A 1992-93 Fulbright-Garcia Robles grant administered by the U.S.-Mexico Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange supported this research. Thanks to Michael L. Dziedzic, Jose Thiago Cintra, Guadelupe Gonzalez, Rodney Propst and C.J. Polk for their generous assistance which made this research possible. Please contact the author if quoting. Comments are welcome!
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Wide consensus exists that the international drug trade poses significant health and national security risks for the nations of the Americas. Throughout the 1980s, the "war on drugs" which was promoted by the Reagan and Bush administrations in Latin America focused on stopping this scourage of drugs at the source. Latin American governments were strongly pressured by the United States to intensify their drug control efforts, producing a "narcoticization" of bilateral diplomatic relations in several cases. After years of pursuing this strategy, its effects are apparent. The broad failure of U.S. supply-side drug control efforts, combined with their undesireable impacts on Latin American democratizion and human rights, necessitate a significant U.S. policy change.
This paper attempts to examine where the United States has been with regard to its Latin American drug control policy and realistically define the illicit drug phenomenon in the Americas. It also examines the militarization of drug control efforts by the United States and the effects these programs have had on Latin American countries during the past decade. Finally, the paper explores how the "drug war" has impacted other U.S. foreign policy objectives, and proposes a major change in the respective priority given to U.S. supply-side versus demand-side drug control efforts in the Americas.
U.S. Drug Control Policy: Where We Have Been
Although U.S. citizens and government officials have been concerned about illicit drug consumption for many years, the United States did not begin focusing significant attention on the problem until the late 1960s. The sharp increase in illicit drug use in the United States during the decade prompted the government to adopt a policy that has remained relatively consistent for over twenty years. Starting with Operation Intercept, a rigorous inspection program along the U.S./Mexican border in 1969 during the Nixon administration, the U.S. government began to aggressively pursue a supply-side drug control strategy. U.S. government demand-side drug programs received more Congressional funding than ever before during the 1960s and 1970s, but the vast majority of U.S. funds targeted at the drug problem were consistently allocated for supply-side efforts.
U.S. drug control has historically been based on a containment model (Hartlyn). Policymakers assume that the best way to reduce domestic illicit drug consumption is to reduce the supply of drugs entering the United States from international locations. If drug supply can be "contained" and eliminated, the model holds that U.S. consumption will be reduced. The United States has experienced some success with this strategy that reinforced policymaker faith in the containment model. A change in opium production methods in Turkey, from illicit opium gum to "poppy straw concentrate", made illicit production of opium poppy and heroin more controllable. This technological change and subsequent enforcement actions by the Turkish and U.S. governments sharply curtailed imports of opium into the United States in the early 1970s. A U.S. supported aerial eradication campaign in Mexico in the late 1970s was also successful, significantly limiting the amount of marijuana imported into the United States. Each of these successes were short term, but none-the-less convinced U.S. policymakers that a supply-side drug control strategy could be effective and is the best way to allocate anti-drug dollars.
The traditional emphasis of the United States in drug control was summarized well by former President George Bush. He stated "The logic is simple...the cheapest and safest way to eradicate narcotics is to destroy them at their source...we need to wipe out crops wherever they are grown and take out labs wherever they exist" (Sharpe 1992, 8). His statement demonstrates that the United States views the drug problem as fundamentally beginning with the drug producing nations. It also reveals that the policy "costs" of such programs are measured relative to the United States, and unfortunately have not historically included the high costs borne by Latin American countries for these efforts.
The supply side emphasis of U.S. strategy has been clearly reflected in the annual allocations of anti-drug program money by the U.S. Congress. Approximately seventy percent of drug control funds have historically been targeted for the supply side, which includes interdiction, eradication, lab destruction and law enforcement efforts to disrupt trafficker organizations and distribution. The remaining thirty percent has been directed at the demand side of the illicit drug equation, supporting treatment programs for addicts and drug abuse prevention programs.
During the 1980s, some U.S. policymakers and analysts not only viewed "eradication at the source" as the most cost-effective and efficient way to combat illicit drug consumption, but also believed eradication efforts could lead to the complete elimination of coca production and cocaine consumption. Expectations for the Andean eradication campaign, to be intensified in 1990-91, were that "the end result, after five years, would be the complete elimination of the coca problem in Latin America" (Van Wert, 11). Such unrealistic expectations were a product of the containment model of drug control, which failed to accurately assess the fundamental nature of the international drug trade.
Unrealistic goals continue to be set for U.S. drug control strategy in 1993. As an example, the April 1993 U.S International Narcotics Control Strategy Report stated that in Bolivia, the "strategic goal of the counternarcotics program is to reduce, and eventually eliminate, Bolivian production of illicit coca and refined cocaine products and the demand for narcotics" (INCSR 91). While this goal may sound appealing to U.S. policymakers, its achievement is impossible in Bolivia. U.S. drug control goals continue to unrealistically assess the potential effectiveness of counternarcotics programs and erroneously assume that "victory" in the drug war can be achieved through supply-side efforts.
U.S. international drug control strategy in the 1980s utilized a combination of carrot and stick approaches to strong-arm Latin American governments into vigorously fighting the U.S. led war on drugs. To maximize its leverage with Latin American governments, the United States has strongly favored bilateral over multilateral agreements. Of the 171.5 million dollars in the fiscal 1992 budget request for the U.S. Office of International Narcotics Matters, only 4.6 million dollars, or 2.7 percent, was proposed to support international organizations (UNAUSA 32-34). By keeping its drug control programs on a bilateral level, the United States has theoretically been able to exert pressure more directly on Latin American countries than it would be able to through multilateral groups.
Another factor limiting the scope and effectiveness of multilateral drug control programs has been the unwillingness of many nations to become involved in controversial law enforcement activities. Since drug traffickers are not restricted by national borders, international law enforcement efforts against these criminals would encounter numerous political obstacles, including the issue of national sovereignty. Countries like Mexico strongly oppose the idea of foreign law enforcement or military personnel, especially from the United States, operating in sovereign Mexican waters and airspace to enforce laws against drug trafficking. Although encouraged by the United States, increased multilateral actions within the realm of drug law enforcement have often been limited by scarce funds and a corresponding lack of international political will.
Certification of foreign countries receiving U.S. assistance is another mechanism by which policymakers in Washington attempt to pressure Latin American governments. At the start of each fiscal year (1 Oct), by order of the U.S. Congress, the President of the United States witholds fifty percent of every country's foreign assistance pending certification by or after 1 March. Certification is based on foreign governments' cooperation with U.S. drug control efforts, but can also be granted if "vital national interests" justify continuation of U.S. assistance despite poor government drug control efforts. Failure to certify a country results in sanctions including suspension of half the country's current fiscal year assistance, U.S. representatives voting against loans sought by the country in multilateral development banks, and certain trade restrictions (Perl 24-26).
During the heyday of President Reagan's anticommunist foreign policy, certification sometimes seemed to reflect foreign policy positions unrelated to drug control. For example, in 1988, the only countries decertified were Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Panama (Bagley 169). Despite this historical fact, certification was created as and remains a potential threat to countries not cooperating with U.S. drug control programs, and is another element of the "stick" included in U.S. policy. Although the state of a country's cooperation in drug control efforts provides the basis for the decision, funds allocated for counternarcotics are not necessarily affected by decertification. Whether a country is certified or not, it can still receive U.S. drug control funds.
The only countries decertified in 1993 were Burma, Iran, and Syria. The value of U.S. country certification as an accurate measure of the aggressiveness and effectiveness of foreign drug control policies is reduced by two factors. The first is political; U.S. leaders are naturally hesitant to decertify U.S. "allies" because of the negative impact this would have on the cooperative spirit of bilateral relations. Secondly, by witholding needed U.S. aid, decertification can further weaken nations' abilities to govern and/or carry out counternarcotics operations. Burma is a good example. After being decertified in the late 1980s, the Burmese government chose to cancel its counterdrug programs since U.S. support and the "carrot" motivation for these initiatives had been taken away. The result was unchecked opium production that made Burma the number one producer of opium poppy in the world. Unless the United States wants to weaken and punish countries dependent on its aid programs, certification for these nations remains fairly well assured regardless of the intensity of their drug control efforts.
