Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Delegation to Colombia

It's worthwhile to step back and remember that not only are students in the U.S. in the crosshairs of the Drug War, but that this is a global war. Some of the most afflicted live in Latin America, and are, quite literally, targeted by the Drug War. Perhaps no country has been hit as hard as war-torn Colombia.

Colombia has endured four decades of brutal armed conflict between guerrilla movements, paramilitary forces, and the national army, all of whom violate human rights. Through a program known as "Plan Colombia," the U.S. government has provided Colombia with over $4 billion in military and police aid since 2000 for the War on Drugs. During that time the violence has increased - with nearly one million more people displaced from their homes and thousands of civilians killed every year. Meanwhile, drug production in the Andean region has remained steady. Coca eradication in South America is perhaps one of the greatest injustices that our government has exacted in the name of its citizens.

Which is why SSDP is partnering with Witness for Peace, a Latin American human rights organization, to lead a delegation to Colombia to see first-hand the devastating effects of the Drug War on Colombia. In late August 2006, the delegation will spend approximately 11 days touring afflicted regions of Colombia, meeting with a wide range of experts. Delegates will also gather tools and skills needed to educate U.S. policymakers about the impacts of U.S. policy in Colombia.

This is going to be an important delegation for SSDPers and one that will help us put our activism in a broader perspective. I urge all SSDPers to learn about what's going on in Colombia and the Andean region and to seriously consider participating in this important delegation.

In solidarity.

2 comments:

$cig said...

Cool. I'm looking forward to hearing some first-hand accounts of coca vs. supercoca.

Anonymous said...

The War on Drugs has had PROFOUND negative consequences on Latin America, and I'm glad this post addressed some of the important and often overlooked problems facing Colombia. However, I have to say that I'm generally disappointed with the SSDP in their analysis of the War on Drugs. Most young people I know, especially drug users, phrase their arguments in ways which may mobilize limited support for reforms, but can not persuade the general anti-drug-indoctrinated populace that think "drugs are bad" and "wars against bad things are ok".

Lefties tend to point out the problems of the War on Drugs in a few general ways. 1. The domestic enforcement of drug law creates more social problems than it solves (privacy, unjust application of the law, a staggering population of non-violent drug offenders in jail, etc). 2. The gov't should not have the ability to criminalize drug use (private morality that d/n have social ramifications, drugs aren’t bad, etc) and 3. it costs a vast sum of money (<$100b that could be better spent elsewhere). I find these to be simple yet agreeable precepts, but think that one critical consideration is being overlooked in their formulation, that is, 5. most people think that drugs are bad, and they want the federal gov't to do all in its power to stop their consumption. For the general populace (which we may presume holds view 5), views 2 and 3 are simply not effective anti-drug war criticisms. If we’re going to make a change, the best strategy is to concede that drug abuse is a problem we should try to limit, while asserting that our current strategy is a piece of crap.


The US really started to crack down on drugs (no pun intended) with the Reagan administration. Consistent with his supply-side economic theory (more supply = more demand = more consumption = higher GDP), his anti-drug policy sought to dramatically decrease the supply of drugs in this country, reducing demand and decreasing drug consumption. In order to decrease the drug supply, the US began to aggressively police the Caribbean routes used by the Colombian Cartels. Especially after the introduction of NAFTA, Mexico has realized a significant comparative advantage in the drug trade.

The rise of massively powerful Cartels in our southern neighbor, which has had massive corruption problems for the last 70 years, has had serious repercussions throughout its political system in particular. The “over-penalization” of the trade (due to constant US pressure) has left the Cartels with one option; they must purchase the non-enforcement of the law from government agents. In an already impoverished country where the gains promised by NAFTA have not been distributed, many police and jail guards who cannot afford equipment (and many small communities with few economic options) have begun to participate in narco-trafficking.

Colombia is much more complicated due to its internal political dynamics, though the Cartels have certainly affected the government (it is estimated that around 15% of Colombian exports are illegal drugs). However, current US activity there involves securing the nation’s oil pipeline from guerilla attacks. The source-interdiction plan Reagan advocated has not had a significant impact on coca production.

The drug problem must be recognized for what it is; a US market that Cartels are supplying, and along the way doing what the need to make a profit (not that they’re particularly friendly customers). However, our policies over the last 20 years have not had a significant effect on drug consumption, and though the price of drugs has risen marginally over this time their purity has as well. This suggests that the demand for drugs is fairly unresponsive to changes in price (I’ll buy an eighth at 30 or an eight at 50 and not really care). Furthermore, the price increases have been due to the increased necessity of corrupting public officials in order to get the drugs in. Current US drug policy is therefore critically defective on (at least) two fronts: it isn’t working to combat the drug problem here, and it is wreaking havoc on Latin American countries for supplying a commodity Americans demand. If the goal is to reduce drug abuse and its deletrious effects, we must be able to show that our current strategies are damaging and ineffectual. However, we must also prepare and be able to defend an alternative strategy that would combat this problem more efficiently.