The DAS scandals Uribe’s opponents’ security problem
Apr 152006

Here is a memo (PDF format) CIP is sending out to media, congressional staff and other colleagues this morning.

At 5:00 yesterday, Good Friday, the U.S. government announced that coca cultivation in Colombia last year totaled 144,000 hectares, a level not seen since 2002. While this appears to be a 30,000-hectare increase over 2004 levels, the White House Drug Czar’s press release cautions that much of the increase owes to newly discovered coca in areas that U.S. satellites were not monitoring before.

No matter what the reason for the huge increase measured in 2005, the following points are indisputable.

1.      According to an October 2000 White House report, “The goal of President Pastrana’s Plan Colombia (October 1999) is to reduce Colombia’s cultivation, processing, and distribution of drugs by 50 percent over six years.” The 2005 coca-cultivation figures reported yesterday show that Plan Colombia has demonstrably failed to reach that goal. It hasn’t even come close.


The figure of 144,000 hectares in 2005 exceeds the U.S. government’s measures of Colombian coca-growing in 1999, the year before Plan Colombia began (122,500 hectares), and 2000, the plan’s first year (136,200 hectares).

Even if we accept the U.S. government’s argument that the high 2005 estimate owes to measurement in new areas, it is impossible to claim that Plan Colombia has brought a 50 percent reduction in coca-growing in six years. It cannot plausibly be claimed that better measurement would have shown coca-growing to be twice as extensive – 288,000 hectares – in 1999 and 2000.

 

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

Colombia

79,500

101,800

122,500

136,200

169,800

144,400

113,850

114,000

144,000

Peru

68,800

51,000

38,700

34,100

34,000

36,600

31,150

27,500

38,000

Bolivia

45,800

38,000

21,800

14,600

19,900

21,600

23,200

24,600

26,500

Total

194,100

190,800

183,000

184,900

223,700

202,000

168,200

166,100

208,500


 

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

Colombia

34,000

42,400

40,100

37,500

37,100

39,700

44,700

50,900

57,200

Peru

115,530

121,685

121,300

120,800

129,100

108,800

108,600

115,300

94,400

Bolivia

48,925

52,900

50,300

47,900

45,500

47,200

48,100

48,600

48,100

Total

198,455

216,985

211,700

206,200

211,700

195,700

201,400

214,800

199,700

2.      The figure of 144,000 hectares in 2005 represents the most coca measured in Colombia since 2002, when the U.S. government reported 144,400 hectares. That was the second-highest year ever.

Either Colombia has returned to this level of cultivation, or the “reductions” reported in 2002 and 2003 were false due to poor measurement. If the reductions were false, then U.S. officials for several years have unwittingly made false and misleading claims about the success of aerial fumigation in Colombia. Three of many examples:

o        Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Robert Charles, October 29, 2003: “One of Plan Colombia’s goals was to reduce coca cultivation by 50% by 2005. President Uribe’s aggressive support for spraying, and the professionalism and efficiency of State Department contractors may well have put us ahead of that mark.”

o        February 27, 2003 press release from the Drug Czar’s office regarding 2002 coca reduction: “These figures capture the dramatic improvement attributable to activities to control coca production that commenced in August with the inauguration of President Uribe. … ‘Our anti-drug efforts in Colombia are now paying off, and we believe that this represents a turning point,’ said John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy.”

o        Testimony of Assistant USAID Administrator for Latin America Adolfo Franco, May 11, 2005: “The reduction of coca cultivation in the region has been most significant in Colombia. Aerial eradication has impressively reduced regional production capacity and has raised pressure on traffickers to bear the cost of replanting and field reconstitution. … As the final year of Plan Colombia comes to an end, however, success is measurable and is a good reason to redouble efforts on programs that have caused traffickers the greatest damage.”

3.      The U.S. government’s 2005 estimates for the three principal Andean coca-producing countries – Colombia, Bolivia and Peru – show that 208,500 hectares of coca were grown in the Andean region last year. That is the highest estimate since 2001. It is the sixth-highest estimate in the 18 years since 1988.

4.      2005 was the first year since 1995 that U.S. data showed coca increasing simultaneously in all three Andean countries.