In recognition of the economic rationale for illicit drug production in the Americas, U.S. policymakers have included a limited "carrot" strategy to encourage vigorous Latin American drug control. Based upon the number of hectacres of coca eradicated, for example, Andean countries become eligible for additional economic assistance. Some crop substitution programs have been attempted by the U.S. Agency for International Development and regional militiaries in the Andean region, but with disappointing results. The majority of the economic "carrots" offered by the United States have not been rural development programs, but rather have been economic support fund (ESF) programs which primarily assist in a country's balance of payments. These programs help nations maintain their financial standing in the international community, but do virtually nothing to change the economic realities faced by peasants growing illicit drug crops in the countryside. ESF monies are also used in some cases to support counternarcotics efforts and development projects. Fiscal Year 1993 ESF expenditures for the Andean Narcotics Initiative, including Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, are estimated at $130 million, reduced from over $269 million in 1992 (Congressional Presentation 40).
In addition to these policy elements, the United States has emphasized extradition in its drug control strategy. U.S. justice officials often perceive that drug criminals in Latin America are not pursued with adequate vigor and held accountable for their actions in a corruption-free court system. This perception has led U.S. law enforcement officials to favor bringing foreign drug traffickers to justice in the United States.
U.S. extradition pressure on Colombia in the 1980s led to severe diplomatic tensions as well as tremendous violence and disorder. In reaction to the Colombian government's policy of extraditing drug traffickers to the United States, widespread terrorist attacks were launched by trafficking organizations and many Colombian government officials were assasinated. Eventually, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled extradition unconstitutional, and the violent tactics of the drug traffickers were slightly moderated in response.
Alternatives to extradition have therefore been important to bring drug criminals to justice in the United States. According to the Ker-Frisbie rule, U.S. courts do not consider how a defendent was brought within their jurisdiction unless the defendent suffered severe mistreatment. Expulsion from a country as well as abduction have been options utilized by U.S. law enforcement officials to try narcotraffickers in the United States. The 1974 Toscanino case held that abductions involving "the infliction...of grossly cruel and inhumane treatment by or at the direction of American officials or agents" could not lead to legal jurisdiction in a U.S. court (Nadelmann, 28-31). This limitation still allows for abductions, however, and several past abductions have become contentious internationally. The kidnapping of Alvarez Machain from Mexican soil in 1990 and transfer to the United States for trial was one example of how U.S. efforts to bring suspected international drug criminals to justice can lead to highly publicized tensions in bilateral relations. Machain's subsequent acquittal in 1993 came as a surprise to many observers, seemingly invalidating the utility of his abduction and the international controversy it sparked.
This supply-side drug control strategy has been vigorously promoted by the United States government for many years, and its effects are now apparent. Overall, U.S. efforts have failed to decrease the supply of illicit drugs entering the U.S. market or increase the price of those drugs. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a failed strategy. (Sharpe 1992, 12) In 1993 the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics Matters noted that "Despite stepped-up programs, hundreds of tons of cocaine and heroin continue to flow to the United States and to Europe, while consuption rises in Latin America" (INCSR 1).
Ironically, research indicates that even if the U.S. strategy had been relatively "successful" in its goals of eradication and interdiction, this success would not have decreased U.S. illicit drug supply either. The vast size of the drug market has the power to negate all supply-side drug control efforts aimed at reducing the availability of illicit drugs to U.S. consumers. Drug control efforts can shift production and trafficking patterns, but are doomed to fail in their overall goals by the structure and size of the drug industry (Reuter 153-157). U.S. officials estimate that international cocaine production capacity exceeds 1000 metric tons (mt) per year. Demand is estimated at 400-500 mt, but yearly cocaine interdictions only total between 300-400 mt (Anderson). The enormous surplus of cocaine reaching the United States leaves the market glutted, with drug prices and availability unaffected by interdiction and eradication. Drug seizures are merely part of the cost of doing business for international traffickers, who have grown accustomed to absorbing these losses.
In view of this failure, U.S. policymakers face an important decision. The U.S. military has already been enlisted to assist in U.S. drug control efforts, and some observers could conclude that escalation will provide a solution: more resources and more energy directed at the source countries will reduce U.S. illicit drug supply and achieve U.S. drug control objectives. In view of the empirical facts, however, such a conclusion would be a clear mistake. It is time for U.S. policymakers to realistically assess the international drug trade, understand the impacts of militarizing the drug war, and examine the consequences of these policies for the countries of Latin America as well as for U.S. foreign policy objectives. Many students of the "war on drugs" have examined its varied effects, and concluded that its supply-side emphasis is misplaced. U.S. drug control strategy should include a balance between supply-side and demand-side efforts, and the historic imbalance of this equation should be adjusted to primarily focus on the demand-side.
Realistically Defining Drug Control
Declaring U.S. drug control efforts to be a "war on drugs" is a mistake. War, as the renowned military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz wrote, is the employment of force to convert the will of the enemy (Clausewitz 75). The enemy in the international drug trade, however, has a "will" defined by economic forces. The profits associated with illicit drug production motivate all of its assorted participants, from Andean peasants growing coca plants to notorious traffickers like Pablo Escobar. This profit motive, created by the enormous demand for illicit drugs in the United States and Europe, is the "center of gravity" for the war on drugs. Unfortunately for U.S. policymakers, it is impossible to attack this center of gravity with international drug control programs. Although supply-side counternarcotics efforts can increase the costs borne by producers and traffickers, the only way to permanently reduce the profit motive at the heart of the illict drug trade is to reduce domestic demand in the United States.
Declaring a "war on drugs" implies fallaciously that victory can be achieved. Realistically, there cannot be a final end point to drug control efforts. Coca, opium, and marijuana production can never be completely eliminated. Positing this as a national objective ignores reality. An analogy popular during the Nixon administration, that combatting drug production and trafficking is like "weeding a garden," presents a more realistic picture of national drug control efforts and their continued necessity.
The empirical realities of the international drug trade refute the containment model on which U.S. drug control policy has historically been founded. The "balloon effect" has been empirically demonstrated many times, and is a more accurate descriptive model of the drug trade. Like a balloon, when one area is pushed upon and reduced in size, expansion occurs in another area. Examples of the balloon effect, or displacement thesis, are abundant. The Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) "success" against Jamaican marijuana growers in the 1974 "Operation Buccaneer" helped shift production to Colombia, which subsequently experienced tremendous growth in marijuana production and trafficking (Lupsha 105). Intensified U.S. interdiction efforts in southern Florida and the Caribbean during the mid-1980s caused narcotraffickers to adapt and send most of their shipments by air through northern Mexico. Creation of a joint U.S./Mexican Northern Border Response Force (NBRF) in 1990 led to several large cocaine seizures early in the program, but traffickers again altered their routes to favor southern Mexican and Guatemalan airstrips, as well as sea and land transport into the United States. While locations and routes were changed, the amount of illicit drugs entering the U.S. market did not decrease as a result of these initiatives.
Strong proponents of these programs contend that the existence of a balloon effect is not important, because the costs for those involved in the drug trade are increased by enforcement efforts. U.S. programs in the "war on drugs" during the late 1980s were not sold to the American public on their potential to "increase the costs" for drug producers and traffickers, however. Rather, drug control strategy theorized that with enough effort and resources, the amount of illicit drugs entering the United States could be reduced and prices could be increased. The balloon effect is significant because it has prevented the realization of these unrealistic drug control objectives.
