Monday, June 14, 2010

Detaining the Wind: Peruvian Cocaine Production Hits New Highs

How does drug trafficking become more resilient to repression, better able to cross borders, and increase supply?

Part of the answer lies in the approach of the Washington, DC anti-narcotics policy apparatus. For example, back in the 1990s Washington's narcs and the US military decided to staunch the cocaine supply from Colombia. (It had come to Colombia in the same decade after eradication efforts in Peru squeezed growers out from its ancestral home.)

Washington's Colombian strategy changed the region: where once the powder went by sea and air, almost overnight the drug cartels opted for the overland route, through Mexico. According to Brown University scholar Peter Andreas in Border Games, not a single beltway policy wonk foresaw that coke would still flow from Colombia, surging through Mexico with disastrous consequences, an obvious yet unnoticed land bridge.

Now in a repetition of the tired but tested law of Washington's unintended consequences, Peru might go the same way as Mexico, according to the New York Times. Again, Washington has its hand in this change. Since 2000 Colombia has received $5 billion in aid to eradicate coca production. Watch this video from the New York Times.

But of course coca production hasn't declined in the Andes, it's just shifted BACK to Peru. This is known as the "balloon effect" where the problem "swells in one spot when another is squeezed." SSDP advisory council member Sanho Tree has also compared coca eradication to the game whac-a-mole and Shoveling Water. And this happens with dramatic consequences.

Soldiers, civilians and paramilitaries have died in clashes between guerrillas and Peruvian troops. US anti-narcotics aid to Peru has climbed this year from last year, reports the NYT in its article, even though the Obama Administration stated in its 2010 National Drug Control Policy to focus more on patients than prohibition. Obama's move seemed to gel with Latin America's leaders who called in February for a different, less punitive approach to US, and their own, drug policies. Yet in a continuation of the past, the Obama Administration has increased money for eradication and interdiction.

At least some in the Andes are aware that their task is impossible. The Peruvian general in charge of eradication refers to his efforts as, "detaining the wind." But the cartels are bristling in the breeze, strengthening their resolve, and increasing their profits and production.

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