HomeNewsAnalysisUS Drug Czar Moves Beyond Plan Colombia

US Drug Czar Moves Beyond Plan Colombia


In another indication that U.S.-Colombia relations are entering a new era, White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske emphasized drug use prevention and alternative development as key pillars to counter-drug strategy in Colombia, during his visit to Bogota this week.

In his official remarks, Kerlikowske talked about increased funding for drug use prevention and treatment programs in the U.S., complimented with funding for socio-economic programs and police training in Colombia. He praised the security gains seen in Colombia over the past decade and made a point of emphasizing that U.S. demand for drugs continues to fuel violence and unrest overseas. He also referenced the growing domestic market inside Colombia for narcotics, which is increasingly driving up violence in urban areas.

Kerlikowske did make reference to more hawkish approaches to the drug war, including Venezuela's recent announcement that it would shoot down suspected drug-laden aircraft.

This is a continuation of a shifting discourse in US-Colombia relations. Under Plan Colombia, the country has received over $7 billion, mostly in military assistance, from the U.S. since 2000. But in recent years, especially with pleas from Mexico and the Northern Triangle for counter-drug support, the U.S. has been steadily cutting military while praising Colombia as a model for the region.

Tellingly, when the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg visited Bogota last November, "drug trafficking" or "counter-insurgency" or "terrorism" weren’t even mentioned as top priorities on the bilateral agenda. Instead, the delegation named "human rights," "energy" and "science and technology" as the new focus in the relationship. Kerlikowske’s remarks also de-prioritized miltary aid to Colombia in favor of describing what he said was a “comprehensive and balanced” drug strategy in the U.S.

U.S. Congress has already approved a 5 percent cut in the 2011 foreign aid proposal, and its likely that Colombia’s aid package will shrink even further in the 2012 budget. The Santos administration has already been forced to assume responsibility for paying for the national crop eradication program, previously paid for by the U.S. The unspoken fear in Colombia is whether Santos can consolidate and advance the security gains accomplished under President Alvaro Uribe, without the same financial backing from the White House.

In some senses, the challenges faced by Santos are even more complex. The two principal drug producers in Colombia, the leftist rebel armies and the criminal gangs who have inherited the old power structures of the right-wing paramilitaries, have never been more fragmented or dispersed. And despite a hard-hitting government offensive funded partly with U.S. dollars, groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or the Rastrojos remain extraordinarily wealthy, with a grip on transnational smuggling routes. As Kerlikowske pointed out during a press conference, the "tentacles" of Colombia’s criminal gangs "affect the entire region," as El Tiempo reports.

In the short term, more U.S. aid is slated to go into agricultural development schemes, like the USAID-backed projects in La Macarena, Meta, where cacao and plantain are pushed as alternative crops to coca. If Santos is able to compliment the alternative development efforts with serious land reform, Colombia’s legal economy may yet receive the boost needed to further edge out the coca trade. Although, despite the optimistic statistics recited by Kerlikowske, there is little chance of the cocaine economy disappearing any time soon.

The full text of Kerlikowske's Tuesday remarks are below, accompanied by a video report by CNN.

It’s a pleasure to be in here today to address all of you associated Mentor Colombia and the reclamation of Parque Gran Yomasa II.

Let me first begin by expressing our condolences to the victims of the flooding that has taken place in Colombia over the past several months. On behalf of the Obama Administration, I would like the Colombian people to know that our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected.

To help alleviate the suffering, the United States is providing assistance through international and Colombian partners for food distribution, construction repair assessment, clean-up, recovery equipment, hygiene kits, and portable water treatment, as has the international community and the Colombian government and its agencies.

As President Obama has said, the relationship between the United States and Colombia is extremely strong, and we highly value the excellent cooperation between the two countries on a range of important issues.

The United States recognizes the Government of Colombia - under very difficult circumstances - has made much progress to improve security, reduce the influence of the drug cartels, improve the economic situation for its people, and stabilize the country.  Throughout, the Colombian people have endured with diligence and courage. 

The incredible progress Colombia has made over the past decade in reducing terrorist attacks, kidnappings, crime, and extortion is nothing short of astonishing and serves as an example for other nations struggling with the threats drug trafficking and related crime pose to their democracies, liberty, and the rule of law. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Mentor’s leading supporters, Queen Silvia of Sweden, when she was in Washington. And I’m now delighted to see first-hand your work here in Bogota, particularly among youth, to challenge drug trafficking and consumption. 

The work your organization undertakes is part of the Colombian success story. We know that strong partnerships between government and non-governmental organizations like yours are critical to efforts to support a society that is both safe and healthy. 

Those of you here know drug trafficking and drug consumption affect all nations, regardless of geographical boundaries. And like the United States, Colombians are suffering too from the effects of drug consumption, which is increasing. 