A rebound effect has also been consistently seen in the international drug trade following "successful" supply-side drug control efforts. Operation "Blast Furnace" in Bolivia during 1986 utilized 160 U.S. Army soldiers and six Blackhawk helicopters to help Bolivian security forces destroy cocaine processing laboratories. Immediately following the operation the price of coca leaves fell 70 percent in Bolivia, but in six months had climbed back up to 90 percent of its original price. In addition to this rapid market rebound, the fact that increased coca leaf price has a virtually negligible effect on U.S. consumption re-emphasizes the fact that such drug control operations cannot produce "victory" in the drug war (Reuter 159-160).
Changing the assumptions underlying U.S. drug control strategy would correct two of the primary problems with U.S. drug policy identified by many scholars. U.S. policy has historically assumed that the essence of the drug problem is outside the United States and not within it, and defined narcotrafficking as a problem of plants, not people (Campoaónico 18). By recognizing the accuracy of the balloon model in describing the drug trade as well as the Clausewitzian center of gravity in the "drug war," these misconceptions can be avoided.
War strategists must focus on the conversion of the enemy's will. The will of all those involved in the illicit drug trade is defined by pure economics, however, and neither DEA or military operations can change that fact. Despite this reality, U.S. policy during the administrations of President Reagan and President Bush promoted an increase in the militarization of drug control efforts, utilizing U.S. as well as Latin American militaries to fight a war impossible for them to win.
Militarization of Drug Control
The U.S. military was enlisted in drug control efforts during the 1980s by a sequence of laws that gradually expanded the military's counterdrug role. Congressional amendment to the Posse Comitatus Act in 1981 theoretically would allow the U.S. military to assist in law enforcement activities as long as military readiness is not harmed. In 1988, Congress further expanded the military's license to operate in drug control by voting to give the military the powers of search, seizure, and arrest outside the land area of the United States (Mabry 63, 53) The U.S. military is currently engaged in counterdrug operations "including reconnaissance, training, logistics, medical support, command and control, planning and civic action" (Summers). Although legal restrictions do not exist prohibiting expansion of U.S. military counterdrug roles into areas like seizures and arrests, current policy officially extends the Posse Comitatus restriction to U.S. military forces operating in Latin America (Anderson). While General George A. Joulwan, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, energetically endorses the drug control missions of U.S. armed forces, optimistic enthusiasm certainly did not characterize the beginning of U.S. military involvement in the drug war.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) agreed that drugs pose a threat to national security, but pointed out that other national security issues, like economic health, are not appropriately addressed by the military (Mabry 57). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, has observed that "Military force is not always the right answer. If force is used imprecisely or out of frustration rather than clear analysis, the situation can be made worse" (NYT). In the case of drug control, it appears that employment of the military may have been initially favored more because of policymaker frustration rather than insightful analysis.
Among U.S. government organizations, the U.S. military possesses unique and broad capabilities. The resources of the military are being employed to support the same historical objectives of U.S. drug control strategy, however, and as seen empirically, "successful" interdiction or eradication campaigns do not necessarily correlate to reduced U.S. drug supply or consumption. Donald Mabry's conclusion about U.S. military involvement in drug control is unequivocal.
The military is being set up to fail. All available evidence indicates that interdication efforts, whether by civilians or the military or both, are doomed to fail. The supply of marijuana and cocaine is so large, and trafficking techniques so well-organized and adaptable to changes in interdiction methods, that the success of the kind of measures proposed by the Congress is doubtful (Mabry 70).
Militarization of the drug war certainly gives the U.S. military a challenging post-Cold War mission. Under current military restrictions, however, the potential results of these efforts are sharply limited.
The objectives given to U.S. armed forces assisting in drug control efforts are a military strategist's nightmare. Rather than clear goals measureable on a continual basis from the onset of operations to completion, goals for the U.S. military's drug war are vague and imply never-ending engagement. As an example, the Andean strategy establishes the goal of inflicting "significant damage on the trafficking organizations that predominate within the three countries [Colombia, Peru and Bolivia]." This goal can never reach an end point. Trafficking organizations will continue to adapt and rebound from whatever setbacks they may experience from drug control efforts. Thus, the military has been tasked to engage an enemy ad infinitium, without hope of victory.
Given sufficient resources and the political authorization to do so, the U.S. military could doubtless inflict severe damage upon narcotraffickers and their organizations. Two constraints prevent such a campaign from being a realistic policy alternative, however. The first constraint is the overall fiscal condition of the U.S. government and its military. Experiencing a drastic downsizing in personnel and force structure, the U.S. military is facing the budget reality of less, rather than more resources, even for its drug control missions.
In addition to Congress' fiscal limitations, a second constraint prevents military "success" in counterdrug efforts. President George Bush announced prior to the Gulf War that U.S. military personnel would not only go into combat with the support of the American people, but also without having their "hands tied behind their back" like they were during the Vietnam war. The military cannot be similarly fortunate in its lack of restraints in the drug war, however. As long as it remains engaged in drug control by civilian policymakers, the U.S. military is doomed to fight "the war on drugs" with its hands tied.
Authority to shoot down suspected drug trafficker aircraft or exterminate "the enemy" in clandestine drug processing laboratories will not be given by the U.S. Congress, in part because it would not be tolerated by human rights and other vigilant interest groups. A military's primary role is to kill the enemy as efficiently as possible, but in the drug war this is not politically realistic. The "enemy" cannot be identified on a battlefield by the uniform he wears. Rather, "enemies" are the innumerable civilians engaged at all levels in an economic activity: the drug trade. U.S. militarization of counterdrug efforts will inevitably remain a limited enterprise, since an all-out campaign would be politically unrealistic.
The majority of the militarization that has taken place in counterdrug efforts has involved Latin American security forces rather than U.S. military forces. The United States has encouraged foreign militaries to take an active role in efforts to combat illicit drug production and trafficking, but such efforts have almost universally met strong initial resistance from military leaders. Offers of military and economic assistance have frequently proven too tempting to refuse, though, and Latin American military capabilities have been enhanced in the name of counterdrug operations. This U.S. security assistance has included equipment sales, especially of helicopters and related support equipment, provision of spare parts, and training for military personnel. Since the early 1980s, Colombian and Bolivian military operational capabilities have significantly improved thanks to U.S. aid. Latin American militaries involved in counterdrug efforts largely constrain themselves to supporting police forces, however, due to their continued resistance to intense involvement in the drug war.
U.S. security assistance to Latin America reached its highest levels in fiscal year 1991, when the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) made available to Latin American nations for equipment purchases and other programs exceeded $212 million. Since that time, Congress has steadily reduced appropriated security assistance funds. FY 1992 FMF dollars for the region totalled over $110 million, and in FY 1993 were further reduced to an estimated $61 million (Congressional Presentation 24). These budgetary changes were driven by the overall downsizing of the military budget, rather than a change in U.S. military strategy in the Western hemisphere. Counterdrug support continues to lead the list of "Peacetime Engagement" missions carried out by U.S. military forces in Latin America. Postulating as its goal the "reduction, if possible elimination, of drug production and trafficking in the theater, and flow of illegal drugs into the United States," U.S. military strategy in Latin America continues to focus predominantly on fighting the "drug war" and further militarizing regional drug control efforts (USCINCSO).
U.S. pressure to militarize the drug war in Latin America has impacted police forces to an equal or even greater extent than military forces in the region. The United States tried to improve Latin American police force capabilities during the 1980s by providing specialized training, improved equipment, and even establishing new indigenous police units solely tasked to combat drug production and trafficking. In 1983 the U.S. created special anti-narcotics police units in Peru and Bolivia, paramilitary squads that became renowned for highly publicized human rights abuses (Sharpe 1992, 8). These units now compete with existing police and military organizations already engaged in counterdrug efforts. Organizational rivalries and drug related corruption have led to armed conflicts between these groups in several instances.
