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News About the US Drug War in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Throughout South and Central America
Groups working on Colombia issues include:
Colombia Human Rights Network
According to attendees of "the 1st Latin American Conference on Drug Policy," Latin American countries are "headed toward the decriminalization of drug possession for personal consumption," according to an August 11, 2009 article in the Latin American Herald Tribune ("Latin America on its Way to Legalizing Drugs, Experts Say"). Additionally, conference attendees "said that legislative reforms are being designed to give smaller sentences 'to small traffickers, and to create policies that minimize harm' by encouraging addicts who can't quit to come into the health system." While none of the aforementioned trends constitute outright legalization, legislators in specific countries discuss specific proposals regarding all-out drug legalization, as well as the controversies surrounding those proposals. For more information, check out the article (linked above).
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The Latin American Herald Tribune, reporting a story originally printed in "the business daily Gestion," states in an August 7, 2009 article that "Peru's drug czar, Romulo Pizarro, estimates that foreign drug cartels' earning from peddling Peruvian cocaine have risen by $3.8 billion since 2004," raising the country's "revenue from cocaine imports" to "some $22 billion, equivalent to 17 percent of gross domestic product" ("Drug Trafficking Grows in Peru, Newspaper Says"). Cocaine thus brings more money into Peru than does"any legitimate sector of the economy, according to Economy and Finance Ministry figures." Moreover, Pizarro predicts that the problem "appears set to grow"
Most Peruvian cocaine does not remain long in its country of origin. According to analyst Jaime Antezana, "Of the total cocaine produced in Peru, some 60 percent was exported to the United States and Europe, 35 percent to Asia and the remainder to various countries in Latin America." However, the Herald Tribune contends that, regardless of the drugs' ultimate destination, "[d]rug trafficking [...] harms the domestic economy because it drive down the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar due to the large supply of the currency;" that large supply of currency, says economist Cesar Penaranda, "increases the risk of corruption, so it distorts the functioning of the market."
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Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, began meeting with the leaders of other regional nations on Tuesday, August 4 of 2009, according to a same-day MercoPress article ("Uribe Tours South American to Explain US Bases in Colombia"). During his multi-country trip, Uribe will attempt to appease other Latin American leaders' concerns regarding a deal, which the president expects to sign within the month, that would allow the US to "relocat[e its] drug interdiction flight operations to Colombia after being kicked out of neighbouring Ecuador." According to the article, the recently-announced plan (about which CSDP supplies further information below) "is expected to increase the number of US troops in Colombia above the current total of less than 300 but not above 800, the maximum permitted under an existing military pact."
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez "and allies from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua" claim the US base deal would provide the North American country with "a military platform in Colombia from which to 'attack' its foreign neighbors." They are not alone in their concerns. Brazilian president Lula da Silva told the paper that he doesn't "like the idea of a US base in the region," and Chile's Michelle Bachelet "called the Colombia-US talks 'disquieting,'" suggesting instead that "the proposal should be discussed at the August 10 meeting of the South American Unasur group of nations." But Colombian authorities see things in a different light. Said one "high-level official in Colombia's Defence Ministry," who spoke on the condition of anonymity, "Where was the hysteria when these operations were being run out of Ecuador?" He continued, "Mexico is having the worst security crisis in its history due to the drug trade and people are saying we should not help them by doing interdiction operations. It's ridiculous."
Perhaps more ridiculous than the aforementioned leaders' objections, the anonymous official's statement ignores the fact that the United States houses several convenient channels to Mexico within its own country (and that Mexico already employs its own military to fight its drug war). Moreover, other regional officials have expressed hesitance about the deal due to secrecy surrounding the negotiations, and in that context Bachelet's proposal that the deal be discussed during the upcoming group meeting makes good sense. Moreover, sovereign nations with legitimate stakes in the deal's outcomes - like Venezuela, Chile, and Brazil - have a right to expect degrees of privacy even as drug control efforts become increasingly transnational. However, as "Washington's main ally in the region," it remains unlikely that Colombia will reject the deal; at least its president appears willing to listen to his neighbors' concerns.
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Guatemala Charges Victimization by U.S. War on Drugs
Guatemala's Guatemala News expressed frustration and anger in reaction to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske's late July visit to Mexico. In a July 28 article ("Gautemala: Casualty of War in US War Against Drugs and National Security"), the paper denounced the lack of change in US drug policies, particularly with regard to Mexico. As author Barbara Schieber writes, "At today's Press Conference in Mexico, the new White House Drug Zar Kerlikowske demonstrated that he only offers the same old - same old. No new ideas or initiatives. He calls the narco traffickers terrorists[,] praises Calderon's efforts of conducting a frontal war and reiterates that Mexico will get the 1.4000 $ million [...] stipulated for the Merida Plan in 2007. He also states that he opposes any legalization of drugs."
In particular, Schieber criticizes the United States for forcing Guatemala to assume the responsibility of dealing with the "emigration of narcos from Mexico into neighboring countries, like Guatemala," that results from the prohibitionist ideologies underlying both Mexican and US drug policy. She states that Guatemalans "have to assume that for [...] Kerlikowske and President Obama," the spreading-out of Mexican cartels into bordering regions "is a success in the war on drugs, because that is all that Calderon has done" with his military-led and US-lauded drug strategy. Put more simply, "Being highly successful in the US strategy on the war on drugs means: making the narcos change their addresses into another country, never mind where to, as long as it is not the US."
Moreover, Schieber contends "We in Guatemala can only try to prepare ourselves for the increased migration of narco cartels, heavy weapons, crime, corruption, death and violence into our country, all courtesy of the US war on drugs." She continues, "We will soon see more bloody consequences of the Merida Plan, financed so well for Mexico, financed so poorly for Guatemala." In other words, Schieber points to the vast funding disparities that exist between drug-troubled Mexico and Guatemala, which must take in migrating Mexican traffickers but lacks the money provided to Mexico to combat the consequences of their arrival. In concluding her article, Schieber sounds resigned: "I don't know," she writes, "but it is starting to sound like a war on Guatemala, not a war on drugs. We are the ones that have become the target."
Schieber's analysis of US and Latin American relations shines a spotlight on the collateral consequences associated with prohibitionist drug policies and the interdiction efforts that inevitably accompany them. What looks like success for Mexico appears disasterous to its geographical neighbors, who now share the burdens of both drug wars as cartels spread across the region in an attempt to thwart Calderon's strategy and protect their places at the top rungs of the trafficking ladder. The United States should heed Schieber's warning that "President Obama is making a big mistake in 'staying the course' on the war on drugs. It didn't work during the Clinton years, the Bush years; it is not going to work now."
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Venezuela Quickly Becoming Latin America's Drug-Trafficking Hub, Congressional Report Claims
According to a July 19, 2009 Washington Post article ("Venezuela's Drug-Trafficking Role is Growing Fast, U.S. Report Says"), a report prepared for "the U.S. Congress on drug smuggling in Venezuela concludes that corruption at high levels of President Hugo Chavez's government and state aid to Colombia's drug-trafficking geurrillas have made Venezuela a major launching pad for cocaine bound for the United States and Europe." Although the Post states that "U.S. administrations have considered Venezuela a key drug-trafficking hub" since 1996, the report claims that "the amount of cocaine flowing from Venezuela to [neighboring] Colombia, [...] the world's top producer of the drug, has [recently] skyrocketed." The Post claims that the report "represents U.S. officials' strongest condemnation yet of Venezuela's alleged role in drug trafficking," primarily because it states that the country "has extended a 'lifeline' to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States estimates has a hand in the trafficking of 60 percent of the cocaine produced in Colombia."
The report did not go unnoticed by President Chavez. As the article states, "Speaking to reporters in Bolivia on Friday [July 17], the populist leader characterized the report as a political tool used by the United States to besmirch his country. He also said that the United States, as the world's top cocaine consumer, has no right to lecture Venezuela." Additionally, Chavez "added that [his country's] geography [...] makes it vulnerable to traffickers" and "asserted that Venezuela had made important gains in the drug war since expelling U.S. counter-drug agents in 2005."
But U.S. officials were not swayed by Chavez's arguments. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who commissioned the report, "said the findings 'have heightened my concern that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country's government.' He said the report underscores a need for a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward Venezuela," a move that, according to some adminstration staffers, could destabilize efforts to improve relations with Latin America.
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US to Deepen Military Presence in Colombia Through Base Access Expansion
According to a July 17, 2009 AP release ("US, Colombia Near Base Access Deal"), "The United States and Colombia are nearing agreement on expanding the U.S.'s military presence in this conflict-torn nation, potentially basing hundreds of Americans in a central valley to support Air Force drug interdiction missions." If reached, the deal would last for 10 years and, as the Drug War Chronicle reports ("Washington, Bogota on Verge of Deal to Make Colombian Military Air Base Regional Hub for Counter-Narcotics"), would assist officials in picking up "the drug war slack left by the ending of interdiction operations from the international airport at Manta, Ecuador" after Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa recently "refused to renew the US lease, saying that the US military mission there violated his country's sovereignty." According to Colombian officials, the Chronicle states, "the plan [is] to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations." As the AP report puts it, Washington's "obtaining increased access to Colombian facilities" would allow the base to serve as a "potential jumping-off point for operations by expeditionary forces."
While many officials remain optimistic about both the prospect of reaching an agreement and its end results, others have voiced concern. AP writes that "Rafael Pardo, a former defense minister and candidate for president in May 2010 elections, has complained of secrecy surrounding the negotiations." He also, despite reassurances from Colombian officials that "U.S. flights won't cross Colombia's borders without permission from affected countries," expressed apprehension "about alienating other South American nations." As he said, "If [the plan] is to launch surveillance flights over other nations then it seems to me that would be needless hostility by Colombia against its neighbors." Additionally, although "drug interdiction is the chief U.S. goal, some worry that bringing in more Americans will lead to the U.S. taking sides in a conflict involving Colombia's military, rebels and private militias over land and cocaine that has led to hundreds of extra-judicial killings of civilians over the years."
For more information on this development, check out the above linked Drug War Chronicle piece.
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Back in November of 2008, as ABC News reported on the 27th of that month ("US Suspends Bolivian Trade Deal Over Drug War"), then-"President George W. Bush [...] suspend[ed] a key trade pact" - the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act - "with Bolivia, saying the South American country failed to cooperate with U.S. anti-drug efforts." ABC explains that the "trade agreement gives Andean nations breaks on some U.S. tariffs as a reward for cooperation in the drug war." Bush primarily based his decision not to renew the trade agreement (which came up for renegotiation on December 15, 2008) on Bolivian President Evo Morales' "boot[ing of] the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Agency" early in the preceding month ("President Evo Morales Expels US DEA from Bolivia"). Morales accused both the DEA and the ambassador of "conspiring with the opposition," but "U.S. officials [...] repeatedly denied any political meddling." ABC also reported that "the suspension could jeopardize some 20,000 Bolivian manufacturing jobs and $150 million in trade between the two countries."
After current-President Barack Obama refused to reinstate Bolivia's trade benefits, Morales "accused [him] of lying" when Obama earlier pledged "to change America's historically heavy-handed relationship with Latin America," the Boston Globe reported on July 1, 2009 ("Bolivia Leader Says Obama 'Lied' About Cooperation"). As Morales put it, "President Obama lied to Latin America when he told us in Trinidad and Tobago that there are not senior and junior partners." Although the U.S.'s continued refusal of trade benefits to Bolivia stems in part from the aforementioned expulsions of both the DEA and the U.S. ambassador, the Obama administration also contends that it decided not to re-extend the benefits "because the world's No. 3 cocaine-producing country is not doing enough to reduce 'unconstrained' cultivation of coca."
For a more indepth analysis of the situation in Boliva, please see the Drug War Chronicle's July 3, 2009 feature "Obama Administration Declines to Restore Bolivian Trade Preferences, Cites Government's Acceptance of Coca Production".
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As noted by a May 10, 2009 article in Colombia Reports ("Uribe Wants Growing Coca Penalized"), Colombian President Alvaro Uribe wants to change the way his country deals with coca growing. He told the paper that he wants "peasants 'who persist in growing coca to be put in jail.'" If his efforts prove successful, the move would represent a significant shift in Colombia's attitude toward coca growing and, particularly, coca farmers. As the article states, "Colombia has so far focused its drug war on the eradication of coca, and the criminal prosecution of those processing and trafficking cocaine. Coca farmers, who mostly live in the poorest areas of Colombia have never been considered criminals." But the President insists that "this must change" if Colombia wants to see success in its efforts to stop "the planting of coca."
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Colombia Seeks Tightened Drug Controls
In an April 2, 2009 article for the Global Post ("In Colombia, Another Sort of Drug Debate"), reporter John Otis describes a protest during which "the marchers" refrained from shouting and "simply pulled out their paraphernalia" instead. The article states that the "smoky demonstrators were laying plain their dismay over the Colombian government's campaign to roll back the most liberal rules in Latin America regarding the personal use of recreational drugs." Previously, Colombia hadruled that "adults may possess up to 20 grams of marijuana, two grams of ecstasy, and one gram of heroin, cocaine or crack for consumption in the privacy of their homes." However, President Uribe now wants that measure repealed. As Otis writes, "If successful, his government plans to levy fines on drug users or else send them to treatment centers or jail if they continue to smoke, snort or shoot narcotics."
Uribe partially cited his country's close monetary ties with the United States as his reason for wanting to roll back Colombia's responsible drug polices, which provide citizens with privacy concerning and the ability to choose what they put into their bodies. Otis quotes a speech Uribe gave in February, during which he stated that "It's not right for [Colombia] to have this ethical contradiction of being severe when it comes to drug production and smuggling, but totally lax and permissive when it comes to consumption." The leader also claimed that "the so-called 'personal dose' rule has made it harder for the police to arrest drug dealers because they often carry only small amounts of narcotics and, when detained, argue that the drugs were for their own use."
But not all members of Uribe's government stand behind him on this issue. For instance, "Attorney General Mario Igauran recently stated that rather than worrying about how private citizens find pleasure in their own homes, the government should focus on cracking down on high-level traffickers." Otis also states that health experts "question whether the proposal will be effective when it comes to forcing drug users into treatment," a strategy that they say usually fails.
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Bolivian President Open to Closer Ties with Obama Administration
At a post-UN General Assembly news conference on November 17, 2008, Reuters reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales stated that "he wanted improved ties with the incoming U.S. administration of Barack Obama but ruled out having U.S. anti-drug agents resume work under his rule" ("Bolivia's Morales Seeks Better Ties with Obama"). Rather, as he stated, "My interest is how to improve relations with the new president." He added that "better relations had to be based on 'respect from one government to another." But unless Obama agrees to allow "the world's No. 3 producer of cocaine" to continue banning the Drug Enforcement Administration from working on its soil, Obama may think twice about getting too friendly with Morales.
Morales remains an avid advocate of the coca leaf, "which Bolivian Indians use in rituals and chew for its medicinal and nutritional properties." However, the Bolivian leader denies that his firm belief in the legitimacy of coca cultivation barrs him from opposing cocaine production and trafficking - activities that sit at the center of U.S.-Bolivian relations. "Morales said Boliva was keen to work with other countries to combat drugs," but he opposes the DEA's presence in his country for specific reasons; after accusing Administration agents "of spying and maintaining ties with anti-government groups that staged violent protests in September" of 2008, Morales expelled both the U.S. ambassador and the DEA from Bolivia, a move that reportedly caused Morales' relationship with the Bush administration to "sour." Only if the leaders accept one another's terms can their governments truly base their relationship upon mutual respect.
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The United States has poured billions of dollars over the last 20 years into South America towards cocaine eradication, all while Bolivia has seen a significant rise in cocaine production. In South America, coca is viewed as a central crop to many farming families survival. According to The Washington Post September 3, 2008 article,("Despite U.S. Aid, Coca Cultivation on Rise in Andes") "Across the Andean region, the size of the coca crop has increased 18 percent in the past five years, a period during which the United States has spent $4 billion on anti-drug programs. With farmers turning to pesticides and modern irrigation to improve crop yields, the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia -- source countries for nearly all of the global supply -- hovers at 1,100 tons a year, according to a recent U.N. report."
The article states, "Here in the lush Yungas region of western Bolivia, farmers are allowed by law to plant a total of nearly 30,000 acres of coca--leaf that is then sold in the domestic market for tea or to be chewed to ward off hunger. But production here far exceeds that threshold, and much of the surplus feeds a cocaine trade thriving in part on the new regional demand of a rising Latin American middle class. The Andean cocaine supply now exceeds the amount produced in the 1990s, when U.S. policymakers pushed anti-drug aid to the region to counter powerful Colombian cartels. In 1993, when a U.S.-supported police unit shot dead the drug lord Pablo Escobar in his home town of Medellin, the Andes produced 200 fewer tons of cocaine than it did last year."
The article adds, "So far this decade, the United States has invested nearly $8 billion in the drug war, funding manual eradication efforts in Bolivia and neighboring Peru and an aerial herbicide-spraying program in Colombia that has covered more than 2.5 million acres since 2000. In Colombia, where the United States has spent the most, coca cultivation rose 27 percent from 2006 to 2007, to about 245,000 acres. That accounts for more than 50 percent of all coca production in the region. Coca plantings in Bolivia and Peru also increased by about 5 percent each. Taken together, the United Nations reported a 16 percent increase in Andean coca production in 2007."
The article notes, "While Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is revered in Washington for his tough stance against cocaine trafficking, the Bush administration has been sharply at odds with Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, a former coca farmer who still heads the coca growers federation. Morales rose to power on the strength of his leadership of coca growers, who organized against what they saw as damaging U.S.-sponsored eradication policies. Since being elected president in December 2005, Morales has promoted the coca leaf as a symbol of Bolivian nationalism, while stressing the need to fight cocaine production. His government continues to eradicate illegal coca -- plots with known links to the drug trade or grown in national parks, for example. Under Morales, the amount of cocaine seized each year has risen to the nearly 20 tons confiscated so far this year, according to government statistics. Morales also supports a four-year-old policy that allows coca farmers in Bolivia's Chapare region, where coca cultivation had previously been illegal, to grow the plant on a third of an acre of their land, called a cato. Critics say the policy has led to a spike in coca production because coca farmers, or cocaleros, do not fear punishment if they exceed the limit. The U.N. figures show that coca cultivation last year in Bolivia surpassed the 50,000-acre limit that the government allows by nearly 50 percent."
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When Bolivian President Evo Morales suspected U.S. DEA agents of spying and engaging in other anti-government activities, the leader defiantly kicked the Administration out of his territory, along with the United States' ambassador (for similar reasons). That ousting, however, does not mean that Bolivia will cease fighting the drug trade. As Merco Press reported on July 26, 2008 ("Bolivia to Fight Cocaine Trade With Its Own Funds"), the "Andean country will invest [the equivalent of] $16 million" in its own anti-narcotics unit next year in an attempt to "reduce foreign involvement in fighting [drug] trafficking." As Ilder Cejas, "an anti-narcotics advisor working for the Interior Ministry" stated, "One of Bolivia's responsibilities is to tackle drug trafficking, with our own . . . resources, with our vision, with our hard work." However, Cejas told reporters that the United States "will be allowed to collaborate with funds and advisors, but only within programmes designed by the [Bolivian] government." Bolivia's establishment of its own anti-drug force reportedly comes as part of President Morales' "pursuing a 'zero cocaine, but not zero coca' policy focused on battling the drug trade" while also "promoting legitimate coca use."
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According to an April 25, 2008 report by the Drug War Chronicle, "A federal court in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires [...] decriminalized drug possession" in the city on April 22. Though the "ruling could be altered by the country's high court," the ruling "is in line with the position of the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner." In essence, the ruling - which stemmed from an appeal filed "in the case of two young people arrested for possession of marijuana joints and ecstasy tablets at an electronic music concert in 2007" - "held that the 1989 drug law that punished simple drug possession or consumption is unconstitutional." Prior to the late April ruling, "drug users were seen [under the law] as the base of a chain that led directly to drug traffickers." However, the appeals court disapproved of the "avalanche of cases" indicting users but leading to no arrests at the upper end of the aforementioned chain. The ruling therefore additionally "threw out thousands of drug possession cases pending in the federal district."
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On March 14, 2008, the Drug War Chronicle reported that "the UN-affiliated International Narcotics Board (INCB) called on Bolivia and Peru to ban the growing and chewing of the coca plant," a traditional practice in both countries that happens to involve the plant from which cocaine is derived. However, neither government responded positively to the Board's urging. Indeed, rather than scaling back coca growing, Bolivian President Evo Morales plans "to spend $300,000 this year in an effort to develop legal markets for coca products." As Vice Ministry of Social Defense spokesperson Ilder Cejas told AP, "the money would go to promote the 'industrialization' of the coca leaf. The Bolivian government hopes that by broadening legal markets for coca products, such as tea, toothpaste, flour, and herbal medicines, it can rescue the leaf from the drug trade."
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Fifteen soldiers in the Colombian Army, including a colonel, have been convicted in the deaths of a squad of anti-drug police. The killings took place in May 2006, allegedly on the order of drug traffickers.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 19, 2008 ("Colombian Soldiers Convicted in Massacre") that "A judge in Cali found Col. Bayron Carvajal and the soldiers guilty of aggravated homicide in the slaughter of 10 police officers and an informant in a May 2006 ambush outside a rural nursing home near Cali. Sentences will be imposed in two weeks. The massacre was just one of several scandals over the last two years that have tarnished this country's armed forces and raised questions about the U.S.-sponsored program called Plan Colombia that in 2000 began funneling millions of dollars in aid here."
According to the Times, "The soldiers lay in wait, then fired hundreds of rounds and threw several grenades at the police unit as it was about to launch an operation to recover 220 pounds of cocaine that a tipster had said was stashed inside a psychiatric facility in the town of Jamundi. Six police officers were found to have been shot at close range. None of the soldiers were wounded. No drugs were found, and the informant -- who prosecutors said spoke by phone with Carvajal shortly before the attack -- was killed as well."
The Times noted that "Since 2006, high-ranking military officers are alleged to have sold secrets to drug traffickers to help them elude capture, and to have planted fake bombs to gain career advancement. A recent report by human rights groups found that extrajudicial killings by the army have increased since the early years of Plan Colombia. Carvajal maintained his innocence throughout the trial, saying he and his troops thought the police were drug traffickers. More than 100 witnesses were called to testify, some of whom linked Carvajal to both leftist guerrillas and drug gangs."
New reports have emerged detailing high-level corruption within the Colombian military. The Washington Post reported on Sept. 8, 2007 ( "Traffickers Infiltrate Military In Colombia") that "An investigation by the Colombian Defense Ministry has found that drug traffickers and rebels from the country's largest guerrilla group infiltrated the U.S.-backed military here, paying high-ranking officers for classified information to help elude capture and continue smuggling cocaine. The information obtained by the powerful Norte del Valle drug cartel included the secret positioning of U.S. naval vessels and aircraft in the Caribbean early last year, part of a carefully coordinated web designed to stop cocaine from reaching the United States, according to high-ranking Colombian military officials. The cartel is headed by Diego Montoya, who is on the FBI's list of most wanted fugitives. Separately, rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, obtained reports about army operations against guerrilla commanders in the far south, officials say. Gen. Freddy Padilla, head of the armed forces, said in an interview that most of the information that was leaked was from 2003 or earlier."
According to the Post, "The episodes, some of which have been outlined in the Colombian press in the past month, represent the most serious cases of infiltration here in recent years and are a blow to a military that depends on U.S. funds and training. The U.S. government has provided $5.4 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia this decade, making the country the biggest recipient of American support outside the Middle East and Afghanistan and helping to make the Colombian military the second-largest force in Latin America. In interviews, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and the commanders of the armed forces said that the breaches were discovered by military counterintelligence operatives and that the evidence was turned over to the attorney general's office, which has opened several investigations. While other cases of infiltration have been discovered in the past, officials suggested that those cases often were not investigated properly."
The Post noted that "Santos also said that he has sacked about 150 officers during his tenure, many of whom were suspected of corruption or ties to traffickers or illegal armed groups. He said investigators are continuing to search for moles in the ministry. So far, two lieutenant colonels in the army have been arrested, as have four majors and a noncommissioned officer. Two army generals also resigned from the army's Third Division in the city of Cali, where investigators say traffickers had built close links with corrupt officers. In the navy, Rear Adm. Gabriel Arango has been cashiered, officials say, and is under investigation along with 10 other naval officers."
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy finally released its estimate of Colombian cocaine production for 2006, showing yet another increase. The Associated Press reported on June 3, 2007 ("Colombian Coca Output Up For 3rd Straight Year") that "Despite record drug eradication efforts, a White House survey found production of coca in Colombia rose for the third consecutive year in 2006, President Alvaro Uribe said. Uribe, who travels to Washington on Wednesday to secure the continued flow of U.S. anti-drug aid, revealed the findings of the still-unreleased report at the end of a long speech Friday. A transcript was posted today on the president's Web site. Uribe said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy survey, which is based on satellite imagery, found that production rose 8 percent last year, to 385,484 acres — an area twice the size of New York City."
According to the AP, "One of Plan Colombia's main goals was to halve production of coca within five years, but the latest estimate indicates 27 percent more coca is being produced than in 1999, the year before the anti-drug effort went into effect. A recent dip in the U.S. street price of cocaine, and rise in purity, also points to abundant supply Last year, Colombia's drug police used U.S.-supplied planes to spray glyphosate herbicide on 424,000 acres of coca and opium poppies, and they manually eradicated an additional 42,100 acres of coca. In 2005, authorities fumigated almost 345,900 acres, but the United States found the amount of coca surged 26 percent, to 355,831 acres. White House drug czar John Walters argued the unexpected rise was a statistical aberration owing to a near doubling of the area surveyed."
The AP noted that "Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an e-mail message today he had not yet seen the coca estimates, whose release was originally expected in April."
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in its news release ("2006 Coca Estimates for Colombia," June 4, 2007, ONDCP) wrote that "The survey estimates that there were 157,200 hectares under cultivation, an increase of 13,000 hectares from the 2005 estimate, subject to the confidence limitations described above. The 2006 area surveyed increased by 19 percent compared with 2005, and almost all of the increase was identified in these newly surveyed areas. Because they had not been previously surveyed, it is not possible to know with certainty if the coca found in these areas is in fact newly planted and had not been producing for a period of time."
The ONDCP admitted that "Rapid crop reconstitution, a move to smaller plots, and the discovery of previously unsurveyed coca growing areas, have posed major challenges to the techniques and methodologies used to understand Colombia’s coca cultivation and cocaine output."
A Colombian legislator has threatened that his nation may cease cooperating with the US 'Plan Colombia' anti-drug efforts unless Congress agrees to a free-trade pact. The Los Angeles Times reported on May 23, 2007 ("Colombia May Drop Anti-Drug Plan") that "A prominent politician closely allied with President Alvaro Uribe said his nation should pull out of a U.S.-financed effort to fight drug trafficking and terrorism if the American Congress does not pass a free-trade agreement with his country. Sen. Carlos Garcia, a presidential aspirant and leader of the largest bloc in Colombia's Congress, said Monday in an interview that the failure to pass the trade accord could force the government to withdraw from Plan Colombia, which has cost the United States about $5 billion over seven years. 'If the U.S. Congress does not support Colombia in expanding its markets, there is absolutely no reason to accept Plan Colombia aid. That's just one component of the solution. The best way out of poverty and the cultivation of illegal crops is the marketplace,' said Garcia, who heads Uribe's Social National Unity Party. The move would salvage "national dignity" and possibly prompt Colombia to move away from its close relationship with the United States and to closer ties with the European Union and Canada, Garcia said. Asked whether he spoke for Uribe, Garcia answered, 'I believe he feels the same way. It would be a logical consequence.'"
According to the Times, "The Uribe government is incensed over the diminished chances for a bilateral free-trade agreement, which it has long viewed both as the main path to the First World and a reward for carrying on the drug fight under Plan Colombia. Congress and the Bush administration made a deal this month that eased the way for passage of bilateral trade accords with Peru and Panama, but put Colombia's on hold. Uribe told an audience of national police Friday that Colombia would not accept treatment as a 'pariah' and pointedly told representatives of the U.S. Embassy in attendance to 'take that message back to your Congress.'"
The Times also reported that "A week before, Vice President Francisco Santos said the failure to pass a free-trade agreement would force Colombia to redefine its relations with the U.S. 'From a slap-in-the-face standpoint, it would be pretty bad for Colombia,' said Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. 'The foreign policy repercussions for the United States in rejecting a Colombian agreement also would be severe.... You're talking about adding another unfriendly government down there.' Hufbauer said the potential rupture of relations with the country commonly referred to as Washington's best friend in Latin America would be such a diplomatic reversal that the free-trade agreement ultimately would be salvaged. 'I think it will get through Congress on a squeaker,' he said. Uribe's stock in Washington has fallen as revelations have surfaced alleging close ties between political allies and outlawed paramilitary groups. Democrats already were unhappy about weak environmental protection and the slayings of scores of Colombian labor union organizers in recent years and said that parts of the trade agreement completed last summer would have to be rewritten. Congressional observers say chances of passing a trade bill in any form are slim. 'The Uribe government paid very little prosecutorial attention to these labor union murders when the Republicans were in control of Congress. But they had an election in November and the Democrats took charge and they want labor on their side,' said Bruce Bagley, a political scientist at the University of Miami. 'For that reason I don't see a free-trade bill passed before the 2008 elections.'"
The Times noted that "Plan Colombia's results are mixed. It has helped Colombia expand and modernize its armed forces and improved security in the cities. But the supply of cocaine to U.S. markets has not fallen significantly, and prices for the drug remain low, recent studies show. In an e-mailed comment, U.S. Rep. Linda T. Sanchez ( D-Lakewood ) a Plan Colombia critic, said she found it 'hard to believe that Colombian government leaders would walk away from a massive international aid package that they themselves have lobbied for over the years.'"
The Colombian government has again been rocked by scandal including allegations of official corruption and collusion with paramilitary drug traffickers. The Los Angeles Times reported on May 15, 2007 ("Colombia Orders The Arrest Of 19 Politicians") that "The Colombian government ordered the arrest of 19 current and former officials Monday who are accused of signing a 2001 'devil's pact' with outlawed paramilitary groups in which they promised to work together to 're-found Colombia.' The orders represent the government's biggest move yet to bring to justice politicians it alleges were complicit with the right-wing militias in Colombia's decades-long civil war. Farmers and businessmen formed the militias for self-defense against leftist guerrillas in the 1980s, but many of the groups evolved into mafias engaged in killings, drug trafficking, extortion, land grabs and election fraud. The document, known as the Treaty of Ralito, came to light this year. Prosecutors here have described it as a 'devil's pact' that candidates signed to obtain political and financial advantage from association with the paramilitaries. Paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso presented a copy of the document during court testimony he gave earlier this year."
According to the Times, "Warrants for the arrests of five sitting congressmen were issued by the Supreme Court because only the highest court has the power to file charges against national legislators. Four of the five are in custody, including Sen. Miguel de la Espriella, who first disclosed the existence of the document in January. The others in custody are Sen. Reginaldo Montes, Congressman Jose de los Santos Negrete and Sen. Juan Manuel Lopez. Still at large is Sen. William Montes. All except Lopez are Uribe supporters. The other 14 politicians are ex-officeholders who were indicted by Colombia's attorney general Monday because they have lost their immunity. They include former senators, congressmen, governors and mayors. Eleven were in custody as of Monday evening, including Eleonora Pineda, who frequently defended paramilitaries as a congresswoman. Among the paramilitary leaders who signed the 2001 pact were Mancuso; Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40; and Diego Fernando Murillo, known as Don Berna. Mancuso and Murillo are wanted on drug-trafficking charges in the United States. Eight sitting members of congress, all Uribe supporters, were arrested in November and February on charges of consorting with paramilitaries to commit crimes that ranged from electoral fraud to mass murder. Among them were the brother and cousin of former Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo."
The following day, a wiretap scandal hit the Uribe administration. The Los Angeles Times reported on May 16, 2007 ("Wiretap Scandal Grows in Colombia") that "President Alvaro Uribe faced a new scandal Tuesday over alleged wiretapping of political opponents and journalists, one day after he ordered the arrest of 19 present and former Colombian officials accused of signing a "devil's pact" with right-wing paramilitaries. In a news conference Tuesday, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos disclosed that the administration had uncovered a broad and systematic practice by the national police of wiretapping prominent public figures, including members of Uribe's government. The 12 top generals in the national police were dismissed or forced into retirement Monday over the scandal, including Colombia's police chief, Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, and the head of police intelligence, Gen. Guillermo Chavez. Santos insisted that neither he nor Uribe was aware of the wiretaps. As defense minister, Santos is responsible for the Colombian armed forces, including the 130,000-member national police. He said the wiretaps had been going on for as long as three years."
According to the Times, "The Uribe government said it became aware of the alleged illegal wiretapping Sunday night, when it began investigating how transcripts of wiretapped conversations appeared in Semana, a newsweekly based in Bogota, the capital. The article embarrassed Uribe with its portrayal of jailed paramilitary leaders running criminal enterprises from their cells. The imprisoned militia leaders are in the process of confessing and giving up illegal property as part of the demobilization process engineered by the president. About 31,000 paramilitary fighters have laid down their arms as part of the plan aimed at ending four decades of civil war."
The Times noted that "Human rights organizations and opposition groups have long suspected that they were the objects of surveillance and eavesdropping, said Jorge Rojas Rodriguez, president of a leading Bogota-based Colombian human rights organization known by its Spanish initials, CODHES. 'The government has a lot to explain from a democratic point of view, how it uses military intelligence to find out what the opposition says,' Rojas said. 'It only shows this is a police state that puts a premium on arbitrariness over the rule of law.'"
The US Drug Czar, John Walters, admitted in a letter to a US Senator that the price of cocaine dropped and the purity increased since the last time ONDCP released its availability estimates. The International Herald-Tribune reported on April 26, 2007 ("White House Letter: US Cocaine Prices Drop Despite Billions Spent On Drug War") that "The street price of cocaine fell in the United States last year as purity rose, the White House drug czar said in a private letter to a key senator, indicating increasing supply and seemingly contradicting U.S. claims that US$4 billion ( €2.9 billion ) in aid to Colombia is stemming the flow. The drug czar, John Walters, wrote that retail cocaine prices fell by 11 percent from February 2005 to October 2006, to about US$135 ( €99 ) per gram of pure cocaine. That's way below the US$600 a gram pure cocaine fetched in 1981, when the U.S. government began collecting data, and near the level it has been at since the early 1990s. During the same period, analysis of data collected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration showed that after a drop in 2005, levels of purity "have trended somewhat toward former levels," Walters said. Price and purity estimates are a key barometer of cocaine availability. Dropping prices are an indication of robust supply or weakening demand, as is rising purity. Walters made the disclosure in a January letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. The Washington Office on Latin America, a lobby group, obtained the letter and made it available to The Associated Press."
According to the Herald-Tribune, "U.S. officials have insisted that Plan Colombia is reducing the quality and availability of cocaine on U.S. streets. Colombia supplies 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States. But Grassley, in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, said the letter is 'all the proof that anybody needs' that the White House drug office 'has gotten quite good at spinning the numbers, but cooking the books doesn't help our efforts to curb cocaine and heroin production and consumption.' The numbers cited by Walters contradict upbeat appraisals made by U.S. officials as recently in March -- two months after Walters' letter. Several household and school-based surveys show that America's cocaine consumption has barely budged since 2000, even as drug use in Europe, which also impacts supply, has soared. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said despite the existence of the new estimates, senior U.S. Embassy officials provided him with older, more encouraging data during a March visit to Bogota. 'We've given this program a chance to work and clearly this is not producing the results we were promised,' he said. 'Cocaine is priced as low and purity is as high as it was before Plan Colombia began six years and $5 billion ago.' And despite a record fumigation of almost 550 square miles ( 1,425 square kilometers ) in 2005, there was 26 percent more land dedicated to production of the plant used to make cocaine. The 2006 estimates are to be released in May."
New allegations have emerged about ties between high Colombian government officials and rightwing paramilitary groups. The New York Times reported on Jan. 21, 2007 ("Colombian Government Is Ensnared In A Paramilitary Scandal") that "The government of President Alvaro Uribe, the largest recipient of American aid outside the Middle East, has found itself ensnared in a widening scandal as revelations surface of a secret alliance between some of the president's most prominent political supporters and paramilitary death squads. Testimony this week from Salvatore Mancuso, a former paramilitary commander who admitted to orchestrating the killing of more than 300 people, as well as a document made public on Friday implicating more than a dozen politicians in the pact with paramilitaries, have injected fresh detail into a slowburning scandal that has caused Colombia's elite political class to shudder in recent weeks."
According to the Times, "The scandal has already touched Mr. Uribe's cabinet, with Senator Alvaro Araujo, the brother of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo, under investigation for collaborating with militias. 'If there's someone involved at the highest level, they will be fired,' Francisco Santos, Colombia's vice president, said in an interview. 'Scrutiny is fine for us,' Mr. Santos said. 'This country needs to know the whole truth.' Some of the details coming to light about the breadth of paramilitary activities are the result of a process set in motion by Mr. Uribe's own government, which has allowed paramilitary leaders to confess their crimes and pay reparations in exchange for reduced sentences of no more than eight years in prison. Though some militia leaders have balked at the deal, much of Colombia has been gripped by the first such confession, that of Mr. Mancuso, a cattleman who helped found the paramilitary movement in the 1980s in an effort to combat leftist guerrillas. Mr. Mancuso, 48, who studied English at the University of Pittsburgh, wept during the first days of his testimony at a special hearing in Medellin last month. This week, however, he simply read from a statement describing how he oversaw the assassinations of hundreds of people, with some operations made possible with information from military intelligence. Mr. Mancuso also put Mr. Uribe in the spotlight by saying that militias pressured people to vote for the president in 2002, when Mr. Uribe was first elected. Mr. Uribe responded quickly by going on a national radio network to say he had never sent any emissaries to strike deals with the paramilitaries."
