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AFTERNOON PANEL I THE INTERNATIONAL WAR ON DRUGS JUAN WILLIAMS, PANEL MODERATOR...Wednesday, October 4, 2000 - Georgetown University Law Center

 

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 battling drugs.

MS. FALCO: Juan, I think we reached our best moment right after the breakup of the French Connection in the middle '70s, the late '70s, but it was a very brief respite. Essentially, what happened is that other sources of production and trafficking routes opened up. The market is so powerful, the demand for drugs is so strong, that we have seen tragically over the past 20 years that this kind of market will always encourage people to go heavily into production and traffic.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Raymond Kelly, as Commissioner of U.S. Customs, when you hear Mathea Falco talk about the impossibility of controlling the supply side of the equation, do you agree?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, I can tell you that it certainly is a challenge.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: I have in my hand a piece that comes from The New York Times earlier. It says here that General McCaffrey says that there has been a landslide of little noted statistics showing that domestic demand for drugs has plunged. Use of cocaine, both crack and powder, has decreased by 70 percent in the last 15 years, and he adds that the consumption of all drugs by youths age 12 to 17 went down 21 percent between 1997 and 1999.

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.

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, I wouldn't label it 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.

MR. WILLIAMS: You see it increasing production?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: The crop that is being produced in Colombia.

MR. WILLIAMS: It is increasing?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Yes, it is increasing, and in the last 5 years, not only has it increased, but our estimates of what it was has also increased.

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 some successes.

MR. WILLIAMS: Matthew Maher, let me ask you. You were at the Drug Enforcement Administration for 27 years. So you have some historical perspective on this matter. Do you think that we are winning this war on drugs?

MR. MAHER: Well, Juan, I would like to answer your question, first, by going back on how you started this segment--

MR. WILLIAMS: Sure.

MR. MAHER: --by talking about the Nixon plan. The Nixon plan, I think, was one of the preeminent successes in dealing with this supply side issue, and it had in place at that time all of the elements that I think all in the panel would agree with me. It had a demand side equation to it--element. It had a supply side equation to it, and it had, which was not mentioned in your exposition, a law enforcement approach to it as well. Not only did the Nixon administration succeed in reducing and really curtailing opium production in Turkey and the methadone maintenance programs in the United States being in place to take up some of the treatment facilities, but at the same time, international law enforcement cooperated to roll up the organizations that were involved in distributing the drugs.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, let me get this straight. You are saying that as long as the supply side continues to double, according to what Raymond Kelly was telling us a moment ago, its production, that no matter what we do here to try to limit the demand, we are going to be in trouble.

MR. MAHER: I believe that is true. I know a lot of people will say, and it has been said, that we will never arrest our way out of the drug problem, and I agree with that. We won't. But I don't think we will also demand our way out or rehabilitate our way out of the problem. I think it needs to be done on a balanced equation on both sides.

MR. WILLIAMS: A balanced equation, but, Mathea Falco, what you are hearing here is the people are saying as long as we pay--fail to pay attention to the supply side, we are going to be in trouble.

MS. FALCO: Juan, what reductions have come in drug abuse in this country over the last decade have taken place in the face of rapidly increasing supplies and dropping prices.

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 that.

MR. WILLIAMS: Let me ask Ray Kelly. Do you agree with that?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Yes, I do.

MR. WILLIAMS: And, Matthew Maher, is that right?

MR. MAHER: Yeah, I agree with that as well.

MR. WILLIAMS: Okay.

MS. FALCO: So what we have seen in fact is a change in attitude, an understanding of the kind of destruction that crack cocaine wreaked on so many neighborhoods and families in the '80s. So people do learn from experience, but what I am trying to suggest is that treatment in fact is not available for everybody who needs it. Only one in three addicts in this country can get treatment. The criminal justice system, as we know all too well, is filled with people with drug abuse problems. In fact, probably 60 to 80 percent of those behind bars have some kind of serious drug problem. Those problems need to be addressed if we are going to make any lasting impact on drug use in this country and all the problems attendant to it.

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, I don't know. I think we can do a lot more as far as prevention is concerned, a lot more training. I think perhaps our target groups should be younger than they are now.