Increasing the capabilities of Latin American security forces to conduct effective counterdrug operations increases the risks faced by narcotraffickers, and thereby increases systemic corruption between the participants. High risks force drug merchants to insure the safety of their products and themselves, usually by buying protection from authorities. This drug related corruption is not individualistic in nature, occurring infrequently in several isolated cases. Rather, it is institutionalized, revealing the systemic nature of the corruption the drug trade breeds. It is ironic that increased counterdrug capabilities only multiply the corruption incited by illicit drugs (Sharpe 1992, 22).
The existence of this phenomenon, as well as the danger of enlisting the military in counterdrug efforts, was demonstrated in the late 1970s in Colombia. Extensive use of the military in rural counterdrug operations led to their corruption and eventually forced the Colombian government to withdraw them from the region entirely (Lupsha 111). Militarization's short term impacts in Latin America have, in some cases, proven to be too costly to bear. While not as readily apparent, long term impacts have generally been equally undesireable.
The ultimate examples of U.S. militarization of drug control efforts were the two coup d'états sponsored by the United States in the 1980s in Latin America. In 1982, with the assistance of other countries including Argentina, the United States supported the military overthrow of Bolivian president Garcia Meza, who had strong ties to drug traffickers. The unilateral 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama and overthrow of dictator Manuel Noriega involved hundreds of U.S. military personnel. Although the invasion was also carried out for other reasons, it principally sought to curb the illicit drug trafficking which received government protection under Noriega. Both coup d'états were successful in removing the respective corrupt leaders involved in the drug trade, but were decidedly not successful in stemming the flow of drugs entering the U.S. market. Bolivia's status as the world's second largest coca producer continues despite Meza's overthrow, and Panama's drug situation has not improved either. Between January 1990 and June 1993, Panamanian officials seized nearly eight million pounds of illegal drugs, valued at $215 million (News). Although pre-invasion statistics on drug traffic in Panama are unavailable, these seizures indicate that Panama continues to be a major drug transit country despite the removal of Noriega from power.
U.S. led militarization of drug control has expanded the roles of the U.S. military and also produced significant effects on Latin American police and military forces. This committment of additional resources and personnel to the drug war has not achieved U.S. drug control strategy objectives, and has in some cases helped exacerbate the particularly challenging development situations faced by Latin American nations that are major illicit drug producers.
Current Status of Hemispheric Drug Control and Future Prospects
Latin American nations generally place a lower priority on drug control than the United States. National goals of economic development, promoting political stability, and curbing insurgent violence are viewed as more important than reducing drug production and trafficking.
Countries of the hemisphere can ill-afford to neglect the issue of drug control entirely, however, in a large part because of the repercussions such a move would have on the nations' bilateral relations with the United States. The power of the United States in international lending organizations, as well as the strong need of many Latin American countries for U.S. financial assistance, contributes to this inequitable power relationship. For this reason, "cooperative" counterdrug programs between Latin American countries and the United States have generally been more a product of the hegemonic influence exerted by the U.S., rather than joint agreements resulting from negotiation between equal partners.
To avoid overgeneralizing the status of drug control efforts in Latin America, situations in the primary drug producing nations should be examined individually. Each of these countries; including Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico, face different internal political situations which produce varied approaches to drug control. Analysis of these cases provides a detailed assessment of the prospects for drug control efforts in the hemisphere for the 1990s.
Of these four nations, Colombia has received the most publicity in the U.S. press for its drug related problems and especially the increased violence which the trade has brought to the nation. During the late 1970s Colombia became a major supplier of marijuana to the U.S. market, but cocaine quickly surpassed marijuana in quantity and export value during the 1980s. In 1992, Colombia's estimated coca cultivation was 37,100 hectacres. However, the country's most significant role in the global cocaine trade has been in drug processing and transport, rather than coca production. Colombia continues to be the world's leading supplier of cocaine HCL (INCSR 107).
Colombia's strong and well-publicized stand against narcotrafficking began in the late 1970s. In 1979, Colombia signed an extradition treaty with the United States. President Belisario Betancur finally gave in to strong Reagan administration pressure and implemented the extradition treaty in 1984, following the assasination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, despite strong oppostion to this policy. Narco-traffickers unleashed a wave of violence in Colombia prompting the Colombian Supreme Court to rule the extradition treaty unconstitutional in June 1987. In 1988, President Virgilio Barco renewed government efforts to combat narcotraffickers, which spawned even more violence including the 1989 assasination of presidental candidate Luis Carlos Galán (Arrieta). The current president, César Gaviria, continues to be faced with narco-related violence but is constitutionally forced to confront it without the government's previous emphasis on extraditions to the United States.
In September 1990, after assuming office, President Gaviria introduced a policy guaranteeing lenient treatment for Colombian drug traffickers who surrender to authorities. The escape of the notorious trafficker Pablo Escobar on July 22, 1992, from a luxury Colombian prison was an embarrassment to the Colombian government and led to some U.S. criticism of Colombian counterdrug efforts. The incident sparked an energetic but unsuccessful manhunt that by July 1993, had led to 1,314 arrests and the killings of 145 suspected Escobar cartel members. Despite Escobar's escape and the ensuing criticism of his policy, President Gaviria has declared that leniency will continue to be offered to traffickers who surrender. The domestic political and human costs of acting otherwise are simply too high for Colombia to sustain.
U.S. drug control efforts in Colombia have focused on encouraging extradition of drug criminals to the United States, disrupting trafficker organizations, and interdicting drug shipments bound for the United States. The lenient approach of President Gaviria toward traffickers has forced the U.S. to deemphasize extradition, however. Although extradition of Colombian nationals by birth is prohibited by the Constitution, Colombia's government extradites or deports non-Colombians pursuant to domestic law (INCSR 108). Intelligence sharing between U.S. and Colombian security organizations and cooperative efforts to arrest traffickers and interdict drug shipments are now the main focus of U.S. policy. The U.S. DOD Operation "Support Justice" provides communication, radar, and intelligence support to Colombian military and law enforcement authorities. "Support Justice is the main thrust in the DOD effort to stem drug running to the United States" (Anderson 13). Since its inception in mid-1991, the operation has expanded to include other nations of the Andean ridge in addition to Colombia.
The Colombian military's logistical and support capabilities have been significantly enhanced with U.S. assistance, and it continues to employ these resources in coca, opium, and marijuana eradication campaigns. Cannibus cultivation is minimal due to these efforts, and recently expanded opium production was seriously attacked in 1992 with an aerial eradication program utilizing herbicide (INCSR 106). The military has historically preferred combatting Colombia's insurgent groups instead of attacking narcos, however. Thanks in part to aggressive military campaigns, four of Colombia's six main guerrilla groups have laid down their arms and joined political parties. The remaining groups have become heavily involved in the drug trade, which facilitates their continued existance (Congressional Presentation 151). All Colombian security forces are currently involved in counternarcotics operations of some kind (INCSR 109). A primary goal of U.S. security assistance to Colombia is to "encourage joint police-military operations, intelligence cooperation, improved human rights performance and airlift sharing" (Congressional Presentation 151). Given the high degree of present military involvement in Colombian police counternarcotics operations, it appears the cooperative aspect of this goal has been well advanced.
The tremendous influx of narco-dollars into the Colombian economy provides important income for the nation and a compelling reason for Colombia to avoid pursuing certain drug control policy options, like an aggressive crackdown on money laundering. The Colombian government recognized the tremendous economic power of the drug trade and sought to benefit directly from these sizeable funds in 1976, when it established "the left-handed window" at its national bank to allow monetization of illicitly obtained U.S. dollars into Colombian pesos (Lupsha 107).
