Pubdate: Fri, 23 May 2008
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2008 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Author: Mark L. Schneider
Note: Mark L. Schneider is senior vice president and special adviser 
on Latin America at the International Crisis Group, an international 
conflict prevention organization.
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Drug Use Is Up, And Colombian Farmers Are Unfairly Targeted. Let's 
Overhaul Counternarcotics.

Washington - Every year, White House officials describe the US 
counterdrug policies in the same glowing terms used to describe the 
Emperor's new clothes: We're snuffing out coca crops and cracking 
down on those who grow them. But they leave out two important facts: 
More cocaine is coming out of South America than ever before and more 
young Americans are using than when the Bush administration took office.

Officials tell us they've made progress in eradicating tens of 
thousands of acres of coca by spraying chemical weed-killer from 
airplanes protected by heavily armed helicopter gunships.

They tell success stories about hundreds of tons of coca paste and 
cocaine they've seized on Colombian roads and on the high seas. They 
speak proudly of the coffee, beans, and vegetables harvested under 
Colombian and US alternative development projects.

But there are key facts missing in their description of the Emperor's 
counterdrug-policy wardrobe. When Plan Colombia (the multibillion 
dollar US assistance program targeted at curbing drug smuggling and 
supporting Colombia against armed guerrillas) started, coca was 
cultivated in 12 of Colombia's 34 provinces. Today it is grown in 23 
of those provinces.

In 2006, after five years of Plan Colombia, four years of the 
regional Andean Counterdrug Initiative, and after spending $5.5 
billion, some 1,000 metric tons of cocaine were produced between 
Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, according to the Drug Enforcement 
Administration. That's about the same amount that was produced in 
2002 when President Alvaro Uribe took office.

The head of the White House Office of Narcotics and Drug Control 
Program, John Walters, admitted at a press conference in Haiti 
recently that last year that cocaine production had risen to 1,400 
metric tons in 2007 - a whopping 40 percent hike. Not surprisingly, 
his staff is scrambling to rephrase that.

Washington is focusing on the most easily replaceable link of the 
cocaine production chain - the impoverished campesino - through 
aerial spraying and forced eradication. These poor farmers feel 
unfairly singled out, since too many at the top of the chain - drug 
traffickers and illegal armed combatants - survive or are quickly 
replaced by equally brutal traffickers. This administration's policy 
of targeting the poorest is wrong.

Law enforcement and interdiction are essential to control drug 
trafficking, but not sufficient. A massive increase in rural 
development would provide a far better chance of reducing the drug 
supply flowing from the Andean ridge countries than eradication alone.

Colombia is faced with a continuing insurgency, which finances itself 
from drug revenues, and the Peruvian and Bolivian coca growers are 
among the continent's most impoverished indigenous communities. 
That's why it's so important for Washington to support a massive 
increase in rural infrastructure investment, rural governance, and 
public service extension into those communities now.

Congress made a good start last year by voting to shift Plan Colombia 
funding away from military to economic development and rule of law.

Unfortunately, the administration opposed it. Now Congress needs to 
go one step further and push this administration, and the next one, 
to rethink a counterdrug policy that has not achieved its goals. 
Fundamental changes are needed in both supply and demand policies if 
there is going to be a decline in cocaine trafficking into the US.

In 2002, just under 9 percent of the US population from 12 to 25 
years of age admitted to using cocaine the previous year. In 2006, 
the same percentage said they snorted cocaine. Since the population 
has grown, simple math shows that in absolute terms many more used cocaine.

A one-size-fits-all demand reduction policy essentially aims to put 
everyone who touches cocaine in jail - whether they are one-time or 
weekend users, addicts or traffickers.

Certainly for traffickers, the only option is more effective law 
enforcement that works closely with other nations to go after their 
money, their assets, and their structures.

For cocaine users, it is time to build on the best models of dealing 
with addicts through a public health lens, with hospitals, clinics, 
and treatment replacing jails. And a massive public service effort 
should be launched to target recreational users that equates cocaine 
use with drunken driving - unacceptable destructive behavior. Their 
weekend fun kills young people in Colombia and Los Angeles and Miami. 
It has to stop.

Producers and consumers in the Andes, the US, Europe, and the 
Southern Cone must come together and admit that the Emperor's 
counterdrug wardrobe is threadbare. It needs new fabric and a new 
design - a top to bottom overhaul of counternarcotics thinking.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom