William Wood’s hearing to be ambassador to Afghanistan will take place in the Senate this morning. Wood has been the U.S. ambassador to Colombia since mid-2003.
We make no recommendation for how the Foreign Relations Committee should vote on Wood’s nomination. He enthusiastically and energetically carried out a policy with which we disagree strongly, but he did not make the policy.
We do ask, though, that the committee not give Ambassador Wood a pass on the question of counter-drug strategy. He is, after all, leaving a post as ambassador to the largest cocaine-producing country in the world, to become ambassador to the largest heroin-producing country in the world.
The record matters here, especially since many in the Bush administration hope to export to Afghanistan the counter-narcotics model they developed in Colombia. There is a strong push to carry out the same recipe of aggressive forced crop eradication, even aerial herbicide fumigation, combined with only a trickle of development aid.
First, it would be a grave mistake to assume that the two countries are at all similar. But even if they were identical, it would be folly to repeat in Afghanistan the anti-drug strategy that Ambassador Wood oversaw in Colombia.
The results could hardly be more dismal.
1. When Ambassador Wood assumed his post in Bogotá in 2003, the State Department was measuring 113,850 hectares (281,350 acres) of coca in Colombia. By the end of 2005, the State Department had measured 144,000 hectares (356,000 acres).
[2006 coca estimates are unavailable – at least to us civilians – until April, possibly March.]
2. When Ambassador Wood assumed his post in Bogotá in 2003, the United Nations (UNODC) had measured 86,000 hectares (213,000 acres) of coca in Colombia. By the end of 2005, the United Nations once again found 86,000 hectares (213,000 acres).
[2006 UN coca estimates are unavailable until June.]
3. When Ambassador Wood assumed his post in Bogotá in 2003, the United Nations (UNODC) estimated that a kilogram of coca-leaf paste was selling in rural Colombia for an average of 2.25 million Colombian pesos. By the end of 2005, the United Nations found that a kilogram of coca-leaf paste was selling for an average of 2.12 million Colombian pesos. The price did not increase; the illegal product did not become scarcer in Colombia’s coca markets. (The Colombian peso strengthened somewhat against the dollar in those years, though, so that kilo did increase in dollar terms from about $800 to $900.)
[2006 price estimates not available until June.]
4. When Ambassador Wood assumed his post in Bogotá in mid-2003, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated that a gram of pure cocaine sold on U.S. streets was selling for $210. By September 2005, that gram was selling for $170. The price did not increase; cocaine did not become scarcer in U.S. drug markets.
[Subsequent price data have not been made available; we hear extra-officially, though, that the news isn’t good.]
We ask the Foreign Relations Committee today to challenge any attempt by Mr. Wood to portray Colombia as a template or model for counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan. Contrary to the self-congratulation we often hear on Colombia, the drug-cultivation trend has moved in the wrong direction. The model must not be repeated in Afghanistan.
1. State Department International Narcotics Strategy Reports available at http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/; ONDCP press release at
2. UNODC Colombia Coca Surveys available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/crop_monitoring.html.
3. UNODC Colombia Coca Surveys available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/crop_monitoring.html.
4. UNODC press release and chart at http://www.pushingback.com/archives/111705.html.