Home   About Us   Links   PSAs   Reading   Research   Video   Contact Us



Rationale: Our international drug control strategy is ineffective and continues to follow seriously flawed approaches. The worldwide illicit drug business generates as much as $400 billion in trade annually according to the United Nations International Drug Control Program. That amounts to 8% of all international trade.169 The primary response of the White House's drug control strategy is for more interdiction and eradication which, according to the RAND Corporation, is the least cost-effective alternative available.170 Gains such as eradication of coca fields or destruction of laboratories tend to be temporary, as drug producers and traffickers adapt quickly to enforcement strategies. But the U.S. spends increasingly more money on these failed strategies: according to General Barry McCaffrey, “The Administration has submitted a FY 1999 drug control budget that includes 1.8 billion dollars for interdiction efforts – an increase of more than 36 percent since FY 1996.”171 

Even as these strategies continue to fail, the response has been to pursue more dangerous approaches and set even more unreachable goals. At home and abroad we are employing dangerous herbicides to eliminate drug crops, which threaten the environment and public health. We are also expanding the role of militaries – both U.S. and Latin American – in drug enforcement activities, which threatens human rights and democratic development. In June 1998 the UN's International Drug Control Program set a goal of eradicating poppy and coca cultivation from the face of the earth within the next ten years. Trying to achieve such an impossible goal will create even more environmental damage and human rights abuses – as have already been seen in countries like Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.

Rather than escalate unworkable strategies in an effort to achieve the unrealistic goal of a “drug-free world,” it is time for a review of international drug control policy. As hundreds of signatories to a letter to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan said this June: it is time for a drug policy based on “common sense, science, public health and human rights.” Signatories to this letter included political leaders, academics, business leaders, and Nobel Laureates who correctly noted that “the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself.” [See figure 25]

Recommendation 1: Place less emphasis on drug interdiction and source country eradication strategies and greater emphasis on domestic drug prevention and treatment programs as well as alternative economic development.

Quote Due to the massive flow of goods and people across our borders, and the small quantities of drugs that are needed to make enormous profits, interdiction efforts are truly like searching for a needle in a haystack. One of the major problems with supply reduction efforts (source control, interdiction, and domestic enforcement) is that “suppliers simply produce for the market what they would have produced anyway, plus enough extra to cover anticipated government seizures.”172 

In order to develop a sensible international drug policy, the United States must recognize that drug control begins at home. The focus of our policy then shifts to its root cause – consumer demand for prohibited substances. Rather than escalating funds for eradication and interdiction, and blaming countries for producing and transporting drugs, the United States should focus its international drug control efforts on economic development in partnership with source countries and developing alternative economic activities for the impoverished farmers who grow drug crops.

Recommendation 2: End the drug certification process.

Every year, the U.S. government must decide whether or not to 'certify' foreign governments as partners in the War on Drugs. If a country is decertified, it loses foreign aid (other than counter-narcotics funding) and faces trade sanctions. The policy, enacted in 1986, was supposed to foster anti-drug cooperation. But, many poverty-stricken nations are struggling to overcome the violence and corruption caused by the drug trade, and resent the annual U.S. judgment of their efforts.

According to a recent article by Bill Spencer, the Deputy Director of the Washington Office on Latin America, “Policymakers would do better to abandon the annual exercise of sounding tough and casting blame beyond our borders, and work instead to create more effective multilateral mechanisms for combating the violence and corruption of the drug trade.” Spencer explains that “Certification is bad drug policy because it sends mixed signals to other countries; it fosters conflict; and it reinforces the focus on the failed source-country control strategy. Certification is bad foreign policy because it holds other priorities such as human rights hostage to the single issue of drug control. Certification distorts our national conversation on foreign policy by focusing media attention and political debate on drugs, obscuring the search for common interests.”173 Instead, we need to enact a new policy that promotes real partnerships with other countries, stems the corrosive effects of the drug trade on democratic institutions, and embraces the principle that US drug control begins at home.

Recommendation 3: Stop encouraging a role for the military in counternarcotics activities properly performed by civilian law enforcement agencies, both at home and abroad.