The Times noted that "On the heels of Mr. Mancuso's testimony, a document rumored to exist in recent weeks was published in the daily newspaper El Tiempo on Friday. It describes a secret pact in 2001 between Mr. Mancuso, other paramilitary leaders and 11 congressmen, two governors and five mayors, in which those present agreed to work together to forge "a new social contract," largely in order to protect private property rights. Senator Miguel de la Espriella, one of the signatories to the pact, helped bring the scandal to light last year by disclosing the ties between politicians and paramilitaries. Like other officials implicated in the pact, he said he was forced to sign, raising doubts as what type of legal punishment, if any, they might receive. 'At first we declined to sign, but when they put a man with a rifle next to the document we understood we had no choice,' Mr. de la Espriella, a member of the Democratic Colombia party, said in an e-mail interview. Asked why he was the only politician to come forward with details of the secret agreement, Mr. de la Espriella, alluding to widespread suspicions that legislators and government officials had for years worked in tandem with the paramilitaries, responded, 'I told myself that a half-truth doesn't serve anybody, and we should all contribute to the enlightenment of the truth during so many years of war.' Those who signed the document included not only supporters of Mr. Uribe but also high-ranking officials in the political opposition, pointing to how a growing portion of the political establishment could be tarnished by the scandal. Some 30,000 paramilitary members have been demobilized during Mr. Uribe's government in recent years. Colombia's military still receives more than $700 million a year in aid from the United States to combat drug trafficking and armed insurgencies."
Peruvian President Alan García has endorsed the use of coca leaf in foods as an alternative for the crop. The New York Times reported Dec. 21, 2006 ("Put Coca Leaf On A Plate, Peru Leader Says") that "'I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad,' Mr. García told foreign correspondents at the Government Palace. His comments put him in the company of Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who have publicly promoted mixing the high-calcium leaf into everything from toothpaste to soft drinks."
According to the Times, "For centuries, coca has been considered a medicinal and ceremonial plant in Andean culture, and Mr. García said it should not be vilified as useful solely for producing the drug. He said Gastón Acurio, one of Peru's best-known chefs, recently served several coca-based dishes for an event at the Government Palace."
The Times noted that "For years, the United States has pressed Peru, the second largest source of cocaine, after Colombia, to fight production of the drug. The American Embassy declined to react to Mr. García's comments."
Yet another new report reveals that estimates of Colombian cocaine production drastically understate yields. The Drug War Chronicle reported on Aug. 4, 2006 ("New Report Says Colombian Cocaine Production Seriously Underestimated") that "According to the report, the UN, the US, and the Colombian National Police have all seriously underestimated total cocaine production in the country, currently the world's leading cocaine producer. The Colombian police estimate was 497 tons in 2005, while the US estimated 545 tons, and the UN estimated 640 tons. But the authors of this most recent report estimate that cocaine production last year was actually a staggering 776 tons, or nearly half again as much as the US or Colombian police estimates. The Colombians undertook the new survey after noticing that despite massive seizures of tons of cocaine, the price of the drug stayed stable. Investigators visited 1,400 coca growers and ran tests at more than 400 plantations. They found that growers had improved their growing techniques and were now able to produce not four harvests per year, but six. According to Cambio, 'That explained why the strategies designed to confront the phenomenon have not produced the expected results and the drug trade is flourishing as much or more than before.'"According to Drug War Chronicle, "The research results raised questions about the effectiveness of the much-criticized aerial fumigation program financed by the United States. Colombian and US officials had suggested the lack of results from spraying herbicides was because traffickers had large stocks of cocaine warehoused. 'Without a doubt, that's a big mistake,' Colombian anti-drug police subdirector Carlos Medina told Cambio. 'The narcos don’t need to store cocaine because the market demands coca and more coca.'"
The Cambio article is available from the magazine's website.
An incident in May 2006 has raised concerns about drug-related corruption within the Colombian military. The Associated Press reported on June 18, 2006 ( "Massacre Stuns Colombia") that "On a dirt road dotted with country homes near the western city of Cali, three trucks carrying an elite squad of anti-narcotics police pulled up to the gates of a psychiatric center for a planned raid about an hour before dusk. Within minutes, all 10 officers in the U.S.-trained unit were dead in a ferocious attack that stunned Colombians and severely embarrassed President Alvaro Uribe just as he was savoring a crushing re-election victory. That's because the alleged killers were no typical outlaws. The gunmen firing from roadside ditches and from behind bushes were a platoon of 28 soldiers who unleashed a barrage of some 150 bullets and seven grenades, according to a ballistics investigator. An 11th man, an informant who led the police squad to the scene promising they would find a large stash of cocaine, was also found dead. When investigators removed his ski mask, they found a bullet hole in his head. In the hours after the May 22 ambush, the head of the army stood by his men, calling the massacre a tragic case of friendly fire, with the soldiers likely having mistaken the armed police for leftist rebels known to operate in the area."
According to AP, "Although the investigation into the police ambush is still proceeding, the army's version that it was a case of friendly fire didn't add up. The massacre took place in broad daylight, in a clearing where the green ball caps and vests of the police should have been easily visible. A conversation can be heard from more than 50 yards away in the quiet rural area. Investigators in the federal prosecutor's office in Cali also said that when police reinforcements arrived they were driven back by gunfire. Some of the victims were shot in the back and at a range of only a few yards, ballistics investigators said. Investigators said they also found evidence in text messages sent from the cellphone of Col. Bayron Carvajal, the highest-ranking soldier arrested in the case. Although in Cali at the time of the attack, Carvajal was in close contact with his troops, ordering his sergeant in one message sent the day before to 'pull back the ambush. ... everything is set for tomorrow,' the investigators said. The next day, they said, as the police raid was being prepared, the colonel sent another message suggesting that he knew about the informant: 'Prepare for the group arriving with the chicken.'"
In an earlier story on the incident ("Doubts Raised On Colombian Killings"), the Boston Globe noted that "The police slayings have revived memories of a 2004 case in which soldiers killed seven police officers and four civilians on a supposed undercover drug operation. In that case, evidence including police uniforms was destroyed, the killers were absolved by military courts, and the facts were never aired, an outcome that Uribe vowed would not be repeated this time. Military failures are understandable, the president told reporters yesterday, 'but military crimes are not.' Uribe said he has information that he conveyed to the attorney general suggesting that the shooting was more than an error. The president ordered that the attorney general, not military judges, handle the investigation, and offered a reward of $400,000 for information that solves the killings. The influence of narco-traffickers in the area where the officers were killed made it a particularly worrisome case, he said. Last month, the slain police unit had busted a ring involving five retired police officers, a retired military official, and an employee of the national airline. 'They were my most effective, trustworthy, elite group, so it's a terrible loss,' Naranjo said. 'If this was a mistake, the level of incompetence is staggering,' Andres Villamizar, former adviser to the minister of defense, said in an interview. 'The excessive force used is inconsistent with friendly fire.' Villamizar said the fact that no one was held responsible for the deaths of seven officers two years ago set a terrible example. 'When you have people literally getting away with murder, events can repeat themselves.' The killings took place in an area with properties under the control of drug kingpins. A few months ago in the same zone, five members of a ring led by Wilber Valera were killed in a confrontation with the private army of rival drug lord Diego Montoya, authorities said. Both are wanted for extradition to the United States."
Bolivian President Evo Morales has an idea which could make it tougher for cocaine traffickers to get the raw material needed to make their product. As the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on March 28, 2006 ( "A Political Drug War In Bolivia"), "The wine, a bit on the sweet side, is supposedly a remedy against Parkinson's disease and impotence and, according to the label, it is especially suitable for 'athletes and singers.' In small doses, that is, because the wine is pressed from coca leaves, enhancing the effect of the alcohol. If you get drunk, you don't have to worry about how you're going to feel the next day because 'coca wine doesn't cause a hangover,' says Melby Paz. Paz, a businesswoman from Bolivia's coca production center, Cochabamba, bottles a few hundred liters of her coca wine each month. The ink-colored beverage is the top-selling product for her company, Coincoca. She also sells soap, shampoo, toothpaste and cookies made with coca, and she has plans to develop instant soups and muesli in the future. Indeed, Paz is serious when she says "coca is an incredible valuable food and medicine." Once people disparaged Paz as 'La Loca de la Coca,' or 'the crazy coca woman.' For years, she has been developing coca-based products, which she sells in her shop in downtown Cochabamba. Business was mediocre until a South American Indian and representative of coca farmers -- Evo Morales -- was elected president. Now Bolivia's new president plans to use government aid to promote the sale of coca products. 'Coca si, Cocaina no' -- yes to coca, no to cocaine -- was one of Morales' campaign slogans. The goal of his new program is to disassociate the plant that provides the substance used to make cocaine from the drug stigma. In the Andes, the coca plant has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, and the wonder plant was even farmed by the Incas. Millions of poor Bolivians chew the leaves because they dull the sensation of hunger and make backbreaking labor more bearable. Bolivian officials are even considering adding coca to school meals."
According to Der Spiegel, "In the 1990s, when the Andean country had become one of Latin America's biggest coca producers, the Americans experimented with a new approach to the drug war in Chapare, promising the government generous development aid in return for its agreement to eradicate the coca plantations. The aid was intended to encourage the farming of alternative products, such as pineapples, bananas, coffee and oranges. Washington was so pleased with the program that it held up its alliance with La Paz as a global model. Since then, American and European aid organizations have injected about $700 million in development aid into Chapare. But the development projects failed when it became apparent that the region's remoteness makes shipping pineapples and bananas too expensive, and that prices for the crops can't compete with coca. The drug war brought nothing but violence and poverty to farmers in the region, fueling animosity toward the gringos -- US drug enforcement and military experts who consult with Bolivian security forces on eradicating the coca plantations. Indeed, government forces even used torture in their campaigns against coca farmers, with dozens of the campesinos disappearing without a trace. This brutal treatment almost triggered a revolt in Chapare, where the resistance movement against the government was led by a cunning union organizer: Evo Morales. Morales had hardly been inaugurated before he had himself reappointed chairman of the powerful umbrella organization of coca farmers, a conflict of interest the president apparently feels is no cause for concern. 'I will continue to be your leader,' he innocently announced, 'so that I don't lose touch with the people.' It was as if the president were the godfather of the poor. Each coca farmer is allotted one cato, or about 1,600 square meters ( a little under half an acre ), to plant coca. The military no longer destroys excess coca shrubs, because 'we ourselves make sure that no one exceeds the quota,' explains union leader Asterio Romero."
Der Spiegel noted that "Morales' predecessors were consistently unsuccessful in their attempts to regulate the coca trade. The government agency that issues shipping licenses for 'legal' coca, for example, is considered corrupt. Only a fraction of the Chapare harvest makes it to the state-run coca market in Cochabamba, says development expert Oscar Coca, who calls Chapare a 'Bermuda triangle.' Police-confiscated coca leaves, which are supposed to be burned, are often resold to the drug mafia. Meanwhile, the drug trade continues to boom. Since the beginning of the year, the drug police have discovered 339 cocaine laboratories in Chapare and confiscated 250 kilograms of illicit drugs. 'The couriers hardly even resist when they're arrested,' says police chief Rene Salazar. 'They know that in most cases they'll quickly be released.' The courts are slow in prosecuting cases, and drug smuggling is treated as a minor offence. Couriers are willing to transport the coca -- by bus, bicycle or taxi - -- for a handful of dollars. The work is far more lucrative than farming fruit or coffee. Signs of the failed development policies are everywhere: dilapidated structures originally intended as vegetable markets and funded by the European Union, or highly subsidized pineapple plantations where the fruit often rots in the fields because farmers are unable to find buyers. Foreign aid workers, many of whom earned princely salaries, elicited nothing but envy and rage among the farmers. 'The gringos gorged themselves with the aid money,' complains coca farmer Juana Quispe, 'but we never got it.' Quispe, a living legend in Bolivia, often joined Evo Morales during demonstrations and road blockades to protest raids by the drug police. She and Morales have been friends for the past 14 years. Soldiers stormed Quispe's hut in the small town of Chimore two years ago. They tore up coca bushes in her garden, stole chickens and oranges and molested Quispe's daughter. A fellow activist, union leader Feliciano Mamani, was tortured at the Chimore military base for allegedly stirring up anti-military sentiment among the farmers. During a demonstration four years earlier, Mamani was shot at and his shinbone was shattered. He claims that 'American drug enforcement agents' led the attacks. Now the former victims of persecution are in power in Bolivia. Quispe represents the socialist governing party, MAS, in the Bolivian congress. Mamani was elected mayor of Villa Tunari, a city in Chapare. The foreign aid workers have been driven out, and local municipalities are now administering the foreign aid money. As a next step, former activists Mamani and Quispe want to see the American drug enforcement agents pull out."
According to Der Spiegel however, "As president of a poor Andean country dependent on foreign aid, Morales would be unlikely to survive a confrontation with the powerful Americans. To avoid alienating the US, Morales has publicly vowed to respect all international agreements over battling the drug trade. He has even demonstratively attempted to convince US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of his peaceful plans for the coca plant. At a meeting in the Chilean city of Valparaiso, Morales gave Rice a guitar decorated with coca leaves. So far, his strategy seems to be working. More than 70 percent of Bolivians stand behind their new president. In early March, the congress gave its blessing to Morales's most important political project, a new constitution. An influential group of business leaders in the country's Santa Cruz province, a group that had bitterly opposed Morales during the election campaign, is now assiduously courting the popular hero. His campaign against corruption has been especially popular among the ordinary people. Morales cut his presidential salary in half and managed to push through a reduction in lawmakers' salaries. Several high-ranking officials Morales accused of corruptibility were fired."
The US government released its estimate of Colombian cocaine production for 2005. The Houston Chronicle reported on April 16, 2006 ( "Coca Crops Jumps Despite US Aid") that "In a blow to the United States' anti-drug campaign here, which cost more than $4 billion, new White House estimates indicate that Colombia's coca crop expanded by nearly 21 percent last year. Figures released late Friday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicate Colombian farmers last year grew 355,680 acres of coca, the raw material for cocaine. That represents a jump of nearly 74,000 acres from 2004 even though U.S. funded crop-dusters destroyed record amounts of coca plants in 2005."
According to the Chronicle, "Washington has provided the Bogota government with more than $4 billion, mostly in anti-drug aid since 2000 for a program known as Plan Colombia -- which was supposed to cut coca cultivation by half within six years. Yet according to the new figures, more coca is now being grown here than when Plan Colombia started. "This is going to turn heads" on Capitol Hill, said Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Center for International Policy in Washington and a longtime critic of U.S. counterdrug strategies in Latin America. 'You're talking about $4.7 billion spent on Plan Colombia, and this is all we have to show for it?'"
The Chronicle noted that "The statement said the area of Colombia sampled for the 2005 coca estimate was 81 percent larger than in 2004. 'Because of this uncertainty and the significantly expanded survey area, a direct year-to-year comparison ( of the size of the coca crop ) is not possible,' said the statement. However, when year-to-year drug crop comparisons have reflected positive trends, U.S. officials have loudly touted the numbers as clear proof of success. In 2002, for example, the CIA survey showed a drop in coca production and White House drug czar John Walters declared: 'These figures capture the dramatic improvement. ... Our anti-drug efforts in Colombia are now paying off.' But some U.S. officials and drug policy analysts claim that Colombia has likely been producing far more coca over the past five years than the CIA surveys have indicated. 'The cultivation numbers, wherever they seem to be headed, need to be taken with a grain of salt,' said Joy Olson, director of the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank. 'In reality, coca cultivation and cocaine production exceed the official estimates, perhaps by wide margins.' What's more, she said, cheap, potent cocaine remains readily available on U.S. streets, indicating that the drug war in Colombia is having little real impact."
According to the Chronicle, "Some U.S. officials have forecast a gradual reduction in assistance for Colombia, starting in 2008. This year, Washington will send about $750 million in aid to Colombia, the source of 90 percent of the cocaine sold on U.S. streets. The centerpiece of the U.S. anti-drug strategy here is a controversial aerial-eradication program in which crop-dusters, escorted by helicopter gunships, bombard coca plants with chemical defoliants. But the program costs about $200 million annually and many critics say the money would be better spent elsewhere. The idea of eradication is to persuade peasant farmers to give up growing coca and to plant legal crops. But funding by the U.S. and Colombian governments for crop-substitution programs pale in comparison to the eradication budget and most efforts to develop alternatives have failed."
The rebel group Shining Path is rumored to once again be active in Peru, this time working with coca farmers and traffickers. The Daily Telegraph reported on March 20, 2006 ( "Peru's Guerrillas Back On Warpath In Alliance With Drug Barons") that "The Shining Path once forced the whole country to its knees in a war that claimed 70,000 lives. The front line in this conflict is Aucayacu, a cradle for the insurgency in the past and centre of the cocaine trade now. Peru threatens to reclaim its title as the world's foremost coca producer, snatched from it by Colombia in the mid 1990s. 'All the conditions are ready for a rapid expansion of the Shining Path, as happened with Colombian rebels in the 1980s,' said Col Benedicto Jimenez, the policeman who caught Guzman. Little has changed in the jungle over the years and much of it is controlled by Jose Flores, known as 'Artemio', the most senior Shining Path commander still at large."
According to the Daily Telegraph, "Eight policemen were killed in an ambush outside Aucayacu last December after a local police major refused to come to an 'arrangement' with the drug lords. 'The Shining Path have become contract killers for drug traffickers,' said a former interior minister Fernando Rospigliosi. The ambush was followed by a police raid in which Artemio's second-in-command was killed and, in revenge, the murder last week of three suspected informers. 'Alipio', the commander of the Shining Path's other major surviving wing, commands 150 fighters from the Vizcatan mountain, a peak never conquered by the state. His new recruits are drawn from subjugated Ashaninka indigenous Indians. He also imposes taxes on the local industries - logging and coca growing. 'In this area the Shining Path have their own drug crops and laboratories,' said Gen Carlos Olivo of the anti-narcotics police. 'Alipio is making serious money.'"
Earlier reports indicated that resistance has been growing in support of coca growers themselves. The Washington Post reported on March 22, 2003 ( "Coca Trade Booming Again In Peru") that "Coca prices here are rising with demand again as Colombian drug traffickers, who moved the industry north in the late 1990s, return to create what U.S. officials call "a strategic reserve" in Peru's lawless coca-producing valleys, where a peasant resistance to new U.S. eradication efforts is emerging. 'If we frame the debate as only eradication, eradication, eradication instead of as a way to make lives better, we are setting ourselves up for a conflictive relationship with the Peruvian government, and for the Peruvian government with their own people,' said a U.S. official. 'But there is a criminal element here separate from the peasants.' The Andean drug industry offers high risks and high rewards for the 20,000 coca growers who work the slopes along the Apurimac, now muddy and swollen with seasonal rains. Not since the mid-1990s has the opportunity to make money been greater for peasant coca farmers, who are among Peru's poorest people, nor have those crops been more threatened by U.S. eradication plans. For the first time, the U.S. and Peruvian governments this year intend to pull up coca crops by force in the Apurimac and Upper Huallaga river valleys, unless peasants agree to eradicate their crops in return for financial assistance. Until now, most forced eradication has been confined to remote secondary producing regions safe from mass peasant mobilization. The Apurimac and Upper Huallaga, by contrast, are the two primary sources of Peruvian coca and historic redoubts of guerrilla insurgency. Growing unrest in places like San Francisco, located about 230 miles southeast of Lima, has put the Peruvian and U.S. governments at odds for the first time over how best to combat rising coca cultivation, echoing debates taking place in Colombia and Bolivia. The United States favors forced eradication, conducted by trained Peruvian police units, while the government wants to employ a mix of interdiction and financial incentives to collapse the coca market."
