Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Suspicious Border Gasoline Boom

Stirring up cocaine in a jungle laboratory. The process uses
lots of gasoline. (Photo: Business Insider
The town of Argelia, in the department of Cauca, has some 27,000 residents and 19 gas stations. However, last year the municipality racked up 3.4 million gallons of gasoline sales and 642,000 gallons of diesel sold - some three times as much as just two years before and higher per-capita than sales in Bogotá - despite Argelia's poverty and few cars.

Argelia, Cauca: booming gasoline market. Foto: RCN Radio
The paradoxical situation, reported by El Tiempo, may a simple explanation: Argelia and other rural agricultural communities with booming fuel sales also happen to have booming coca leaf and cocaine economies - and gasoline and diesel are basic ingredients for converting leaves into the drug.

The intersects with many other disfunctions. Because cocaine is illegal, those many millions of gallons of fuel are handled without any regulation or safety laws. So, once exhausted, they're often just dumped into rivers or onto the jungle floor.

The popularity of motor fuels for cocaine production is partly the fault of the Colombian government, which spends a fortune every year on fuel subsidies - particularly in border areas. Fuel subsidies make little sense socially or economically, since they go disproportionately to the wealthy. And they make absolutely no sense at all environmentally, since fossil fuel production takes a huge environmental toll all along its life cycle and burning fuels contributes to global warming. But the subsidies make sense politically, since they buy votes. The pressure to subsidize gasoline is particularly strong in areas near Ecuador and Venezuela, which subsidize their fuels much more than Colombia does.

And by subsidizing gasoline for drivers, Colombia also does so for drug producers.

Officials may be considering various strategies to deal with this problem - altho none of them likely involves raising the price of gasoline to pay for its social and environmental impacts, which would not only make cocaine production more expensive, but would also reduce traffic jams, clean the air and generally make Colombia's cities more liveable.

Solutions which Colombia is more likely to try, such as rationing fuel in some border areas, will inevitably increase smuggling and contraband, particularly from Venezuela, and enrich criminal organizations. Officials also talk about adding a chemical ingredient to fuels to make them less effective for drug making. But expect drug makers to find a way to neutralize this chemical and to increase smuggling across the border, since Colombia's neighbors certainly won't add the ingredient to their own fuels.

There's only one way to end these absurd and ineffective attempts to use ineffective policies to repair a failed one - decriminalize drugs and minimize their harm.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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