Even while funding for fumigation and counter-drug military aid to Colombia remain constant, the Bush administration’s 2007 budget request includes deep cuts in funding for domestic drug treatment. This, even though study after study has found treatment to be the most effective way of reducing drug abuse in the United States.
One of the officials most responsible for this bizarre mismatch in priorities, Drug Czar John Walters, testified in the House on Thursday. Here is an account of Walters’ performance from John Walsh, who works on drug policy at the Washington Office on Latin America. John notes that the drug czar failed even to mention the supposed increase in U.S. cocaine prices that his office documented, with much fanfare, back in November. Nor did Walters even hint that coca cultivation in Colombia might have decreased last year.
ONDCP Director John Walters testified yesterday (2/16/06) before the House Government Reform Committee’s Drug Policy Subcommittee. His written statement included passages on Colombia and Bolivia below (with my comments in parentheses). Just as noteworthy is what Walters did not say.
Walters made no reference in either his written statement or in his oral remarks to the price and purity figures that he has recently been citing as evidence of drug war progress, and which are featured prominently in the new national drug control strategy. This may suggest Walters’ wariness over inviting closer scrutiny of the data he has cited (which are clearly at odds with the RAND data posted by ONDCP just last February).
Walters’ written statement mentions that the Colombian government “reported spraying more than 138,000 hectares of coca and manually eradicating more than 31,000 hectares in 2005.” But Walters gave no hint that the net coca cultivation estimate for 2005 – which is likely to be made public within the next several weeks – will be significantly lower than the 2004 estimate, which was itself virtually the same as the 2003 figure. The sense that fumigation is no longer achieving reductions in net cultivation, despite new spray records each year, is reinforced by recent off-the-record comments by other U.S. officials, and by Walters’ own insistence on the need for increased spray capabilities (see below). If the U.S. estimate of the net area under cultivation for 2005 is not significantly lower than in 2004, it will be especially noteworthy given the sharp increase in manual eradication (up from 10,279 hectares in 2004 to 31,000 hectares in 2005). Alternatively, if the 2005 estimate is appreciably lower than the 2004 figure, it could be attributable to the increase in manual eradication. As underscored by a recent GAO report [PDF format], all of these figures need to be taken with a grain of salt, and should be considered understatements of the true extent of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production.
Walters on Colombia:
“Increased aerial eradication capability is necessary to attack replanting efforts more swiftly. Additional focus must be placed on identifying new cultivation of coca and opium poppy, particularly in more remote areas.”
(Despite this stance, the administration’s FY2007 request does not appear to seek to increase eradication capability.)
Walters on Bolivia:
President Morales has “expressed concern with the military’s participation in eradication operations and has talked of removing them from the process. This would further undermine containment [of coca], as their experience and equipment make them mission-essential to any and all eradication efforts.”
(It would be nice to know whether Assistant Secretary Shannon and Ambassador Greenlee also consider the Bolivian military to be “mission-essential.”)