5.      Attempted coca production in Colombia – defined as eradicated plus uneradicated coca – has surged from 183,500 hectares in 2000 to 315,400 hectares in 2005. That’s a five-year increase of 72 percent. In response to fumigation, growers have cut down forests and planted coca in 72 percent more territory last year than they did in 2000, including in national parks. That – more than the effects of glyphosate – is the real environmental disaster brought by fumigation.

The Andean region as a whole has seen attempted coca cultivation increase 62 percent, from 246,124 hectares in 2000 to 398,100 hectares in 2005.

 

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

Uneradicated Coca Colombia

57,200

79,500

101,800

122,500

136,200

169,800

144,400

113,850

114,000

144,000

Eradication Colombia

5,600

19,000

31,123*

43,246

47,371

84,251

122,695

132,817

136,555

171,400

Uneradicated Coca Peru

94,400

68,800

51,000

38,700

34,100

34,000

36,000

31,150

27,500

38,000

Eradication Peru

1,259

3,462

7,825

13,800

6,200

3,900

7,000

11,313

10,339

12,200

Uneradicated Coca Bolivia

48,100

45,800

38,000

21,800

14,600

19,900

24,400

28,450

24,600

26,500

Eradication Bolivia

7,512

7,026

11,621

16,999

7,653

9,435

11,839

10,000

8,437

6,000

Total

214,071

223,588

241,369

257,045

246,124

321,286

346,334

327,580

321,431

398,100

6.      A dozen years of aerial herbicide fumigation in Colombia has shown one thing clearly: spraying people who have no other economic alternatives is effective only at reducing coca-growing in a specific zone for a specific period of time. (In fact, we are surprised that the Drug Czar’s press release indicated only a 10 percent coca reduction last year in areas that were being sprayed; we would have expected that figure to be higher.)

But people with no economic alternatives have not been deterred by fumigation. They replant rapidly (the UN reported last year that 62 percent of the coca plots their satellites detected in 2004 did not exist in 2003), and they relocate to other zones – including zones that U.S. government satellites apparently had not bothered to measure before.

The 2005 coca data show that six years after Plan Colombia, coca-growers are still several steps ahead of the spray planes. Colombia has no shortage of remote, hard-to-reach jungle and savannah where few people live, government presence is zero, and coca can be planted and harvested. These zones, taken together, are at least the size of California – yet since 2000 the U.S. spray fleet has only been able to cover an area a bit larger than Delaware.

A few more spray planes will not make any difference. Doubling the current fleet of about twenty planes (which nobody proposes due to the cost) would make little difference.

7.      The real lesson we can draw from the 2005 coca numbers is that fumigating an area is no substitute for governing it. Aerial herbicide fumigation appeared to be a shortcut, a cheap way to reduce drug supplies without having to engage in “nation-building,” establishing a government presence and a legal economy in Colombia’s vast, neglected, impoverished rural zones. Only governance – which will require a costly, long-term political and military effort with mostly Colombian funds – will bring real reductions in Colombia’s coca crop. Fumigation is a poor substitute. Instead of a shortcut, fumigation has proven to be a dead end.

8.      CIP has been predicting the 2005 outcome for several years:

  • March 22, 2004: One thing the drug war has shown us over the past twenty years is that drug crops move around. The common response to eradication in one zone is new cultivation in other areas. … Though U.S. statistics are showing less coca, there are several reasons why supply has continued to meet demand so effectively. It is possible that new coca cultivation is appearing in areas not measured by satellite imagery.

  • February 27, 2003: While supporters of the program will laud the findings as evidence of the effectiveness of fumigation, the numbers cannot be taken to reflect a country- or region-wide decrease, as they were not designed to measure the replanting of coca in areas outside of the target areas that were fumigated. … We’ve seen that fumigation is able to reduce coca-growing temporarily in a limited area, but re-planting in new areas will occur as quickly as the laws of supply and demand dictate.

  • April 11, 2002: It is obvious to all that Colombia’s problems go well beyond narcotics, and we have argued for years that our emphasis on military responses and fumigation would do little more than push drug cultivation around the map of South America.