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 military involvement?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, I think the President has made that quite clear that this is certainly not extensive military involvement on the part of the United States. There is a cap on the number of advisors. I believe it is 60. It may be slightly more than that.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Matthew Maher, you are a man who was director of International Operations for the DEA. Does this plan make sense to you, or do you find some sympathy with critics who worry that in fact the United States is sort of heading down a slippery slope?

MR. MAHER: Well, Juan, I think that the plan makes sense.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Does the militarization of an anti-drug effort make sense to you?

MR. MAHER: Unfortunately, the situation in Colombia doesn't give us an awful lot of choices, I think.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Mathea Falco, for what we are hearing from Raymond Kelly and Matthew Maher is that we just have to respond to the situation as it is, it requires military intervention. Would you agree?

MS. FALCO: Well, I disagree. I think there are many reasons why the United States should be deeply concerned about Colombia. They are a long ally. We have many shared interests. It is an important democracy, but this assistance package is not going to make things better in Colombia in terms of the long-term civil war among all of these fighting factions, and more important, it will not have any impact at all in terms of the availability of drugs in this country.

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 effect.

MR. WILLIAMS: So what would you have us do, throw our arms up in the air and say we should stop efforts to halt the growth of cocaine and heroin supplies in Colombia?

MS. FALCO: Juan, I don't think it is a hopeless situation, but I think we should focus on strategies that actually might work, and I think we are deluding ourselves in this country to think that any minor reduction--which by the way the Colombians don't see as coming any time soon. It is not going to happen, and even if it did happen, 90 percent of the price of these drugs is added on after they come to this country.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: So you would abandon that billion-dollar investment.

MS. FALCO: I would certainly not direct it towards the military predominantly to buy, by the way, helicopters. I mean, that is where most of that money is going.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. Ray Kelly, how would you respond to that?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: I don't know of any experienced law enforcement person that doesn't think we need more treatment, more work on the demand side, no question about it, but I don't think we do it at the expense of interdiction. I think we need a balanced approach, as was said before. I don't think it is an either/or situation.

MR. WILLIAMS: But that billion dollars, how does it compare to what we spend in terms of drug treatment? Is it comparable?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: No--well, on the demand side, there is about $6 billion that is spent, but it is all across the lot.

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 treatment.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. Let's go to a question from the audience.

QUESTION: Yes. My name is Sanho Trie from the Institute for Policy Studies. My question is this. How can we win the drug war if our own policies ensure that only the most effective traffickers survive? Are we in effect breeding super traffickers?

MR. WILLIAMS: Matthew Maher, why don't you respond to this as someone who has experience in trying to stop international drug trafficking.

MR. MAHER: I don't know if I necessary agree with the questioners premise that we weed out the weak links and leave all the strong links behind.

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 Nation."

QUESTION: Okay. One of my kids was caught up in drug smuggling. She and her friends were what is known as "mules." What happens is that these kids are offered thousands of dollars to take what they consider to be a few days luxurious vacation, and they end up in prison.

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--

MR. WILLIAMS: Richard, you think this drug war, then, is picking on weak links and you think that the drug war is essentially going to farce.

QUESTION: Yeah, it is a farce because the people at the top levels, the people who supply, the wholesalers who in turn supply the low-level couriers never seem to end up in prison.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. Let's see what the panel has to say about that. Thanks for your call, Richard.

Ray Kelly, is that true that the big guys never go to prison?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, it is difficult to go up the chain, no question about it. Clearly, there is insulation involved here where the major traffickers are putting lots of people between themselves and drugs hitting the street, but Richard's daughter was a victim. There are lots of victims as a result of the drug problem we have in this country.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: But you hear lots of complaints from people who say, "Gosh, they are picking on the little guys. They are picking on poor people, minorities who are selling drugs on some street corners, but the big guys, you know, the white-collar guys who are capitalizing this venture, they never get tagged."

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, they do. I mean, we have had some successful cases, Casa Blanca for one. We just had a big case with DEA, Operation Journey, that involved 12 countries, a very sophisticated operation.

MR. WILLIAMS: Matthew, do you want to jump in?

