Pubdate: Wed, 06 Sep 2006
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Iowan
Author: Lydia Pfaff, The Daily Iowan


On Sept. 2, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime announced that opium
cultivation in Afghanistan had increased an alarming 59 percent. The
drug trade in Afghanistan, like in the Andean region of South America,
undermines government institutions that ensure security and allow
democracy to function. Yet, that the citizens of these countries still
are willing to cultivate opium or coca demonstrates that so long as
there is demand for a drug, the suppliers will find a way to deliver.

Over the past two years in Afghanistan, millions of dollars in foreign
aid have been poured into the country to help fight the spread of
cultivation. This effort has proven to be in vain. In impoverished
regions, cultivation is still one of the most profitable activities;
we can expect that it will continue.

The efforts in Afghanistan have parallels to the long-standing U.S.
war on drugs in the Andes. Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru supply nearly
all of the world's cocaine, and the United States is the world's
largest consumer of the drug. This situation has made the narcotics
trade a security threat for the United States, and it is a catalyst
for the relatively high amounts of U.S. foreign aid destined for Colombia.

In 1989, the United States initiated the Andean Strategy as its
primary weapon against the narcotics trade. This policy allocated most
of its resources toward eradication of coca fields, crop-substitution
policies, and military aid. Eradication was intended to destroy coca
already under cultivation. Crop substitution provided other crops for
farmers to grow, and military aid targeted the lawlessness of the
jungle. Overall, the primary U.S. goals included decreasing production
of cocaine, intercepting the drug during transport to the United
States, and increasing the price of cocaine.

Over the course of the 1990s, the Andean Strategy generally failed.
Coca production increased, while the street price of cocaine
decreased. Despite all the funding and manpower that poured into the
region, the Andean Strategy failed to reach any of its goals.

The United States continues to follow similar counter-narcotics
policies. Plan Colombia, which was renewed by Congress in 2005,
similarly places a strong emphasis on eradication and military aid.
Yet, Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

The failure of the U.S. war on drugs demonstrates a lack of
consideration of economic realities. So long as the production of coca
in the case of South America or opium in Afghanistan remains the most
profitable form of business, efforts to stop it will be nearly impossible.

Drug trafficking is a huge threat to both consuming and supplying
populations. The societal problems associated with drug use, including
poverty and crime, are well-documented. On the other side, in
producing regions, the illicit narcotics trade produces corruption,
violence, social unrest, and destabilized economic conditions.

The current counter-narcotics policy creates a host of concerns, as
well. Eradication is harmful to citizens and the environment. Often
security forces supported by U.S. dollars are corrupt themselves. And,
at least in the South American case, criminalization of coca, the
plant that is used to produce cocaine, outlaws the use of a crop that
has long been used for medicinal and cultural purposes.

The bulk of U.S. resources in fighting the war on drugs should be
allocated to fighting the drug problem within its own borders, not
continuing to waste tax dollars on a strategy that has not worked for
decades. This would first be a matter of admitting that our drug
problem is worse than Peru's and Afghanistan's. By insisting that the
issue originates in other countries, the United States is merely
perpetuating the cycle.

The second and more important question is how to reduce the demand
within the United States. Currently, the United States follows a
hard-line policy emphasizing law enforcement and jailing narcotics
users. Yet, there is little evidence that this is effective at
combating drug use. Nonviolent offenders contribute to overcrowding in
prisons, and this costs significantly more than investing in treatment
and intervention.

The main hurdle in pursuing a policy that advocates treatment is that
it is a difficult sell to taxpayers that do not want their money spent
on narcotics users. Yet, in the long run, this cheapest and most
feasible policy in decreasing both drug use and production.
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MAP posted-by: Derek