June 12, 2001
The Great Debate
Our First Witness...
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow claimed in June 2001 that, "the consumption of
drugs would rise with legalization."
Our first witness in The Great Debate is former
Colombian Attorney General Gustavo de Greiff, also former Colombian
Ambassador to Mexico, who, before reading Davidow's text, gave
a speech, also last week, at the National Autonomous University
of Mexico (UNAM), also in Mexico City, where Ambassador de Greiff
brought forward statistics about drug consumption within the
United States that, coincidentally, disprove Davidow's claims.
Narco News 2001
War on Drugs
de Greiff R.
Translated by Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News
year, the government of Colombia elaborated
the so-called Plan Colombia as the synthesis of an integral strategy
for economic recuperation of the country, institutional strengthening,
social development, the consecration of peace through a negotiated
solution to the armed conflict and that fight against drug trafficking.
Unfortunately, whoever reads this Plan
carefully concludes that there is an unbalanced emphasis on the
problem of drug trafficking.
In each of the Plan's pages it is repeatedly
said that "The traffic in illicit drugs constitutes a complex
transnational threat, a destructive force in our societies, that
brings unimaginable consequences for the consumers of the poison,
and devastating effects in the form of violence and corruption
that generate immense profits," and that, "we must
recognize that now, 20 years after the arrival of marijuana crops
to Colombia, together with the rise in the production of coca
and poppy, drug trafficking continues growing in importance as
a destabilizing force; it is a cause of distortions in our economy,
of a reverse in the advances achieved in the redistribution of
land, a source of corruption in society, a multiplier of violence,
and a negative factor to investment climate and most grave of
all it serves as the source of the growing resources of armed
The Plan notes that global economic aid
for economic development will serve "as a force to combat
drug trafficking, one that promotes legal employment alternatives
for people who, by other means, recur to organized crime of the
insurgent groups that feed narco-trafficking," and thus,
that, "we cannot have success without alternative development
programs in rural areas and better access to other countries
for our legal exports. This is the only way to stop the traffic
of drugs." It says that "the weaknesses of a State
that is still involved in a process of consolidation have been
aggravated by the destabilizing forces of drug trafficking ,"
and that "Recently, the financial relationship between the
various armed groups and drug traffickers has intensified the
armed conflict, and has limited the ability of the State to comply
with its most important responsibilities."
Further, the Plan adds that "a peace
agreement negotiated with the guerrilla on the basis of territorial
integrity, democracy and human rights would strengthen the state
of law and the fight against drug trafficking ." Later,
strategies are enumerated that explain the Plan and signal that
one of them is "an anti-narcotics strategy, in alliance
with other countries involved on some or all of the links of
the chain: the production, distribution, sale, consumption, laundering
of profits, the precursor chemicals and other ingredients and
the traffic in arms, to combat all the components of the cycle
of illicit drugs and to impede the flow of the products of this
traffic that feeds the violence of the guerrilla and other armed
And to confirm the suspicions of many
commentators that the Plan is not more than an "anti-drug
program" it says, "the peace process is also part of
a strategic alliance against drug trafficking, corruption, and
violation of human rights." And it adds, with notably poor
editing, that for this process to be successful and sustainable,
"a complimentary aid is needed in the areas of security
and defense, an alliance between the production, consumption,
distribution and sale of drugs, the laundering of profits and
arms-trafficking, and a development plan that generates employment
and comes to those most in need."
And still later in the in the same line
of argument it says that "a successful peace process would
also have a positive impact on the fight against drugs, since
the government will be able to widen its enforcement of the law
and of alternative development programs to the areas most involved
in narcotics production. Guerrilla activity and drug trafficking
are problems that, still inter-related to a certain degree, have
different origins and goals."
In reference to the anti-narcotics strategy,
the Plan expresses that, "the government has established
the fight against the production and traffic of drugs as one
of its major priorities. Narco-trafficking constitutes a great
threat to internal security not only of Colombia but also other
consumer and producer nations. The enormous resources of drug
trafficking and its huge destabilizing power make it so that
drug trafficking has become a central factor in the generation
of violence throughout the country. For this reason, the government
must be focused on the problem and is committed to combat it
in the areas of traffic, production, consumption and any other
element that supports this activity, and ends up threatening
the democratic institutions and integrity of the Nation."
A little further into Plan Colombia it
is affirmed that "at least 30 percent of today's income
is from 'taxes' collected over the coca leaf and paste, collected
by the intermediaries in the cultivating areas," and adds
that "drug trafficking constitutes a destabilizing element
for the entire democratic society, generating immense sums of
money for armed groups outside of the law. Drug trafficking has
multiple effects of great danger including the production of
the crops, their processing and trafficking, all of which have
facilitated a notable rise in the number of armed groups, and
their military capacity with multiple effects of great danger
including the production of the crops, processing and trafficking,
each of which have facilitated a notable rise in the number of
armed groups and their military capacity ."
With a touch of realism, it is said in
the Plan that, "the goal of the next six years is to reduce
50 percent of the crops and also the processing and distribution
of the drugs," and to achieve this it is said that the primary,
third, fourth and sixth objectives are "to strengthen the
fight against drug trafficking and dismantle the trafficking
organizations through integral efforts led by the Armed Forces:
(1) To combat illegal cultivation through continuous and systematic
action by the Army and the Police, especially in the Putumayo
region and the south of the country and to strengthen the ability
of the Police in the eradication of those crops. The government
will not tolerate any connection between members of the Armed
Forces or National Police with any armed group or outlaw force;
(2) To establish military control over the South of the country
for the purposes of eradication. To destroy the processing plants
and improve (sic) the intersection of drugs and of precursors
on land, air, sea and river; (3) To reestablish governmental
control over the key areas of production of drugs
the financial system of the narco-traffickers and seize their
resources for the State: Strengthening the anti-contraband efforts;
Realizing an aggressive program to seize profits; Freezing and
seizing bank accounts and profits in Colombia and abroad
To neutralize and combat the agents of violence allied with the
To strengthen and widen the alternative
development plans in the areas affected by drug trafficking."
To justify the involvement of the Armed
Forces in the fight against drug trafficking, promoted by the
United States government (while its army remains, for good reason,
far from these activities), Plan Colombia says that "although
the fight against narco-trafficking is principally an activity
of the National Police, the close connection of the traffickers
with armed outlaw groups have obligated the Armed Forces to be
focused in a firm and decisive and integral and coherent fight
against this threat."
And it concludes by saying that "the
proposal of this strategy is to strengthen the fight against
drug trafficking through the coordination of all the elements
of the Armed Forces and the Police against the traffickers. Our
goal is to eliminate the production of drugs on a grand scale,
of (sic) ending the violence and delinquency on a grand scale
by armed groups, to promote respect for human rights and to break
the connections between armed groups and the support they receive
from the industry of drug trafficking."
If we pay attention to what is expressed
by Plan Colombia, it results that the economic, social and political
problems that the country confronts are the effects of a fundamental
cause: drug trafficking, as if there didn't exist others as or
more important, such as a State at the service of particular
interests, or an absent State, for hundreds of years, that didn't
do anything or did very little to provide education, health and
well-being for all, or a concentration of wealth in the hands
of the few or other well known causes in those countries known
as "the third world ."
But the most serious problem is not this.
The most serious, it seems to us, is to try to solve the problems
that drug trafficking creates through a repressive strategy that
so far, at least, has been shown to be inappropriate.
What is the reason for a repressive strategy?
The United States government pushes its
logic behind the repressive strategy with the following argument:
If the drugs don't enter the United States of America, there
is no drug problem .
To avoid the entrance of drugs, together
with the governments and other institutions of the States of
the countries where they are produced, repressive actions are
promoted for the eradication or destruction of crops, laboratories,
airfields, the interdiction of shipments and goods, the capture
of traffickers and similar methods. All of this should cause
a reduction of the drugs available on the market and will result
in a rise of the prices of the drugs that arrive in the market,
which, in turn, will produce an rise in the prices and dissuade
consumption by potential buyers, as well as by current consumers,
inclining the addicts to seek treatment or stop using.
If the repressive strategy had offered
results we would have: a) fewer areas cultivated with plants
from where the three major prohibited drugs - cocaine, heroin
and marijuana - come; b) Less availability of these drugs in
consumer markets; c) Higher prices for each of these drugs, and;
d) Fewer consumers, hardcore and occasional. Unfortunately, there
has been no improvement in any of these areas, as we have seen.
a.) The size of the areas cultivated has
not been reduced. It seems that in Peru and Bolivia this has
occurred, but the diminished activity in those countries has
been widely surpassed by the rise of coca and poppy crop cultivation
in Colombia. And as for marijuana, the cultivation in the United
States has risen. This has partially occurred in Colombia, and
it has maintained its level in Mexico, notwithstanding the efforts
of eradication promoted in all these countries.
