Pubdate: Sun, 01 Apr 2007
Source: Foreign Policy (US)
Copyright: 2007 Foreign Policy
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Despite efforts to stem the global trade in narcotics--indeed, often 
because of them--new trade routes are emerging around the world, 
posing challenges to authorities and local populations alike. In this 
week's List, FP takes a look at the newest fronts in the global war on drugs.

Cocaine To The United States

Traditional source: Colombia, via Mexico or Central America

New front: Venezuela, via Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The U.S. 
State Department noted a 167 percent increase in cocaine flight 
traffic to Hispaniola from 2005 to 2006, and the Miami Herald 
uncovered a classified U.S. document in March that reports a nearly 
fourfold increase in cocaine-smuggling flights to the island since 
2003. Traffickers are 98 percent successful, according to the paper's 
summary of the report.

Reason for the shift: The deteriorating U.S.-Venezuela relationship. 
Hugo Chavez's heated anti-American populist stance led to the 
cessation of 17 years of anti-drug cooperation with the United States 
in 2005. But that's not the only reason for cocaine's new path: As 
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Anne Patterson said in March, 
"Success in Colombia has basically led to a migration to some of this 
into Venezuela."

The effect: Bolivia's populist leader Evo Morales looks to be taking 
cues from his regional mentor, Chavez, and resisting international 
cooperation on the drug trade. Gang crime and drug violence are up in 
Venezuelan border areas, and the movement of Colombian cocaine to 
Venezuela also threatens development for poor local populations who 
have yet to see the fruits of Chavez's grandiose promises to alleviate poverty.

The crackdown: In response to growing international outcry, Venezuela 
announced last month that it would purchase Chinese satellite systems 
and Russian spy planes to help monitor the situation. But without 
meaningful international cooperation with the leading destination 
country, Venezuela looks primed to continue its new role as the 
"principal transit country for Andean cocaine," as the U.S. State 
Department's 2007 "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report" 
(INCSR) described it in March.

Opiates To Iran, Russia, And Eastern Europe

Traditional source: Afghanistan, Burma, and Laos, via Iran and 
neighboring Central Asian countries

New front: Through the hands of a resurgent Taliban. The 2006 U.N. 
"World Drug Report" credits Afghanistan with producing 89 percent of 
the world's opium in 2005. Last year's crop was the largest on record 
in Afghanistan, and opium from Latin America and Laos has even 
tumbled as a result. Although poppy production has been on the rise 
since coalition forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, the past few 
years have seen the group reemerge as a major trafficking organization.

Reason for the shift: A power vacuum that emerged once the Taliban 
was first defeated in 2001-02 has again been exploited by the group. 
Corruption among top Afghan officials remains a major problem, as 
President Hamid Karzai's government has failed to meet Afghans' 
security and economic needs.

The effect: Addiction in Iran, Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and 
Turkey is up, thanks to increased traffic and easier access. And just 
at the time international investment in Afghanistan has never been 
more necessary, drug trafficking and Taliban-related violence deters 
potential investors and donors. And, of course, the Taliban is able 
to fund its growing criminal and military activities with ever more 
drug money, threatening to derail hopes for Afghanistan's democratic 
development based on the rule of law.

The crackdown: Karzai's government has taken the lead in eradication 
and counternarcotics efforts, with pitiable results. Accordingly, 
NATO forces are launching an offensive of their own in 
Taliban-friendly Helmand province, which accounts for 45 percent of 
the country's poppy crop. Facing mounting addiction problems at home, 
Russia plans to establish anti-drug bureaus in more than 50 
countries, including Afghanistan. The U.S. government is emphasizing 
judicial interventions, working with the Afghan government and 
Norwegian prosecutors to establish a task force for convicting 
traffickers. But it may be Iran, surprisingly, that is doing the most 
to halt the westward flow of opiates, earning the country rare praise 
from U.S. officials. Assistant Secretary Patterson said in March, 
"[Iran's] been very active on the border in preventing--in 
interdicting--shipments coming out of Afghanistan ... They've been, 
of the neighbors, by far the most aggressive."

Methamphetamine To The United States

Traditional source: "Mom-and-pop" operations in the U.S. Midwest, 
California, and other rural areas

New front: Mexico, with component parts shipped primarily from China, 
India, and Germany. Mexican organized crime is producing stronger 
meth in "superlabs," then sending it along via the traditional routes 
for cocaine and marijuana trafficking: from Tijuana into San Diego 
and up the West Coast of the United States, or from western Mexico 
through major Texas cities and other southern U.S. urban hubs. Today, 
U.S. officials estimate that 80 percent of the meth in the United 
States originates in Mexico.

Reason for the shift: The U.S. Congress passed the Combat 
Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2006, which tightened restrictions on 
the component parts (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine) that producers 
were using to concoct meth in their basements and garages. Pharmacies 
and discount stores clamped down, moving Sudafed and NyQuil behind 
the counter and pushing production of the dangerous drug south of the border.

The effect: As production has moved south, so too has addiction. 
According to the 2006 U.N. "World Drug Report," treatment for drug 
use in Mexico is "growing more strongly for methamphetamine than for 
any other substance." And though Americans have the boom in Mexican 
meth to thank for lower street prices and fewer meth lab explosions, 
the shift is boosting drug-related crime in Mexico, where warring 
cartels dropped 2,100 murder victims in 2006--more than double the 2001 figure.

The crackdown: The March seizure of more than $200 million in meth 
money from a Mexico City mansion hints at just how far the 
U.S.-Mexico trade in this drug may extend. The INCSR praised the 
"strong [anti-drug] actions" of the new administration of Mexican 
President Felipe Calderon. His dispatching of 24,000 police and 
soldiers to drug-soaked areas was a strong first step, but Mexico's 
cartels have often outlasted even the most well-intentioned of officials.

Cocaine To Western Europe

Traditional source: The Andean region of South America, via the Caribbean

New front: West Africa, along the Gulf of Guinea. The 2007 INCSR 
referred to Ghana as a "major transshipment point for illegal drugs, 
particularly cocaine from South America," and the Los Angeles Times 
reported in March that "Colombian gangsters" are "setting up 
elaborate front companies, rolling around in flashy cars and 
allegedly buying high-level protection" in Guinea-Bissau.

Reason for the shift: Better cover. Increasingly effective 
interdiction methods in both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean have 
forced some drug cartels to reconsider old routes for cocaine bound 
for Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain in favor of the Gulf 
of Guinea's unpatrolled coastlines and rudimentary counternarcotics 
infrastructure. And poverty and underdevelopment in West Africa have 
left the region particularly vulnerable to global organized crime. 
"Ghana's interest in attracting investment provides good cover for 
foreign drug barons to enter the country under the guise of doing 
legitimate business," the INCSR found.

The effect: Africa's role in feeding record-high cocaine use in 
Europe has also fed addiction in transfer points in Africa. The 
ensuing health problems, as well as drug-related corruption and 
criminals' co-option of the legitimate shipping industry, threaten to 
stunt development in poor countries.

The crackdown: In Ghana, the government is training new 
law-enforcement officers in Accra. In addition, several European 
countries, including the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Spain, are 
collaborating to stem the increased drug trade. However, recent 
indications suggest that drug money from the region is being 
channeled to terror groups responsible for recent North African 
bombings, such as the recent al Qaeda attacks in Algiers. Expect 
increased scrutiny of terror financing--and the drug money from which 
it often originates.