HomeNewsAnalysisQuestioning the Theory that Distracted Army Equals More Drugs
ANALYSIS

Questioning the Theory that Distracted Army Equals More Drugs

COLOMBIA / 26 OCT 2011 BY JEANNA CULLINAN EN

The Washington Post argues that Mexico’s policy of deploying the military to address violence and insecurity has taken the focus off efforts to eradicate illegal marijuana and poppy cultivation, but the criticism is based on flawed premises.

The Post ties recent increases in domestic marijuana and poppy production to President Felipe Calderon’s militarized security strategy. Mexico’s long-standing eradication policy primarily relied on military personnel to manually eliminate illicit crops. Over the past five years, as Calderon deployed the armed forces to the country’s most violent areas, often replacing Mexico’s notoriously corrupt civil police forces on the front lines of the fight against drug cartels, fewer troops are available to focus on crop eradication. According to the article, the acreage dedicated to growing marijuana doubled during the same period (see Congressional Research Service report on this subject in pdf here), while poppy cultivation doubled in just one year, between 2007 and 2008.

Mexico’s decreased attention to eradication has caused concern amongst drug enforcement officials in the United Nations, who say the increasing availability of heroin on U.S. markets signals Mexico’s importance as both a transit and source country for illegal drugs, especially as production declines in Colombia. Others, such as the researcher Vanda Felbab-Brown at Brookings, are concerned that Mexico has not replaced eradication efforts with alternative livelihood programs that would incentivize the cultivation of legal crops in the country’s impoverished, remote drug production zones (see Felbab-Brown’s recent testimony touching on this subject here in pdf).

Although supply-side interventions may not be Calderon’s top priority, the article points to a causal effect between reduced eradication·and a surge in cultivation: If Mexico’s armed forces had not been redeployed to wage war against the drug cartels, manual eradication efforts would have reduced (or maintained) the·supply of illicit poppy and marijuana crops. However,·the United Nations documented increased poppy cultivation beginning in 2000 (see report here in pdf) and the spike in marijuana cultivation was first seen in 2006, according to a 2010 U.S. Justice Department report. Mexico’s control over the supply of heroin in the U.S. has expanded over three decades, and the country now produces an estimated 39 percent of the total.

Mexico’s share of the U.S. drug supply market has been growing for years, long before any major troop redeployment by President Calderon, meaning that the country’s eradication policy only partially explains supply market trends. There are a number of other factors that affect drug supply in Mexico, not the least of which is demand for drugs.

Many of the factors that influence whether an individual farmer will cultivate illicit crops are affected by unique socio-economic conditions. Farmers in remote, sparsely populated areas often lack access to legal markets because of rural underdevelopment. It would be illogical to invest time and labor into the cultivation of perishible food crops without ready access to markets where product can be sold quickly. In contrast, drug trafficking networks are able to purchase illicit products directly at the farm-gate. Drug production is also highly profitable. For example, poppy can be harvested in successive growing seasons and is less labor intensive than many legal crops. When factoring in market access and profit potential,·the decision to grow poppy may be the most logical.

U.S. officials interviewed for the Post article praised Colombia’s eradication policy, linking recent data regarding the higher price of cocaine per gram to eradication efforts that destroyed 146,000 hectares of coca plant in the country last year (an assessment that will have more than one researcher scratching their head). What’s more, the Post’s article makes an underlying assumption that the market for drugs is increasing by the same rate as that of production. In reality, the number of hardcore and moderate drug users in the U.S. has changed very little during the last three decades and, although demand has experienced minor fluctuations during this time, the price of drugs has trended downward, while purity has risen. Despite the virtual duopoly formed by suppliers in Mexico·and Colombia, centralized distribution and large-scale supply networks have ensured that illicit drugs continue to be widely available on the U.S. market.

Stability in the U.S. demand market raises questions about the reliability of production statistics on Mexico. Why would producers inflate the supply of illicit drugs without corresponding demand? While emerging European and domestic markets may justify small increases over production for the U.S. market, supply still far exceeds demand. The statistics have been questioned by officials in Mexico, including one who told InSight that the U.S. and UN overestimated·production statistics in what may, unfortunately, be a political ploy intended to sustain supply-side intervention policies.

Finally, the Post article makes no mention of the questionable effectiveness of eradication policies, which have significant unintential consequences. In a devastating demonstration of what’s know as the balloon effect, Mexico’s poppy growers have taken over for Colombia’s heroin producers, just as decreasing coca production in Colombia has been accompanied by increasing production in Peru.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

AUC / 10 JUN 2015

Colombian former paramilitary leaders Salvatore Mancuso and "Jorge 40" are facing long sentences after being convicted on US drug trafficking…

COLOMBIA / 2 MAY 2014

While the Urabeños are presently established as Colombia's top drug trafficking group, it remains to be seen how the evolution…

BARRIO 18 / 19 JUL 2017

Authorities in Mexico's southern border region have detained a growing number of gang members in 2017. Their affiliation, however,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…