Illicit drugs present a threat to the youth who become marijuana and cocaine users, to those who become addicted to prescription drugs, and to all of the family members and friends of those victims. That threat cuts across geographic, socio-economic, and racial lines.   

That is why the Obama Administration has placed an increased emphasis on preventing and reducing drug use and its consequences. 

We understand the United States is an extremely lucrative drug market for drugs produced abroad, a fact that has serious consequences for the people of Colombia and throughout the Western Hemisphere. In short – our demand for illegal drugs fuels the violent and destructive drug trade here. And we understand that we must work collaboratively with our international partners, including those in this hemisphere and in Europe, to reduce the global drug trade that has caused so much suffering and misery in Colombia. 

The U.S. drug control strategy is both comprehensive and balanced, and calls for reducing illicit drug use and its harmful consequences through prevention, early intervention, and treatment; smart law enforcement; innovative criminal justice programs; support for individuals in recovery from addiction; bilateral partnerships; and engagement in regional and international fora. In each of these areas, our approach is guided by evidence and is backed by science and research. 

The Obama Administration has asked the U.S. Congress for an additional $203 million for programs to prevent drug use before it starts. We have also asked for an increase of $137 million to support drug treatment programs that will work to help those addicted to drugs recover from the disease of addiction. 

We are also focusing efforts in Colombia and the Andean region on providing strong support for alternatives to illicit crop production, which will help strengthen efforts to achieve peace, promote economic prosperity, and improve the living conditions of Colombia’s most vulnerable groups. 

In FY 2010, the United States provided $201.9 million to Colombia for programs supporting alternative development, human rights and the rule of law, social and economic development, and democracy and government through the U.S. Agency for International Development.  At the same time, another $243.9 million supported other programs in Colombia to strengthen criminal justice systems, counter the flow of illegal narcotics, and address transnational crime. 

But while governments have a crucial role in the fight against drug trafficking and consumption, the participation of an organized citizenry is vital for success.  Federal, state, and local governments need the support of families, youth, teachers, religious organizations, and community groups like yours.  Working together, citizens can reduce drug use and its consequences and push back effectively against criminal enterprises.

In many countries, this requires extraordinarily brave people, as drug traffickers do not hesitate to frighten, threaten, blackmail, and kill.  The most important barrier against fear and drug traffickers’ criminal actions is community organization and participation.  An organized, aware, and responsible community can reduce the influence of drug trafficking criminal enterprises.    

Another element critical to a vibrant, successful community is law enforcement. As a former Chief of Police, I know effective policemen and women are aware of what is going on in their communities. Police respond to crime after it occurs; but, more importantly, through presence, persuasion, mentoring, and other active and passive measures, police can prevent crime from occurring. 

To this end, the United States’ counterdrug cooperation with Colombia is proud to support training and provide equipment for the Colombian National Police and other law enforcement institutions.  

The education of Colombia’s law enforcement professionals are providing for new generations of policemen and women in Colombia is impressive and important. Beyond technical training, an additional challenge to public security is corruption. A police force that works closely with local communities can also help address this challenge to public security and safety.

We still have much to do to combat the dangerous, destabilizing, and violent criminal organizations that seek to undermine our societies. The good news is that together we are making progress to choke off the supply of cocaine produced in Colombia. 

Today, we are seeing an unprecedented amount of evidence showing that our united and aggressive actions to combat the drug trade are causing significant stress in the market for cocaine in the United States. 

Thanks in large part to Colombia’s relentless eradication campaigns, for example, the production of pure cocaine fell from an estimated 700 metric tons potential pure cocaine production in 2001 to only 270 metric tons in 2009 – a 61 percent drop. 

These exceptional decreases in the U.S. supply of cocaine are occurring at the same time cocaine use in the United States is falling. Despite overall increases in the use of other drugs, data from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – the largest U.S. survey on drug use ? indicates the number of Americans who are current users of cocaine has dropped by 21 percent since 2007. And the United Nations’ 2010 World Drug Report, also reports there has been a significant decline in cocaine consumption in the United States. 

Operating together, using international counternarcotics tools against cocaine – at the source, in the transit zone, in the arrival zone, and within the United States – has significantly benefitted citizens in the United States and Colombia.   

The United States recognizes its shared responsibility, and we are increasingly doing our part to reduce our domestic drug consumption. But we must continue to confront the drug problem together through bilateral, multilateral, and regional solutions. Political divisions between the countries of this hemisphere present opportunities for international criminal enterprises to exploit. To successfully address the drug problems facing our countries, we need a common understanding of the problem and unity in the policies we employ against it, as all countries are now consumers and producers of drugs.

You represent the best of what our hemisphere has to offer. It is because of the perseverance of the Colombian people and of programs like yours that there will now be a generation of Colombians who have more opportunities and a brighter future than the last. I look forward to continuing our work together, and I’m happy to take any questions you may have. 

Thank you.

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