing 
source for heroin.

Poverty, however, is an inextricable part of the drug trade. Fifty-five 
percent of Colombians (23 million people) are poor, while unemployment is 
at 14 percent -- triple the U.S. rate. Subsistence farmers cultivate coca 
in order to provide better living conditions for their families. When 
youngsters grow older, they are recruited by armed groups that offer a 
"living wage." While guerrillas use coca to finance their revolution, drug 
traffickers can buy land and gain influence in the government. To 
Colombians, "It's the economy, stupid" means cocaine.

Experts who support a military crackdown acknowledge that, in order to 
maintain and expand upon the progress of Plan Colombia, additional money is 

To help Colombia win both its narcotics and civil wars, as well as promote 
security and prosperity, we need to improve the people's lives. That's the 
source of the problem even though anti-drug enforcement with both a 
military and civilian component is a critical piece of the solution. Plan 
Colombia is working, but it's not enough. We must take basic steps for 
improvement: U.S. nonmilitary aid for alternative crop development, 
vulnerable groups and democracy/rule of law should double from $124 million 
to $250 million, while maintaining our effective military and enforcement 
assistance. We should encourage and help American companies and 
universities to offer scholarships and vocational training. Investments in 
infrastructure and business development also should target rural areas 
where government control is weak.

If we make these investments in Colombia, the added confidence will lead to 
additional corporate capital investments, which will create jobs and 
alleviate poverty faster -- and dramatically reduce the drug trade.
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