HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug War Fails to Halt Colombia Cocaine Trail
Pubdate: Tue, 07 Dec 2004
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2004
Author: Andy Webb-Vidal
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, former boss of Colombia's Cali drugs
cartel, appeared in a Miami federal courtroom on Monday to face
charges of cocaine trafficking and money-laundering. Mr Rodriguez, 65,
is the most powerful Colombian trafficker ever to face US justice. He
was extradited at the weekend. The US Drug Enforcement Administration
calculates that his empire once supplied 80 per cent of cocaine to the
US and generated annual profits of $8bn (6bn, UKP4bn).

His extradition is being hailed officially as a spectacular example of
ever more effective co-operation between the US and Colombia and
evident progress in the war against illegal drugs.

But in reality, experts say, the Cali cartel boss's likely jailing
will have no impact on cocaine supplies from the world's top producing
country, which is thriving as an efficient supplier free of the
distortions of monopoly.

High-profile drug lords such as Mr Rodriguez and Pablo Escobar the
Medell'n cartel competitor who was killed in December 1993 have been
replaced by hundreds of small, low-profile organisations dubbed "baby

The atomisation of the big cartels which, as virtual monopolies, were
able to control supplies and prices, has allowed for greater
competition among producers and, in turn, narrower but still ample
profit margins.

A decade ago Cesar Gaviria, a former Colombian president, predicted
that Mr Escobar's death would foster the growth of "a thousand little
Pablos". He appears to have been right. A structural change on the
supply side of the market is one reason why retail prices for cocaine
in the US and Europe have remained stable or fallen in real terms,
according to research carried out by the United Nations.

"As the business is so profitable, one could expect producers to
adjust their margins," says Andres Lopez, a professor at the
Universidad Nacional in Bogota who has studied apparent trends in the
drugs trade.

Smuggling routes are constantly shifting as traffickers find new ways
of outwitting officials and in spite of tougher security measures at
ports and airports as part of the war on terrorism. Although Colombian
authorities seized more cocaine--this year up 50 per cent to 154
tonnes--experts believe only about 10 per cent of illegal shipments
are captured.

More seizures are seen as a poor indicator of fluctuations in output
and not necessarily a sign of an effective curb on supply.

But numerous subtle changes along the supply chain also explain why
the availability of cocaine from Colombia remains seemingly untouched.
Peasant farmers, encouraged by guerrilla and paramilitary armies that
control much of the upstream stretch of Colombia's illicit drugs
business, are adapting planting techniques to counter fumigation.

Coca bushes in several areas are interspersed with legal crops, ruling
out the use of fumigation. As well as the apparent development of a
genetically modified coca "tree" capable of yielding more cocaine, the
police have found coca planted in national parks, where fumigation is

Many observers favour manual eradication as they become sceptical of
aerial fumigation's effectiveness. "The anti-narcotics police are
doing a fine job fighting a losing battle," says a US contractor in

One effect of fumigation has been to spread drug crops to remoter,
better-guarded regions, as well as across borders. In Peru the area
devoted to coca as well as to the poppy, used to make heroin has risen.

US counter-narcotics policy has in the past 20 years pumped about
$45bn overseas, almost exclusively to combat supply. But experts say
it has resoundingly failed to cut the availability of drugs or helped
reduce consumption on western streets. As John Walsh, senior associate
for drug policy at the Washington Office on Latin America research
group, puts it: "To date, there is no evidence that the commitment to
tough-sounding policies has reduced drug availability, made drugs more
expensive or contributed to reducing drug consumption."
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