Pubdate: Wed, 18 Mar 2009
Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)
Copyright: 2009 Post-Bulletin Company, LLC
Author: Joel Brinkley
Note: Joel Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign 
correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of 
journalism at Stanford University.


President Obama says he is determined to cut the federal deficit in 
half, so I have an idea that will start saving millions of dollars 
right now: Shut down Plan Colombia. To date it has wasted about $6 billion.

Over the last few weeks, senior Colombian officials have been 
flooding Washington, lobbying everyone they can find to renew federal 
funding for this ridiculous enterprise. I had a chat with one of 
them, Vice President Francisco Santos. "So far," he told me, "we have 
not heard of any changes to Plan Colombia." That's too bad.

The program began in 1999, under President Clinton, and it seemed to 
make sense at the time. The United States deployed a small air force 
in Colombia, 82 aircraft, and began spraying coca plants with a 
non-toxic herbicide, while also helping Colombia fight insurgents and 
shut down processing plants that use coca leaves to produce cocaine. 
Back then, Colombian traffickers had 463,322 acres of coca-plant 
cultivation. From that, they produced 90 percent of the world's cocaine.

After 10 years of eradication efforts, Colombia now has more than 
575,750 acres of coca-plant cultivation -- a 25 percent increase! The 
United Nations reports that cultivation increased by 27 percent over 
the last year, and Colombia still produces 90 percent of the world's 
cocaine. So what gives? Over the years, Plan Colombia officials have 
released perfectly believable statistics showing that they have 
eradicated many hundreds of thousands of acres. But the simple truth 
is, as spray planes kill coca plants, the traffickers simply plant 
new bushes in different parts of the country. Plan Colombia just can't keep up.

We have given these drug-enforcement teams a decade to find an 
approach that works. They have failed, probably because there is no 
way to solve this problem as long as demand for cocaine remains 
strong, and profits to be earned from producing it remain staggeringly high.

Meantime, Plan Colombia has become an expensive laughing stock. And 
while it has not achieved its goal, the effort has spawned ancillary 
violence. As traffickers are forced to move their work to different 
parts of the country, they push into provinces that have not been 
players in Colombia's narco-trafficking culture. Suddenly, relatively 
peaceful areas become violent. People die.

In Narino Province last month, insurgent traffickers massacred 
between eight and 20 indigenous people whom they had accused of being 
army informants. Narino, a quiet area just a few years ago, now is 
estimated to have almost 50,000 acres of coca plants. It is now a 
violent drug-war zone. A few days ago, authorities seized 5.7 tons of 
cocaine there.

I asked Vice President Santos about this. Even as he defended Plan 
Colombia, he could only nod as I described the violent change that 
has come to Narino.

OK, the cocaine flooding the western world is a statistical anomaly. 
In Britain over the last year, cocaine has become so readily 
available that the price fell by 2.5 percent.

Pressed, Santos acknowledged that Colombia could manage the program on its own.

Joel Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign 
correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of 
journalism at Stanford University.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom