Top drug policy officials from around the hemisphere, summoned to Washington this week for a summit with Clinton drug czar Barry McCaffrey, should face the reality that the U.S.-led "war on drugs" is a failure. That is a central message in two new briefs published by the Foreign Policy In Focus project.
Between 1981 and today, U.S. federal spending on antidrug programs has grown >from about $1 billion to roughly $18 billion, yet this "policy has failed to reduce deaths, drug abuse, drug availability, or the spread of disease. The policy emphasizes law enforcement instead of effective demand-reduction measures," writes Eric Sterling in U.S. Drug Policy: Failure at Home. Sterling, who is president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, argues that the U.S. drug strategies at home and abroad both "rely upon coercion" and "disproportionately target the poorest and the lowest level participants in the narcotics commerce."
Similarly, U.S. security assistance to Colombia, given under the rubric of fighting drugs, has skyrocketed over the last decade from $18 million to almost $300 million--with Congress currently considering a multi-billion dollar additional military aid package. Yet the U.S.' counternarcotics efforts in Colombia "have failed dramatically," writes Winifred Tate, a policy analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. In her brief, Colombia's Role in International Drug Trafficking, Tate quotes a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) study that found that "despite two years of extensive herbicide spraying" in Colombia "net coca cultivation actually increased 50 percent." Noting that the "current level of military assistance and number of [U.S.] advisors in ColombiaÖhas now reached levels comparable to U.S. involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s," Tate warns that the U.S. "is being drawn, once again, into an unwinnable and costly Latin American civil conflict." Tate argues that the U.S. should cut off all assistance to Colombia's security forces and "lend its full support to a negotiated settlement of Colombia's internal conflict."
The following are excerpts from the two briefs:
*** Colombia's Role in International Drug Industry
The U.S. should recognize that its war on drugs against Colombia and other "source countries" has been a failure and that it must refocus on demand-reduction at home through education and treatment. Although overseas efforts will not solve our domestic drug problems, the U.S. does have a range of policy options that could support Colombian efforts to confront drug trafficking and the violence and corruption caused by that country's drug trade.
Any significant advance against drug trafficking is unlikely as long as Colombia's civil war continues. The opening of peace talks between FARC and the administration of President AndrÈs Pastrana (who took office in August 1998), the first attempt at negotiations in seven years, offers a precious opportunity for peace. The people of Colombia desperately want peace. On October 24, 1999, upwards of 10 million Colombians marched for peace in Bogot· and other cities, the largest public demonstration ever in the country's history.
President Clinton pledged support for the peace process and expressed his intent to broaden U.S.-Colombian relations to address a range of issues, including human rights, judicial reform, and trade. This verbal commitment has not, however, been translated into decisive and comprehensive support for peace and alternative development programs. In fact, U.S. counternarcotics policy is escalating Colombia's conflict and continues to present obstacles to the fragile negotiation process.
The U.S. should stop its counternarcotics programs in Colombia and switch to encouraging economic development for illicit crop producers. In 1998, Congress, for the first time, allocated money for alternative development in Colombia-$15 million over three years. But skepticism could easily give way to cynicism regarding this effort: by late 1999, only a half million dollars had been spent on alternative production, while U.S. military aid to Colombia soared to almost $300 million for 1999 alone. Further, current policy dictates that no money can be allocated for development projects in southern Colombia due to guerrilla presence. In fact, alternative development projects are operating in those areas, funded by the Catholic Church, the Colombian and European governments, and the United Nations-and some of these programs have even been destroyed by U.S. fumigation campaigns.
Both peasant farmers and President Pastrana have requested increased investment in development programs for conflictive areas involved in illicit crop production. Peasant farmers in southern Colombia, including coca growers, have repeatedly called for more government assistance. In 1996, these farmers organized a large protest march to demand better government services, only to be met with violent repression from military and paramilitary forces. Although the Colombian government signed a series of agreements for increased public spending on infrastructure, health, and education, these promises have yet to be fulfilled.
In 1999, Pastrana repeated his appeal for international support for "Plan Colombia," an ambitious program calling for substantial investment in development programs. However, Washington's FY1999 aid package and the FY2000 proposals before Congress apportion more than 90% of U.S. assistance to military hardware and training for the Colombian security forces. Washington's aid policy toward Colombia should change to address Pastrana's development objectives.
In addition, the U.S. should dedicate significant economic resources toward strengthening and reforming civilian democratic institutions, particularly local judiciaries. The Colombian Attorney General's Office, particularly the Human Rights Unit, has carried out a number of important investigations of human rights cases. Yet the Colombian military rarely cooperates with these investigations and has successfully blocked some probes. Because of death threats, many prosecutors have been forced to leave the Attorney General's Office; several have fled the country. The U.S. Congress has expressed its support for these human rights investigations but has failed to provide significant assistance.