The frustration over failed eradication and interdiction efforts has resulted in greater reliance on the Department of Defense (DOD) to enforce the “War on Drugs.” Since the National Defense Authorization Act of 1989, the DOD has been designated the “single lead agency” for drug interdiction under federal law. As a result the US military has become entrenched in the drug war and has enlisted Latin America's militaries as key partners in U.S. drug control strategy. This approach leads the United States into increasingly close alliances with military agencies with poor human rights records or which are involved in ongoing counterinsurgency campaigns. Counter-narcotics training provided by the United States differs little from counterinsurgency training, thus potentially involving the United States in these civil conflicts. Increased military involvement in civilian law enforcement has proven to be inconsistent with its traditional role in the United States and counterproductive to democratization in Latin America.

The policy of certifying foreign governments on the basis of their success in curtailing illegal drug production and shipment has been an ineffective tool for drug control and has undermined other important U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. Crucial human rights objectives have been particularly affected by counter-narcotics funding, as the U.S. has funded numerous military units in Latin America with documented human rights abuses.174  Moreover, the steady flow of hundreds of millions of dollars each year into South American military forces175 reinforces the militaries' dominant role in domestic politics, which is contrary to the needs of nascent democracies.

Colombia has emerged as the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Western Hemisphere. Increased aid began in 1990, with the Bush administration's “Andean strategy,” a five-year, $2.2 billion plan to try to eradicate cocaine at its source in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. In March 1996, the Clinton administration reacted to evidence that President Ernesto Samper had taken money from Cali traffickers by cutting off almost all U.S. aid to Colombia except aid to fight drugs. Overall, U.S. anti-drug aid granted to the Colombian military and police rose from $28.8 million in 1995 to at least $95.9 million in 1997, according to State Department figures. Military sales to Colombia jumped from $21.9 million to $75 million over the same period. The most recent aid package, agreed to after the election of President Andres Pastrana, will total $289 million, nearly triple the recent annual American contributions to Colombia's anti-drug efforts.

Our aid to Colombia and other Latin American countries has involved US military in human rights abuses and undermines trends toward civilian democracy in the region. In addition, the line between drug enforcement and other military activity is vague. By 1994, both the General Accounting Office and the Defense Department had found that the light-infantry skills taught in anti-drug training in Colombia were easily adapted to fighting rebels. When the U.S. Embassy in Bogota reviewed the matter in 1994, officials said they discovered that anti-drug aid had gone to seven Colombian brigades and seven battalions that had been implicated in abuses or linked to right-wing paramilitary groups that had killed civilians.176 

In addition to working outside the United States, the military is being used for civilian law enforcement within the country as well. Active duty military troops have been involved in drug enforcement along the US border with Mexico. In addition, the National Guard currently has more counter-narcotics officers than the DEA has special agents on duty. Each day it is involved in 1,300 counter-drug operations and has 4,000 troops on duty.177  This has led to unacceptable conflicts between the military and US civilians. On May 20, 1997 four Marines on patrol fatally shot an American high school student, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., while he was herding goats near his home. This incident resulted in greater restrictions in the use of the military domestically. While this is a positive step we should return to the traditional prohibition against the use of the military in domestic law enforcement.

Encourage the trend toward democratization in Latin America; empower civilian leaders; and reduce the role of the armed forces in Latin America. Any drug enforcement aid to the region should be closely monitored to ensure it is used solely for anti-drug operations and does not contribute to human rights abuses.

Recommendation 4: Stop the use of herbicides and biological agents in efforts to eradicate illegal drugs outside of the United States as well as within the US.

Aerial spraying of herbicides in Latin America reinforces the role of the army and police as an occupying force in the countryside. Aerial spraying has a destructive environmental impact. For instance, when dispersed by aircraft, the herbicide Glyphosate can drift for up to approximately one-half mile. In Colombia, where the herbicide Glyphosate is sprayed from airplanes, children have lost hair and suffered diarrhea as a result of its application.178  Colombia uses aerial spraying to drop herbicides on illicit crops in order to comply with US demands to stop coca production. In its attempts to control peasant production of illicit crops, the Colombian government dumps chemical herbicides on over 100,000 acres every year.