  • September 10, 2001: Instead of reducing coca-growing, fumigation has only proven able to move the plants around geographically. Spray in one place, and coca appears elsewhere. This sort of cat-and-mouse game can go on indefinitely: all coca planted in South America in 2000 could fit in a land area two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. Colombia’s Amazon-basin jungles and plains alone are the size of California.

  • April 2000: Colombian peasants will continue growing coca and heroin as long as U.S. demand exists and rural Colombia lacks economic opportunity. It’s a matter of survival. Aerial fumigation won’t change that – if anything, it will push coca-growing into more remote guerrilla-controlled areas.

10 Responses to “Colombian coca cultivation in 2005”

  1. Durandal Says:

    Adam. Any dimwit (like me) that understands that the demand for cocaine and drugs in general is highly inelastic understands that the drug war is unwinnable. So, we spray an area (usually getting shot at while we’re at it, whatever). But the demand for cocaine is still there. Therefore, there’s still a customer out there who will pay hard cash for a bushel of coca leaves. Hence, it follows that there will always be people who will be willing to supply this demand, especially considering that once they get the end product to the U.S., their profits will instantly multiply. And especially considering that they have no other choice. Their legal crops are priced out of the market by illegal subsidies from the EU, the U.S. and Japan, their farms are too far away from decent transportation systems…and coca is dead easy to grow and maintain. So, you have your supply. And your demand is met, no matter what.

    Demand is the key to winning the drugs war (and by “winning” I mean reducing the consumption of the drug in question). But how are you gonna do that, when cocaine and other drugs are glorified by Western pop culture? Even the gangster lifestyle (you know, the U.S. end of the drug distribution network?) gets AAA TV time everytime 50 Cent and his hip-hop pals jump on MTV. The Colombian police who jump on their helicopters and bomb drug production laboratories are wasting their time and courage, because pretty much every time an American kid watches TV or a movie, he or she will be enticed to take drugs, thus adding to the unbeatable demand described above. And trust me, our Police can fight drug cartels, roving gangs of armed thieves, apartamenteros, and so on, but they can’t fight culturally and corporately reinforced societal attitudes towards drugs.

    I think that the drugs war was just a nice way to prevent American society from having to ask itself the hard questions about drug use and abuse, mostly because those questions involved class and race, two of the most divisive issues in American politics. I really doubt that the Black Caucus will take it lightly when some maverick smartass from the Heritage Foundation editorializes about crack being mostly an African-American drug. Likewise, I don’t think that the Christian Coalition will like it when they hear that once Sunday-school certified Whitey McWhite moved to the big city, he or she acquired a taste for the best Colombia had to offer. And it wasn’t coffee. And so on. It’s just easier to blame the evil outsider. We understand. Our left-wing does it all the time, except in their case, the U.S. is the evil outsider responsible for all our troubles. Our poverty, your fault. Direct connection. In your case? Your inner cities become a war zone where the police don’t dare tread, our fault. Direct connection. The presence of outsiders has an amazing way to short-circuit reasonable thought out of the question, really.

    In the meantime some of us with some basic economic knowledge look at the problem, look at the policies, and laugh. We’re not fighting drugs. We’re fighting market forces at their most savage. And that’s a fight you cannot win, not unless you turn people’s heads around. Or legalise the whole thing. Both are highly improbable, but maybe an education and harm-reduction campaign would be a better use of American taxpayer dollars. Hey, not that I mind the military aid. I’m all for it. I’m just thinking how to solve your drug problem efficiently and in a politically achievable manner, ’cause you ain’t legalising nothing in a hundred years, and you of all people, Adam, should know that.

    In the meantime please feel free to continue shipping the BlackHawk helicopters and the School of the Americas training courses to our Army, Air Force and Police so that they can go ahead and keep our financial centres safe from guerrilla attack. Thank you.

    P.S., And before any of you get started with the “oh you see, Europeans are much smarter” rant, I’d like to remind you that drug consumption is quite rampant in Europe and it’s even more socially acceptable there (here) than in the U.S.. The difference is that the Americans feel some guilt, plus they see a chance to throw some defence contracts at a couple of swing states, so they give us significant military aid. The feckless Europeans do nothing but harm and lecturing. At least the Americans “están respondiendo” even if their corporations are profiting from it. No such corresponsibility is seen from our European partners.