Congress and the Clinton administration should publicly encourage the Colombian government to take immediate measures to combat paramilitary groups, including purging members of the armed forces who maintain ties to paramilitary groups or who tolerate their activities and enforcing the hundreds of outstanding arrest warrants for paramilitary leaders. The U.S. should deny visas to Colombian military officers implicated in human rights violations and support of paramilitary activities. Given the persistent pattern of human rights abuses by Colombia's security forces and their support for the vigilante violence of the paramilitary groups, the U.S. should terminate all assistance to Colombia's security forces.
Sources for More Information
Drug Enforcement Administration http://www.usdoj.gov/dea
El Tiempo http://www.eltiempo.com
Office of National Drug Control Policy http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov
Peace Brigades International http://www.igc.apc.org/pbi/colombia.html
U.S. State Department Colombia Human Rights Report http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights
*** U.S. Drug Policy ***
The public is losing faith that enforcement is the most effective strategy. In February 1995, 50% of the U.S. public gave the federal government a grade of F or D for its handling of the drug problem; only 10% gave the government an A or B.
In the short term, increasing the availability of drug treatment on demand would be the most important and effective policy initiative. Drug treatment is not perfect-many addicts relapse. But relapse rates are comparable to the rates of those who fail to change their behavior in dealing with chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension. Over time, many addicts are successful in quitting. A leading California study found treatment to be seven times as cost effective as imprisonment. A RAND Corporation analysis found that cocaine consumption could be reduced by 1% by spending $783 million in source countries, $366 million on international interdiction, $246 million on domestic enforcement, or just $34 million on treatment.
About two million addicts were treated in 1996, but 3.3 million were unable to get treatment. The percentage of prisoners getting drug treatment in prison has decreased during the 1990s. For the poor and uninsured, publicly funded treatment is almost nonexistent.
Evaluations have found current youth drug-prevention-through-abstinence programs almost totally ineffective. Given that 50% of U.S. youth end up experimenting with drugs, a safety-first message needs to be adopted instead of focusing on total abstinence. Promoting responsible use is the current policy with alcohol, i.e., suggesting the use of designated drivers. A responsible-use approach to drugs would be honest, acknowledging that most youths stop with drug experimentation and do not become addicts. Often programs that have nothing to do with drugs directly, such as Big Brother/Big Sister, have dramatic effects in reducing youth drug use.
Drug abuse by women has been increasing in the U.S., while male drug abuse has been declining. More research regarding female drug abusers, as well as treatment programs for women, is vitally needed. In addition, discriminatory policies toward women should be stopped. Women should not be forced to give up their children to enter drug treatment programs. Regrettably, the state of New York had to be sued before it would provide drug treatment to pregnant addicts.
Ninety percent of new AIDS cases among children under 13 are due to the sharing of used injection equipment by mothers or fathers. All these cases could be prevented if the nearly universal recommendations of public health authorities for syringe exchange were followed by Congress and the executive branch.
Sentences for drug offenses need to be reduced dramatically. Sixty percent of federal prisoners are drug offenders, and federal drug sentences are longer than those imposed for many violent crimes. Drug offenders should not be singled out for additional penalties, such as eviction from housing or denial of aid for higher education-especially when persons convicted of violent crimes are not subject to such penalties.
Physicians should be encouraged to prescribe marijuana and other appropriate pain relief. Studies show that doctors undertreat pain for 40%-80% of their terminally ill patients.
Current public debate of alternative drug strategies is reminiscent of the reaction faced by Galileo in the 17th century. Political cowardice and hot-button rhetoric too often dominate official discussion of drug policy. Clinton's drug czar, Col. Barry McCaffrey, recently attacked the governor of New Mexico's suggestion of drug legalization as "irresponsible." A decade ago, Bush's drug czar characterized discussion of drug legalization as "morally reprehensible." Yet the drug problem will not disappear by suppressing discussion of alternative strategies. Independent blue-ribbon commissions, faith communities, civic organizations, and service clubs must undertake rational, cost-benefit, top-to-bottom reviews of drug strategies.
The reality is that licensed and taxed drug distribution systems would be substantially less violent, less expensive, and more effective than prohibition. Drug users would not need to be imprisoned, thus liberating substantial resources to pay for treatment. A regulated drug industry would pay tens of billions of dollars in taxes.
An enlightened drug policy would recognize that drug use and drug abuse are two different matters, and such a policy would focus on reducing drug abuse. America has a genius for regulation, but that genius has not yet been applied to the drug problem.
Eric E. Sterling is President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.
Sources for More Information
The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
Drug Reform Coordination Network
National Drug Strategy Network
Office of National Drug Control Policy
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