HomeNewsAnalysisKey Report Urges Ambitious Revision of US Anti-Drug Policy
ANALYSIS

Key Report Urges Ambitious Revision of US Anti-Drug Policy

COLOMBIA / 10 DEC 2020 BY MAX RADWIN EN

Congress has released a sweeping report on drug policy in the Americas, laying out a long list of recommendations for curbing drug trafficking and addressing the public health issues created by drug consumption. The report provides a glimpse into what the fight against organized crime could look like during President-elect Joe Biden's administration.

Published by the House's Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, the report argues for deep, often systematic changes to how the United States combats drug trafficking. It advocates for increased international coordination, a more holistic approach to policymaking and a review of antiquated punishments for countries not doing enough to meet annual goals.

"We may never end illegal drug trafficking, just as we cannot eliminate substance abuse," the report said. "But we can better manage these deadly problems with a comprehensive strategy."

It recommends that the United States establish multi-year "foreign assistance compacts" developed by ambassadors with in-country security and political leaders. The compacts would allow for greater information-sharing, the report said, as well as increased transparency between nations and more cost-effective solutions to issues like organized crime, criminal justice reform and human rights.

"What a Colombia needs is very different to what a Mexico or an El Salvador or Honduras might need," Shannon O’Neil, chair of the commission, said of the idea during a December 3 hearing on the report.

"In that sense, it saves money and not just putting in place policies that are less than effective for a particular context," she added.

The plan could also involve synchronizing efforts to prevent illicit digital transactions, which the report said organized crime groups are increasingly using to launder drug profits.

The report rebuffs traditional approaches to anti-drug policymaking that have proven limiting in the past, arguing against succumbing to false choices like "public security versus public health," which it says can stymie more effective, holistic and multi-faceted strategies. It also drew repeatedly on InSight Crime's own research and analysis.

SEE ALSO: Backroom Deal Trumps US Drug Charges Against Mexico’s Ex-Defense Minister

What policymakers need to do, the report says, is take the best aspects from both sides of the debate by not only continuing to invest in traditional strategies like funding police training and destroying drug labs, but also compliment them with plans to improve public health, human rights and alternative economic development.

This could involve bringing the international community and private sector together to discuss creative ways to create long-term change, the report said. For example, it points to land titling in rural areas of Colombia where coca cultivation is flourishing. By granting land titles, farmers can access credit, government services and attract investment that provides them an opportunity to move away from illicit crop cultivation.

The report also strongly urges that officials review what is known as the certification and designation process, which requires the White House to release an annual list of drug producing and transit countries that have "failed demonstrably" in their fight to curb drug-related crime. Countries appearing on the list can receive sanctions as punishment, although this is uncommon.

The process is tantamount to a "naughty and nice" list, the report said, with a theatrical rollout that needlessly alienates Latin American partners and does little to discourage corruption. The process is also often accused of being politically motivated, the report noted, as certain US allies are sometimes left off the list without adequate explanation.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission's report contains wise and long-overdue recommendations that have the potential, if implemented correctly, to improve the drug trafficking and drug consumption problems that are currently endemic to Latin America.

First, the report is correct to deconstruct antiquated debates between false choices like "public security versus public health." The two strategies only make sense if applied together.

In Colombia, for example, aerial fumigation of illicit coca crops is costly and alienates rural communities. But coca eradication efforts can still play a part in a larger, more holistic approach to the issue if combined with "positive incentives" like building roads and expanding agribusiness opportunities to help residents transition to legal enterprise.

"We cannot control the supply of dangerous drugs without also reducing demand and we cannot curb demand without also limiting supply," the report said.

This hits the nail on the head.

Secondly, the good faith attempts at coordination the report is promoting are for the most part a good idea, since the coordination efforts already in place have been shown to work. Despite their many shortcomings, joint efforts with the US have resulted in legitimate criminal justice reform and economic recovery that other countries could benefit from.

SEE ALSO: How President Donald Trump Has Impacted Organized Crime in Latin America

The Merida Initiative in Mexico, for example, appears to have brought down homicide rates as a result of US-supported police reform, according to the report. Applying similar strategies -- improved upon from previous mistakes -- could be constructive if shaped to each country’s specific needs and sociopolitical context. At the very least, these will be more cost-effective than many current efforts.

Lastly, the report's decision to dispute the effectiveness of the drug certification and designation process has the potential to create profound change to the international fight against drug trafficking. Placing a country on the list comes across as a threat, and needlessly souring relationships that are already on the rocks. It also makes the United States look unsympathetic to the needs of the region, and only interested in maintaining control of the political landscape.

Perhaps the best example of this is Bolivia, which has appeared on the list every year after 2008, when former President Evo Morales exiled the US ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Administration. While the US was and continues to be right to raise concerns about the country's handling of coca cultivation -- such as implementing a nationwide legal coca market --its decision to include Bolivia on the list at a time when Peru and Colombia were producing significantly more coca came off as politically motivated, and put more distance between the two countries.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 21 MAR 2013

Reports of extortion in Colombia have increased 229 percent in the last four years, as guerrillas, mafias and street gangs…

COLOMBIA / 24 MAY 2012

The recent arrest of a transnational sex trafficking network in Medellin, Colombia draws attention to the country's importance to the…

MEXICO / 31 AUG 2012

The discovery of 14 bodies in an abandoned van outside the capital of San Luis Potosi, Mexico marks the fifth…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.