The environmentally risky strategy of herbicide spraying does not work. Despite a record year of aerial coca fumigation, Colombia's chief anti-narcotics officer, Ruben Olarte, labeled the program a failure, noting that coca production had increased from 111,000 acres in 1994 to over 195,000 acres by the start of 1998.180 Since these crops are the peasants' only source of income, once fields are fumigated the farmers move deeper into the Amazon rain forest and farm on steep hillsides. This constant push on peasants has led to the clearing of over 1.75 million acres of rain forest.181 Deforestation of Colombia is a risk to Colombia and the world: “Colombia's forests account for 10% of the entire world's biodiversity, making it the second most biodiverse country in the world in terms of species per land unit.” Drug war induced deforestation in Colombia has led experts to theorize that Colombia could become another Somalia or Ethiopia within 50 years, “i.e. a fast growing population that is larger than the food production can support due to poor agricultural soils or techniques.”182 

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed the use of herbicides in marijuana eradication programs in the US.183 The herbicides being proposed for use are toxic materials with serious adverse effects. They include: Trichlopyr,184 Glyphosate185 and 2,4-D.186 Marijuana is often intermingled with other crops or forest land so it is hidden from view. Aerial spraying of these plants increases the risk to the surrounding environment due to drift of the herbicides. For these reasons herbicide spraying as part of marijuana eradication should be rejected.

169 Associated Press, "U.N. Estimates Drug Business Equal to 8 Percent of World Trade," (1997, June 26).
170 Source: Rydell & Everingham, (1994), Controlling Cocaine, Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.
171 Testimony of Barry R. McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, On the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act, September 16, 1998.
172 Rydell, C.P. & Everingham, S.S., Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army, Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND (1994), p. 6.
173 Spencer, Bill. (1998, September). Foreign Policy In Focus, "Drug Certification." Vol. 3, No. 24.
174 Editorial. (24 January, 1998). "Illusions of a War Against Cocaine" New York Times.
175 Isacson, Adam and Joy Olson. (1998). Just the Facts: A Civilian's Guide to U.S. Defense and Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, DC: Latin American Working Group.
176 Diana Jean Schemo and Tim Golden. (1998, June 2). New York Times, "U.S. Aids Army in Colombia," San Jose Mercury News; Steven Lee Myers. (1998, December 1). "U.S. Pledges Military Cooperation to Colombia in Drug War," The New York Times.
177 Munger, M. (1997, Summer). "The Drug Threat: Getting Priorities Straight," Parameters.
178 Cox, C. (1995). "Glyphosate, Part 2: Human Exposure and Ecological Effects," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Vol. 15, Eugene, OR: Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides; Lloyd, R. (1997). "Publisher Warns about Impacts of Drug War," World Rainforest Report 37, Lismore, NSW: Australia; Drug Enforcement Agency. (1998). Draft Supplement to the Environmental Impact Statements for Cannabis Eradication in the Contiguous United States and Hawaii, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
179 Embassy of Colombia. (1998). White Paper on Narcotics Control, Washington D.C.: Embassy of Colombia. Table 8.
180 Reuters, "Colombia calls drug crop eradication a failure" (1998, September 9).
181 Trade and Environment Database (TED), TED Case Studies: Colombia Coca Trade, Washington D.C.: American University (1997), pp. 4-8
182 Trade and Environment Database (TED), TED Case Studies: Deforestation in Colombia, Washington D.C.: American University (1997); Trade and Environment Database (TED), TED Case Studies: Colombia Coca Trade, Washington D.C.: American University (1997).
183 "Cannabis Eradication in the Contiguous United States and Hawaii," (Supplement to the Environmental Impact Statements), DEA, April 1988.
184 Trichlopyr should not be used near ditches used to transport irrigation water or where runoff or irrigation may flow onto agricultural land. Nor should it be used near dairy animals or livestock and may be toxic to fish. There are also concerns that this herbicide has adverse effects on growth, development, sexual traits and other functions.
185 Glyphosate exposure in humans has caused respiratory effects and skin and eye irritation. It is the leading cause of pesticide-related illness in California agricultural workers. Glyphosate has the potential to contaminate surface waters, killing oxygen producing plants and leading to fish kills.
186 2,4-D is associated with a long list of chronic adverse health effects from neurological effects to liver and kidney function changes to reproductive effects to cancer. 2,4-D risks endocrine disruption and because of this probably should not be used in any weed control program. It has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in farmers and under certain conditions can persist in soil for several months.

Previous  Contents  Next