In view of such economic and political realities, Colombian politicians place a higher priority on curbing the drug related violence that plagues their society rather than reducing the amount of drugs processed and shipped to the United States (Sharpe 1992, 17). Successes experienced in disrupting the Medellín cartel during the late 1980s and early 1990s did not change Colombia's status as the world's leading cocaine exporter. Rather, they resulted in another validation of the balloon model: the expansion of the Calí drug cartel. Vigorous efforts in 1992 and 1993 to break down the trafficking organization of Pablo Escobar led to many arrests, but are not likely to reduce U.S. bound drug shipments either. The Colombian government will continue its efforts to reduce the size and power of drug trafficking organizations, but reducing domestic drug related violence will remain its primary goal. To appease the United States and receive its assistance, Colombia will continue to cooperate in drug interdiction efforts and eradicate some of its domestic drug production, but will not likely return to a vigorous extradition policy to the United States or favor an intensified counterdrug effort that would significantly increase the human and political costs already borne by Colombia for existing programs.
Peru is not home to trafficking organizations of comparable power to those in Colombia. Peru is the largest producer of coca leaf in the world, however, and also is home to the strongest armed insurgent movement in the hemisphere. Drug control is a minimal priority for the Peruvian government, but the nation has none-the-less been coerced by the United States to take some steps toward controlling drug supply. After the April 5, 1992, autogolpe in Peru which suspended constitutional democracy, most U.S. economic and military assistance was suspended, but U.S. counternarcotics assistance continued at a reduced level (INCSR 122).
To understand the role drug production and trafficking play in Peru and in government policy, one must understand Peruvian society and the sharp class divisions which exist in the nation. Peru is virtually two nations in one. Lima, the capital, is the country's largest city and possesses the vast majority of the wealth. The mountainous sierra, where the majority of Peruvian campesinos live, is another world compared to Lima. The sierra has been virtually ignored by the residents of the coastal capital for years, and deep resentment has thereby been fostered in the minds of campesinos.
Coca has a long history in Peruvian society, dating back to precolonial times when its narcotic properties afforded it a special place in religious ceremonies. Coca is commonly chewed by campesinos of the sierra because of its ability to relieve fatigue, hunger, and thirst. Recognizing the societal role played by coca, the government authorizes annual quotas for legal coca cultivation. Peruvian campesinos, because of the economic profitability of growing coca leaves, have largely abandoned licit crop production in favor of coca, and annual production vastly exceeds legal quotas. Coca sustains the livelihood of many peasants, and is therefore an integral part of the Peruvian economy as well as their native culture.
The top priority of the Peruvian military is combatting the Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, which is the nation's strongest revolutionary group. Sendero has as its goal the correction of the societal inequality that exists between campesinos of the sierra and the rich residents of Lima, by overthrowing the existing regime and creating a new one based on the communist doctrines of Karl Marx and Mao Tse Tung. The Shining Path has become linked to the drug trade through its controlling presence in many rural areas and because of the lure of lucrative drug profits. Sendero cadres have reportedly controlled the price of coca leaf sold to Colombian traffickers in the Upper Huallaga Valley, and extorted money from drug traffickers who purchase Peruvian coca leaves.
These intricate relationships between drug traffickers, campesinos, armed revolutionaries, and the central government in Lima make drug control in Peru an extremely complex undertaking. U.S. policy in Peru during the 1980s focused primarily on the eradication of coca in the sierra, but had minimal success. Eradication efforts in Peru are a direct threat to the economic well-being of the campesinos, and therefore led to strong rural opposition of the central government which supported these programs. Presence of U.S. advisors also provided a rallying point for anti-government propaganda, and the Shining Path exploited these campesino sentiments as much as possible. Due to this indigenous resentment, Peruvian government policy currently prohibits eradication of mature coca plants and only permits eradication of coca seedbeds (INCSR 124).
The economic power of the drug trade in Peru is staggering, and makes official corruption an insurmountable obstacle to drug control programs. A large percentage of Peruvian states have been declared "emergency zones" by the central government and are directly controlled by the military. The Peruvian military was first deployed to the Upper Huallaga Valley, the biggest coca producing region in the world, in 1984-85, which immediately led to the corruption of deployed officials (Craig 17). Military officers in Lima now compete to be assigned to the "zona roja," or red zone, as the areas in which narcotrafficking flourishes are known. Commanders are paid by their subordinates for assignment to these regions, where the payoffs for allowing single shipments of drugs to pass checkpoints often exceed the annual official salaries of some officers. Corruption stemming from the drug trade in the Peruvian military has become so institutionalized that the Peruvian military actually opposes aggressive drug control efforts, alebeit unofficially. Drugs are a business for the Peruvian military, and they cannot afford to fight against their own economic interests (Interview).
Campesinos and many military members are not the only Peruvians reliant upon the drug trade for their livelihoods. Overall, the Peruvian economy is "kept afloat" by coca profits. Coca is estimated to employ 15 percent of the workforce and provide $1 billion in income to Peruvians yearly, which accounts for approximately thirty percent of the total value of national licit exports (Sharpe 1992, 16). The tremendous positive financial impact that the drug trade has on its economy is yet another important deterrant to vigorous counterdrug programs in Peru.
The first requirement for a "successful" international drug control program is strong political will on the part of the host country to combat the drug trade. Such requisite political will does not exist in Peru, and is not likely to appear in the foreseeable future. If the United States continues to pressure Peru on drug control, threatening further suspension of finanical assistance and isolation within the "community of nations," Peru's government will probably comply superficially with such demands. In-country counterdrug programs will continue to be ineffective in reducing U.S. supply or consumption, however, and are likely to run counter to other U.S. foreign policy objectives.
As an Andean country, Bolivia is similar to Peru in many ways. The majority of its population are poor campesinos, and the rugged geography of the nation is ideal for coca cultivation. The Bolivian altiplano and Chaparé regions produce vast quantities of coca leaves processed into cocaine in clandestine jungle labs. The Bolivian economy is also floated by coca dollars, experiencing an estimated $600 million in annual income from the drug trade roughly equivalent to the combined value of all other Bolivian exports. Twenty percent of the adult work force is employed by the coca trade, and coca leaf chewing is an important societal tradition as it is in Peru (Sharpe 1992, 16).
Yet despite these similarities, Bolivia's drug control situation is very different from that faced by Peru. Bolivian society does not display extreme class cleavages between the capital's inhabitants and rural campesinos to the same extent as Peruvian society. Although Bolivia historically had insurgent movements threaten the central government, the country does not presently have a well organized, formidable revolutionary organization like the Shining Path with which it must contend. Bolivian campesinos growing coca are better organized than their Peruvian counterparts, however, and exert strong political influence on the government. Bolivia's government is faced with an extremely difficult financial situation, exacerbated by the collapse of tin prices during the 1980s. Sharp reduction in the nation's licit export earnings has made it even more reliant on foreign assistance and increased its dependence on the United States.
This combination of factors made Bolivia the "star example" of the U.S. war on drugs by 1992. According to U.S. sources quoted in an ABC television special report during 1992, Bolivian cooperation in U.S. counterdrug efforts was superior to that displayed by Colombia or Peru (Jennings). Extensive U.S. military assistance programs provided equipment and training to the Bolivian military, enhancing the support role they extend to police forces combatting drug production and narcotrafficking. This high level of assistance afforded the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia extremely strong influence on the Bolivian President, Jaime Paz Zamora, during his term in office. The mission of the DEA is the top priority of the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, and U.S. drug agents exercise strong leverage over the Bolivian government to cooperate in counterdrug operations. Despite this cooperation, the results of counternarcotics activities in Bolivia have been disappointing to U.S. officials (Jennings).
