25-Year 'War on Drugs' Fails on the Streets
its nearly quarter-century "war against drugs" nor the
almost $3 billion Washington has spent since 2000 on Plan Colombia
has resulted in higher prices on U.S. streets for cocaine or heroin,
says a major report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
400-page report, which focuses mainly on the "collateral damage"
inflicted on democratic institutions and stability in Mexico and
Andean countries, called for a major reassessment of Washington's
efforts to cut the supply of drugs "at the source."
25 years and $25 billion fighting drugs in Latin America, we are
no closer to winning the war, the drug war which is ultimately
about reducing drug abuse," said WOLA Executive Director Joy
Olson at the report's release.
as of mid-2003, the last date for which data was available, both
the wholesale and retail prices of the two drugs were at or close
to their lowest levels in the 22 years since statistics were first
collected, according to the document.
policy is not working," said Coletta Youngers, co-editor of
the 400-page report, "Drugs and Democracy in Latin America:
The Impact of U.S. Policy." "We found no evidence of a
significant reduction of illicit drugs flowing out of Andean or
most dramatic disclosure in the report, the product of a three-year
investigation involving nearly 20 U.S. and Latin American researchers,
is data on drug prices submitted by the RAND Corporation to the
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in early
drug-control policy aims primarily at reducing the supply of drugs
into the United States, on the assumption that reduced supply will
drive up prices and discourage people from buying or using drugs.
latest data, which appears to have been kept under wraps by the
ONDCP, showed that prices of cocaine and heroin in the United States
at both wholesale and retail levels actually fell
between 2000, the last year for which published government data
are available, and June 2003.
can only conclude that cocaine and heroin remain widely available
in the U.S.," said John Walsh, a WOLA analyst who contributed
to the new book, and who suggested one reason that ONDCP has not
published the latest data, which he said was obtained from a congressional
office, may be because "prices are now lower than when Plan
a senior ONDCP official told IPS the WOLA report "is filled
with errors, irrelevancies, and misinterpretations."
impact of Plan Colombia wasn't felt until August 2002, when President
Uribe took charge in Colombia. By the end of 2003, there had been
a 33-percent reduction in the coca crop in Colombia," added
the official, who asked to be unidentified.
also denied the office had delayed publishing the data. Normally
it takes at least one year from the time such information is received
until a report is published, particularly one that requires inter-agency
clearance, added the official.
Plan Colombia, which must be re-funded by Congress in 2005, Washington
has provided nearly $3 billion in assistance most of it in
aid to Colombian military and security forces since 2000,
making Bogotá the third biggest recipient of U.S. foreign
aid, after Israel and Egypt.
plan, the centerpiece of the Bush administration's efforts to cut
the supply of cocaine and heroin into the United States, was originally
designed to extend the Colombian government's authority into parts
of the country where coca and poppy cultivation had become particularly
strategy has relied heavily on the fumigation of vast areas of the
countryside, drawing criticism by WOLA and other groups that it
risked ruining the livelihoods of small farmers and destroying fragile
the amount of area under cultivation has indeed been reduced as
spraying has increased, according to the report, the strategy has
failed to take into account the so-called "balloon effect,"
that suppressing coca production in one area leads to heightened
cultivation somewhere else, not just in Colombia, but across borders.
has been a dramatic increase in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia,"
according to Gustavo Gorriti, an expert on the drug trade and co-director
of Peru's La Republica newspaper, who participated in the
he added, "spraying won't happen in Peru or Bolivia,"
because of the political strength of the growers. "Behind these
increases are very strong cocalero [coca growers'] movements
that you haven't seen before," Gorriti said.
Youngers, "The fumigation campaign has had a devastating impact
on the livelihood of small farmers and contributes to the displacement
of tens of thousands of Colombians, thrusting them even more deeply
into poverty and insecurity."
book, which is divided into case studies of the impact of the drug
war on individual countries, argues that the collateral damage of
U.S. drug-control policies has been extensive, and particularly
harmful to democratic governments in the region.
have contributed to confusing military and law-enforcement functions,
militarizing local police forces, and bringing the military into
a domestic law enforcement role," said Youngers. "They
have thus strengthened military forces at the expense of civilian
authorities in a region with a tragic history of military
the policies have led Washington to forge alliances with unscrupulous
leaders, who, like Panamanian General Manuel Noriega and Vladimiro
Montesinos in Peru, are heavily implicated in the drug trade themselves,
in order to pursue short-term, anti-drug targets to the detriment
of long-term democratic development, argues the report.
repressive nature of the "drug war" has also generated
significant social conflict and political instability, as in Bolivia
where an elected president was overthrown by an opposition that
included cocaleros last year, or in Colombia itself, which
suffers from Latin America's worst human-rights violations, many
of them committed by various forces contending for control of drug
production and trafficking.
drug-control efforts have provoked a war on the poor and an assault
on democratic institutions," said Olson. "We've spent
billions on anti-drug efforts in Latin America and have nothing
to show for it but collateral damage."
been tough on drugs," she added, "now it's time to get
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service