August 30, 2000
After a background report, four experts discuss President Clinton's visit to Colombia, the drug war and the United States' $1.3 billion aid package.
FARNSWORTH: For more on the drug war and Colombia we turn to James McDonough,
director of Florida's Office of Drug Control Policy. From 1996 until last
year he served as director of strategy for the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy under General Barry McCaffrey. Cynthia Arnson, assistant
director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Latin America program. Major Andy
Messing, executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation.
He retired from the army in 1987. And Mathea Falco, president of Drug
Strategies, a drug policy research institute. She served as assistant
secretary of state for international narcotics matters during the Carter
James McDonough, how is this $1.3 billion supposed to cut back or cut down drug production in Colombia?
JAMES McDONOUGH: Well, it is focused on five areas, one of which is to strengthen the counter-narcotics effort, which translates into helping the brigade in its counter-narcotics effort. So, it is not a counter military per se, but it is counter-narcotics.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, let's just stay on that for one minute. What's it supposed to do? What are the helicopters necessary for? What's the training necessary for?
JAMES McDONOUGH: Well, as I understand it, there are three components. Number one is to help them for training so they are standing up a brigade; they've got about one battalion trained and two more coming. Secondly they're going to provide them an intelligence picture, which is very important, as you are well aware, they've been suffering badly on the battlefield with the FARC. So an intelligence structure will help them. And thirdly, they are getting the means to move around the area that they've really lost control of. The mobility advantage at the moment goes to the FARC. If you take the training and intelligence picture and the helicopters that will move the counter narcotics brigade around, it evens the playing field.
|No impact on US demand|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mathea Falco, is this the right policy?
MATHEA FALCO: Well, Elizabeth, of course I'm in favor of providing assistance to Colombia, and that may well include some military training. But this package is essentially high-tech equipment that the Colombians themselves are going to have trouble keeping in the field, keeping maintained. It will inevitably include Americans on the ground, and they may well get drawn into the combat situation at some point. But I think, even more important, this package has the potential really to make a very difficult situation worse, and also, it won't have any impact on the drug problem in the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How about just an impact on the cultivation of cocaine in Colombia?
MATHEA FALCO: Well, I think it will be very tough for this new package to have much impact. The Colombians have already been involved in herbicidal eradication of marijuana, cocaine and heroin over the last several years, and in fact production continues to increase. You know, it is a kind of balloon effect, wherever you get one part sort of taken care of through herbicidal eradication, the cultivation pops up somewhere else. And, in fact, in Colombia, it has had dire environmental consequences because the cultivation keeps getting pushed into more and more remote regions, which are harder and harder for government forces to attack, but which also involve cutting and burning very important, you know, resources, natural resources.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Major Messing, what do you think of this policy? Do you think it will help cut down the cultivation in Colombia?
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): You have to put things in perspective, Elizabeth. You had a statistic at the beginning of the program about how we've seen a 750 percent increase since 1992. Before that, under Reagan/Bush, we had a downturn of activity. We started seeing even in the demand side some traction. The word is traction. We can never win the drug war, but what we can do is reduce it to its lowest manageable level, and just to abandon it to the dark side, so to speak, to people who attack democracy and light side capitalism, it would be folly. So this package is important. It's a little bit late. We saw the Clinton/Gore administration sit on their hands for five years before Denny Hastert, Ben Gilman, Dan Burton, and Mike DeWine wound up putting the blow torch to those people so they would get with the program as they say in the military.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you think the helicopters, the military aid specifically, will help get rid of some of the cultivation?
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): Well, a lot has to do with, like what we did in El Salvador. You have to get parity on the battlefield, first of all, before there can be any successful negotiations. The drug guerillas, the narco guerillas have decided to use drugs as their main financial component. You have to take away some of their strength in order for them to start talking seriously about laying down their guns.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Arnson what about that? Where are the peace negotiations now? Is it true that the government needs more strength to be able to get the guerillas to lay down their guns?
CYNTHIA ARNSON: Well, I think there's no question that the government of President Pastrana has made a significant effort to move the peace talks forward. And most of the resistance has been on the side of the FARC guerillas. I think there are problems, however, in the argument that you have to level the playing field, bloody the nose of the guerillas, for them to come to the table in good faith. I think that peace negotiations elsewhere in the region and elsewhere in the world show that there are important political or psychological dimensions that have to do with incentives to come to the bargaining table. These are not strictly military. And I think the composition of this package has every likelihood of increasing the intensity of the war and the abuse of the civilian population without noticeably advancing the prospects for peace.
|Skewed to the military|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you think that there is too much military aid and not enough in other, for example, in the justice reform and human rights training?
CYNTHIA ARNSON: Well, Plan Colombia, I think, tries to attack various different fronts simultaneously, including the peace process, alternative development, counter drug operations. But the composition of the United States package is unfortunately heavily skewed to the military side. Some 80 percent of this money will be devoted to police and military efforts, and a smaller portion to reform and development kinds of issues.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: James McDonough, what about the tie-in between the guerillas and the drugs? It is a very close connection, and will US troops, who are there helping train these counter narcotics battalions, end up in this civil war somehow? I mean, I want to quote, there was a mayor quoted in the Chicago Tribune who said the Americans are going to be in planes, they're going to be in training centers. This is a mayor in the middle of the drug-producing region. They will be in the war, he said.