According to the Post, "Peru's coca farmers in this riverside town and in the Upper Huallaga to the north have staged demonstrations since last August against impending eradication programs. The marches and blockades are the stirrings of a grass-roots peasant movement in favor of legalized coca production that resembles one underway in neighboring Bolivia. Last month, Peruvian police arrested Nelson Palomino, the president of a national network of coca growers formed in January. Palomino, who worked a scruffy three-acre parcel of coca near this town of 30,000 people, was imprisoned in Ayacucho, 50 miles southwest of here, on charges of inciting terrorism and kidnapping. He has become a kind of martyr with national political ambitions in the 2006 presidential elections. The communities along the Apurimac River were savaged in the mid-1980s during Peru's war against the Maoist guerrilla movement known as the Shining Path. Farmers protected themselves by organizing self-defense groups, financing their guns and ammunition with coca proceeds. The self-defense groups still remain, along with groups of women who fought alongside the men and now organize food and transportation for the demonstrations. Like many of his neighbors, Palomino has a certificate signed by the region's commanding military officer declaring that he participated in what peasants call 'the pacification,' which political analysts say was the most important counter-insurgency development after the 1992 arrest of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman. Palomino's brother, Zosimo, disappeared during the war. His uncle was killed. Palomino's arrest came a month after he was named president of the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of Peru's Coca Basins. Organizers say the new network comprises 500,000 small farmers, many of whom view coca as part of Peru's 'cultural patrimony' in light of its traditional uses as tea, medicine and as a hunger suppressant."
The Post noted that "Since his arrest, thousands of farmers from the Apurimac Valley have made the 10-hour journey by dirt road to Ayacucho where they have occupied the municipal sports complex. The protesters want Palomino released, and also have a list of demands for new development programs in the region. It is hard to locate any development, alternative or otherwise, along the pockmarked highway that descends from Ayacucho's high plain into this valley. Houses are made of thin tree trunks and topped with palm-thatched roofs. Naked children bathe in roadside waterfalls. A cobblestone road, paid for by U.S. alternative development money, is already washing away in places. Coca leaves dry on large green tarps, next to cacao and coffee, which sell for considerably less than coca. 'We were the pacifiers of this place and have the widows, orphans and invalids to prove it,' said Carlos Morales, a coca farmer in the town of Llochegua who lost the lower half of his right leg in combat. 'No one in the Peruvian or U.S. governments remembers these sacrifices. The only thing feeding us and our children right now is coca,' he continued. 'We are very well organized. So what will happen if the government comes for our coca? Will we sit with our arms crossed and watch? No. We will rise up.'"
The trial of a US Army soldier accused of smuggling cocaine out of Colombia began in Federal court in late January. The Associated Press reported Jan. 23, 2006 ( "Soldier's Trial Begins In Colombian Drug Smuggling Case") that "An Army soldier was set to go on trial Tuesday on charges that he joined with a dangerous paramilitary group to run a cocaine smuggling ring from a U.S. base in Colombia while on a mission to battle drug trafficking. Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas, with the 204th MI Battalion, is charged with a series of drug offenses and accused of using U.S. aircraft to smuggle cocaine to his home base at Fort Bliss, just outside El Paso. Rosas, former Spc. Francisco Rosa, former Staff Sgt. Kelvin G. Irizarry-Melendez and former Sgt. Victor J. Portales were arrested in March. Rosa, Irizarry-Melendez and Portales have pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to several years in prison. All four soldiers were deployed to fight the drug trade."
According to AP, "Rosas has confessed in a lengthy sworn statement to running the drug ring. But his lawyers have argued that the statement should be thrown out because he probably was drunk and tired when he spoke with investigators. Rosas told investigators that the smuggling scheme started in 2003 with the help of a Colombia bartender, Angel Gutierrez, a member of the paramilitary United Self Defense forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials AUC. Gutierrez worked at a bar at the U.S. base. Rosas said he later recruited Rosa, Irizarry-Melendez and Portales to help him ship the drugs."
The people of Bolivia elected a new president in Dec. 2005. The Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 19, 2005 ( "Leftist Appears To Be Winner In Bolivia") that "Evo Morales, a former coca farmer who has pledged to torpedo U.S. anti-drug efforts here and be a "nightmare" for Washington, appeared set to become Bolivia's first Indian president after a surprisingly strong showing in Sunday's election. Media tabulations of official results showed the leftist Morales with as much as 51% of the vote and his nearest rival, U.S.-educated former President Jorge 'Tuto' Quiroga, with 31% to 34%. Electoral authorities did not release final, certified results Sunday, but analysts and Morales' opponents acknowledged that he would be the next leader of this polarized Andean nation, where convulsive protests have ousted two presidents since 2003."
According to the Times, "Most experts had predicted that Morales would not win a majority, in which case Congress would decide the election outcome next month. But with more than 60% of the votes counted, local media reported, Morales was ahead by more than 40 percentage points in heavily populated La Paz province, 30 points in Cochabamba and Oruro provinces and 20 points in Potosi. Even if the official results showed that Morales fell just short of the 50% needed in the first round, it appeared unlikely that Quiroga would challenge him in Congress. Morales' supporters celebrated in the streets of this capital and other cities by the thousands, chanting, "Evo, presidente!" Fireworks illuminated La Paz and Cochabamba, the city where Morales, as representative of the growers of coca leaf — the raw ingredient in cocaine — rose to national prominence. Morales has pledged to decriminalize coca cultivation if he attains the presidency."
The Times reported that "Many here echo Morales' complaints that U.S.-backed economic and anti-drug policies have done little to enhance prosperity in a nation where an estimated six of every 10 residents live in poverty, with deprivation rife among the indigenous masses. "This is the new history of Bolivia," Morales declared in an emotional victory speech in Cochabamba. "We, the indigenous people, have been called animals and savages…. That is not important anymore." The Movement to Socialism alliance has grown from a regional group representing coca farmers to the nation's most important political group in a decade. Morales promised to reach out to all sectors of Bolivia's people and heal the wounds that have riven the nation in recent years. He said "the truth" of his campaign had vanquished the "dirty war" that had linked him to drug traffickers during the campaign — allegations he repeatedly denied. He also accused Bolivian electoral authorities of removing many citizens' names from voting registers, leaving thousands unable to participate in the election."
The Times noted that "There was no immediate word on the election from the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, which has avoided commenting on the campaign, fearing charges of meddling. But it was no secret it preferred Quiroga, who backed the coca-eradication policy that U.S. officials say has greatly reduced the flow of Bolivian cocaine to America. Quiroga was also favored among the middle class and well-off professionals who feared that a Morales government could lead to even more instability and chase away foreign investors."
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Dec. 7, 2005 ( "Watchdog Challenges US Drug War In Colombia") that "A U.S. government report to be released next week raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-drug campaign in Colombia, despite moves by the Bush administration to extend the program. The 52-page report by the Government Accountability Office, an advance copy of which has been obtained by The Chronicle, challenges administration conclusions that the drug interdiction effort known as Plan Colombia -- a five-year program that ends this year -- has reduced the amount of cocaine available in the United States. The report was skeptical of the statistics the government relied on for its upbeat assessments, calling its information on cocaine production and use problematic. It also said the Office of National Drug Control Policy had failed to fully address previous 'recommendations for improving illicit drug data collection and analysis.'"
According to the Chronicle, "On Nov. 9 in Bogota, John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Plan Colombia had been responsible for a substantial increase in the street price of cocaine in the United States and a drop in its quality from Colombia, which supplies an estimated 90 percent of the world's cocaine, and an estimated $65 billion in illegal drugs to the U.S. market. 'There were those who did not believe it was possible to change the availability of cocaine in the United States,' Walters said. 'What we're announcing today is, there's no question that's happened.' But the GAO, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, specifically criticized those figures, saying that they reflected trends that "could reflect law enforcement patterns rather than drug availability patterns" and that the number of U.S. cocaine users remained constant at about 2 million. 'Other sources estimate the number of chronic and occasional cocaine users may be as high as 6 million,' the report stated. The GAO also found the White House assessment of the amount of cocaine entering the United States in 2004 -- 325 metric tons to 675 metric tons -- to be too varied to be 'useful for assessing interdiction efforts.'"
The Chronicle noted that "Since 2000, the United States has poured about $6 billion into Latin America to fund antidrug efforts, more than half of it earmarked for Plan Colombia. Its supporters in Colombia say the program is crucial not only for battling the drug trade but also to combat left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries involved in the nation's four-decade armed conflict that depend on financing from drug profits. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FARC ) -- the country's largest rebel group -- raked in as much as $1.3 billion in 2003, of which an estimated 45 percent came from cocaine, according to a report released earlier this year by the Joint Intelligence Command, the Colombian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Council. Plan Colombia 'is essential for what we do,' said Col. Yamlik Moreno of the National Police's antidrug division. 'Without the funding ... we would have to reduce our operations by 90 percent.' The U.S.-Colombia strategy, which targets cocaine production at its source, is aimed at reducing supply and driving up prices and thereby discouraging consumption in the United States. Military aid provided by Washington over the years includes combat helicopters, light weapons ranging from machine guns to rocket launchers and intelligence technology as well as advisers, chemicals and fumigation planes to spray coca fields. Just last month, Walters helped inaugurate a $12 million helicopter hanger just north of Bogota."
US Drug Czar John Walters claimed in Nov. 2005 that US efforts against Colombian cocaine have met with some success. The Miami Herald reported on Nov. 18, 2005 ( "US: Plan Colombia Hampers Drug Trade") that "Declaring a key victory Thursday, U.S. drug czar John Walters said cocaine has become more expensive and less pure on U.S. streets this year -- the first sign that billions of dollars in counter-drug aid to Colombia may be having an impact. Walters' aides said the new data reverses three years of steadily declining cocaine prices, which had perplexed policymakers as Washington poured more than $4 billion into Colombia since 2000 as part of an effort to increase Bogotá's ability to curb drug production and trafficking."
The Herald noted that "While a gram of cocaine cost just over $120 this April, the price rose steadily to more than $170 in September, according to the ONDCP data. And cocaine purity -- another key indicator of availability -- fell 15 percent between February and September. The data showed similar trends in the price and purity of Colombian heroin reaching U.S. streets. The data showed, however, that in a longer-range comparison -- June 2003 to October 2005 -- current prices are only a shade lower and current purity is only a bit higher. The data is a nationwide average based on U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seizures and undercover purchases, according to ONDCP officials."
Indeed, a longer-term view of cocaine prices and purity levels shows that quarterly price fluctuations such as those touted by the Drug Czar are normal, and well in line with prices and purity levels of the last several years. A copy of ONDCP's report
"The Price and Purity of Illicit Drugs:
1981 Through the Second Quarter of 2003," Nov. 2004, is
available through this website's research section as well as from
Drug Czar's PowerPoint presentation is available through the
CSDP site as well as through the Czar's own site, or you
can view copies of the individual slides as GIF images:
The Herald noted that "'This cocaine graph only shows price and purity returning to the levels they were at in late 2003 and early 2004,' said Adam Isacson, the director of programs at the Center for International Policy, a left-wing think tank generally critical of the Bush administration. 'Plan Colombia began in 2000.' John Walsh, with the left-of-center Washington Office on Latin America, also said it was still too soon to draw conclusions. 'History suggests it is unwise to make too much of a fluctuation.'"
Other critics noted that transportation costs, specifically the price of fuel, rose dramatically during 2005 (as shown by the US Dept. of Energy in its Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update), which could also have an impact on retail prices of cocaine.
The Colombian government is refusing to extradite a rightwing paramilitary leader who is wanted on drug trafficking charges in the US. The International Relations & Security Network (ISN) reported on Oct. 7, 2005 ( "Colombia Won't Extradite AUC Leader") that "The Colombian government on Friday reaffirmed its commitment against extraditing a notorious paramilitary to the US to face drug-trafficking charges in hopes of returning an armed right-wing group back to the negotiating table for disarmament talks. Just a day before, leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) said they were pulling out of the talks after Bogota decided to transfer Diego Fernando Murillo, otherwise known as Don Berna, from house arrest to prison. The move was seen as a likely step toward sending Murillo to the United States, where he is wanted on drug-trafficking charges. The AUC uses its drug revenue to fund its ongoing battle with Colombia's left-wing rebel groups. However last month President Alvaro Uribe stated publicly Murillo would remain in Colombia. And on Friday, his administration reiterated its commitment to keeping Murillo at home. That commitment comes via the Colombian government's 'Peace and Justice Law': a controversial decision to allow paramilitaries to disarm with no repercussions or brief terms of imprisonment for some of its leaders."
According to ISN, "Friday's announcement by the Colombian government appeared to be a stopgap measure to prevent years of disarmament talks with the AUC from going to waste. On Thursday, AUC leaders voiced their criticism of the Uribe administration over its handling of Murillo, saying talks would have to be put on hold until the government could restore AUC's 'confidence' in the disarmament process. 'The demobilization timetable is suspended as of now until the government makes the rules of the game clear and offers the necessary guarantees to restore confidence,' said Ivan Roberto Duque, the AUC's political head."
ISN noted that "The disarmament program, while heralded by Bogota as a giant step toward bringing peace to Colombia, has been questioned by some who say paramilitaries accused of war crimes and human rights violations are being let off easy in exchange for the promise of forsaking their armed struggle. 'There is a danger that a partial demobilization could occur in a way that fails to dismantle fully the paramilitary structures,' said the International Crisis Group in a recent report on Colombia's rebel vs. paramilitary struggle. The report goes on to note that 'despite agreeing to a ceasefire in December 2002, the AUC has subsequently killed more than 2,000 people'. Others have expressed even deeper skepticism of the paramilitary disarmament process, saying it allows the commanders an opportunity to enter into the ranks of society with their vast drug-trafficking wealth intact and with impunity from prosecution. 'The government's failure to conduct the demobilizations in a serious manner is helping paramilitary commanders launder their wealth and legitimize their political power,' said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director for Human Rights Watch. 'Having interviewed numerous demobilized paramilitaries, government officials, and other insiders, it is evident this process is rotten to the core.'"
The US government took its dispute with Venezuela over drug enforcement to a higher level in mid-September 2005 when the Bush administration officially took Venezuela off the list of nations cooperating with the US in its drug war. The Miami Herald reported on Sept. 16, 2005 ( "Venezuela No Longer US Ally In Drug War") that "President Bush has taken Venezuela off his list of allies in the war on drugs, saying that the government of President Hugo Chávez spurned anti-drug cooperation with U.S. officials and fired its effective law enforcement officers. But the White House waived the cuts in U.S. foreign aid usually attached to the 'decertification' so that it can continue to support Venezuelan pro-democracy groups that oppose the leftist Chávez. Bush's decision is expected to sharply exacerbate already bitter U.S.-Venezuelan relations roiled by Washington's charges that Chávez is promoting subversion around the hemisphere and the Venezuelan president's allegations that Bush is out to kill him."
According to the Herald, "Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacón earlier this week proposed formally renewing the partnership with the DEA, and presented a written proposal to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. But he added that the new proposal, among other provisions, prohibits DEA agents from participating in police operations there. The Bush administration has repeatedly expressed concern about the alleged deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela, citing Chávez's control of the judicial and electoral systems and threats to the independent news media. Chávez insists that he's carrying out a radical but peaceful revolution on behalf of the nation's poor. The waiver of the decertification sanctions -- officially for national security interests -- will allow the U.S. government to support democratic institutions there and 'strengthen Venezuela's political party system,' the White House said. The two nations remain dependent on each other since Venezuela provides 12 to 15 percent of U.S. oil imports."
The Herald noted that "A State Department official said Venezuela's refusal to sign a bilateral data-sharing agreement has made it impossible for Washington to show Caracas evidence that an increasing number of aircraft suspected of carrying drugs were flying in and out of Venezuela. Venezuela also has long banned U.S. antidrug surveillance overflights of its territory and more recently curtailed military-to-military cooperation on drugs, the White House announcement stated."
Recent press statements by agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration threaten to unravel a media spin recently perpetrated by the US Drug Czar John Walters.
The Miami Herald reported on Sept. 1, 2005 ( "Drug Czar Touts Colombian Efforts, Says Heroin Price Up") that "The purity of South American heroin on U.S. streets declined sharply last year as prices increased for the first time, the strongest indication yet that an aggressive antidrug program in Colombia may be having an impact in the United States, U.S. drug czar John Walters said Wednesday. But Walters recognized there was still no change in the purity and price levels of cocaine, by far Colombia's largest drug crop and the top moneymaker for drug traffickers. U.S. officials hope the heroin numbers are an early indicator that will eventually carry over into cocaine. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration Domestic Monitor Program, which uses samples obtained through undercover purchases to measure purity, South American heroin was 32.5 percent pure in 2004, down from 41.8 percent in 2003. The price was $1 per milligram in 2004 versus 77 cents a year earlier." According to the Herald, "Walters praised Uribe for his "spectacular" results."
Two weeks later, the Boston Herald on Sept. 14, 2005 ( "Heroin's Journey Traces Coke's Trail: Colombia Joins Trade") that "Once shuttled into New England from Burma, Thailand or Afghanistan, a cheaper, purer heroin is now being sent to the Hub from Colombia via established cocaine trafficking routes, drug enforcement agents say. 'They had routes they used for cocaine and just like any other organization, if it was successful, why not use it for another drug,' said Tony Pettigrew, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration's New England Field Division While drug enforcement agents say there is no single heroin trafficking route, smack typically makes its way to Massachusetts through Florida and then New York City. Smugglers stash heroin in cargo shipments, send it in the mail or fill condoms with it and swallow them. Once the heroin is within U.S. borders, it arrives at its final destination by motor vehicle, said state police Lt. Dennis Brooks, who is assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney's Office. 'What we're seeing is more heroin at a cheaper price and the purity is some of the highest because it's not being cut,' said Brooks."
According to the Herald, " The presence of South American heroin manufactured in Colombia has been on the rise since 1993, and is most prevalent in New England and along the East Coast, according to the DEA's Web site. The South American heroin is brought in onboard commercial flights by couriers who carry about a pound to 2 pounds at a time. That region's heroin sellers broke into an already saturated Northeastern drug market by offering higher purity at lower prices than the competition, the DEA states."
The Herald noted that "Although Chinese and Thai heroin was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, shipments from that region have declined since the indictment and extradition of more than a dozen drug lords to the United States. Still, the 'war on drugs' remains a drawn-out battle. 'Everything we do is being thwarted,' said former Boston-based undercover agent Paul E. Doyle. 'It's like putting your finger in the dam. The only way we are going to stop it is if we make it a priority. It's in a holding pattern.'"
