There were a couple of articles this week about the situation in Colombia — the more we do there, the messier it gets.
The latest is about this new amnesty offered by Uribe’s “Justice and Peace Law.” Basically it’s a way for traffickers (including mass murderers) to get a light country-club sentence for a few years, and retire on their drug trafficking profits wealthy and free of legal hassles (and, unlike Marc Emery, free of fear of extradition to the U.S.). Special consideration is given to the right-wing AUC.
Apparently, a number of the big guys are looking to cash in and let a new batch of traffickers take over. And in the process, they’re having a clearance sale.
From Daniel Kurtz-Phelan at Slate:
In preparation for getting in on the deal, the drug lords seem to be emptying out their warehousesÖselling off stockpiles of cocaine so they have enough cash on hand to go legit for a few years without giving up their fabulous wealth and swank lifestyles. These stockpiles, by all accounts, are massive. They have allowed traffickers to insulate their business and maintain a steady flow of imports to the United States and Europe regardless of how many coca plants South American soldiers and American defense contractors are killing with machetes and herbicide at any given time. On a recent visit to Bolivia, the head of South America operations for the U.S. Agency for International Development said that traffickers have so much cocaine on hand they could keep exports constant for a year and a half even if production stopped altogether.
The recent slew of seizures is a good sign of a sell-off: According to a basic law of drug-war economics, every increase in the amount of cocaine seized reflects a more-or-less proportionate increase in the amount of cocaine shipped. An American anthropologist doing fieldwork in southern Colombia reports additional evidence that the cocaine market is glutted: Peasant producers of coca paste (the base material for cocaine) are having trouble finding buyers for their productÖan indication that so much cocaine is being shipped from warehouses that traffickers don’t need to buy paste to manufacture more. Over the past few months, paste prices in Putumayo, the heart of Colombian coca country, have fallen between 10 percent and 40 percent.
In the past decade, Washington has poured billions of dollars into Colombia with the ostensible purpose of fighting the drug trade. Meanwhile, the street price of cocaine has steadily declined, from around $250 a gram in the late 1980s to well under $100 today. Now Congress is debating whether to help finance Uribe’s demobilization effort, despite concerns that it’s a lucrative retirement plan for traffickers.
Thank God we’ve been spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money over there in order to increase the profit margin to the most ruthless traffickers, so that they can have a luxurious retirement package.
There’s an interesting point made in this article, too. The fact that increased seizures are not an indication of drug war success, but rather of drug war failure. Increased seizures means more has been shipped. Every time police nab a truck full of drugs because the license plate was dangling by a wire, that doesn’t mean that they were successful — it means that there is so much being smuggled that the traffickers were even willing to hire an idiot to drive a valuable shipment. So the next time you hear about a record seizure, read between the lines to imagine what they didn’t get.
[More on the amnesty from Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]