MR. MAHER: Yes, Juan. You know, I don't think we can just sit back and say that these people are just victims. They are in some way, fashion, or form part and parcel of the overall problem because we can't sit by and tolerate or accept that we are going to allow people to, as the Commissioner said, just bring drugs into the United States.

Chris, in Philadelphia, you are on "Talk of the Nation." Chris?

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to comment that, you know, the people you have on your panel today can ring the alarm all the way, but the fact of the matter is that the horses are already out of the barn. And the war on drugs as experienced by people in the United States is basically a war on poor people. Also, Americans seem to have--

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, Chris, hang on.

[Applause.]

MR. WILLIAMS: I think that is an important point, Chris. So let's get a response. Matthew, here it is put in that way by Chris in Philadelphia that it is a war on poor people.

MR. MAHER: Well, unfortunately, I think that a lot of people are caught up who are poor people who are caught up in this problem, and the fact that the people who are in the consumption end and in the retail distribution end of drugs seem to be getting caught up in greater and greater numbers is something that is just a reality of trying to deal with the problem.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Let me go to another question from the audience.

QUESTION: Yes. My name is Matthew Faye. I had 4 years of counter-narcotics experience, and I am currently a student here at the Law Center.

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?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: We see an emerging market in Europe, and this case that I mentioned, Operation Journey, really underscored that. Drugs were going to 12 countries.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: So the lenient attitude that was once common in Europe towards drugs is now changing?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: It is changing. Yes, absolutely.

MR. WILLIAMS: Is that right, Mathea?

MS. FALCO: Well, I think they now have the kind of problem that they saw we had a decade ago.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, now, help me and, I think, help the listener understand this. You are saying that there are about 6 million heroin addicts in the United States.

MS. FALCO: Heroin and cocaine.

MR. WILLIAMS: Heroin and cocaine.

MS. FALCO: Right.

MR. WILLIAMS: Okay, so both, heroin and cocaine addicts. And their age, it must be older because what we have heard from the terms of the statistics is that there is a declining use of drugs among teenagers in the country.

MS. FALCO: A very slight decline, and only in the last 2 years, Juan. In fact, the last survey showed that among 18- to 25-year-olds, drug use is going up. So we can always play with the numbers, and I don't mean to sound an alarm. What I am suggesting is that our current policies do not build on what we have learned quite painfully over the last 20 years, including mandatory minimum sentences really don't work. I mean, that is the prevailing wisdom.

Would you say, Ray?

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Yeah, but I think, you know, the numbers are a little fluid here. I think 6 million addicts is a pretty high number. I have seen a much lower number, hard-core heroin addicts under a million, as you say, cocaine users about 2 million.

MR. WILLIAMS: But these are hard-core people. So what I am hearing, then, is that the majority of drug use is casual drug use.

COMMISSIONER KELLY: That's true.

MR. WILLIAMS: Now, that is a key point of difference with you and Ms. Falco.

MR. WILLIAMS: Okay. Mathea, you are saying that you feel the demand side is still very strong.

MS. FALCO: Absolutely, but I think the sort of deeper point here is that these changes, whether they are decreasing rapidly or not so rapidly among casual users and/or hard-core users, the real point is that the supplies of illegal drugs in this country are higher now than they have ever been in our history, and they are much, much cheaper and more powerful.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: Let me take another question from the audience.

QUESTION: My name is Adam Zeemans. I am a student at Georgetown University Law Center. My family lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and in May when I graduate, I am hoping to return to Cochabamba if the Country of Bolivia is not in a state of anarchy due to U.S. drug policy.

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.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. So, Adam, you are just negative. You just think this war on drugs is in fact destabilizing your whole nation.

QUESTION: My question is whether this policy of reducing the coca crops in one country when they can move--

MR. WILLIAMS: So quickly--well--

QUESTION: --one crop to another is worth the loss of a fledgling democracy in Bolivia.

MR. WILLIAMS: Let me ask Mr. Kelly to quickly respond. We are running out of time.

COMMISSIONER KELLY: Well, Bolivia has done a very impressive job in crop reduction. Almost 60 percent of their coca crop has been eliminated in the last 5 years.

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 there.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. That is all the time we have for today.

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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