Costly Drug War Hasn’t Worked, Study Shows

SUNDAY, MARCH 30, 1997

For Oscar Sena, the difference between growing the coca used to make cocaine and stopping production of the illegal crop is clear: “My son is second in his eighth-grade class,” he said. “If it weren’t for coca, he would be the second-best shoeshine boy in Miraflores,” Colombia’s coca capital.

For thousands of South American farmers like Sena, growing the raw material for cocaine is the only way they can give their children a better life. So, even when cropdusters spray their coca bushes with herbicide, the farmers replant them.

But according to a recent General Accounting Office study, over the seven years that began in 1988, “farmers planted new coca faster than existing crops were eradicated.” That U.S. report, along with a study by a Colombian government drug adviser, supports with numbers what farmers like Sena have been saying for years.

Despite costing billions of dollars and half a dozen lives - including that of one American pilot - over seven years, international drug eradication efforts have not reduced the supply of narcotics, according to the reports.

“Illegal drugs still flood the United States,” the GAO found.

“In fact,” according to the U.S. government report, “between 1988 and 1995, illegal drug cultivation and drug-related activities have increased throughout South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and other countries.”

Further, the reports found that interdiction - stopping drugs before they reach U.S. ports and borders - the other half of America’s international drug control strategy, has not worked either. Still, $1.8 billion has been budgeted this year to curb foreign drug production and to prevent narcotics from entering the United States.

At the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Chief of Staff Janet Christ criticized the report because “the discussion of source country efforts does not fully reflect the many successful accomplishments achieved.”

The GAO report said that “although these efforts have resulted in some successes, including the arrest of drug traffickers and the eradication, seizure and disruption in the transport of illegal drugs, they have not materially reduced the availability of drugs.”

Even if the U.S. government estimate is right and total potential cocaine production was 780 tons in 1995, that is still far more than is needed to keep U.S. users supplied with narcotics - even after law enforcement confiscates a share, the GAO reported.

Similarly, the report found that even after 32 tons of heroin were seized, production was still 17 times more than U.S. demand. “The amount of cocaine and heroin seized between 1990 and 1995 made little impact on the availability of illegal drugs in the United States,” the report stated.

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