Cooperation has not always characterized U.S./Bolivian bilateral relations, and positive cooperation has often incurred a high political price in Bolivia. Operation Blast Furnace in 1986 incited so much domestic protest that it almost toppled the administration of President Paz Estenssoro (Mabry 69). Coca peasants gravitate in Bolivia to the country's leftist opposition, which often pays campesinos to participate in highly publicized protests of government coca eradication campaigns. Demonstrations forced the Bolivian government to reduce drug control efforts in 1986, bowing to domestic pressure incited by the U.S. Blast Furnace military operation. Bolivia was decertified by the United States in 1987 and 1988 for poor cooperation in counterdrug efforts, but responded to the "stick" of decertification with aggressive programs like Operation Snowcap in 1987-88 and Operation Safe Refuge in 1990-91. Counterdrug programs such as these must be conducted in a veil of secrecy in Bolivia even today, however, because of the immense power of the coca grower lobby to pressure the national government (González 53).
Like Colombia, Bolivia has recognized the tremendous power of coca dollars to sustain the economy and has taken official efforts allowing such funds to directly benefit the national economy. In the late 1980s, Bolivia relaxed banking disclosure laws and created a daily foreign exchange auction, which significantly increased the amount of drug dollars entering the country. Short term dollar deposits increased from less than $28 million in September 1985 to an estimated $279 million in March 1987 (Sharpe 1992, 4).
Bolivia's government is caught between domestic political groups fervently opposed to all programs harming coca production, and the United States' powerful stick of economic punishment utilized to encourage cooperation with counterdrug operations. Bolivian presidents have been forced to walk a very thin line between these two groups, since it is impossible to satisfy them both.
U.S. encouragement for the Bolivian military to assume a greater role in drug control efforts has met indigenous opposition on two fronts. First, politicians in Bolivia fear increasing the military's role and capabilities to conduct operations because of the increased political involvement which could possibly accompany increased military power. Bolivia has experienced 182 coups in 169 years of independence, the most recent in 1982. Democratic institutions in Bolivia are extremely fragile, and civil-military relations are tense at best.
The second front opposing increased militarization of drug control efforts, however, is from the Bolivian military itself. A significant percentage of Bolivian soldiers are from the campo, or rural areas. Because many of the families of soldiers live in coca producing regions, Bolivian military personnel are acutely aware of the negative economic impact counterdrug operations have on their fellow citizens. The military, as an institution, desires to distance itself from government drug control efforts which are extremely unpopular with the Bolivian people. Militarization is opposed by politicians as well as military members, but has taken place anyway thanks to the strong-arm pressure tactics of the United States. Participation of the Bolivian Air Force and the brown water Bolivian Navy in counterdrug operations has been successfully encouraged by U.S. policies. The Bolivian Army has not been given a similarly expanded counterdrug role, however, due to domestic fears of a renewed political role for the Army.
Operation "Ghostzone" during 1992 in Bolivia sought to disrupt drug trafficker activities in the Chaparé region, but had limited success. In 1991, President Zamorra introduced a leniency policy for traffickers surrendering to the government reminicent of Colombian President Gaviria's declaration in 1990. In exchange for surrender, President Zamorra promised traffickers light sentences and guaranteed protection from extradition to the United States (INCSR 93). Despite this less confrontational approach to drug control, Bolivia was still certified by the United States in 1993 as taking adequate steps to combat drug trafficking.
Bolivia received more ESF dollars from the U.S. Andean Narcotics Initiative than Colombia or Peru during 1993 (Congressional Presentation 40). Given the importance of this aid to the Bolivian government, it can be expected to continue requisite drug cooperation with the U.S. The Bolivian government cannot politically afford to fight an all out "war on drugs," however. For this reason, its drug cooperation with the United States will be limited, as will the effectiveness of its programs targeted at eradication and interdiction.
Compared to Bolivia, Mexico presents a stark contrast in the degree of drug control cooperation it has extended to the United States. Where Bolivia has forfeited its sovereignty significantly to the United States in return for economic assistance, Mexico has maintained firm control over its national drug control policies and provides the United States less leverage in influencing national decisionmaking.
Mexico's independent stand against the "colossus of the north" is to a large extent aided by the size of the Mexican licit economy. Mexico's national finances are not floated by the drug trade to the degree Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia's economies are. Mexico is therefore less susceptable to the stick of U.S. drug control policy. This relative freedom from U.S. drug policy coercion is also enhanced by Mexico's refusal to accept U.S. economic aid and thereby become a "line-item" in the U.S. budget. The facts that Mexico's narcotraffickers do not pose a direct armed threat to the central government, as in Colombia, and that Mexico does not face a strong revolutionary movement like the Shining Path, place its government in a unique drug control situation among the nations of the Americas.
According to DEA estimates, Mexico produces 60-70 percent of the marijuana imported into the United States, and supplies approximately 23 percent of U.S. heroin imports. Although not a producer of coca, Mexico's vast territory provides many alternatives for the transshipment of cocaine: via air, land and sea routes. U.S. officials currently estimate that Mexico is a transshipment country for 50-70 percent of the cocaine entering the U.S. market.
The Mexican military has been involved in counterdrug efforts for many years, and along with the Federal Judicial Police of the Attorney General's (PGR) Office, makes up the "front line" for the Mexican government in drug control efforts. The Mexican military is responsible for manual eradication of opium poppies and marijuana plants, while the PGR is responsible for aerial eradication and interdiction of drug shipments. PGR responsibility for these counterdrug efforts is currently being internally reorganized into a new organization within the PGR, the National Counternarcotics Institute (Instituto Para Combate a Las Drogas).
The Mexican aerial eradication program of the late 1970s was one of the most publicized "successes" of the U.S. supply-side war on drugs, but the circumstances allowing for a temporary reduction in U.S. drug imports from Mexico were very unique. Three primary factors contributed to this programs' success. First, the Mexican government had the political will to aggressively combat drug trafficking and had the political capability to carry out its wishes. The power of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional), which has ruled Mexico for decades, provided firm political stability and enabled government counterdrug programs to be carried out without significant public opposition. Secondly, the size of the Mexican economy and its lack of dependence on the drug trade gave the government the option of vigorously attacking illicit drug production. Finally, unique circumstances characterized the distribution of Mexican opium and marijuana fields, which were highly concentrated in three northern states. The large, open fields were easily accessible and therefore susceptible to effective aerial eradication (Lupsha 98-99).
Mexican heroin production dropped from supplying ninety percent of the U.S. market in 1975 to less than thirty percent by 1980. Marijuana production underwent a similar reduction, from supplying seventy percent of the U.S. import market in 1973 to only thirty percent by 1980 (Lupsha 97). The rebound effect and the balloon model help explain why this success was short term, however. Mexican marijuana production regained its previous production levels within five years of the aerial eradication campaign. Increased opium production from the Southwest Asia, especially from Pakistan during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and later from the Southeast Asian "Golden Triangle" filled the gap for the U.S. heroin market (Reuter 157). The supply of heroin to the U.S. market has actually been increasing over the last several years, and there is evidence that this expanded supply could be fueling increased heroin consumption in the United States (Kleiman 164).
In addition to the eradication efforts promulgated by the Mexican PGR and military, the United States currently cooperates with Mexico in a drug interdiction program. The NBRF was created in 1990 in northern Mexican states along with an Information Analysis Center (IAC), located in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Radar intelligence on drug shipments usually originating from Colombia is collected by military resources assigned to the U.S. military's Southern, Pacific and Atlantic commands, and aircraft operated by the U.S. Customs Service. This intelligence is passed on to the IAC in Mexico, which passes it on to Mexican authorities when suspected drug shipments enter Mexican territorial waters, land, or airspace. Cooperation in this program resulted in a record seizure of 28.7 mt of cocaine in 1992, up from 18.1 mt in 1991.