Accusing them of spying and engaging in anti-government activities, the Venezuelan government has ended its cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The Financial Times reported on Aug. 9, 2005 ( "Chavez Abandons Co-Operation With US Over Drugs") that "Venezuela has severed ties with the US counter-drugs agency after accusing it of spying, a move that the US on Monday described as the final break in weakening security co-operation between the two governments. President Hugo Chavez, who often claims Washington is conspiring to overthrow or assassinate him, said on Sunday he had suspended agreements with the US Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA )."
According to the FT, "The DEA operates in most countries of Latin America, except Cuba, and especially in drugs-producing countries in the Andean region and in transit countries in Central America and the Caribbean. In recent years Venezuela has become a corridor through which about a third of the cocaine from neighbouring Colombia is smuggled. DEA agents usually operate in conjunction with local authorities, and in the case of Venezuela with the National Guard, a militarised police force charged with upholding border and airport security. But Mr Chavez claimed the DEA was carrying out a different task. 'It turns out that the DEA was using the fight against drugs trafficking as a cover to undertake intelligence work in Venezuela against the government, even to support drugs trafficking,' Mr Chavez claimed."
The US denies the charges. BBC News reported on Aug. 9, 2005 ( "US Spurns Chavez's Spying Claims"), "US state department spokesman Adam Ereli described the accusations as baseless and without justification." According to the BBC, "Sunday's move comes after Venezuelan prosecutors last month opened an investigation into the activities of the DEA. The US spokesman said Mr Chavez's accusations were meant to deflect attention from 'a steady deterioration' in Venezuela's commitment to fighting drug trafficking in recent months. 'The motivation is an effort to detract from the government's increasingly deficient record of co-operation,' Mr Ereli said."
The break has been coming for some time. The website Venezuelanalysis.com reported on Aug. 8, 2005 ( "Venezuela's Chavez Confirms Suspension of Cooperation with DEA") that "Two weeks ago Minister of the Interior and of justice, Jesse Chacon, was the first to announce the break-off of the government's cooperation with the DEA, saying that the DEA was operating above Venezuelan law and outside of the control or oversight of Venezuelan authorities in Venezuela. 'The war on narco-trafficking will be conducted from Venezuela territory under parameters defined by the Venezuelan government and that means that no international organ is above the Venezuelan law,' said Chacon. 'If the DEA wants to work with the Venezuelan government, it should do so under defined parameters or at least on the basis of a bilateral agreement that respects the principle of reciprocity,' he added. Venezuelanalysis.com writer Eva Golinger reported late last June that internal Venezuelan government reports had raised concerns about the DEA for quite a while now. According to Golinger, 'DEA agents in Venezuela have been involved in acts of sabotage, drug trafficking, infiltrations and violations of law intended to reflect poorly on Venezuela's international reputation as a fighter of narco-trafficking. The reports evidence what has been proven in other parts of the world, that the Drug Enforcement Agency is used as yet another political tool of the United States government to promote its interests abroad. In the case of Venezuela, evidence demonstrates DEA agents have appropriated illegal drug shipments, bungling Venezuelan government efforts to seize and process drug traffickers, and have sabotaged numerous attempts to catch drug smugglers and traffickers.'"
The US has chosen to certify Colombia as meeting human rights standards, qualifying them for millions in aid. The announcement came as Colombian President Alvaro Uribe visited US President George W. Bush at Bush's ranch in Texas, and was immediately denounced by human rights groups. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 4, 2005 ( "Bush Hosts Latin American Ally At Ranch") that "Their meeting comes just a day after the State Department announced that Colombia's government and armed forces have met human rights standards needed to qualify for full funding of U.S. assistance programs. Colombia has received more than $3 billion in U.S. aid during the past five years as part of an effort to wipe out cocaine and heroin production and crush the long-running leftist insurgency. Congress imposed conditions on U.S. assistance to push Colombia to curb human rights abuses. Failing to meet the standards would have meant a cut of about $70 million, according to a State Department estimate. Amnesty International USA quickly challenged the certification made by Rice. 'This decision is a major blow to the promotion of human rights in Colombia and is based on only the narrowest reading of the law and the thinnest of evidence,' said Dr. William F. Schulz, executive director of the group."
The US in turn has criticized Venezuela for reputedly supplying arms to the leftwing FARC guerrillas. According to AP, "Venezuela is destabilizing the border area with Colombia by supplying weaponry to the nation's oldest and largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Nicholas Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official, said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. He underscored U.S. support for Colombia as it attempts to defeat insurgencies backed by trafficking in illicit drugs. Burns expressed hope that Venezuela 'will refrain from giving support to the FARC.&3039; Asked if this meant that Venezuela has been supporting the FARC with weapons, Burns said, 'Yes.' The Venezuelan Embassy did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment."
Yet activists are concerned that the US is making the situation in Colombia worse by its support for that nation's controversial new "justice and peace" plan. AP notes that "During a speech on Wednesday, Burns defended the controversial 'justice and peace' plan, saying it will help 'dismantle the criminal structures of demobilized illegal armed groups, provide for peace with justice and permit continued extradition.' The initiative, however, has been sharply criticized by Human Rights Watch. The Colombian government is allowing groups that have committed thousands of atrocities, including massacres, killings and kidnappings, to launder illegal fortunes and legitimize their political power, says Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch's director for the Americas. 'The government's approach to demobilization allows paramilitary commanders to put on a show of disarming some troops," Vivanco said. "But the government has not truly attempted to dismantle their mafia-like networks, seize their illegally acquired fortunes or ensure a full cessation of abuses.'"
In spite of the best efforts by both governments, drug trafficking and production in Colombia continue, and all sides in the conflict are accused of rights violations. The Dallas Morning News reported on Aug. 5, 2005 ( "Bush Praises Colombia's Drug War") that "The fighters on both the left and right are backed by the various drug cartels. And all the armed organizations, including government security forces, have been accused of human rights abuses. 'The problems are profound,' said John Walsh, a senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America, which analyzes the impact of foreign policy on human rights. 'The war rages on. And the drug trafficking – and the extent to which it funds armed groups – is as strong as ever.' Mr. Uribe is seeking to eliminate the rightist paramilitary groups through an amnesty program called Justice and Peace. But that initiative has been criticized as going easy on people suspected of drug running and murder. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch stated that, 'while a genuine demobilization of paramilitaries is obviously an important objective, the process as currently structured is unlikely to achieve its aims. To the contrary, it is likely to compound the country's problems.' Mr. Bush did not mention the Justice and Peace plan during his remarks but said that Colombia is interested in protecting human rights. Before Mr. Uribe's visit, the State Department announced that Colombia is meeting the human rights standards necessary to continue receiving full funding of U.S. aid programs."
The Morning News noted that "As the two presidents met, analysts said there is little evidence of a slowdown in Colombian cartel production of cocaine and heroin. A recent report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that, despite a major aerial spraying campaign, there were more acres of coca production at the end of 2004 than the year before. Some analysts also pointed out that the American market maintains the Colombian cartels that finance the Colombian wars."
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe made a unique proposal to deal with coca growers in late July 2005. As Reuters reported on July 25, 2005 ( "Colombian Farm Sector Slams Uribe Coca-Buying Idea"), "A top Colombian farmers' group on Monday said the president's offer to buy peasants out of the coca business could backfire by prompting them to grow more of the illicit crop. President Alvaro Uribe on Saturday said his government would pay peasant farmers to surrender their coca, the leafy bush used to make cocaine. 'This would create confusion and provide an incentive to plant coca for the government to buy,' said Rafael Mejia, chief of the Farmers' Society of Colombia, the Andean country's biggest agricultural lobbying group. Lower House Congressman Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Polo Democratico Party said the effort would threaten to increase the price of coca if drug smugglers are forced to compete against the government for crops."
According to Reuters, "Uribe did not say how much the government would offer. Farmers can get about $800 for 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of coca paste from drug traffickers. The government would only pay for coca if growers signed an agreement promising not to plant any more."
Voice of America News offered a unique perspective on the proposal: basic support for rural farmers. According to VOA ( "Colombia Offers To Buy Coca From Farmers"), "Mr. Uribe said the decision to begin the program in the region was made after the government found that an ongoing battle between the military and leftist rebels forced small coca farmers to seek new buyers for their crop. The rebels usually purchased the coca for cocaine to finance their armed struggle against the Colombian government. However the president said recent losses at the hands of the military have forced the rebels into hiding thereby leaving the coca farmers without buyers."
The VOA reported that "The controversial program has come under harsh criticism from lawmakers like Senator Rafael Pardo, who says it will, in fact, worsen the drug trafficking dilemma in Colombia. Mr. Pardo says buying the cocaine will not benefit the large drug cartels, but it will benefit small farmers who will be encouraged to grow more just to sell it to the government. Over the last five years, the United States has spent three-point-three billion dollars on coca plant eradication through equipment and military training for Colombian soldiers. Despite the expenditure, a recent White House report showed that coca production actually increased in Colombia in 2004."
VOA also noted that "Farmers can also turn over poppy, the plant used to make heroin. The Colombian president said it is as simple as handing over the crop and taking the cash, no questions asked. The offer however is only available in Colombia's central Meta region."
The US Office of National Drug Control Policy may be 'cooking the books' in their estimates of Colombian cocaine production. According to a report by John Otis in the Houston Chronicle on June 22, 2005 ( "Drug War In Colombia Is There Any Progress?"), "According to the State Department, U.S. and Latin American security forces seized a record 373 metric tons of cocaine last year. Walters' office thinks annual consumption of the narcotic in the United States alone is about 300 metric tons. Taken together, the two figures exceed the White House estimate of the total produced in 2004. Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a U.S. official familiar with anti-drug operations insisted that South America 'could easily be producing well over 800 metric tons of cocaine per year.' The Florida-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, which includes Air Force, Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Administration officials, put the figure even higher. The task force, which has seized huge caches of cocaine on the high seas, estimated 2004 production at 1,390 metric tons."
The Chronicle reported that "Some South American officials also have their doubts. Between 2003 and 2004, for example, the CIA numbers show Peru's coca crop shrinking by 13 percent. But Peruvian drug czar Nils Ericcson claims that coca acreage increased by 36 percent. In a 2002 cable, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota complained that CIA estimates were 'very wide of the mark and the apparent result of years of chronic underestimation of the amount of coca being cultivated in Colombia.' In fact, new information prompted the CIA in 2001 to nearly triple its original estimate of Colombian cocaine production during the late 1990s."
According to the Chronicle, "The debate over drug numbers matters because Congress uses the White House figures as a measuring stick when determining the best way to spend nearly $1 billion annually in counternarcotics programs in South America. Bewildered by the conflicting data, two Republican lawmakers have asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to evaluate the Bush administration's anti-drug policies and to double-check its cocaine-production estimates. 'We need the most credible information possible if members are going to .. continue to support' current drug-enforcement efforts in South America, said David Marin, a spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. The panel is chaired by Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who requested the GAO review along with Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley."
The Chronicle noted that "Measuring the clandestine drug trade has always required a mix of science and educated guessing. A recent report by the Washington Office on Latin America, a liberal think tank, cautioned that any results could be off by 25 percent or more. Yet critics say that the Bush administration has presented its 2004 estimates as irrefutable evidence that its anti-drug strategy in South America has traffickers on the run. 'You donf't stop midstream on something that has been very effective,' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during an April visit to Bogota. The U.N. survey and the huge cocaine estimate from the Florida task force, however, hint at a drug-war quagmire. The task force refused to discuss the methodology behind its estimate. But Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Center for International Policy who met with the task force earlier this year, said its members were 'dismissive' of White House claims that cocaine production is falling. 'They told me: 'We haven't seen any reduction in cocaine leaving the region,'' Isacson said."
According to the UN, cocaine production in the Andean region increased in 2004. As the Associated Press reported on June 14, 2005 ( "UN Reports Cocaine Production Increasing"), "South America's cocaine output rose by 2 percent last year, bucking a five year downward trend as increases in Peru and Bolivia outpaced Colombia's clampdown on coca cultivation, a U.N. report showed Tuesday. Cocaine production rose 35 percent in Bolivia and 23 percent in Peru from 2003 to 2004, while falling 11 percent in Colombia, according to the annual survey from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime."
The UN's estimates are dramatically lower than those produced by the US government for that same year (see US Cocaine Production Estimates Reveal Little Or No Drop In Production In Spite Of Intense Eradication Campaign ).
Skepticism continues to mount over the US drug war in South America as charges by critics grow more and more serious. The Associated Press reported on May 8, 2005 ( "Backing For Colombia Drug War Criticized") that "Resilient rebels. Rebounding drug crops. Rogue American soldiers, snared in plots to smuggle cocaine and funnel stolen ammunition to paramilitary death squads. The bad news has been piling up fast, almost five years after the United States began spending $3 billion under its Plan Colombia aid program to wipe out cocaine and heroin production and crush a long-running leftist insurgency."
According to AP, "[C]riticism of the costly effort is mounting. In an editorial this week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Colombia 'has turned into a sinkhole of money and military resources over the past five years.' 'The Congress should scrap Plan Colombia now, rather than throw more good money after bad,' the newspaper said, pointing out that availability of Colombian cocaine and heroin on U.S. streets appears undiminished."
The report even noted that "One foreign drug agent recently stationed here said he personally believed the solution was to legalize drugs, so trafficking would not be so hugely profitable. The FARC and their paramilitary foes control much of the drug trade in Colombia, which produces most of the world's cocaine and much of its heroin. 'We should recognize that by criminalizing drugs, we are allowing outlawed groups in Colombia to earn a vast amount of money,' said the agent, who did not want to be further identified. The Monitor, a daily in McAllen, Texas, said in a recent editorial that the drug war is 'a demonstrated failure,' and argued for legalization."
According to AP, several events recently have brought these points home:
The White House released its estimate of Colombian cocaine production for 2004 on March 25th, 2005 (Good Friday). According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the amount of land devoted to coca production is at near record levels. In spite of this, ONDCP claimed in its news release ( "2004 Coca and Opium Poppy Estimates for Colombia and the Andes") that "Despite a statistically unchanged area under coca cultivation (114,000 hectares), potential production of cocaine continued the decline of the last three years, falling 7 percent in 2004 to 430 metric tons of pure cocaine, down from 460 metric tons for 2003 (and down dramatically from the peak of 700 metric tons estimated for 2001). The decline in potential production resulted from an increased percentage of fields that were newly-planted in response to eradication. Such fields are less productive than mature coca."
Critics were not so impressed. The Arizona Republic reported on April 2, 2005 ( "Critics Say Colombia Data Show Drug War Failing") that "'The U.S. government's own data provides stark evidence that the drug war is failing to achieve its most basic objectives,' said John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank critical of U.S. drug policies in Colombia. The report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that despite a record-setting aerial eradication offensive, 281,694 acres of coca remained in Colombia at the end of 2004, slightly more than the 281,323 acres that were left over in 2003 after spraying."
According to the Republic, "Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert with the Center for International Policy in Washington, said the White House report released on Good Friday demonstrates that the peasants, most of whom live in poverty and who have few alternate means of employment, are constantly replanting coca after their crops are sprayed by the crop dusters. 'The inescapable conclusion we can draw from this data is that our fumigation program is not discouraging Colombian peasants from growing coca,' Isacson said. The Associated Press reported last month that large-scale coca production was moving for the first time into the extensive jungles of Choco state, in northwestern Colombia, with peasant farmers felling chunks of virgin rain forest in order to plant millions of coca seedlings."
Further, as the Washington Office on Latin America pointed out in its news release of March 31, 2005 ( "Aerial Spraying Fails to Reduce Coca Cultivation in Colombia"), "The new ONDCP data also demonstrates a continued 'balloon effect' - as aggressive spraying in some areas has not deterred new cultivation elsewhere. Official estimates on Peru coca cultivation have yet to be released, but the State Department’s own reporting suggests that cultivation in Peru has increased. 'The stable cultivation in 2004 throws into doubt U.S. officials' predictions of a major impact on U.S. drug prices and purity,' commented John Walsh, WOLA Senior Associate for Drug Policy."
The International Crisis Group issued a report in March 2005, "Coca, Drugs and Social Protest in Peru," which criticizes the US-led drug war in those countries for "aggravating social tensions with potentially explosive results for the extremely fragile democratic institutions of both countries."
According to the ICG, "For more than 20 years, Andean governments have waged a U.S.-led war on drugs in the region, prioritising the eradication of illicit crops. Since 2002 a decline has been observed in the total number of hectares cultivated with coca crops in Bolivia and Peru, as well as Colombia, but cocaine has not become less available on U.S. and European streets. Bolivian and Peruvian coca farmers who bear the brunt of counterdrug policies in the region have been reacting increasingly violently to U.S.-driven counterdrug policies that emphasise eradication. This mounting social protest, especially in Bolivia but also in Peru, carries a strong potential to contribute to already unstable political conditions in the whole Andean region."
The report warns that "The much hailed reduction in coca growing in the Andean region should not be mistaken as a success of the war on drugs. While coca crops have been reduced in Colombia, there has been some recurrence of cultivation in Bolivia and Peru, where today farmers are able to get more out of the coca fields and obtain higher prices. Peru and Bolivia now have the capacity to operate independently of Colombia, local trafficking networks have been established, and new consumer markets have emerged. International drug traffickers are also increasingly part of the scene in both countries."
The ICG notes that "In 2000, the Bolivian government announced that its U.S.-endorsed strategy of coca crop eradication -- Plan Dignidad -- had achieved a notably dramatic reduction of illicit crops to some 14,000 hectares, the level of the early 1980s. Nevertheless, the country has witnessed a renewed and steady increase of coca crops over the following years. Today there are more than 28,500 hectares of coca in Bolivia. Neighbouring Peru reflects a somewhat similar trend. Strong eradication efforts since the mid-1990s produced an all time low in coca crops in 1999 -- 37,800 hectares -- but that figure rose to 46,200 hectares in 2001, before levelling off at around 45,000 hectares in 2002 and 2003. Taken together, in late 2003 coca was grown on some 73,000 hectares in Bolivia and Peru, approximating the 86,000 hectares in Colombia at the same time. Overall Andean production, however, was about 25 per cent lower than the average of the past 25 years."
ICG recommends that "Restructuring those counterdrug policies to focus more resources on alternative and rural development strategies, law enforcement and interdiction as opposed to forced eradication is likely to be more successful and to avoid negative impacts on Bolivian and Peruvian democratic institutions. Unfortunately, the U.S. budget for FY2006 just submitted by President Bush to the Congress proposes cuts in funding for alternative development and institution building of nearly 20 per cent for Peru and 10 per cent for Bolivia. While it is unconstructive and unwise to brand the Bolivian and Peruvian social movements and their leaders as "narco-delinquents" or "narco-terrorists", the coca grower organisations in those countries will only gain greater international credibility if they sever all existing ties with drug trafficking networks and articulate democratically their legitimate demands for socio-economic change, including legal coca cultivation for traditional purposes. At the same time, the U.S., the European Union, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the international financial institutions (IFI)s, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the UN should strongly support alternative and rural development strategies there and provide, where possible, more aid also for programs to counter drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of chemical precursors."
