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June 12, 2001

The Great Debate Series

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

Plan Colombia and

the War on Drugs

By Gustavo de Greiff R.

Translated by Al Giordano

Special to The Narco News Bulletin

Last 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 groups."

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 groups."

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… To neutralize 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 narco-traffickers… 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 less."

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 of 1998)

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 of 1998)

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 drugs."

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 it."

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 in "operations."

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, of drugs.)

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

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