The NBRF was originally designed as a program to seize aircraft and drug shipments landing in northern Mexico, but as trafficker patterns shifted, the program became focused on interdictions throughout the country. Although several hundred "tracks" of suspected drug flights transiting Mexico are monitored each year by U.S. and Mexican radar assets, only a small number are eventually interdicted. In 1991, twenty-one percent of tracked flights in Mexico were interdicted, and during the first seven months of 1992 less than fourteen percent of flights were interdicted (GAO 14). Limited Mexican interdiction resources and the complex nature of such operations make them difficult to carry out. Large cocaine seizures in Mexico have frequently been attributable to informant provided intelligence rather than high-tech radar tracking systems. This fact further brings into question the utility of employing expensive U.S. military assets to monitor suspected drug traffickers. Despite these low interdiction rates, the Mexican program has significantly reduced the number of suspected drug trafficker flights transiting Mexico. Aerial trafficking patterns have shifted further south, favoring clandestine landing strips in Central America.
Mexican drug control efforts are currently undergoing a transformation that will further reduce U.S. influnce on Mexican counterdrug operations and policy. A series of highly publicized events in Mexico led to this change. The kidnapping, torture, and murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985 in Guadalajara, Mexico, the kidnapping in 1990 of Mexican doctor Alvarez Machain allegedly involved in Camarena's torture, and the November 1991 shootout observed and recorded by U.S. officials between Mexican police officers and military personnel near Veracruz, all contributed to wide publicity of the high profile the U.S. government has had in Mexican counterdrug efforts. Largely as a result of these three incidents and the nationalistic outcry they sparked in the Mexican press over U.S. involvement in Mexican internal affairs, the country has begun a process of "Mexicanization" of its drug control programs.
In the past, U.S. drug control funds to Mexico have mainly been provided to the PGR to assist in maintenance of its air fleet utilized in drug eradication operations. Mexico was the number one recipient of such U.S. funds from 1976 to 1991. In fiscal 1992 the U.S. allocated $20 million for Mexican counternarcotics assistance, but in 1993 this budget dropped to $1.17 million. The reduction was a result of Mexicanization, announced in July 1992 by the Mexican government. Mexico will continue its counterdrug programs, but without the large financial assistance historically extended by the United States. By July 1993, the Mexican government had already made $16 million available in the $24 million budget required to support its counternarcotics programs without U.S. assistance.
Although Mexico has officially had a vigorous drug control policy for many years, illicit drug production and trafficking in Mexico is far from "under control." In many states renowned for high production levels of illict drugs, drug lords exercise defacto control over local affairs. Justice and order in these regions are determined not by due process, but rather by the barrel of a gun. Although Mexican drug lords have received relatively less publicity in the U.S. press than their Colombian counterparts, they are still extremely powerful and pose a serious potential threat to authorities.
A series of drug-related shootings in late 1992 and 1993 has highlighted the power of Mexican drug lords and the inability of the Mexican government to eliminate the widespread narco-violence that exists in many Mexican states. In late 1992 more than a dozen gunman killed six people in a nightclub in Puerto Vallarta, in a hit widely believed to be drug related. Rafael Aguilar, one of Mexico's leading drug traffickers, was killed in March 1993, in Cancun along with a U.S. tourist caught in the crossfire of another suspected battle for drug turf. In May 1993, a former state attorney and federal prosecutor from the Mexican state of Sinaloa was gunned down in Mexico City, reportedly in retribution for his past efforts to combat drug trafficking.
The assassination of the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, on May 24, 1993, again highlighted Mexico's drug related problems. According to the Mexican government's official account of the incident, the Cardinal was mistakenly killed by men hired by Guadalajara drug traffickers to kill a rival. Some segments of the Mexican public reject this explanation, however, and believe that Posadas was deliberately assasinated. The Cardinal was an outspoken critic of Mexican drug traffickers and the violence they have created in Jalisco, the state whose capital is Guadalajara. The intensive investigation sparked by Posadas' murder led to the arrests of several gunmen and traffickers responsible for his murder, and also revealed corruption within Mexican police forces. Two Federal Judicial Police commanders, the top two Jalisco police officials, the former Mexico City police chief Santiago Tapia Aceves, and at least nine other federal, state and local police officials connected to the killing have also been arrested (Robberson). The investigation additionally led to discovery of a drug smuggling tunnel to the United States in Tijuana, Mexico, which was linked to the drug traffickers responsible for the Posadas killing.
The assassination of Cardinal Posadas highlighted the power of Mexican drug traffickers and the official corruption they breed within Mexican law enforcement organizations. Mexico has suffered a number of embarrassing narcotics related scandals in the past, and each revelation sparked a well publicized effort to reinvigorate drug control efforts. Yet such renewals have historically been short lived. New drug fighting institutes are created and arrest statistics are compiled, but levels of drug related violence and drugs being transported to the United States remain unaffected. The names of the participants sometimes change, but the drug "game" goes on as before in Mexico, as it does in the United States and other countries of the hemisphere.
The Mexican government has not completely ignored its drug related problems, and has in fact arrested several "Class I" traffickers, identified by the DEA as the most significant criminal targets in the country. Mexico's efforts to control narcotrafficking appear to be limited, however, since the federal government does not want to bear the consequences of such an effort. Unlike Colombia's drug traffickers, Mexican drug lords do not openly threaten the central government in Mexico City. Mexico's nationalistic opposition to criminal extradition to the United States serves drug trafficker interests as well as the interests of the Mexican government. Trafficker control of rural areas is not accompanied by a widespread campaign of public violence and terror, as witnessed in Colombia, in part because they are not faced with possible extradition to the United States for their crimes. The Mexican government is not forced to take a strong and aggressive stand against the traffickers, as the Colombian government has been, except when publicized scandals force limited actions. While highly publicized incidents like the Posadas assasination force a flurry of activity by Mexican government and law enforcement officials, drug cartels continue to thrive and many traffickers continue to operate with impunity in Mexico.
It is not in the interest of the Mexican government to launch a more aggressive "war on drugs." Mexico fears "Colombianization," and the best way to avoid a outbreak of widespread drug violence is to minimize confrontation with powerful traffickers. As long as the Mexican government and its officials are not directly threatened by widespread terrorism and assasinations, drug trafficking organizations in Mexico will not be more vigorously attacked by the authorities. The continued prosperity of the Guadalajara drug cartel supports this theory well. The investigation into the torture and murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena in 1985 partly revealed the tremendous power and far reaching illicit activities of the the Guadalajara cartel. Despite these revelations, because it does not openly threaten the Mexican government, the cartel continues to thrive in 1993 and has apparently not been seriously crippled by an energetic law enforcement campaign. Drug eradication, seizure, and arrest statistics demonstrate that Mexico is actively combatting the drug trade on a variety of levels. Drug control is not a top priority for the Mexican government, however, and is not likely to become one in the foreseeable future.
The Mexicanization of drug control efforts, if it continues under the new Mexican administration to take office in 1994, will have the effect of further eroding U.S. leverage on Mexican drug control efforts. Mexico can be expected to continue its aerial and manual drug eradication campaigns, as well as its cooperative interdiction efforts with the United States. Mexican programs will continue, at times with a high public profile, but are unlikely to produce even short term "success" in reducing the U.S. illicit drug supply. Despite the increased government attention given to drug trafficking in Mexico during 1993, getting "control" of the drug trade and eliminating the corruption it inspires is not a long term prospect; rather, it is realistically impossible.
Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico each face unique circumstances with regard to their drug control efforts. The relative priority assigned to national goals like political stability, economic growth, drug control, democratization and human rights vary among these nations, as the does U.S. reaction to these differing government priorties. The "narcoticization" of U.S. diplomatic relations with these nations over the past several years has had pronounced effects in each country, and has also impacted other U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region.
