Pratfall Colombia

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U.S. officials are scratching their heads over the abject failure of Plan Colombia, yet another in a series of unsuccessful efforts to stamp out cocaine at its source. The New York Times reports:

Five years and $3 billion into the most aggressive counternarcotics operation ever here, American and Colombian officials say they have eradicated a record-breaking million acres of coca plants, yet cocaine remains as available as ever on American streets, perhaps more so.

"It's very disturbing," said a senior State Department official traveling here with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is on a five-day tour of the region.

Colombian traffickers still provide 90 percent of the cocaine used in the United States and 50 percent of the heroin, just as they did five years ago, the government says. "Key indicators of domestic cocaine availability show stable or slightly increased availability in drug markets throughout the country," the White House drug policy office acknowledged in February. Officials added that prices have remained stable and purity has improved.

Possible explanations for this puzzle include replanting by coca farmers in the same or new locations, the use of more-productive coca varieties, and exaggeration by the Colombian government about the success of eradication efforts. More generally, as scholars such as Peter Reuter have been pointing out for years (most recently in an American Enterprise Institute report released last month), source control never has a measurable, lasting impact on retail prices or consumption because 1) there are plenty of places in the world to grow coca; 2) most of cocaine's markup occurs after it reaches the U.S., so lost crops or shipments are cheap to replace; and, most important, 3) black-market prices lure creative criminals, who switch to new sources and smuggling routes whenever there's a crackdown.

Despite these realities, drug warriors always seem surprised when efforts to cut off the supply of cocaine (or other drugs) do not work as advertised. They are determined not to learn from their mistakes:

Even with the contradictory results from the first five years, the Bush administration is asking Congress to extend Plan Colombia for at least one more year. The president's budget proposal asks for another $734 million next year on top of the $2.9 billion already spent.

A senior State Department official who is involved in the Colombia program said, "Give us another year or so and see if there is any effect."

At a news conference [in Bogota] on Tuesday, Ms. Rice said Washington had no intention of reassessing the program, adding that such a move would most likely take a long time to see results in the United States…

[Dan] Burton, the subcommittee chairman, said he was inclined to favor the president's request to renew Plan Colombia financing.

NEXT: iRS

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  1. The War on Terror, the War on Drugs:
    The more vigorously we fight them, the more spectacularly we lose.

  2. of course it did not work.

    It is a religious crusade, not a rational respose.

    Religion can not be questioned, it is received wisdom that MUST be true. When it does not work, it is because not enough effort was put into it, not because it is wrong or false.

  3. For a bunch of folks who seem so intent on giving Bush a slap in the face, it’s surprising that Dems do not join hands with conservatives over stopping the drug war. It’s an issue which directly strikes at the religious side of the Republican Party, and could get a lot more bipartisan support than anything related to Iraq or Middle Eastern policy.

    For a group of folks who whine over the 80 billion or whatever to kill a bunch of folks who want to kill godless Dems more than god fearing Reps, you?d think they?d complain all the louder over policies costing at least as much that are designed to hurt small farmers across the world whose only crime is growing a profitable crop which many people across the world would love to buy legally and peacefully.

  4. Gee, Ira, what’s the weather like on your planet?

  5. How do I teleport to Ira’s planet?

  6. The Republicans’ religious base is upset over…what? Cops ruining stoners’ buzzes? Racial disparities in sentencing? Mandatory minimums?

  7. Ira – the democrats are no more inclined to relinquish the WoD boondoggle than the republicans. Those who supply the toys, weapons, bullets, training; those who file legal pleadings on both sides; those who enjoy diplomatic leverage in dealing with the hapless countries we’re busy converting to the dark side, they’re all benefactors (and that is by no means an exhaustive list) from both sides of our political industry who will at a moment’s notice show up to a congressional hearing and tell the frightened old fucks on capitol hill exactly what they want to hear to justify the next draconian legislation or wasteful expenditure.

    The prevailing sentiment is that adult Americans should not be able to get high. It might be for God and country, or the Health Of Our Great And Virtuous State. Either way it’s for the birds.

  8. “drug warriors always seem surprised when efforts to cut off the supply of cocaine (or other drugs) do not work as advertised. They are determined not to learn from their mistakes”

    C’mon. We KNOW these guys are logic-free, power-hungry demagogues, and so are the politicians that support them. They’re only behaving according to their hardwired internal programming. WE, the people, have to learn from THEIR mistakes. WE must simply start firing the drug warriors in congress and the White House. It does no good to blame THEM but then put them in or return them to office. The American people have to step up to the plate and clean house.