In Colombia, satellite photographs contracted
by the government and the UN indicate that in spite of the fumigation
of 60,000 hectares, the coca crops have increased by 60% in the
past year .
But the repressive policy imposed by the
United States government is so passionate that the view of this
reality of Mr. Phil Chicola, of the Colombia section in the U.S.
Department of State, led him to respond with arrogance to the
media: "If the data of this study are correct, that says
that we need to do much more than what we are doing now, not
That provoked this sharp commentary by
the editor of Cambio magazine in Colombia: "As he says,
if fumigating more has not solved it, we will fumigate a lot
more and this will solve it."
b.) The availability of the three drugs
of major consumption - cocaine, heroin and marijuana - in the
United States market has not diminished and it has risen on the
streets of European cities.
c.) The prices of these have not diminished
either as should have been the result of the fumigation of crops,
destruction of laboratories and seizures:
Cocaine: The price in the market for the
consumer, per gram of cocaine, has fluctuated in this manner:
1988: $177; 1989: $163; $ 1990: $193; 1991: $165; 1992: $160;
1993: $155; 1994: $140; 1995: $139. (In American dollars of 1996)
; 1996: $159; 1997 to 2000 (each year): $149 (in American dollars
Heroin: 1988: $1.655; 1989: $1.433; 1990:
$1.476; 1991: $1.470; 1.992: $1.315; 1993: $1.254; 1994: $1.099;
1995: $984. (Also in American dollars adjusted to their value
in 1996) ; 1996: $1048; 1997 to 2000 (each year): $1029 (In American
dollars of 1998)
Marijuana: Price per ounce: 1988: $287;
1989: $353; 1990: $369; 1991: $406; 1992: $460; 1993: $334; 1995:
$305; 1995: $269 (Also in 1996 dollars) ; 1996: $293; 1997:$297;
1998: $320; 1999 y 2000 (each year): $293 (In American dollars
Note that still when in some years the
price has been more than in the previous year (for cocaine, in
1990; for heroin in 1990 and 1991; and for marijuana in 1990,
1991 and 1992) the price increase has not been so great that
it had any dissuading effect upon consumers.
d.) In relation to consumption, the number
of habitual (hardcore) users of cocaine has fluctuated between
3.2 million and 3.9 million between 1988 and the year 2000, while
it is said that the occasional users diminished from 6% in 1988
to 2.15% in the year 2000. The habitual consumers of heroin have
passed from 630,000 in 1988 to being 980,000 in the year 2000.
And the number of occasional heroin users has grown from 170,000
in 1988 to 514,000 in the year 2000.
The fall in the number of occasional users
of cocaine would be the only success that could be glorified
by the supporters of the repressive policy. But we write conditionally
of them because the authors of the studies realized by the National
Office of Drug Policy Control (ONDCP) of the White House speak
of "estimates subject to a significant inexactitude,"
of "differences so large that they lack credibility."
"It seems plausible that the expenditures on cocaine and
heroin could be more than double or more than half of our estimations
"Based on these admittedly imperfect estimations, we estimate
that between approximately 372 and 458 metric tons of cocaine
were distributed in the United States in 1994."
"Without a doubt, there are gaps
in the activities of investigation (or intelligence) that impede
knowing all the shipments of cocaine, and there is no way to
estimate the quantity of cocaine that, in total, is not detected."
"Owing to the quality of the available
data, there is a considerable imprecision in the estimations
of the number of heavy users and occasional users of drugs, the
quantity that they consume and the value, in detail, of those
In light of that, one questions: Why insist
on a failed policy? As the Drug Commission of the Bar Association
of New York County in 1995 warned, "The appropriate goal
of any anti-drug policy must be the diminishment of its consumption
and the evils that its use or abuse cause, and to minimize the
damages that are associated with this problem. Also, any policy
that causes more damage than the social problems it proposes
to solve must be reevaluated as to the convenience of continuing
We believe that a change of strategy is
necessary to combat the problems that create the production,
the sale and the consumption of drugs, and we think that the
origins of the production and the sale are solved by their legalization.
And those created by consumption are solved with education about
the danger that the abuse of narcotizing and psychotropic drugs
brings and with the availability of medical treatment for addicts.
