Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Wrong-Way Drug War

Erradicating Colombian coca bushes. Less supply increases prices, triggering more plantations elsewhere.
During the Santos-Trump meeting in Washington today, undoubtedly at the top of the agenda was the huge increase in cocaine acreage in Colombia over the last several years.

Colombia's coca leaf crop has more than doubled, reaching record levels.

Conservative politicians and commentators, such as Florida Governor Rick Scott, ex-U.S. ambassador to the OEA Roger Noriega, and a certain right-wing Wall Street Journal columnist, want Colombia to accelerate coca leaf erradication, and in particular restart aerial fumigation with glyphosate.

Coca leaf acreage has spiked in recent years.
(Graphic from Semana magazine.)
Colombia suspended aerial fumigation in mid-2015 following a report which said that glyphosate might cause cancer. Many suspected that the government's real motive was to ingratiate itself with the FARC guerrillas, who late signed a peace deal with the government. Aerial spraying is also controversial because of its impacts on the environment and on food crops. And some analysts say it doesn't produce lasting impact on coca crops, since farmers have found ways to protect their plants, and can quickly replant them, compounding the environmental impact.

But even in the best of scenarios, attacking drug crops is a losing strategy. According to analysts, coca leaf farmers receive barely more than 1% of drug trafficking's profits, meaning that destroying those crops produces little economic impact on the drug economy. Even more importantly, by reducing supply, drug crop erradication raises prices and increases the economic incentive to plant coca. As a result, when they erradicate one farmer's crop, he or another farmer will likely respond by planting someplace else.

Also, drug traffickers' profits rise. Narcos say: 'Thank you Donald Trump!
Florida state Governor Rick Scott send Trump
a letter criticizing Colombian for failing to
erradicate its coca leaf crop.

On the other hand, reducing demand, for example by treating addicts, lowers prices and reduces the economic incentive to plant coca. Yet, Trump has proposed cutting the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95%.

Naturally, decriminalizing drugs would reduce many of their negative impacts, but that's not on Washington's policy radar screen.

Afterthought: Santos and Trump also likely agreed to condemn the Venezuelan government for its increasing authoritarianism and many human rights violations. Good enough. So, how does Trump square that with his friendship with Turkish Pres. Erdogan, who is becoming increasingly authoritarian and violates human rights?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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