MR. DASH: Our next two panels, The International War on Drugs and The Multibillion Dollar Illegal Drug Business, which will be broadcast live on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" will be moderated by Juan Williams, the host of "Talk of the Nation" for NPR News.
MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you very much, and welcome to all of you.
MR. WILLIAMS: From Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., this is "Talk of the Nation." I am Juan Williams.
The war on drugs has its roots in a real war. When thousands of Vietnam war vets came home addicted to heroin, there was pressure on the Federal Government to take action. President Nixon's response was to use diplomatic pressure to shut down opium production in Turkey which was the source of the famous French Connection that brought large quantities of heroin to America. The strategy worked as heroin production in Turkey declined, and an international police effort broke up the French Connection. Meanwhile, methadone clinics became widely available in America to help addicts get off of heroin.
Unfortunately, nothing in the world of illegal drugs stays the same for long. The profits are too great. Heroin production shifted to Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and Mexico. The 1980 saw cocaine, much of it produced in Colombia, become the new illegal drug of choice in America.
In a new war on drugs, President Reagan tried to seal the borders by spending millions of dollars on intradiction. President Bush ordered the 1989 invasion of Panama partly because of General Noriega's involvement in drug trafficking.
More recently, President Clinton gave Colombia $1.3 billion to battle drug traffickers. The administration also plans to send trainers to work with the Colombian police and military to battle drug trafficking. Critics are loudly condemning this escalation by calling it another potential Vietnam in which the U.S. becomes slowly entangled in a war.
Since 1981, Americans have spent $25 billion on efforts to control foreign drug traffic. In a 1995 survey, 85 percent of the American public believe that stopping the flow of illegal drugs should be our most important foreign policy goal. Yet, illegal drugs are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever. So is it time to rethink our international drug policy?
We are here at Georgetown University Law School today as part of a symposium examining America's anti-drug policies. It is a collaboration between NPR News and the PBS series, Frontline. Next week, both Frontline and NPR will air special reports on the question we are discussing today: Has the war on drugs failed?
My guests are: Raymond Kelly, Commissioner of U.S. Customs; Matthew Maher, former director of International Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA; and Mathea Falco, president of Drug Strategies. She is former Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters.
Mathea Falco, let me begin with you as the president of Drug Strategies, a
former Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters. I
wonder if you can tell me if there was ever a time when America succeeded in
I think we have a long history of trying to blame foreign countries for our own drug problems, and we have proved over and over again that foreign countries cannot solve our own drug problem.
I am a demand sider--I think we should be reducing the demand for the drug--not
a supply sider and focussing almost entirely on reducing foreign supplies which
has proved impossible.
Trade has essentially doubled in this country in the last 7 years. Obviously, it is a good thing for America, but every container, every ship that comes to our shores potentially has narcotics on it. So it has presented a lot of challenges to us.
I know I am kind of going against the tide here in the discussion that took place this morning, but there are some positive signs. If you look back in history, if you look back 20 years ago, we had about 25 million drug users in this country. They say that we are down below 13 million now. So that is a significant decrease, 50 percent as far as drug users.
In the last 15 years--in 1985, we had 6 million cocaine users. We are now told we have 2 million cocaine users. Now, nobody is here declaring victory. Obviously, major challenges lie ahead of us, but I think that is an indication that a difference is being made.
This is a marathon. It is not a sprint. It has a long way to go, and I think
as Americans, we want things to happen overnight.
So what you are saying to us is that we are making progress and the war on
drugs, the current war on drugs, is a success.
I mean, I think we are moving in the right direction. Obviously, there is a
lot of drugs out there. We have just revised our estimates of the cocaine crop
coming from Colombia. It essentially has been doubled. So there is a lot of
drugs out there.
We see a robust market being built up in Europe. This cocaine is going
someplace, but I think if you do look back and take a wider view, you can see
I noticed that Ms. Falco talks about having been shifting now to the demand
side, and I think there is absolutely a strong demand component that needs to
put into it. But at the same time, we do need to recognize that as long as
there are unlimited supplies of drugs available, the demand equation is going
to be severely frustrated in meeting its goals and objectives.
Heroin is now one-quarter of the street price of 1981. Its purity has
escalated tenfold, and I think all the enforcement in the world agree to
We have training in schools. The fifth to sixth grade is the level where anti-drug education starts. I think we should explore the possibility of moving that down dramatically, even to Headstart-level training. It is that serious a problem and I think it has to start earlier on, earlier than it is now, but I can tell you that parents resist that because we talked about doing that in New York and parents don't want their children exposed to even the notion of drugs at such an early age. They say it is going to put that thought in their mind.
So it is a controversial area, but I think we could do much, much more as far as education and training is concerned.
Raymond Kelly, you certainly heard all the criticism about the U.S. sending
money and troops into Colombia. What is the administration's response to
people who worry that this is the camel's nose under the tent in terms of
This is a plan put together by Colombia. The U.S. did not put it together. It is a $7.5-billion plan. Colombia is contributing $4 billion to it at a time when it has the worst recession in 7 years. $2 billion are coming from Europe and Japan, and $1.3 billion from the U.S.
What it gives the Colombians is, yes, a military component, flexibility to get around in the areas where drugs are being grown. They have now moved to much more remote areas. In the plan, there are 46 helicopters. There is training by the U.S. of two anti-drug battalions, only training, clear prohibition against our forces being involved in any operation. It also has a human rights component. It has an alternative development program as far as alternative crops are concerned. It assists the police. I think it makes sense at this time.
We can't abandon Colombia, and it certainly is, in my judgment, a U.S.
self-interest to contribute and help Colombia fight this nemesis.