According to ICG, "The allocation of funds under the Andean Regional Initiative needs to be rebalanced so as to place less emphasis on eradication and to improve economic prospects of coca farmers by creating viable alternatives. U.S. drug control assistance should strongly shift toward stimulating a comprehensive rural development policy aimed at poverty reduction in which sustainable alternative development activities for farmers currently involved in illicit crop production are a major element. Forced eradication should not leave farmers without alternatives, as experience has shown they will then return to planting coca. Further, alternative development efforts must fit in wider national policies for land reform, major physical infrastructure work (roads, communication), human capital development, and the development of more diverse rural livelihoods including agricultural production."
The Justice Department announced that it was dropping its criminal investigation into whether some CIA agents lied to a Senate committee about a shootdown program in Peru. According to the New York Times on Feb. 6, 2005 ( "US Drops Criminal Inquiry Of CIA Antidrug Effort In Peru"), "After a secret three-year investigation, federal prosecutors have decided to end a criminal inquiry into whether at least four Central Intelligence Agency officers lied to lawmakers and their agency superiors about a clandestine antidrug operation that ended in 2001 with the fatal downing of a plane carrying American missionaries, Justice Department officials said this week. 'The Justice Department has declined a criminal prosecution," said Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman, in response to a question about the previously undisclosed investigation. The conduct under scrutiny was part of a C.I.A. operation authorized by President Bill Clinton beginning in 1994 to help the Peruvian Air Force to interfere with drug flights over the country."
The Times reported that "The officials said the investigation had not been directly related to the act of shooting down the plane, which was carried out by a Peruvian Air Force jet after the missionary plane was misidentified as a potential drug smuggling aircraft by a C.I.A. surveillance plane operated by contractors. An inquiry by the two countries in 2001 found that the action, in which an American missionary, Veronica Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were killed, was the result of language problems, poor communications and shortcuts in following established procedures. Instead, the officials said, any charges would have stemmed primarily from earlier actions in which C.I.A. officers in Peru allowed an erosion in safeguards drawn up in consultation with the Justice Department, in part as protection against possible criminal liability. The rules of engagement for the operation had initially required that visual contact be established with any suspected drug plane before shots were fired, but that requirement was quietly dropped in the years before the plane was shot down, apparently out of concern that the precaution posed a safety hazard to Peruvian and C.I.A. aircraft. The criminal investigation focused on whether the officials lied in closed-door testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee and to their C.I.A. superiors about events surrounding the shooting down of the missionaries' plane, a Justice Department official said. The inquiry was conducted by lawyers in the department's counterterrorism section."
According to the Times:
The US Bush administration released its fiscal year 2006 budget in Feb. 2005. Though it had been claimed previously that support for the drug war in Colombia would go up, White House figures show that the numbers are projected to remain flat. The Miami Herald reported on Feb. 8, 2005 ( "Bush Wants Spending On Colombia Drug War Altered Little") that "The Bush administration is proposing to keep military counter-drug aid to Colombia almost unchanged in the next fiscal year despite calls by some members of Congress to spend more on social programs, according to its budget request released Monday. Bush is asking Congress to allot $550 million to combat drugs in Colombia in fiscal 2006, with the military and police receiving more than $393 million -- about $10 million less than in fiscal 2005, a State Department official said. Nonmilitary programs would receive only 'very tepid' increases, he added. For instance, funding for programs to help coca farmers switch to other crops would rise by just $100,000, to $125 million. Latin America analysts awaited the administration's request with interest, because Plan Colombia, the broad counter-drug program under which Washington has pumped more than $3 billion into Colombia since 2000, is due to expire Sept. 30. But changing the program's balance of military and social components would risk undercutting some of the recent military gains made by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a close Bush ally, said the State Department official, who requested anonymity. 'The intent is indeed to change the focus as the military phase achieves success. We are achieving success but we're not there yet.'"
The Herald notes that "Although Plan Colombia, launched in 2000 by Presidents Clinton and Andrés Pastrana, enjoys bipartisan support, the Bush administration budget request may still face a tough battle in Congress. Republicans will look for cutbacks in spending 'across the board,' said Adam Isacson, a Plan Colombia watcher with the Washington-based Center for International Policy. 'Democrats are going to try to increase the social components somewhat, but they don't have a lot of options to influence the agenda,' he said. In August 2004, House members on appropriations panels recommended reducing money for Plan Colombia and for other Andean nations. In 2002 Plan Colombia was folded into the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, which covers the whole region. Bush proposed $735 million for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative in fiscal 2006, $4 million more than 2005. Unlike Plan Colombia, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative has no expiration date."
The move puts to rest earlier rumors that the US drug war in Colombia would see an increase in funds, particularly for alternative development. Again according to the Miami Herald, on Dec. 28, 2004 ( "US-Funded Colombian Anti-Drug Program To Change"), "Plan Colombia, the United States' signature international drug-fighting effort, is to get a major overhaul once its five-year term ends at the end of 2005, with policymakers looking to give it more of a social and less of a military character. Officials say the $3.5 billion program has succeeded in putting Colombian drug traffickers and armed groups on the run or suing for peace. Kidnappings and other violent crimes in the South American nation also have declined. Still, major changes for a successor program could include not just emphasizing social rather than military spending but reducing direct U.S. involvement by putting key aspects of the plan, such as the drug crop eradication program, in the hands of Colombians. Also on the agenda: coaxing Europeans to get more involved in the drug war, and making sure Colombia gets equipment and aid to target the heroin as well as cocaine industries. Officials say the debate is at an early stage and any changes would be more the result of a natural evolution of a program that has worked, rather than the need to fix something that's broken. 'If we are going to consolidate our gains, we will have to shift in the direction of greater attention to the social fabric in the country,' said Robert Charles, head of the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which oversees Plan Colombia."
US claims of success in the initiative are believed by many experts to be quite premature. According to the Economist magazine on Feb. 10, 2005 ( "Battles Won, A War Lost"), "to many people across and beyond Latin America, the Andean drug trade seems as effective and dangerous as ever. The most telling evidence is the price of cocaine. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO, the ONDCP's own figures, released to Congress but not yet to the public, show that in the United States a gram of cocaine wholesaled for $38 in 2003, down from $48 in 2000 and from $100 in 1986, with no fall in purity. In Britain, cocaine is cheaper than ever: in 2003 it retailed for about 46 per gram ( $75 ), down from 57 ten years ago, according to the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit, a consultancy. Prices have fallen even as world demand has risen: consumption is broadly flat in North America, according to the UN, but rising in Europe. It is rising, too, in Brazil, Mexico and Central America, mainly because smuggling gangs are being paid in product."
The Economist reports that
"Bigger-than-anticipated stocks along the supply chain mean
that there is a lag between a fall in output and its effect on prices,
say American officials. Just wait to see the effect of Plan Colombia,
they say. But others argue that the headline figures for hectares
sprayed do not tell the full story. An alternative explanation is
that coca has spread to new areas, some undetected, and that yields
and productivity are rising.
US President George W. Bush reiterated his commitment to fighting a drug war in Colombia during a visit in Nov. 2004. As reported by the Washington Post on Nov. 23, 2004 ( "Bush Stops In Colombia, Pledges Aid For Drug War"), "President Bush pledged more funding to support Colombia's fight against drugs and violence during a visit Monday to the world's cocaine capital, telling Colombia's president that his success in defeating cocaine traffickers was essential for U.S. security. Bush met with Alvaro Uribe, the president, during a four-hour stopover in this resort city on the Caribbean coast, protected by 15,000 troops, two submarines and an array of battleships, combat helicopters and warplanes. Uribe is the most forcefully pro-Bush leader in the hemisphere, and the American president's visit was designed to showcase the benefits of talking tough on terrorism and being a friend of the United States. The U.S. government has sent more than $3 billion to Colombia since 2000, mostly in military aid and training, despite continuing questions about the human rights practices of the country's armed forces. Much of the money goes to fumigating fields of coca and opium, but Uribe is also able to use the funds for his continuing battle against Marxist guerrillas, who have been entrenched in the country for 40 years. The U.S. government has labeled two major guerrilla groups and a right-wing paramilitary force that is closely allied with Colombia's military as terrorist organizations."
In October, the San Jose Mercury News reported ( "US To Double Number Of Its Troops To 800") that "The number of American military personnel in Colombia will double, to 800, in the coming months, based on a weekend vote in the U.S. Congress. The action was welcomed by President Alvaro Uribe's government for its fight against Marxist rebels but condemned by human rights monitors, who warned of a sharp escalation in Colombia's conflict."
The Colombian government is also extraditing drug suspects to the US at a record pace. The New York Times reported on Dec. 6, 2004 ( "Surge In Extradition Of Colombia Drug Suspects To US") that "At the beginning of November, Colombia's government crowed about extraditing, all on one day, 13 drug trafficking suspects to the United States. Before the month was out, President Alvaro Uribe's government had handed over another group of 15 Colombians, all facing cocaine trafficking and money laundering charges, to American anti-drug agents. Then late on Friday, the biggest prize of all - Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, 65, said to be the most powerful cocaine magnate ever to be extradited - was placed aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration flight to Miami. Officials from Attorney General John Ashcroft, to federal prosecutors in New York to authorities from the Department of Homeland Security hailed the extradition. But it was no surprise. Mr. Uribe's government has extradited more than 170 drug trafficking suspects to the United States, more than the combined total of other administrations since 1984, when the cocaine billionaire Carlos Lehder was shuttled to Florida, until Mr. Uribe's term began 28 months ago."
The impact of these extraditions is questionable. As the Times noted, "The extraditions come as an intensive, multibillion-dollar American-backed anti-drug program, mostly in the form of defoliation of drug crops, enters its fifth year. Coupled with heightened interdiction efforts and extradition, the initiative has led to record drug seizures and arrests, along with a sharp drop in the size of Colombia's vast fields of coca, the crop used to make cocaine. It has not, however, led to lower purity cocaine or higher prices on American streets. This puzzles counternarcotics officials, who contend that the results will soon be felt."
Even the extradition of Gilberto Orejuela is seen as likely to have little impact on drug trafficking. The Kansas City Star reported on Nov. 22, 2004 ( "Extradition Of Drug Lords Could Boost Aid") that " Yet, while extradition can improve bilateral relations, it is not always clear whether it is effective in deterring drug trafficking. Many in Colombia, for instance, see the Rodriguez Orejuelas' extradition as a token gesture, mostly because authorities here dismantled the brothers' empire long ago. The Cali Cartel emerged triumphant after the Medellin Cartel's demise in the early 1990s. After the arrest of the most prominent Cali Cartel members in the mid-1990s, the powerful Norte de Valle Cartel appeared. And even as the Norte de Valle Cartel now struggles with internal squabbles, authorities here say there are new 'baby' cartels taking its place. 'It does provide a morale boost for the troops since previously untouchable drug cartel leaders are brought to justice,' said Ruben Oliva, a Miami defense attorney, in an e-mail exchange. 'But it's the same impact as when Al Capone was finally incarcerated. Everybody felt good, but prohibition continued to be ineffectual. Al Capone was easily replaced.'"
The Colombian government does gain political advantages from
these extraditions. From the Times once again:
The Times further noted that "The United States has also said that while it wants commanders extradited, it is up to Mr. Uribe to decide in individual cases. The Colombian president has said that 'those who want to avoid' extradition need to 'demonstrate good faith and the will to mend their ways to the international community.' That has raised the hackles of people like Gustavo Petro, a left-leaning congressman, who argues that the government and the United States are being soft on paramilitary commanders, even though most are listed as major drug traffickers by the Bush administration. 'The United States government has escalated the extraditions of old Mafiosi that are now out of the business or are still in it to a small degree,' Mr. Petro said. 'And they have been lax against the big traffickers who are sitting at the negotiating table,' referring to paramilitaries locked in talks with Mr. Uribe's government."
US President George W. Bush reauthorized the 'shootdown' policy with Colombia for their aerial interdiction program. AP reported on Aug. 17, 2004 ( "Bush OKs Continued Assistance To Colombia Anti-Drug Program") that "President Bush said Tuesday the U.S. government will continue to assist Colombia in interdicting aircraft suspected of drug trafficking. The renewed authorization follows the accidental shootdown several years ago of an American missionary plane. The program was suspended in 2001 after a Peruvian warplane mistakenly downed the missionary flight over the Amazon, killing an American woman and her infant daughter. The "Airbridge Denial Program" was subsequently resumed on an annual basis. The White House says the counter-narcotics operation will take place "while observing strict adherence to agreed-upon and well-established procedures" to force down planes suspected of carrying drug shipments. Bush, who was campaigning in West Virginia, signed a presidential determination declaring that Colombia "has appropriate procedures in place to protect against innocent loss of life.""
Meanwhile, authorities have confirmed that Colombian cocaine traffickers are using a new, high-yield strain of coca plant that produces up to four times more cocaine than earlier strains. The Scotsman reported on Aug. 27, 2004 ( "New Super Strain Of Coca Plant Stuns Anti-Drug Officials") that "The new variety of coca, the raw material for cocaine, was found in an anti-drug operation on the Caribbean coast, on the mountainsides of the Sierra Nevada, long known as a drug-growing region. Samples of the plant were sent for laboratory analysis and experts then pronounced drugs traffickers had developed a new breed. "This is a very tall plant," said Colonel Diego Leon Caicedo of the anti-narcotics police. "It has a lot more leaves and a lighter colour than other varieties." A toxicologist, Camilo Uribe, who studied the coca, said: "The quality and percentage of hydrochloride from each leaf is much better, between 97 and 98 per cent. A normal plant does not get more than 25 per cent, meaning that more drugs and of a higher purity can be extracted.""
The Scotsman notes, "Experts estimate that the drugs traffickers spent £60 million to develop the new plant, using strains from Peru and crossbreeding them with potent Colombian varieties, as well as engaging in genetic engineering. The resulting plant has also been bred to resist the gliphosate chemicals developed in the US that are sprayed on drugs crops across Colombia. While traditional coca plants are dark green and grow to some 5ft, the new strain grows to more than 12ft. "What we found were not bushes but trees," Col Caicedo said. Such an investment by drugs traffickers is small compared to the earnings from what is the most lucrative business on earth. Traffickers can produce a kilogram of cocaine for less than £1,500. That kilogram will sell in Miami for £14,000, in London for £34,000 and in Tokyo would bring £50,000."
According to The Scotsman, "In the southern province of Putumayo, once the coca capital of Colombia, drug farmers have changed the way they sow crops in the face of repeated aerial fumigations. "We know the spray planes need a target area of three hectares," said Sebastian Umaya, standing in the middle of a tiny field of coca. "Now we just have smaller fields, but with more intensive farming of the coca bushes." Should the new strain be introduced, these smaller fields could yield up to four times more drugs and be immune to aerial eradication, meaning anti-narcotic police would have to eradicate them manually, an impossible task in the southern jungle provinces controlled by Marxist rebels."
The US Drug Czar, John Walters, has contradicted his recent criticism of US antidrug efforts in South America. The BBC News reported on Aug. 11, 2004 ( "'Big Decline' In Colombia Cocaine") that "US "drugs tsar" John Walters has said the production of coca, the raw material for cocaine, has declined in Colombia by 30% in the past two years. Mr Walters was speaking in Washington after visiting Colombia and Mexico. He said American-backed efforts by those countries had sharply reduced the estimated flow of the drug to the US. The statement appears to contradict comments he made last week. While in Mexico, he said there was no fall in the amount of cocaine reaching the US."
The BBC had reported on Aug. 6, 2004 ( "US Anti-Drug Campaign 'Failing'") that "US drugs tsar John Walters has admitted that Washington's anti-narcotics policy in Latin America has so far failed. Mr Walters said in Mexico that billions of dollars of investment over many years have failed to dent the flow of Latin American cocaine onto US streets. 'We have not yet seen in all these efforts what we're hoping for on the supply side, which is a reduction in availability,' he said in Mexico City. But he predicted positive results would be seen within a year. Mr. Walters was speaking just after he had visited Colombia, where US-backed efforts to wipe out drug-smuggling gangs and eradicate coca crops have turned the country into the world's third-largest recipient of US military aid."
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the US government are denying allegations that Uribe had links to drug cartels in the early 1990s. The BBC News reported on Aug. 2, 2004 ( "Uribe Denies Drugs Cartel Links") that "Recently declassified US military intelligence from 1991 appears to show that Mr Uribe had links to the notorious Medellin drugs cartel. The unnamed source even describes Mr Uribe as a "close personal friend" of late cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar. But Bogota dismissed the allegations as an attempt to smear the president."
According to the BBC, "The declassified document was released by the US Defense Intelligence Agency after a request from the National Security Archive - a non-governmental research group - under the Freedom of Information Act. It is now available to view on the NSA website. Dated 23 September 1991, the document is a numbered list of "the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotic cartels". At number 82 is: "Alvaro Uribe Velez - a Colombian politician and senator dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US... Uribe has worked for the Medellin cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviria." The intelligence source also claims Mr Uribe's father was killed because of his son's links to drugs traffickers and that Mr Uribe opposed a US-Colombia extradition treaty."
According to the BBC report, "In a statement, Mr Uribe's office insisted his father was killed by left-wing Farc guerrillas for resisting kidnap. It points out that Mr Uribe has authorised a record 170 extraditions to various countries as president. It also says Mr Uribe "has not had business of any kind outside of Colombia". But the statement did not specifically rebut allegations that Mr Uribe was a close friend of Escobar or had links to the Medellin cartel."
The BBC noted that "The Colombian government was criticised last week for granting three warlords from the country's most notorious paramilitary group, the AUC, immunity from arrest to address Congress. The president's policy to crush left-wing rebels - which includes mass round-ups of suspected rebel collaborators and lenient sentences for paramilitaries who renounce trafficking and violence - has been criticised by human rights groups. Despite that, after four decades of devastating civil war, many Colombians are pleased with Mr Uribe's hardline stance against the guerrillas. Mr Uribe's office pointed out that similar allegations were made against Mr Uribe in the run-up to his election in 2002. Colombians elected him in a landslide victory despite those allegations."
The Colombian government began peace talks with one of that country's largest paramilitary groups, the AUC, in mid-2004. The Miami Herald reported on July 2, 2004 ( "Colombia, Militia Start Talks") that "Colombia's paramilitaries, blamed for some of this war-ravaged nation's most atrocious crimes, opened negotiations with the government Thursday amid deep public skepticism about their desire for peace. Set in this remote rural village in the northern Cordoba province long dominated by the paramilitaries, the talks aim to demobilize up to 20,000 fighters in the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, one of the most powerful factions in the four-way war that pits two leftist guerrilla groups against the paramilitaries and government forces. But to get there, the two sides will have to negotiate their way past massive stumbling blocks, including U.S. extradition requests for top leaders on drug charges and the issue of whether the fighters will walk free or pay for their crimes."
