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The Collective
Monday, May 22, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BoGlo: $4b later, drugs still flow in Colombia

Six years and $4 billion into the US-backed campaign to wipe out cocaine at its source, Colombia appears to be producing more coca than when the campaign started, according to US government estimates.

As Congress opens debate this month on another $640 million for next year for Washington’s most ambitious overseas counternarcotics effort, a growing number of critics say the costly program has neither dented the cocaine trade nor driven down the number of American addicts. Two of the program’s major missions — to dramatically reduce coca growing in Colombia and provide alternative livelihoods for drug farmers — have fallen far short of hoped-for goals.

It is just more of the same: the policy clearly isn’t working, yet we continue to pour money into it.

The counter-argument is that sans the spraying, cocaine would be dirt cheap. Perhaps, but of course if it was dirt cheap, the incentive to produce it would radically diminished. There is a direct linkage between our policies and the fact that the cocaine business is incredibly lucrative.

In regards to price and the efficacy of the current approach:

Last November, the White House Office of Drug Control Policy announced a rise in cocaine prices and drop in purity in mid-2005, implying the campaign was squeezing the cocaine supply. In a letter to Walters last month, Grassley questioned Walters’s claim of a price spike, and cited data showing cocaine prices on a downward slide since 1982 — indicating a steadily growing supply.

Even using the controversial White House data, the retail price of cocaine would have been around $170 a gram last September, not far from the $168 price in 2000 when Plan Colombia began.

Plan Colombia’s supporters say more money and patience are needed before the efforts will be reflected on the streets of America.

‘’We’re making first downs,” said US Ambassador to Colombia William Wood, ‘’but we’re not sure how long the football field is.”

I think Ambassador Wood is forgetting that the game is won by scoring touchdowns, not obtaining first downs. Even if we accept that we are making first downs (a dubious proposition, to be quite frank), then it is one of those games were one team is getting a lot of yard, but no points, while the opponent is scoring on special teams, turn-overs and quick strikes. The score is clearly along the lines of Team Coca 52, Plan Colombia 3.

A dispassionate analysis of the numbers can produce no other conclusion.

Not only is the program not producing the results it claims are its goals, it is producing perverse incentives. For example:

‘’If they’re going to fumigate everything anyway, what’s the advantage of planting legal crops?” asked Pablo Nilson Preciado, 32, a former coca farmer taking part in the project.

If I get more for successfully cultivating coca leaves than I do for bananas, and both die if Roundup is dumped on them, then the smart gamble is to plant coca (not to mention that coca is easier to grow).

It’s the same story and the same evidence and the same failure, yet the policies continue unabated.

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Filed under: War on Drugs, Colombia | |

1 Comment

  1. Your analysis is correct, ASSUMING you take the whole Drug War rhetoric at face value.

    On the other hand, one could argue that the entire “war on drugs” has a two-pronged set of effects that make its continuation entirely rational. First, on the foreign policy end, the drug war is a convenient way to assert US power over South America-a foreign policy goal that has been apparent in the US since the early 19th century. I think the trend of foreign policy-independent regimes in South America over the past 5 years is indicative of a popular antipathy towards the legacy of US involvement.

    On the domestic front, the drug war allows a convenient way to moinitor and discipline inner-city surplus labor which is “slips through the cracks” in capitalist labor markets. Given the fact that the US does not pursue a labor policy of full-employment, many people who are obstructed from legitimate & decent paying work must pursue their material needs through the informal economy. The “war on drugs” is the rather futile way that we control these surplus populations in order to make sure that they do not disrupt the normal processes of market exchange.

    One of the reasons that European countries have much lower levels of drug violence and drug use is that there is a stronger policy structure supporting employment opportunities in the formal sector AND the fact that they treat addiction as a health issue.

    Comment by Ronald McDonald — Monday, May 22, 2006 @ 1:44 pm

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