    P.S.,2: I had to stick it to the left somehow. Sorry about that.

  2. jcg Says:

    Well, since I’ve agreed with Adam Isacson’s/CIP’s position on this subject for a long time, then there’s not too much to say other than “keep up the good work”.

    Durandal makes a few good points though. Still, while the prospect of seeing any serious progress on legalization anytime soon is definitely a dim one, I wouldn’t say that it’ll have to take more than a hundred years either.

    It’ll take time for any major changes to occur, no question about it. But even if outright legalization isn’t feasible in the short term, continuing failure will gradually convince more than a few people in the U.S. government (and in the Colombian one too, but unfortunately that alone may not necessarily make much of a difference) that they’re on the wrong track and have to change strategy. Which would be a urgently needed first step.

  3. rainer cale Says:

    I have yet to meet a US-contracted rural development officer here in Colombia who agrees with the US drug policy. Everyone says “legalize it.” USAID itself is another story, of course; they toe the line.

    As unimaginable as it sounds from our current standpoint, I agree with with jcg, and would even go so far as to say it won’t be another ten years before we see State Department-level initiatives to turn the policy around 180 degrees.

    Whether it’s Laos or Afghanistan or Colombia, the US has NEVER sought to eradicate drug crops. The US aim (i.e. the aim of a small group of people close to the President, usually with commercial interests behind them), rather, has always been to CONTROL the political economy surrounding the drug crops to their advantage (not all that different from the policy toward oil). This is just basic. The record couldn’t be clearer.

    The Kissingers, Reagans, Poindexters, Abrams’s, and so on, who design the policies, however, have to rely on thousands of people beneath them to implement the policies on the ground. And this, in the end, is why we will see that such things cannot last. We won’t ever see the Project for the New American Century. Because the thousands of people implementing the policy do so in good faith, believing that the policy will achieve the stated aim. Therefore, as jcg says, it can only be a matter of time before these people recognize that the policy is actually a colossal failure which will not come anywhere close to achieving its stated aim (a drug-free America), at which point there will be a widespread outcry for radical alternatives, regardless of where these people stand on the political spectrum (I can even think of ways that the call for radical alternatives could be formulated in a Republican-sounding way).

    As I said, senior field people at the contractor level here in Colombia already recognize the failure of the policy they are implementing, and say legalization’s the way. Ten years ago you didn’t hear that. USAID has now just begun the two biggest Alternative Development projects ever (ADAM and MIDAS)–which I think are also the biggest development projects in general terms ever. When senior-level USAID people talk about the projects they get a sort of glow in their eyes. These projects are to be the crowning achievement of the whole mission, and indeed it’s hard to imagine them, or any other USAID mission, undertaking a project more grandiose (and remember that 6 years ago there was no mission; they’ve built up to this climactically). Well! Poor guys. I think as the inevitably disappointing results from these two projects begin to flow in, we shall begin to see a change of heart even among the good ole boys up in USAID. Yep, ten years I’d say.

    Btw-The same sort of thing has happened in Iraq already on a shorter timeframe. Just about all of the thousands of people implementing the oil/anti-terrorism policy in good faith–right up through the highest ranking generals–have now recognized the policy’s failure to achieve the stated aim (a safer more secure America), and begun calling the policy into question in a radical way, calling for Rumsfield’s resignation, etc.

  4. daksya Says:

    While it’s clear Western demand for cocaine fuels the Colombian coca market, I’ve to object to some comments above.

    Durandal says, “But how are you gonna do that, when cocaine and other drugs are glorified by Western pop culture?

    Cocaine’s glorified by pop culture? That glorification does not seem very effective, considering that in 2004, among the 19-28 age group, 7% used it in the year prior to the survey, 15% had ever used it, and 2.2% in the month prior. For high school seniors, the figures are similar, althought slightly lower. In absolute terms, 2.2% translates to a non-trivial number, but relatively, it’s pretty well-contained. Especially when compared to past month marijuana usage among the same age group: 16.5%, which itself constitutes a small minority. I guess, if you stay in certain cosmopolitan cities, the percentages will skew much higher and give the impression that almost everyone’s doing it. Of course, you can argue that cocaine use is vastly underreported, and that would be a legitimate objection, considering that according to the last drug arrest monitoring program, 28% of cocaine users admitted to their use, as opposed to 93% of marijuana users. But that actually underscores the lack of acceptability of cocaine.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Very good post. I really like this blog.