The one thing about the plan that I do have a little bit of concern about is why it took us so long to get there. As the programs that were in place, the U.S. Government and Latin American programs that were in place to reduce production of coca in Peru and Bolivia begin to take hold--and we saw them taking hold--I think we should have been preparing for the situation in Colombia.
I don't think any of us deluded ourselves into believing that the drug problem was going to go away, and we knew that these trafficking organizations were going to find some other place to do it.
I really think that we do need to deal with it. We can't let this fire try to
burn itself out in Colombia. I don't think that will happen. I think it will
just begin to escalate, and the amount of drugs, the enormous amount of drugs
that is available now will increase.
The alliance between the traffickers and some of the insurgent groups right now changes the profile of the drug problem. We are not talking about some traffickers in a remote jungle laboratory with a few armed gunmen to protect their operations. We are talking about sophisticated paramilitary forces with weaponry, equipment, and sophisticated tactics and techniques in order to deal with protecting that infrastructure.
The traffickers made the decision to go with them. The paramilitary groups
accepted them. Now we are going to have to deal with them in the context in
which they exist, and that may require strong military presence.
Just to put this in context in terms of cultivation, in order to grow enough
opium to supply the entire American heroin market for a year, we really only
need 30 square miles which is about the size of Northwest Washington, D.C. To
grow enough coca to produce enough for the cocaine market here, we need an area
the size one-third of the State of Rhode Island. That area can be found in
many different parts of the world, and we are already seeing a spill-over
Cheap drugs encourage use. I mean, there are a lot of things we could be doing
in this country. We haven't talked about them very much. Expanded prevention
as early as Headstart, treatment for every addict who needs it, more
community-based efforts, more community coalitions with local law enforcement,
there is a lot going on.
This is not about addressing the very complicated situation in Colombia. It is
not about really long-term building of civil institutions. There are a lot of
problems there. I think this kind of military assistance will only make things
worse for them and for us.
I think as Mathea said before, we are not reaching enough people. There is
only 5 percent of prisoners who are in the Federal system who are receiving
treatment. This is a captive audience. Clearly, they should be getting more
I think in examining the history of drug law enforcement, you will find that substantial impact has been made at lots of levels. The Kingpin Program in Latin America served to impact very, very severely upon the major cartel operators in the '80s and into the early '80s. There are other experiences where you have large trafficking organizations who are able to keep operating because they are in political environments and in other countries where we don't necessarily have either a foreign policy in place to deal with it or the resources to root them out.
In the late '70s and the early '80s, I don't know that the American government was properly focussed on cocaine at that time. I think our emphasis was on heroin. These organizations began to grow, put down roots, became very, very strong, and we are now paying the price of trying to root them out today.
As we attack the major organizations, they do begin to morph, they do begin to change, like any other business. If you find something impacting on your business, you will find another way to do it.
Let's go to Richard in Miami Beach, Florida. Richard, you are on "Talk of the
My kid got out in less than a year, but one of her friends was caught in a
foreign country for more than 3 years. None of the people that were locked up
for drugs in this prison were major traffickers of any kind. They were all
"weaklings," underlings, people who--
Ray Kelly, is that true that the big guys never go to prison?
I don't know what else law enforcement can do in this regard. If someone is
bringing drugs into the country, knowingly bringing it in, it seems to me that
they should be arrested and there should be a penalty assessed with that, but,
yes, doing sophisticated investigations are a real challenge, and get more
difficult every day.
Chris, in Philadelphia, you are on "Talk of the Nation." Chris?
Before we went to the break, you had talked about the mandatory minimums, and it is a very, very disturbing set of circumstances. Mandatory minimums, of course, were developed as a result of lots of political pressure put upon politicians and members of Congress and legislators to deal with the drug problem, especially during the crack epidemic and the horrors that that brought forward.
Now, the people who are out there and getting caught up in the system, they are basically victims of the system, but they are also victims of being involved in the drug traffic themselves, and they need to realize that there is certain levels of responsibility and certain things that they have to take to themselves.
If the mandatory minimums are a problem, then I would suggest that the public
that call for the strong drug laws and the political reactions that brought
them about go back to their Congressmen, go back to their Senators, and see
what they can do about doing something to reconcile those.
If the number of U.S. drug users has decreased dramatically, but the coca crop
has been doubling in recent years, where is the excess cocaine going?
The locus of this particular case was in Greece, but there were other European countries as well, Spain, France.
And now, interesting enough, the governments in Europe who just up until a few
years ago said "Well, that is your problem, U.S." are not very much involved,
and that is the reason we got a lot of cooperation in this case because they
now see it on their doorstep.
I must say I am not quite as sanguine as some of your interlocutors here about
the huge declines in American drug abuse problem. I think it is important to
remember that the number of what we would call hard-core addicts has really
remained very high. I think the official estimate that we have just heard from
General McCaffrey is 5 million. I think it is probably closer to 6 or 7.
Would you say, Ray?
So whatever declines are occurring, are occurring in the face of in fact rapidly increasing supplies worldwide. So what does that tell us about looking to supply-side strategies to change behavior?
In fact, I think the changes that have come in this country have been a result
of education, prevention, changes in attitudes, learning from the tragic
experiences of the crack cocaine epidemic, but I don't see the drug problem as
solved in this country by any means.
Recently, my family's office building in downtown Cochabamba was riddled with
bullets and partially destroyed when troops fired on armed protesters, and
currently in the past few days, it appears that the Bolivian government could
topple as a result primarily of their policy of attempting to eradicate coca
because the protest by poor farmers, because they are losing their livelihood,
has been so great that it has arrived at that point.
So, I mean, there are a lot of complexities here, but Bolivia, I think, as I
say, has been doing a heroic job in fighting against the narco traffickers
I would like to thank all of you who joined us in the audience at Georgetown
University's Law Center here in Washington, D.C.
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