Drug Control and U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives
The multiplicity of U.S. foreign policy objectives naturally invites conflict. During the Cold War, for instance, the war on drugs was subordinated in Central America to the anticommunist policy goals of the Reagan administration. The "rollback of the Sandinistas" took priority over drug control objectives in Panama, Honduras, and among the Contras, contributing to later problems like the removal of once ally Manuel Noriega in the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama (Sharpe 1988, 84). With the end of the Cold War, the United States can hopefully avoid similar conflicts of interest relating to anticommunism. Conflicts of interest still persist in U.S. foreign policy, however, and the role played by U.S. drug control strategy is important in this regard.
The United States officially wishes to promote economic growth, political stability, respect for human rights, and the strengthening of democratic institutions throughout Latin America. Particularly during the Bush administration, however, goals for the U.S. war on drugs were superimposed over these other objectives. A large amount of evidence indicates that U.S. drug control policy over the past several years has actually been counterproductive to these other four U.S. goals for Latin America, which imply needed changes in U.S. counterdrug strategy.
In the case of economic growth, eradication campaigns erode the financial well-being of peasant farmers. It is for this reason that U.S. sponsored eradication efforts in Peru and Bolivia sparked such controversy and public protest during the 1980s and continue to meet strong resistance. The economic forces driving campesinos to grow coca instead of licit crops are only surmountable by reducing U.S. demand for cocaine. Without this reduction and an accompanying economic disincentive to grow coca, alternative crop programs in the Andes are doomed to failure. International control efforts cannot reduce the motivation of farmers to grow coca, and in fact hurt Latin American campesinos who are only trying to make a living for themselves and their families.
Political stability is not inherently threatened by the drug trade. Mexico provides a good case in point. Despite the existence of powerful traffickers, a high level of political stability persists in the nation. Political stability is principally threatened when the drug trade is aggressively attacked by Latin American governments encouraged by the United States. Serious government campaigns against drug traffickers in Colombia contributed to the increased wave of drug related violence in the nation during the 1980s, and violence continues today. U.S. supported eradication campaigns in Peru provided another excuse for campesinos to support the cause of Sendero Luminoso during the past decade, strengthening an insurgency already posing a serious threat to the Peruvian government. The largest U.S. military counterdrug operation in history, Operation Blast Furnace in Bolivia, almost caused the downfall of the government due to public protest, and widespread opposition to eradication campaigns continues to challenge the Bolivian government's ability to build national consensus. In each of these countries, aggressive counterdrug programs encouraged by the United States decreased rather than increased political stability.
The effect of drug control operations on human rights has been similarly counterproductive. U.S. security assistance to Andean countries has significantly enhanced their capabilities to carry out military and police operations. Unfortunately, as the insurers of domestic order, Latin American police officials and military members are also often agents of repression. By increasing the capabilities of Colombian, Peruvian, and Bolivian security organizations, the United States has also increased their repressive potential (InterAmerican Commission). Human rights abuses committed by internal security forces in these countries have been consistently reported by groups like America's Watch and Amnesty International. Although the presence of U.S. agents during drug control operations has sometimes reportedly had a restraining effect on the brutality of foreign security agents, in general counterdrug programs harm rather than enhance the respect for human rights in Latin American countries.
Democratization has suffered similarly in the wake of increased U.S. supply-side drug control efforts. The overthrow of Garcia Meza in Bolivia in 1982 hardly improved civil-military relations or strengthened Bolivian democracy. Although previously elected President Endarra was put into office in Panama as a result of the U.S. invasion, he was sworn in on a U.S. military installation and became another example of North American hegemonic dominance over Panamanian affairs. The return of almost all Latin American governments to at least superficially democratic rule during the 1980s was enthusiastically lauded by the region's leaders. The chances for such a transition to become permanent, however, are reduced by a U.S. drug control strategy that emphasizes strengthening the military's role and power in Latin American society.
The end of the Cold War offers the enticing possiblity for U.S. foreign policy objectives to become closely aligned with the national objectives of Latin American nations. Economic growth, political stability, respect for human rights, and strengthening of democratic institutions make up a common agenda that serves Latin American as well as U.S. interests. The majority of supply-side drug control efforts historically supported by the United States, however, are counterproductive to these objectives and do not serve the best interests of the citizens of the hemisphere.
Conclusion: Where U.S. Drug Control Strategy Should Go From Here
An understanding of where the United States has been with regard to its drug control strategy and its effects within Latin America and on U.S. foreign policy goals begs an important question. What should the United States drug control strategy be in the future, and how will this affect future U.S. engagement of Latin American countries?
To begin to formulate a new strategy, United States policymakers should first reject the containment model on which counterdrug efforts have historically been based and recognize the validity of the balloon model in describing the international drug market. It is appropriate to recognize that we cannot fight a "war on drugs," because such a war is definitionally and operationally impossible to win. Continuing escalation of the U.S. military's role in drug control efforts is a mistake, motivated more by the frustration of past failures than by clear analysis. Past drug control efforts in Latin America have had a virtually negligible effect on U.S. drug supply and consumption, and these trends do not appear to have any potential to change.
The United States faces an important decision about how to allocate funds to address its domestic drug problems. The previous discussion should make it clear that a major reorientation of the U.S. drug control budget is imperative. Drug control is a problem of people, not of plants. Rather than dedicating the majority of these funds to the supply-side of the drug equation, they should be directed toward prevention and rehabilitation programs. Recognizing that U.S. demand for drugs is the "center of gravity" for drug control efforts should make the necessity for this fiscal reallocation clear.
Latin America cannot afford to entirely abandon its own efforts against narcotraffickers, and should not be expected to do so if U.S. pressure for supply-side drug control programs significantly subsides. U.S. programs that encourage a strengthened role for Latin American militaries in their societies do not serve hemispheric interests, nor do drug eradication campaigns. Multilateral efforts to cooperate in combatting the illicit drug trade can be explored, but should not put the focus of hemispheric drug control strategy on the "supply side." The U.S. has spent $100 billion since 1981 on drug control, but drugs are just as easy and sometimes cheaper to obtain than they were at the beginning of the 1980s (Zuckerman). The eighty percent reduction in the office staff of the National Drug Czar and the accompanying slash of the office's budget by more than fifty percent in FY 1993 indicates the low priority America's illicit drug problem currently has in the Clinton administration. U.S. drug control funds do not need a uniform reduction motivated by difficult financial times; rather, they require a major policy reorientation toward the "demand side" of the drug equation.
The fact that centuries of law enforcement has not eliminated criminal behavior is not a justification to stop fighting crime, and the same reasoning applies to drug control. U.S. supply-side drug control efforts cannot be abandoned, but certainly can and should be reduced and redirected toward demand-side drug programs. U.S. drug control strategy has historically included the idea that a balanced approach is needed to address the supply as well as the demand side of the illicit drug equation. Empirical analysis suggests that this balance has been inappropriately weighted more toward the supply side, however, and policymakers should correct this historical imbalance by focusing predominantly on demand-side solutions.
By sharply changing its focus in Latin American diplomatic relations away from drug control, the United States could bring its foreign policy objectives more in line with those of Latin America, focusing on human rights, democratization, and economic development. Rather than wasting funds on counterproductive supply-side drug control programs, the United States can promote increased licit trade and economic development with Latin America. By assisting with infrastructure development and rural improvement projects, U.S. international programs can be constructive agents for positive change in Latin America in the 1990s and the next century. Finally, by aggressively pursuing drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation programs, the United States can make serious advances in curbing the destructive scourage of drugs that plagues all American societies. It is time for a change in U.S. drug control strategy, and all the citizens of the Americas stand to gain from this decision.
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Sharpe, Kenneth E. "The Military, the Drug War and Democracy in Latin America: What Would Clausewitz Tell Us." Paper prepared for a conference on "Warriors in Peacetime," Inter- American Defense College. 11-12 December 1992.
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Mexican Security | Drug Policy | US-Latin American Policy | Collective Security
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