As don Carlos Fuentes recently affirmed,
with legalization there would continue to be addicts but, at
least as for drugs, the gangs of narco-traffickers and the corruption
related to them would disappear.
Why, it is asked, has it not been possible
to arrive at this change in strategy to combat the problem of
drugs? We think that is because there are many interests behind
it. On one side are the traffickers and the corrupt officials
that, naturally, do not what to end the "business."
On the other side, dishonest politicians who know the uselessness
of prohibition and nonetheless insist on it to seem like moral
leaders of the community. And there are people who enjoy the
income of labor in service of the agencies in charge of the "war,"
whose jobs would disappear with legalization. Together with them,
honest politicians (that, fortunately, also exist) fear a rise
in the consumption upon regulating the production and sale of
drugs that are today prohibited. But also, there is the government
of the country whose citizens are the major consumers of cocaine
and marijuana and an important consumer of heroin, because the
anti-drug policy serves as an excuse to intervene in the internal
affairs of those countries where the plants from which these
drugs are extracted grow.
Colombia has suffered a textbook case
of this intervention, when, in 1995, the United States Ambassador,
whether upon his own initiative or instructions from his government,
threatened Colombia with de-certification if it persisted in
is banana commerce policy with the European Union, a business
that threatened a banana company in the United States. Have you
heard about that?
That's why, also, the species of threat
that drug trafficking represents to the national security of
our countries has been invented. That merited a sharp response
from the academic John Sax Fernández, who when, some years
ago, he was questioned by reporter about whether, in fact, drug
trafficking represented a threat to national security. He answered:
"Drug trafficking is a threat to the national security of
our countries to the extent that it serves as an excuse for the
United States to intervene in our affairs."
The honest supporters of the repressive
policy are opposed to legalization for the fear of an explosion
in consumption under an environment regulated by law. For the
moment, it is enough to refer the fearful ones to a study cited
below a footnote on page 10 of "What America's Users Spend
on Illegal Drugs," where it is demonstrated, with the backing
of scientific authorities, that the fear is unfounded.
On the other hand, if the argument against
legalization is founded upon the claim that the drugs would be
available to potential consumers, the objection lacks all value.
Because today, under a prohibition policy, isn't it so that anyone
can obtain any of the prohibited drugs and do it easily?
Returning to the threat of our examination
of Plan Colombia in its aspect of the war on drugs, we must say
that it is not just more of the same, but adds something very
dangerous: United States intervention through military advisors
and the shipment of arms.
Since 1994, when I was kindly invited
to speak at the Autonomous University of Querétaro in
Mexico, I have expressed the fear that Colombia could become
a second Vietnam. To those who give me the honor of listening
to me or hearing me, I invite you to read the memoirs of Robert
McNamara , who was Defense Secretary for the United States government
during the ill-fated days of the war in South Vietnam.
There, as in Colombia today, everything
began with the dangerous idea of a threat against national security
that the Vietcong represented, and the need to send modern arms
to the friendly government, as well as military instructors to
teach the correct and efficient use of the new equipment, with
a prohibition on these instructors to intervene or participate
Later, it was said that it was better
to let them participate so that the instruction would be more
effective. At that stage, some United States citizens died in
combat, and from there came the massive shipment of soldiers
in the required time to obtain authorization by a Congress friendly
to intervention and fearful of the communist threat (or, perhaps,
These epochs that culminated with the
tragic scenes of helicopters leaving from the roof of the American
Embassy in Saigon, replete with members of the governing class
of Vietnam, that wanted another country to fight their battle
for them, has begun to be repeated in Colombia under the provisions
of Plan Colombia.
And American instructors have arrived
to teach how to use the armaments that they are sending. The
prohibition on their intervening in operations has already been
declared, but I fear very much that the dynamic of things, sooner
or later, will cause an accident, and that some will die here
and more troops will arrive to protect the survivors and avenge
the death of the victims. We are not far from that.
Those scenes will have to be a sad memory
for those who today endorse the aid of the American government
to combat drug trafficking and its interventions in the internal
affairs of Colombia. But as Churchill said, those who don't learn
from history are doomed to repeat it. I hope I am wrong, because
I don't wish to be a prophet of disasters.
Thank you very much,
México City, June 8, 2001
the Debate! Send your Comments to:
Educated Decision, Based on the Facts"