According to the Herald, "Government peace negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo said the days of weak government are now over because of the election of President Alvaro Uribe, a hard-liner who has vowed to strengthen the military and crush all illegally armed groups. 'This is the moment of truth,' Restrepo said. 'The society is watching us with hope. We cannot let it down.' But while many Colombians hope the talks will lead to a partial peace, they are wary. Although the AUC declared a cease-fire in late 2002, hundreds of people have been killed by its fighters since. The carefully staged opening of the peace talks was attended by local and national politicians but skipped by U.S. and European ambassadors, who have expressed strong reservations about the process, as well as U.N. representatives. Initially, 400 members of the AUC, including its top leaders, agreed to be confined to a 142-square mile military-free 'negotiation zone' anchored in Santa Fe de Ralito. While the talks go on and the leaders remain in the zone, the paramilitaries are protected not only from Colombian arrest warrants but also from U.S. extradition requests. Half of the AUC's negotiators have been branded major drug traffickers by Washington, and Mancuso has been indicted for shipping 17 tons of cocaine to the United States. 'There is no doubt that there are groups with the AUC that are clearly drug traffickers that simply try to present themselves as counter-insurgents to try to get the benefits that would be awarded through some kind of negotiation process,' said Daniel Garcia-Pena, a former government peace negotiator who worked with leftist rebels."
The Herald noted that " The paramilitaries acknowledge they have become redundant now that Uribe has strengthened the military to fight the guerrilla forces. They say they want to return to civilian life and create a political movement. U.S. Ambassador William Wood cast doubt on their motives. 'They have only one program -- narco-terrorism -- and only one agenda: destruction,' he told the local newsmagazine Cambio recently. One AUC fighter who called himself Omega said those types of comments do not help the peace process. 'They shouldn't punish us. They should thank us,' said Omega, who lost his left leg when he stepped on a rebel mine two years ago. Since then he has been at a 32-bed paramilitary rehabilitation center in Santa Fe de Ralito. 'The military wasn't able to fight the guerrillas, but we were,' he said. 'We should just start from zero.' Washington has said repeatedly it would not lift its extradition requests for AUC leaders, but the Colombian government has suggested the international community consider 'benevolent treatment' for those who work toward peace in Colombia. The AUC's current leadership has said it will not accept extradition or prison time, sharply criticizing proposed legislation that calls for a minimum five-year sentence for demobilized fighters found guilty of gross human rights violations. But political analyst Victor Negrete said the AUC will eventually have to accept some punishment because neither Colombian society nor the international community would allow them get away with their worst crimes, including public massacres. 'They'll have to give in; both sides will,' said Negrete, an organizer of seminars on the peace process in Monteria, the provincial capital 30 miles from Santa Fe de Ralito. 'That's what the negotiation is about.'"
The head of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(UNOCHA) declared on May 10, 2004 (
"Colombia Has Biggest Humanitarian Crisis In Western
Hemisphere, UN Says"), that
"Though kidnapping and assassination have declined in Colombia, the humanitarian situation has worsened, with 2 million people becoming displaced over the past 15 years and 1 million of those made homeless in the last three or four years alone, the United Nations chief of humanitarian relief said today.
According to the UN News Centre report,
" The consequent displacement posed a security risk for Colombia, since it could lead to a massive recruitment of millions of young people by the guerrilla groups, the paramilitary forces and the drug gangs, said Mr. Egeland, a former UN Special Adviser on Colombia.
The extent of the damage done by the US-led drug war is astounding.
According to a Reuters news story carried by Australia's The Age on May 10, 2004
("Tribes Face Extinction Over Drug Wars"),
"In 10 isolated areas of Colombia, which humanitarian groups cannot reach, Indians were trapped in forests and on farms, many fleeing drug lords or rightist paramilitary gangs. Mr Egeland said he had visited the area when he was 19, but now "all my Indian friends have been disbursed or massacred".
A Colombian government agency released figures showing that the rate of drug use by young people in Colombian cities is half the US average. According to an Associated Press story in the LA Daily News on April 3, 2004 ( "Colombia Sinks In Sea Of Legal Cocaine, Heroin"), " No comprehensive study of domestic consumption has been carried out since 1996, but a 2001 survey by the government's National Narcotics Office found that nine of every 100 Colombian city-dwellers aged 12 to 25 regularly use drugs."
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (formerly the National Household Survey on Drug Use), performed by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration each year, reports that drug use rates in the US for the same age group are much higher. According to the 2002 nsDUH report ( "Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings") "Among youths aged 12 to 17, 11.6 percent were current illicit drug users. The rate of use was highest among young adults (18 to 25 years) at 20.2 percent. Among adults aged 26 or older, 5.8 percent reported current illicit drug use."
Importantly, these lower use rates in Colombia occur even though, as a producer nation, drugs like cocaine and heroin are available at lower prices and higher quality in Colombia than in the US. As the AP story notes, cocaine in Colombian cities costs "$3 to $4 a gram, compared with $75 to $100 in the United States. 'Right now it's cheaper than buying a beer,' a 33-year-old bank executive, who gives his name only as Guillermo, says after snorting a line of cocaine in the restroom." (For more information on this topic, see Drug War Facts: Economics.)
In addition, drug possession in Colombia is decriminalized. And yet, Colombian officials are using these statistics to argue for tougher laws. As noted in the AP story, "A decade after Colombia legalized possession of 20 grams of marijuana and one gram of cocaine and heroine for private consumption, President Alvaro Uribe wants to restore total prohibition."
According to the AP, " The push for criminalization marks a change from a few years ago, when liberal Colombian legislators were making the headlines by pushing to relax the laws even further. They sought to decriminalize drug trading, claiming the U.S.-driven war on growers and producers was getting nowhere. But that initiative withered for lack of public support, and Uribe's election in 2002 buried it. Uribe's presidency has been characterized by sternness on all fronts -- the fight against Colombian rebels, corruption in politics, and drug use. But his attempt to criminalize drug use by referendum last year was killed by the Constitutional Court before the vote could take place. The court said prohibiting drug use would violate the constitutional right to free choice. So Uribe is seeking a constitutional amendment, but it's unclear whether he can get Congress to approve the change."
Some are criticing the move, noting that Colombia has yet to put resources into prevention and treatment. According to AP, " The 1994 Constitutional Court ruling for legalization was aimed at forcing the government to find more effective methods than law enforcement for combating drug abuse, such as education programs, says Sen. Carlos Gaviria, the former justice who wrote the decision. But he complains that successive governments never invested enough time and money in the battle."
The Colombian government announced that it has dropped plans to carry out its coca eradication program in national parkland using herbicides. As reported by CNN.com on March 25, 2004 ( "Colombia Drops Plan To Fumigate Drug Crops"), "Faced with an outcry from environmentalists, the Colombian government suspended plans to use spray planes to fumigate drug crops in the country's spectacular nature reserves. Environment Minister Sandra Suarez said Wednesday that authorities will instead try to destroy coca and opium fields in national parks by hand, and only if the effort fails will they consider resorting to herbicides. The decision comes after environmental groups warned that aerial fumigation could cause irreparable damage to Colombia's scenic treasures."
Suarez condemned those who grow drug crops on national park land. The reported noted however that "In December 2002, authorities estimated there was a total of 4,517 hectares (11,157 acres) of coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, inside Colombia's 49 national parks, which cover 9.25 million hectares (22.8 million acres) of mainly jungle-covered mountains and tropical forests."
(Editor's Note: To put the above numbers in greater perspective, according to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy on March 22, 2004 ( "2003 Coca Cultivation Estimates For Colombia"), "Survey figures show a dramatic drop of 21 percent in coca cultivation in Colombia for 2003. Net coca cultivation dropped from 144,450 hectares in 2002 to 113,850 hectares in 2003. This compares to 169,800 hectares cultivated during the peak growing year of 2001.")
Little progress is being made in the search for three US contractors captured by Colombian guerrillas in 2003. The Reuters news service reported on March 15, 2003 ( "Colombian Rebels Call US Hostages CIA Agents") that "A Colombian rebel commander told local television three U.S. Defense Department contractors held prisoner for a year are CIA agents and that chances for a deal to free them and other hostages are slim. 'They're Americans. Our information is they are CIA agents. Verified,' Raul Reyes, a senior member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla army known by the Spanish initials FARC, told Noticias Uno late on Sunday. The FARC captured civilian contractors Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell when their light aircraft crashed on a mission to spray drug crops in southern Colombia in February 2003. The rebels killed another American and a Colombian who survived the crash. The United States and the three men themselves have denied they work for the CIA, saying they were among hundreds of civilian contractors hired by Washington to assist Colombia's war on cocaine. Speaking to a Colombian journalist in their jungle prison some time after the middle of last year, the Americans said their captors had confused the name of a company contracted by the U.S. government to help the Colombians, CIAO, with the CIA."
Meanwhile, the US has named as drug trafficking organizations the two largest guerrilla organizations in Colombia. The Daily Telegraph reported on Feb. 21, 2004 ( "US Takes On New Powers To Try 'Drug Guerrillas'") that "America yesterday named Colombia's Marxist guerrillas and Right-wing paramilitaries as international drugs trafficking groups, opening the way for their leaders to face extradition and trial in US courts. The Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc and the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia ( AUC ) were already designated terrorist groups. But that meant they could face American justice, rather than Colombia's corrupt and overburdened courts, only if Americans were victims of their activities. Now the US Treasury Department has added 37 new names to its list of drug 'kingpins', including the high command of both groups. 'These Kingpin Act designations reinforce the reality that the Farc and the AUC are not simply terrorist/guerrilla organisations fighting within Colombia to promote political agendas,' said a Treasury spokesman. 'They are part and parcel of the narcotics production and export threat to the United States, as well as Europe and other countries in Latin America.' Between them, the two warring factions have more than 30,000 heavily armed fighters and earn up to $1 billion ( UKP 530 million ) a year, putting them among the most powerful and richest crime syndicates in the world. As well as potential extradition, the new designation gives US authorities the right to freeze the assets of any companies linked to the two groups or doing business with them."
The State Department has been criticized for mismanaging the US aerial drug eradication program in Colombia. The Washington Times reported on Nov. 19, 2003 ( "Colombia Drug Program Panned") that "Mismanagement by the State Department has "seriously jeopardized" the U.S. airborne drug-eradication program in cocaine- and heroin-rich Colombia, the program's former director says. The department's inability to provide "consistent competent oversight" has contributed to the death of one pilot who was shot down, two others killed in separate crashes and the capture of three others by Marxist rebels, John McLaughlin said in a recent letter to a House committee. Mr. McLaughlin, who retired last month after 25 years as head of the Office of Aviation in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said the program is in such disarray it should be transferred to a federal law-enforcement agency. He said the program is losing aircraft "at the rate of one a month" and without the "exceptional skill of the pilots, the commitment of our mainstream recovery teams and the dedication of our Combat Search and Rescue crews," several more pilots and crew would have died or been captured."
Mr. McLaughlin gave some specific examples to support his criticisms. The Times notes that "Mr. McLaughlin said that had the Costa Rican pilot employed by the U.S. government survived his Sept. 21 shoot-down, he would have been captured by members of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He said search crews looking for the twin-engine OV-10 plane "found a heavy concentration of FARC." He also said that after the February crash of a plane operated by a separate U.S. contract agency, which was not identified, State Department officials declined to clear two of his air crews for an immediate rescue attempt, holding them on the ground for 15 minutes. "The gunships arrived overhead after two of the crew had been executed and just in time to see the three surviving ... captives being led off by their FARC captors," he said. He said the crew members included four Americans, one of whom was killed, and a Colombian, who also was executed. An investigation of the crash by the State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration concluded a lack of intelligence about the area led to the crash."
Regarding the September crash, Mr. McLaughlin may have been incorrect about the identity of the rebel group responsible. An Associated Press report in the Oklahoman newspaper on Oct. 4, 2003 ( "Colombian Rebels Say They Downed US Plane") notes that "Colombia's smaller rebel army said it shot down a State Department plane that crashed last month, killing its Costa Rican pilot, while fumigating cocaine-producing crops. It was the first claim of responsibility in the Sept. 21 downing of the OV-10 plane in northeastern Colombia. Mario Alvarado, the pilot, was the sixth U.S. government contractor killed in Colombia this year. The claim by the National Liberation Army, seen Friday, was posted on the insurgent group's Web site. The State Department earlier acknowledged the plane apparently was "struck by hostile ground fire" during operations in Catatumbo, a mountainous and jungle-covered region near the Venezuelan border. The statement from the rebel group said that from Sept. 12-20, its fighters also shot and hit two other spray planes and two military helicopters that protect the planes. One of the helicopters had to make an emergency landing after being struck by rebel gunfire, the group said."
The US contractors taken in the February shootdown are believed to still be in the hands of rebels. A report in the Miami Herald on Nov. 20, 2003 ( "US Offers Big Reward In Kidnap Of Americans") notes that "The United States is preparing a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any individual involved in or responsible for the kidnapping of three U.S. military contractors in Colombia and the killing of a fourth, the State Department said. The three Americans, Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell, were captured by a rebel group when their single-engine plane crash-landed in guerrilla territory while on an anti-drug mission in February. Rebels allegedly executed a fourth American, Tom Janis."
Relatives of the US contractors have been critical of efforts being made to find their loved ones. The Miami Herald reported on Sept. 2, 2003 ( "Kin Criticize US Effort To Find Captured Airmen") that "As U.S. military aid pours into Colombia to beat back cocaine traffickers and rebels, U.S. and Colombian officials say they are no closer to finding the three Americans. While the United States' eyes are fixed on other international crises, the families of the three say Washington may have forgotten about the men they regard as prisoners of war -- the drug war. Aug. 13 marked the end of their sixth month in captivity. "I'm shaking my head," said Gonsalves' mother, Jo Rosano. "Doesn' anybody care? You've got Americans dying. For what? Drugs are still coming into this country.""
According to the Herald, "The three men work for California Microwave Systems, a subsidiary of defense contractor Northrop Grumman. They flew single-engine planes above the Colombian jungle, taking photos of the coca crops and labs. Their work was an $8 million portion of the $2 billion U.S. aid package known as Plan Colombia."
The Herald reported that "On Feb. 13, pilot Thomas Janis boarded the Cessna 208 that CMS leased for the flights. Howes was his co-pilot. Equipment operators Stansell and Gonsalves were in the back. Colombian army Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz was riding along. They took off from Bogota's airport at 7:30 a.m., heading for a Colombian military base in the southern Caqueta region. But 30 miles short of the landing strip, their plane crashed in a pasture as FARC rebels riddled it with bullets. Two hours later, a group of 40 guerrillas stopped at a home about a mile away to ask for water. The rebels, a witness told prosecutors, were hauling three monos -- Colombian slang for blonds. They were healthy. Cruz and Janis were dead. Shot, their bodies were found about a mile from the crash site, as were 20 antipersonnel mines and remote-control bomb activators. The FARC has acknowledged holding the three "prisoners of war" and offered to trade them for imprisoned rebels. The U.S. government has offered $300,000 -- a fortune here -- and U.S. travel visas for anyone who provides information leading to the trio's rescue. "We are very determined to bring back our three Americans," said the State Department's antiterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black. "We will never give up." Family members say they suspect that neither government is doing much to find the men or secure their release."
President Bush is expected to restart the controversial Air Bridge Denial program in Colombia, under which airplanes suspected of transporting illegal drugs can be shot down. The San Jose Mercury News reported on Aug. 6, 2003 ( "US Expected To OK Resumption Of Anti-Drug Flights In Colombia") that "Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe Vélez, has been especially aggressive in seeking to resume the program, which is intended to weaken the traffickers' 'air bridge' from coca-growing areas in Peru and Colombia to the United States. Colombian officials expressed the hope Tuesday that Bush would reauthorize the policy in time to mark Uribe's first anniversary in office Thursday. Negotiations with Peru have moved more slowly. The White House on Tuesday declined to say when Bush would act. Secretary of State Colin Powell has recommended restarting the program, which in its seven years had considerable success in disrupting traffickers' routes, officials said."
As the Mercury News noted, "This so called shoot-down policy in Colombia and Peru was suspended two years ago after a small plane flying over Peru was identified as suspicious and later shot down. An American missionary, Veronica Bowers, and her infant daughter, Charity, were killed in the crash. An inquiry by U.S. and Peruvian officials found that a disastrous series of mistakes, aggravated by language problems and procedural shortcuts, had caused the incident. Since then the Bush administration, which provides intelligence to those tracking the flights, has negotiated with Peru and Colombia to impose safeguards." (For more information about the tragic death of Veronica and Charity Bowers, see Baptist Missionaries Shot Down In Peru; Two Die, Including Infant; US Spy Plane ID'd Plane As Drug Trafficker, below.)
A Colombian court has ordered a halt to the US-sponsored spraying of herbicides on coca crops until more is known about the effects of the chemicals on humans and on the environment. The Chicago Tribune reported on June 27, 2003 ( "Colombia Ordered To Halt Spraying Of Drug Crops") that "Government officials said they would appeal the ruling and press on with spraying in the meantime. The ruling was announced in a lawsuit filed by lawyer Claudia Sampedro, who said she was pleased that the tribunal recognized Colombians' right to a 'clean environment.' 'These policies were drawn up without first studying effects on health and the environment,' said Sampedro, chosen to represent environmentalists, human-rights activists and small farmers opposed to the spraying."
According to the Tribune, "The ruling comes six weeks after the nation's Constitutional Court ordered the government to consult indigenous communities about spraying drug crops on their reservations, which make up 28 percent of the nation's territory. The government was told to hold meetings with indigenous communities for three months but was also advised that it can keep spraying during that period."
US officials are confident that the appeal will be successful, and note that the program may continue in the meantime as an appeal was filed. The Miami Herald reported on June 27, 2003 ( "Colombia Halts Drug Eradication To Do Herbicide Study") that "The United States, which has poured millions of dollars into the eradication program, was not immediately concerned with the ruling. Because the appeals process can take months and sometimes years, the possibility of any actual suspension in the spray program would be 'quite a ways off,' a U.S. official said. In the June 13 ruling made public Thursday, the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca province 'orders the temporary suspension of aerial spraying with the herbicide glyphosate until studies on the effects of the chemicals are conducted,' court president Estela Carvajal told The Herald in a telephone interview. While U.S. and Colombian officials argue that the weed-killer glyphosate is safe, farmers and indigenous groups on the ground say it has affected their health and has even killed off some livestock. Environmentalists claim that the large-scale spray program is also affecting waters sources and wildlife. Carvajal said that in addition to public health studies in rural areas that have been sprayed, the court ordered compliance with an environmental management plan to reduce spraying's impact on the ecosystem. While several court rulings have ordered suspensions of the spray program in the past, the government has successfully appealed each ruling and the herbicide continues to be used in eradication efforts."
Antidrug flight operations in Peru, cancelled after the mistaken shootdown of a small private plane over the Peruvian jungle caused the tragic deaths of an American Baptist missionary and her daughter, will soon begin again. The Detroit Free Press reported on June 12, 2003 ( "Antidrug Flights To Resume In Peru") that "Alarmed by evidence that drug trafficking is on the rise in Peru, the Bush administration expects controversial anti-narcotics air-interdiction flights to resume in the Andean nation by the end of this year."