JAMES McDONOUGH: Well, I think we're going to put a cap on the number of people that are training. That cap right now is fixed at, the number 86. And we've done things like this before throughout the world and have not been drawn into a war. I do point out that the effort is counter narcotics. It is not warfare, and some of the aid packages going for law enforcement as well, which means you have to deal with the criminal outfits that you are going after. But just to reinforce the point, there are other parts of the package. The US package is about 20 percent, at $1.3 billion. The entire plan comes into $7.5 billion. We're just one of the contributors to this plan. And even within our own package, a significant amount, I believe, have gone into the development of alternatives to the economy, the strengthening of the governmental institutions, so if we do this right-- of course it is not without risk -- but if we do this right, and I think a lot of effort has been invested to do it right, I would like to see this one have a chance.
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): Elizabeth, I might have two points.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes, go ahead.
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): First of all, on the front end of this thing, you have to have a measure of security spending to bring the Colombian police and military up to speed, and you have to have a cap by our forces, so we don't wind up being sucked into a long, involved process. In El Salvador, we had a 55 cap. Colombia is eight times the size and population, and actually, the country is eight times bigger than El Salvador. The cap has been projected at 500 for military and about 300 for contractors. So this is -- we're trying to move toward a quality effort in advising the Colombian government how to reorganize themselves politically, militarily, economically, and security-wise. So that's what you have to do in a situation that's so critical.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mathea Falco, I see you shaking your head about this. But I also want us to comment on the international implications in the bordering countries, Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador. You said there is a balloon effect.
MATHEA FALCO: The balloon effect is already happening, Elizabeth. There are increasing plantings in neighboring countries, Venezuela in particular is very, very concerned, and much of the traffic and the production is moving now through Venezuela. But to go back to the earlier point, President Pastrana himself has pointed out just this morning that indeed, American demand for drugs has got to be addressed. And this package essentially is a very big military package. It is our third largest foreign assistance grant in the world. And I don't think most people realize that. And, meanwhile, we are not putting a similar accelerated effort into cutting back on the demand in this country through effective prevention and treatment programs that would really respond to try to reduce the market.
|Diminishing drug supply|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, let's stay on that for a minute. Let's assume for a second that the military aid package is somewhat successful in Colombia and there is diminished cultivation of coca and poppies. Does that necessarily translate -- you touched this in your earlier remarks -- into a diminished flow of drugs into this country?
MATHEA FALCO: Unfortunately, Elizabeth, the last 20 years of trying to reduce the supplies of drugs by working in other countries, in fact, has not produced results. Worldwide production of heroin and cocaine are about triple what they were 20 years ago. Drugs are more freely available in this country. Prices are-- heroin is at one-quarter of its 1981 street price. Cocaine prices have dropped by two thirds. The price basically on the street in the United States indicates that there is huge availability.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? I mean, I know this is too complex for the last minutes of this, but just briefly, why? Why is it not better?
MATHEA FALCO: Well, essentially because as long as we have a very strong demand for this commodity, for these drugs, there will be a market to supply it. And Colombia is not the only drug producer in the world. I mean, I think everybody acknowledges that. In fact, right here in the United States, there is a lot of illicit marijuana production to meet our American market. So essentially producers spring up wherever there is a demand for that market to be met.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: James McDonough, what's your response to that? James McDonough.
JAMES McDONOUGH: Well, I certainly agree with the view that we have to cut the demand. That's the root of the problem. That's where the priorities ought to go. But I want to point out very quickly there has been a great growth in the budgetary support for the reduction on the demand side. On the supply side, this one I think has a great chance of working. There is only a few countries that can grow the coca leaf that ends up as cocaine and we've seen the neighboring countries come down 50 percent in recent years. The balloon effect has been right here, right in the FARC-controlled area. So if you bring that down, you do make a dent it in. Does it get rid of the problem? No. But supply is part of the issue that must be addressed. So, you work in a balanced way. You bring down the demand for drugs at home and overseas too, by the way. You work together as an international effort, and you certainly try to catch the bees at the beehive before they start on the way to the target.
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): I would like to use that one statistic that Ms. Falco gave that it's one quarter of the price of 1981. Of course in, ma'am, as you know we were having traction up until January of 1993 where the Clinton administration and the lack of leadership in the Clinton/Gore administration wound up having a five-year sabbatical away from the drug war. That's where we lost a lot of traction. And the second point is, we're having more, more cocaine and heroin than demand coming into our country. That shows that drug dealers, the malevolent elements, understand that they want to create a marketplace, expand our marketplace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Arnson, one second, let me just get your response, Mathea Falco.
MATHEA FALCO: Two quick things, Elizabeth. As to the question of reducing demand in the United States, only one out of three drug addicts can now get treatment unless they can pay for it in this country, and we know that treatment can reduce.
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): No one is fighting the demand side question. You are 100 percent right. I worked in a homeless shelter for a year and a half. I saw one third -
MATHEA FALCO: I have one other point, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes, go ahead.
MAJ. ANDY MESSING (RET.): One third of the people in there were drug people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let Ms. Falco finish. Go ahead.
MATHEA FALCO: And that has to do with how little area, geographic area it takes, in fact to produce enough drugs to supply the whole American market. For example, it takes 25 square miles of opium poppies to supply the entire US heroin demand for a year. That's about the size of northwest Washington.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, now Cynthia Arnson.
CYNTHIA ARNSON: I would say the preceding discussion illustrates to a large extent what is wrong with the discussion of Colombia and the United States. There is a tendency to reduce this to the question of drugs and drug interdiction and drug suppression. And I think the crisis in Colombia goes far beyond that and it is truly unfortunate that the US aid package is so heavily focused on this one issue. It makes sense in terms of getting a substantial aid package through the Congress, but it really doesn't begin to deal with the extent of the problems of democratic governance, of human rights, of judicial reform that I think are the core of the problem in Colombia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you very much, all four of you.