Drugs in Latin America

An article worth reading in the Economist: Battles won, a war still lost:

At the last count by the United Nations, in 2003, land under coca in Colombia was down to 86,300 hectares (213,200 acres) from a peak of 163,300 hectares in 2000. In 2004, contractors working for the United States sprayed herbicide on 136,555 hectares of coca, a similar amount to the previous year. That points to a further decline in cocaine production last year, according to John Walters, who heads the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

In 2004, almost 150 tonnes of cocaine were seized in the country, a third more than in 2003, while 1,900 cocaine labs were destroyed, 40% more than in 2002. Mr Uribe has extradited 166 Colombians to face drug charges — and probably a life behind bars — in the United States. They include Gilberto Rodr√Ęguez Orejuela, who as head of the Cali drug mob ruled the trade a decade ago. American officials say that they have squeezed the drug revenues of the FARC guerrillas and their right-wing opponents, the AUC. “We’re moving in one direction. The bad guys are losing and the people in Colombia are winning,” says Mr Walters. Those who see it otherwise “want this thing to fail”.

Yet to many people across and beyond Latin America, the Andean drug trade seems as effective and dangerous as ever. The most telling evidence is the price of cocaine. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO, the ONDCP’s own figures, released to Congress but not yet to the public, show that in the United States a gram of cocaine wholesaled for $38 in 2003, down from $48 in 2000 and from $100 in 1986, with no fall in purity.

It’s really quite simple. It doesn’t work. In the past, I’ve compared eradication efforts there to this child’s game, and this cartoon fairly accurately depicts interdiction efforts.
Yet we continue to pour money down this black hole and help ruin the lives of Latin American citizens.

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