Finally U.S. politicians have understood that the War on Drugs and by extension Plan Colombia has failed. As it was to be expected the Colombian government swiftly refuted this view. Paradoxically both views are right to some extent depending of the perspectives used. But the facts are against the Colombian government.
On April 28 2009, the “Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009” was introduced in the House of Representatives. Last Thursday October 15 the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs committee approved the bipartisan initiative. The purpose of the bill is to create a commission composed of 10 independent members that would “evaluate U.S. policies and programs aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand.” Eight of these members would be appointed by leaders of both parties in Congress and two would be appointed by President Barack Obama. The purpose of the commission is to…
“…review and evaluate United States illicit drug supply policy, with particular emphasis on international drug policies and programs directed toward the countries of the Western Hemisphere and demand reduction policies and programs. The Commission shall identify policy and program options to improve existing international and domestic counternarcotics policy.”
The sponsor of the bill, Democrat Eliot L. Engel, acknowledged a report prepared by three former Latin American presidents in 2009 to support the view that the U.S. drug policy had been a failure. Nevertheless, he also emphasized that he does not support the rejection of the current policies aimed at curtailing the supply of drugs, nor their legalization. Paradoxically, these were the conclusions of the three former presidents.
The reasons for this commission are obvious. Nixon’s 1971 War on Drugs has been a failure in terms of stemming the flow of drugs to the U.S. From 1988 to 2008 the area under coca cultivation in the Andes has not varied. It has remained at about 200.000 hectares. During the last seven years the U.S. has spent 6.8 billion in Plan Colombia. But the flow of drugs to the U.S., where 17.2 percent of world drug users are found, has not been significantly stemmed. The flow of drugs, according to the UN, is moderated by the demand side of the equation more than anything else. Thus, the only winners of the War on Drugs are the druglords that enrich themselves from a very profitable monopoly.
Naturally, the Colombian government, at the helm of the Defense minister, Gabriel Silva Lujan, does not render Plan Colombia a failure. The government’s arguments are based on the positive results of the counterinsurgency efforts, specifically against the FARC, which have been achieved with Plan Colombia; something that Colombians are greatly indebted for. In other words, the modernization of the armed forces saved Colombia from joining the infamous club of failed states: the fate that international commentators predicted for the country 10 years ago. Moreover, supporters of Plan Colombia in Capitol Hill avidly mention the importance in helping regional governments to build strong institutions to strengthen democracy. Thus, the U.S. government on its effort to delude the general public goes as far as to certify Colombia’s government and armed forces on their efforts to promote respect for human rights, thus permitting U.S. military aid to flow.
But even with the relative military success of Plan Colombia, the country’s democracy has not been strengthened. Uribe’s first reelection has undermined democracy’s crucial check and balances and now he exerts control over eight public institutions, which would be otherwise independent. Moreover, the successes in terms of security have been short-lived. Violence in urban areas has been increasing dramatically in past months, mainly due to never demobilized right-wing death squads. And the FARC’s old-fashioned guerrilla tactics have resulted in heavy casualties for government forces. Furthermore, the relative success against the FARC has not decreased considerably coca cultivation and drug production — this may question the extent to which the guerrilla controls cocaine exports. Finally, the largely questionable means with which the military successes against the guerrilla have been achieved undermine the effectiveness of U.S. funds.
It is too early to know whether the “Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009” will become a reality. But if the commission is handicapped in terms of the possible conclusions that can be reached, there may not be significant changes on how the whole War on Drugs policy is approached. Therefore, this bipartisan initiative is bound to fail in proposing sustainable solutions to the social problems arising from illicit drug use.