  6. PEDRO ARENAS Says:

    Interesante conocer este resumen del informe elaborado por el Dpto de Estado en el que queda claro que los exitos del Plan Colombia en materia de reduccion de los cultivos de coca en Colombia son una falacia. Ademas de que persisten mas de 144 mil hectareas, a pesar de que se fumigaron mas de 130 mil el año pasado, es importante resaltar que tambien hay nuevas especies sembradas que ofrecen mas follaje y por lo tanto mas cosecha, tambien mas cosechas en menos tiempo y mas base coca por la misma cantidad de hoja procesada, a lo que se suma que los narcotraficantes estan sacando mas cocaina exportable por la misma cantidad de base de coca. Lo dije en una reunion del CIP a fin del año anterior, ahora de cada kilo de base sacan mas de un kilo de cocaina. Entonces cual es el exito de la politica antidrogas de los EEUU en Colombia?, cual es el triunfo del gobierno Uribe en la reducción de la oferta de cocaina?, Donde está el beneficio de mas de doce años de fumigaciones en Colombia?.

  7. Durandal Says:

    Aaah, but cocaine use is vastly underreported, as a couple of studies that analyzed river water downstream and upstream of major cities in Europe showed last year.

    Cocaine is a hard drug, and I’m not surprised that people don’t accept that they are regular users so easily. OK, point granted. Maybe cocaine isn’t the most socially acceptable drug, right along with heroin and crystal meth, but I still believe that cocaine would still be a “marginal” drug if it weren’t for the huge marketing boost it got, and still gets, from celebrities in almost every field.

    And the problem with that is that it’s hooked up even more people to an addictive drug, thereby creating an even greater inelastic demand for it that is pretty much impervious to anything law enforcement or governments throw at it.

    That said, I actually don’t care if people do drugs. I’m pretty much a libertarian/social darwinist when it comes to drugs. I don’t care if others do them as long as I don’t end up suffering the consequences of that use. And I don’t care if others end up killing themselves because of that use – their life, their problem. I support the legalization of all drugs. I think that by this point everybody’s heard a horror story or two about drug abuse, and drugs are still widely available despite the billions of dollars thrown at the problem…so drug use is essentially a matter of personal choice, at least the first couple of times. Hence, I advocate for their legalization.

  8. daksya Says:

    Aaah, but cocaine use is vastly underreported, as a couple of studies that analyzed river water downstream and upstream of major cities in Europe showed last year.

    It’s unclear what the river studies in Italy, UK and Germany mean (BTW, they’re conducting one in Virginia now). Either there are a lot more users (about 4x), or the addicts tend to consume more, than supposed.

    Cocaine is a hard drug, and I’m not surprised that people don’t accept that they are regular users so easily.

    The survey inquires about any usage, not regular use. Frankly, powder cocaine’s no worse than alcohol. In Britain, an estimated 12% of snorters are considered dependent, compared to 10% of alcohol drinkers. There’s a similar disparity in the US, as well, except both the figures for alcohol and cocaine are revised upwards to 17% and 15% respectively. I believe it was John Walters who said that, by rule of thumb, 20% of cocaine users account for 80% of the cocaine consumed. Crack cocaine’s a whole different story, where an estimated 80% of users are considered dependent. Coca products should definitely be legalized. They present minimal harm, comparable to caffeine. Crack shouldn’t be. Powder cocaine, there’s a mixed case for that, but I lean towards legalization, if only to remove the criminal element.

  9. daksya Says:

    Oops, that 17% for cocaine and 15% for alcohol, in the US.

  10. open Says:

    It is just a bad joke to pretend convincing poor farmers in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia to switch crops when normal crops are unprofitable. Why are normal crops unprofitable? Well the answer lies in the US and EUROPE. Since these highly developed regions provide substantial subsidies to their farmers, the crop prices drop as a result of oversupply.
    Its just not moral to demand things when you are taking away possibilities to these poor people.

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