According to the Free Press, "'We are seeing a large increase in the number of people clearing out old coca fields and getting back into it,' said a senior U.S. official in Peru who is familiar with anti-narcotics efforts there. His agency doesn't permit him to be named. The official and other experts attribute the resurgence of coca, the raw material for cocaine, mainly to intense pressure on coca growers in neighboring Colombia, where Washington has spent nearly $2 billion in recent years. Other factors include lapses in enforcement in Peru and the failure of U.S.-promoted alternative crops such as coffee and hearts of palm to be as profitable as coca for Peruvian farmers."
US efforts to promote alternative crops have fallen far short, and these crops do not provide farmers with adequate income. The Free Press notes that "Despite U.S. help in growing alternative crops and building new roads and bridges to bring those crops to market, coca -- a guaranteed cash crop harvested four times annually -- remains king in the region. 'There is still not another product that provides a living for farmers,' said Flavio Sanchez, the head of the coca growers association in Aguaytia. 'Bridges and roads are fine, but tell me how I am supposed to eat a bridge or a road,' said Elsa Malpartida, a leader of the coca growers association in Tingo Maria."
The US General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued yet another report noting that antidrug operations in Colombia are being hampered by money and management troubles. The report, "Drug Control: Financial and Management Challenges Continue to Complicate Efforts to Reduce Illicit Drug Activities in Colombia" (GAO-03-820T), was issued June 3, 2003, and is testimony delivered by GAO's Jess T. Ford to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
According to the GAO, "In fiscal years 2000-03 alone, the United States provided more than $2.5 billion in counternarcotics assistance. Despite this aid, Colombia remains the world's leading producer and distributor of cocaine and a major source of the heroin used in the United States."
The GAO notes that "Neither the Colombian Army nor the Colombian National Police can sustain ongoing counternarcotics programs without continued U.S. funding and contractor support for the foreseeable future. According to U.S. embassy officials, these programs alone may cost up to $230 million per year, and future costs for some other programs have not been determined. Because of overall poor economic conditions, the government of Colombia's ability to contribute more is limited, but the continuing violence from Colombia's long-standing insurgency limits the government's ability to institute economic, social, and political improvements. Moreover, Colombia faces continuing challenges associated with the need to ensure it complies with human rights standards and other requirements in order for U.S. assistance to continue. As GAO noted in 2000, the total costs of the counternarcotics programs in Colombia were unknown. Nearly 3 years later, the Departments of State and Defense have still not developed estimates of future program costs, defined their future roles in Colombia, identified a proposed end state, or determined how they plan to achieve it."
Other GAO reports on this topic, which come to the same basic
conclusion, are available at:
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2002 Colombian Coca Survey in March 2003. According to the report, "the total coca cultivation of 102,000 ha (hectares) recorded by SIMCI in December 2002 would have a potential cocaine production of about 480 metric tons. This represents a decrease of about 20%, compared to the potential cocaine production of 617 metric tons of the November 2001 coca cultivated area. It is important to note that this potential production figure does not represent the entire production for 2002, but the production potential of the hectares of coca bush under cultivation in December 2002. The actual production for the year 2002 is likely to have amounted to a figure between 480 mt (Dec. 2002) and 617 mt (Nov. 2001). The combination of factors at play during the year (multiple harvests, eradication operations, etc…) makes it very difficult to establish a more precise figure for the actual cocaine output of Colombia for the entire year." (p. 11)
Copies of the report can be downloaded from this UNODC webpage, or download a PDF copy directly by clicking here. In addition, PDF copies of the 2002 survey of Peru and of the Bolivia 2002 coca survey of the Yungas of La Pazin can be downloaded directly by clicking the links.
Unfortunately many media reports, including the Reuters wire story run by among others the Boston Globe, got the details wrong and exaggerate the 'success' of the coca campaign. The Globe reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Colombia Trumpets UN Study Showing Record Drop In Coca") that "Colombia, the world's largest supplier of cocaine, said yesterday that new evidence showed the harvest of coca leaf dropped by a record 30 percent in 2002, a finding it hailed as a major victory in the US-backed war on drugs."
The amount of land under coca cultivation in Dec. 2002, according to the UN, was 30% less than that under cultivation in Nov. 2001. Among other factors, the use of higher-yielding coca strains is contributing to the more efficient production of cocaine. The UN report notes that "Field work indicates that high-yield varieties are beginning to be introduced by coca farmers, but the UN has not yet conducted a scientific and comprehensive study on coca leaf and cocaine productivity in Colombia." Currently, the UN uses a US-devised formula for estimating coca production.
An unintended consequence of the US coca war in Colombia has been an increase in coca production in both Peru and Bolivia, countries in which the US had believed it was winning its coca war. According to the UN, "For Peru, as of this year, UNDCP now relies on the results for 2000 and 2001 of the illicit crop monitoring system established with the support of UNDCP (SIMCI Peru), which showed an increase of 2,827 ha, from 43,405 hectares in 2000 to 46,232 hectares in 2001." The Washington Post reported on March 22, 2003 ( "Coca Trade Booming Again In Peru") that "Now U.S. eradication efforts in Colombia are squeezing the trade back toward Peru, causing deep social unrest, the threat of armed resistance to U.S. drug policy and political risks for a fragile Peruvian government responsible for implementing the most controversial elements of Washington's strategy."
The UN had previously relied on US estimates of Peruvian coca production, however those estimates have been shown to be extremely low, so its own monitoring system was put in place, as had previously occurred in Colombia -- for the same reason, US estimates were unrealistically low. The US State Dept. still uses these CIA-derived figures in its own annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, however. According to the 2002 INCSR, despite efforts by the Government of Peru "the total number of hectares of cultivated coca increased by 8 percent to 36,600 hectares in 2002."
The Peruvian government has met with mostly resistance to its eradication plans from the peasant farmers and workers who depend on the cocaine economy for their livelihood. According to the Post, "'If we frame the debate as only eradication, eradication, eradication instead of as a way to make lives better, we are setting ourselves up for a conflictive relationship with the Peruvian government, and for the Peruvian government with their own people,' said a U.S. official. 'But there is a criminal element here separate from the peasants.' The Andean drug industry offers high risks and high rewards for the 20,000 coca growers who work the slopes along the Apurimac, now muddy and swollen with seasonal rains. Not since the mid-1990s has the opportunity to make money been greater for peasant coca farmers, who are among Peru's poorest people, nor have those crops been more threatened by U.S. eradication plans. For the first time, the U.S. and Peruvian governments this year intend to pull up coca crops by force in the Apurimac and Upper Huallaga river valleys, unless peasants agree to eradicate their crops in return for financial assistance. Until now, most forced eradication has been confined to remote secondary producing regions safe from mass peasant mobilization. The Apurimac and Upper Huallaga, by contrast, are the two primary sources of Peruvian coca and historic redoubts of guerrilla insurgency. Growing unrest in places like San Francisco, located about 230 miles southeast of Lima, has put the Peruvian and U.S. governments at odds for the first time over how best to combat rising coca cultivation, echoing debates taking place in Colombia and Bolivia. The United States favors forced eradication, conducted by trained Peruvian police units, while the government wants to employ a mix of interdiction and financial incentives to collapse the coca market."
The Post reported further that "Peru's coca farmers in this riverside town and in the Upper Huallaga to the north have staged demonstrations since last August against impending eradication programs. The marches and blockades are the stirrings of a grass-roots peasant movement in favor of legalized coca production that resembles one underway in neighboring Bolivia. Last month, Peruvian police arrested Nelson Palomino, the president of a national network of coca growers formed in January. Palomino, who worked a scruffy three-acre parcel of coca near this town of 30,000 people, was imprisoned in Ayacucho, 50 miles southwest of here, on charges of inciting terrorism and kidnapping. He has become a kind of martyr with national political ambitions in the 2006 presidential elections. The communities along the Apurimac River were savaged in the mid-1980s during Peru's war against the Maoist guerrilla movement known as the Shining Path. Farmers protected themselves by organizing self-defense groups, financing their guns and ammunition with coca proceeds. The self-defense groups still remain, along with groups of women who fought alongside the men and now organize food and transportation for the demonstrations."
Unfortunately no UN monitoring system has been installed in Bolivia, so only US estimates are available. According to the UN report, "Estimates for Bolivia (from the US government) reflect an increase of the area under cultivation, from 14,600 ha in 2000, to 19,900 ha in 2001 (including 12,000 ha authorized under Bolivian law 1008)." (p. 54) The State Dept. reported in its 2002 INCSR that "At mid-2002 total cultivation of coca in Bolivia was estimated to be 24,400 hectares, with 18,700 hectares in the Yungas region (6,700 hectares over that allowed under current Bolivian law), 5,400 hectares in the Chapare region (all illicit, destined for cocaine production) and 300 hectares in the Apolo region (all licit). Total potential cocaine production in Bolivia decreased from 240 metric tons in 1995 to 60 metric tons in 2002."
Eradication in Bolivia is also meeting resistance. The Boston Globe reported on March 23, 2003 ( "Bolivian Coca Farmers Defy US-Bolstered Ban On Crops") that "While they can do little to stop the pace of eradication, the coca farmers, called cocaleros, have doggedly replanted fields after antinarcotics troops destroyed them. As a result, coca production in the Chapare jungle of central Bolivia, one of the country's two principal coca-growing areas, has increased from 1,400 to 13,000 acres from 2000 to 2002, according to US government statistics. Meanwhile, the farmers, operating in tight-knit syndicates, have brought the government to its knees by blockading the nation's most important highway with logs, rocks, and arched, tire-popping nails. Authorities have had limited success dispersing the cocaleros, who defend the highway and their coca fields with sticks, slings, dynamite, booby traps, and pre-World War II-vintage Mauser rifles. In January, nine civilians, a police officer, and a soldier were killed in clashes between cocaleros and authorities. Fiercely anti-American, the farmers might represent the greatest threat to the fragile mandate of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is clinging to power after a police strike in La Paz, the capital, last month turned violent and resulted in 33 deaths. 'There is no other force in the country that has the coherence, the discipline, and the ability to mobilize like the cocaleros,' said Ana Maria Romero de Campero, the nation's ombudswoman, who has mediated negotiations between the government and coca farmers. 'Not giving the government some room to maneuver with the cocaleros is tantamount to causing its downfall.'"
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are believed to have captured three US "contractors" after a small plane went down in the jungle. According to the Times of London on Feb. 17, 2003 ( "US Trio Abducted During Secret Anti-Drug Mission"), "Three Americans thought to have been captured by left-wing guerrillas in Colombia were on a secret intelligence mission inside rebel-held territory, according to military sources. A huge search-and-rescue mission being carried out by 1,000 Colombian troops, assisted by US spy aircraft, has so far found no sign of the men, who could become valuable bargaining chips in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( Farc ), the country's largest rebel army. Two others, an American and a Colombian, were reported to have been shot dead during the capture."
The Times reported that "The men were described as Pentagon contractors who were assisting the Colombian military on an unspecified anti-drug mission. They were equipped with 'jungle-busting' radar to identify FARC units, sources quoted by Newsweek magazine said." Initially, the Washington Post had reported on Feb. 14 that "The four Americans on board the Cessna 208 were contract employees of the Central Intelligence Agency at work on an anti-drug operation in the area, U.S. officials said." ( "5 Missing After US Plane Goes Down In Colombia") The Post corrected its story on Feb. 15, 2003 ( "Colombian Rebels Kill US Civilian") reporting that "A Defense Department official in Washington confirmed the men were civilians employed by the Pentagon as contractors, but added that they were detailed to work for the U.S. Embassy. Typical operations on such flights includes locating and targeting coca plantations for later eradication by Colombian troops."
The Post on that day also reported that "There was no specific word on what the U.S. contract personnel were doing on Thursday morning when their pilot radioed an airport tower in Florencia, about 25 miles from the crash site, that they were experiencing engine trouble. The pilot reported he was looking for a place to put the plane down, but the airport tower lost radio contact with him soon afterward. While U.S. sources said the aircraft was outfitted for 'photo reconnaissance,' it was not known if the plane was conducting such operations. U.S. officials said the crew members, four Americans and a Colombian, were working on anti-drug operations over Colombia's southern coca fields."
Initial stories reported that there was no solid evidence yet that FARC had captured the three, however the BBC's report notes that "Colombian officials said that soldiers had found footprints near the wreckage, but no sign of the other three Americans. They also reported an intercepted Farc radio transmission, in which a rebel commander was heard saying: 'We have them! We have them!' Local farmers reported seeing the men being escorted away by Farc guerrillas."
US Special Forces troops began training Colombian troops guarding a stretch of oil pipeline. The Tallahassee Democrat reported on Jan. 26, 2003 ( "US Troops Enter Colombia") that "American Army Special Forces teams moved last week into what a senior U.S. intelligence official calls 'the most dangerous place in Colombia,' to begin training Colombian soldiers to protect an often-bombed 500-mile oil pipeline that runs along a porous border with neighboring Venezuela." According to the story by Knight-Ridder correspondent Joseph L. Galloway, "The arrival of the Green Berets signaled a more aggressive U.S. effort to help Colombian forces fight the guerrillas of the leftist National Liberation Army, or ELN, and newcomers to this region from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Until now, American efforts have been aimed almost exclusively at curtailing cocaine and heroin production. The vulnerable oil pipeline is crucial to the Colombian government, which has seen millions of gallons of oil spill into the region's soil, rivers and streams and lost tens of millions in oil revenues."
The US military seems to expect the deployment to be risky. As reported by the Democrat, "As a sign of how dangerous a place this is, the Army also is sending in a medical evacuation team that includes several Blackhawk helicopters and their crews, a surgeon and nurse and several trained medics. They will be based with the Special Forces team in Arauca to provide emergency medical care and evacuation for any Americans wounded in the area. Smaller Special Forces teams have been in Arauca and Saravena for the past two months, setting up communications and intelligence-gathering facilities, building heavily fortified living and working quarters in compounds in the middle of the Colombian Army facilities and planning the training mission. Rings of concertina wire and heavily fortified bunkers surround the Special Forces compounds. In Arauca, the compound has a tall guard tower with security cameras and motion-activated perimeter lights. A sergeant said they had filled more than 70,000 sandbags to construct a head-high wall around the compound."
Members of the House of Representatives criticized US anti-drug operations in Colombia. According to the Washington Times on Jan. 16, 2003 ( "US Fails To Achieve Anti-Drug Goal In Colombia") that "The State Department has failed to meet its 2002 goal of eradicating more than 11,000 acres of Colombian opium poppy fields at a time when heroin from that South American country is flooding into cities all along the East Coast. According to information sent by Colombian police officials to the House Committee on International Relations, only about 7,400 acres of Colombian opium poppy fields identified by authorities were eradicated last year - continuing a steady decline in the U.S. program to cut Colombian poppy production. Opium poppy-field eradication in Colombia in 2001 was down 80 percent from 2000."
Ed. Note: This is not a surprise. A decrease in poppy eradication was reported in the media late 2001. See "It's Official: Authorities Ignored Colombian Opium In 2001 As Coca Campaign Expanded" for more info.
Administration officials sought to defend US anti-opium operations but the committee members were skeptical. As the Times reported, "Paul E. Simons, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told the House Government Reform Committee last month that the department recognized the 'increased growth and impact' of Colombian heroin and renewed efforts were under way to address it. But Mr. Simons told the committee the poppy-eradication program in Colombia had been hampered by a lack of equipment and pilots, budgetary restraints and bad weather, although committee members countered that former Colombian National Police Director Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano had the same amount of equipment when he eradicated 22,724 acres in 2000. Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, told the committee that U.S. officials in that country had increased the spraying of coca fields, from which cocaine is produced, and that program had been 'very successful.' Mrs. Patterson described the cutback in the spraying of opium poppy fields, from which heroin is produced, as a 'joint decision,' but could not recall whether she had received any direction from the State Department or other federal agencies. 'I think you've made some wrong decisions that have resulted in a massive increase in the exportation of heroin into the United States,' Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, told Mrs. Patterson. 'As a result, our local police don't know what to do with this major flow of heroin out of Colombia.'"
For additional information on coca eradication efforts and conflicing estimates of the acreage under cultivation, see this GAO document, "Drug Control: Coca Cultivation and Eradication Estimates in Colombia. GAO-03-319R, January 8.
Taking a step deeper into the thirty-plus year old Colombian civil war, US Secretary of State pledged more US military aid to that country during a visit in Dec. 2002. The New York Times reported on Dec. 5, 2002 ( "Powell Says US Will Increase Military Aid For Colombia") that "The aid, more than $500 million a year, would be used for drug eradication, support for military and police forces and renewal of support for Colombian narcotics-interception flights that rely on intelligence from American spy planes. Such flights were suspended last year after a plane carrying missionaries was shot down over Peru. The new aid will put Colombia roughly on a par with Afghanistan and Pakistan as a recipient of American military and antidrug assistance, administration officials said."
(For more information about recent unsuccessful anti-drug efforts in those other two nations -- including bumper opium crops in 2002 -- see US Drug War in Asia.)
According to the Times, "After more than three decades of civil war, various antigovernment groups engaged in the drug trade control most of Colombia's vast expanse of mountains and farm valleys. But rights groups have accused the Colombian military of fighting those forces with too much reliance on rightist military squads organized by landlords. 'We are firmly committed to President Uribe and his new national security strategy,' Secretary Powell said. 'We are going to work with our Congress to provide additional funding for Colombia.' In all, the United States has spent $1.8 billion on antinarcotics measures and military and law enforcement aid to Colombia since 2000."
A Colombian air force unit is currently restricted from receiving US aid, according to a Dec. 4, 2002 story in New York's Newsday ( "Powell Visits Colombia To Tout Drug War"). Newsday reported that "Last month, the State Department, without announcement, suspended aid to a Colombian air force unit believed to have been responsible for an incident four years ago in which a helicopter dropped a cluster bomb in the middle of a town, killing 17 people. The officials said there was no formal finding of an aid cutoff, but the unit was told that no further aid would be forthcoming until those responsible were held accountable."
In spite of official assurances to the contrary, human rights abuses are reportedly widespread. According to Newsday, "Last September, the State Department drew protests from U.S. rights groups after certifying that Colombia's armed forces had met human rights standards imposed by Congress in three areas. The action cleared the way for the release of $41 million in military assistance. After the September decision, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America said the Colombian military had failed the tests law in all three areas."
This renewed commitment of aid by the US comes after a pledge by the rightwing paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia to begin a unilateral ceasefire. The New York Times reported on Nov. 30, 2002 ( "Colombian Rightists Declare Ceasefire As Prelude To Talks") that "A rightist paramilitary force that is responsible for most of the deaths in Colombia's conflict declared today that it would call a unilateral cease-fire to begin Sunday as a first step toward peace talks with President Alvaro Uribe's government."
Resources for Additional Information on Colombia
locombia.org, is a great resource for background information and current news on Colombia.
US Government Accountability Office has issued
several reports on Plan Colombia/The Andean Initiative and the
US military's involvement in the drug war, including:
New York Review of Books published a
tremendous 3-part series by Alma Guillermopietro
on the drug war in Colombia:
The BBC has a quite extensive report on The Global Drugs Trade available on their website.
Search the MAP media archive for more stories on the escalating Colombian conflict.
The Locombia website contains a great deal of information regarding the Colombian conflict.
Some groups working on Colombia issues include: