International Counternarcotics Policies

Do They Reduce Domestic Consumption or Advance other Foreign Policy Goals?
Adam Isacson
Statement before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee Oversight and Government Reform Committee
July 21, 2010

In Latin America, monitoring U.S. assistance means monitoring U.S. counter-drug programs. We’ve found that in the ten years between 2000 and 2009, the United States gave Latin America and the Caribbean about $20.8 billion in assistance, both military and economic aid. Of that amount, fully $9.9 billion — 48 percent — went through counternarcotics accounts in the State and Defense department budgets. Of the $9.2 billion in military and police aid during this 10-year-period, $7.8 billion — 85 percent — was paid for by counternarcotics programs.

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During the 2000s, a lot of aid money was spent to reduce drug supplies. But have these aid programs, in fact, helped to reduce drug supplies?

The answer is a clear “no.” My testimony will focus on cocaine, the only illegal drug in the United States that is supplied entirely from Latin America. By every measure, these ten years of aid to the region did not reduce cocaine supplies.

• Tons: in 1999, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the region produced 925 tons of cocaine. In 2009, the same agency just reported, cocaine production was about the same: a range between 842 and 1,111 tons of cocaine. The Southern Command’s estimate is higher: “between 1,250 and 1,500 metric tons of cocaine.”

• Street price: In 2000, according to the UNODC’s World Drug Report, the average purity and inflation adjusted price of a gram of cocaine on U.S. streets was $224. By 2008, that price was $216.4 If price is the measure of how well supply is satisfying demand, then cocaine supplies are satisfying demand as well as ever.

• Related violence: The past ten years have seen an important reduction in drug- and conflictrelated
violence in Colombia. Though the war continues and violence levels remain very high, the Colombian people have paid for this progress with lives and resources, tripling their military and police budget and nearly doubling the size of their security forces. However, decreased violence in Colombia has been offset by a sharp rise in drug-related homicides in Mexico. Today, Mexico is the center of gravity for groups involved in illegal drug transshipment, which is by far the most profitable link in the drug trafficking chain.

In the past year or two here in Washington, there has been more recognition that our strategy isn’t reducing drug supplies. As a result, our strategy has been shifting — tentatively, but in an interesting direction. This is not the first such shift; in fact, it’s the latest in a series of them. But for the first time in memory, we are not hearing proposals for get-tough military and police offensives in the region. Instead, we are hearing more discussion about strengthening civilian governance, justice, and economic opportunity.