By Jess Hunter-Bowman
There's one thing that Presidents Clinton, Bush,
and Obama have all agreed on: expanding military aid to Latin America to
fight the so-called "Drug War."
A new phase of the Drug War began
in 2000 under President Bill Clinton, with $1.3 billion in "emergency"
funding to fight cocaine production in Colombia by destroying the raw
material for it -- coca plants. President George W. Bush continued the
fight, which sent nearly $6 billion in aid to Colombia between 2000 and
2008. When cartel violence began to spiral out of control in Mexico, he
shepherded hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Mexican
military. President Barack Obama initially followed in his predecessors'
footsteps, but now appears to be headed down a wiser path.
measure, the military approach to countering a demand-driven cocaine
trade has been a complete failure. When Congress approved spending
billions of dollars on military aid to Colombia a decade ago,
policymakers insisted that it would slash coca production by half within
five years. Instead, the South American country's coca production is
basically unchanged from 1999, the year before Clinton launched Plan
Colombia. Today the U.S. government reports Colombia produces 294,000
acres of coca. That's virtually the same as the 303,000 acres it
believed were planted in 1999.
Some Drug War fanatics in
Washington have suggested that a 6,000-acre reduction in opium poppy
production in Colombia is proof of success. Nothing could be further
from the truth. Colombia's opium production represents approximately 1
percent of the global market. Any reduction in Colombian poppy acreage
probably has more to do with increases in Afghanistan's production, the
global leader with 389,000 acres in production in 2008, than eradication
operations in Colombia.
Perhaps the most important test of the
Drug War's success is the number of people using cocaine here at home.
After all, policymakers justify giving our money to brutal foreign
militaries by assuring us that we'll see a reduced drug supply at home
-- and therefore fewer drug dealers and addicts.
seen a sharp increase from 1.2 million cocaine users in 2000 to 1.9
million users in 2008, according to the Department of Health and Human
Services' National Survey on Drug Use and Health. So the Drug War is
failing by that measure too.
As these military programs have
wholly failed to affect drug production and consumption, the collateral
damage left in their wake is immense. Just in Colombia, well over 10,000
farmers have filed official complaints that the chemicals wildly
sprayed on their fields in the world's second-most bio-diverse country
have destroyed food crops, surrounding forests, and livestock -- while
damaging their families' health.
Meanwhile, human rights groups
have accused Colombia's and Mexico's U.S.-backed militaries of thousands
of brutal abuses against innocent civilians.
Obama has started
trying to right some of these wrongs. His proposed budget for 2011 would
cut the failed counternarcotics funding for Colombia by 11 percent from
2010, which is nearly 50 percent lower than Republican-controlled
levels in 2007. He's calling for approximately 30 percent less military
aid to Mexico.
Additionally, the Office of National Drug Control
Policy is significantly increasing funding for domestic drug treatment
and prevention, aiming to add $341 million to such programs in the next
fiscal year. This is a smart strategy. For years, research has indicated
that domestic drug control strategies are over 10 times more effective
at reducing drug abuse than our ill-advised adventures in Latin America.
on the right path doesn't mean that drug policy is in the right place
yet. We need to cut spending on ineffective U.S. counternarcotics
assistance for the Colombian and Mexican security forces even more.
Obama's new budget conveys a clear message: International military
adventures that make Washington's hawks feel good while failing to make a
dent in the drug trade are on their way out. Thankfully, rational
decisions seem to have crept into U.S. drug policies. People here at
home and across the hemisphere will be grateful.