    This kind of crap will continue until the American public quits rewarding drug warrior behavior with votes. It’s as simple as that.

  9. If my tax dollars go towards funding this ideological farce (I love that word: farce, farce, farce), can I deduct my marijuana purchases and call it even?

  10. Call me a pessimist, but it has more to do with the survival and profitting with the drug eradication/control/testing industries. They don’t want to see the gravy train come to end and they found something (drug use) they know they cannot stop. “Keep the funds coming, Mr President. We cannot stop now that we have them cornered!”

    Dems and Repubs get their cut too with them drug warrior lobbyists.

  11. can I deduct my marijuana purchases and call it even?

    I don’t think so, but I’ve always found it funny that technically you have to report and pay taxes on income from selling illegal drugs. Because no one would likely do so, they can always throw tax evasion at you when nothing else sticks.

  12. rst,

    That’s how you get Capone.

  13. Here in Utah, I can’t buy an insouciant Merlot with a hint of oak on Sundays. But I am 3 phone calls away from getting Meth 24/7.

    What if I had to buy my pot & coke in the State Ganja Store, located in inconvenient locations and open inconvenient hours?

    And when was the last time someone heard of a Budweiser route driver bombing an Albertson’s because he saw a Coors driver making a delivery?

  14. J.A. Merritt,
    What planet are you on?

    If voting could change anything it’d be illegal. The whole voting scam is just a farce (that one was for you, SPD) to give the impression of legitimacy to the government.

  15. The failure of Plan Colombia may be due in part to those godless biologists!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4076525.stm

    Looks like somebody genetically modified the coca plant to make it 4x as potent per gram and 2x as tall (for 8x as much cocaine per plant), as well as resistant to herbicides.

    If this story is true, how much you wanna bet that somewhere in the Carribean there’s a biologist who recently retired with a hefty bank account?

    The drug war can never end because there’s too much money at stake for everybody involved. And too many public employees are accepting bribes from the drug dealers. It will continue until enough people realize the insanity of it. And I have no clue what it would take to wake people up. My guess is that if we ever started to see significant changes in public sentiment, the drug dealers would wag the dog by showing the public some of their most despicable practices: Kids swallowing condoms with cocaine in it, smugglers who also help terrorists cross the border, Taliban-affiliated warlords who sell heroin, etc. etc.

    “Look how horrible these people are! How could anybody support ending the ban?”

  16. [President Alvaro Uribe] is an enthusiastic supporter of Plan Colombia…Under Plan Colombia the country has become the world’s third largest recipient of US military aid.

    Looks like the BBC buried the lead on that one.

    Every time I see stories like this I am reminded of ONDCP’s super bowl ads, about how I share culpability for terrorism by financing it with specific purchases. Having reviewed my taxes, I see my contribution to terrorism last year was so high I’ll be going straight to hell.

  17. A senior State Department official who is involved in the Colombia program said, “Give us another year or so and see if there is any effect.”

    Same logic as a junkie.

  18. thoreau

    I wanted to mention that.

    Ahhh…I *heart* innovation.

  19. “The War on Terror, the War on Drugs: The more vigorously we fight them, the more spectacularly we lose.”

    Interesting comparison, Colombia to Iraq that is. Much like Iraq, hopefully, Colombia was the first among regional democracies; and, just like Iraq, the United States interfered in Colombian politics in a big way.

    Iraq’s terrorists don’t have the same kind of economic incentive as Colombian drug producers, but given the ample supply of suicide bombers, it’s hard to denigrate the resolve of Iraq’s terrorists. Could Iraq end up like Colombia?

    …Our experience in Colombia suggests that creating a democracy in Iraq might only be the beginning, does it not?

    “For a bunch of folks who seem so intent on giving Bush a slap in the face, it’s surprising that Dems do not join hands with conservatives over stopping the drug war. It’s an issue which directly strikes at the religious side of the Republican Party, and could get a lot more bipartisan support than anything related to Iraq or Middle Eastern policy.”

    I think the largest and most loyal contingent in the Drug War is Soccer Moms/Security Moms rather than the religious side of the Republican Party. I maintain that Soccer Moms/Security Moms have been the key swing vote for decades and that they are, by far, the most hostile demographic to libertarian ideas. I don’t have any idea about how to appeal to them.

    …I suspect Soccer/Security would enthusiastically support the complete subjugation of both Colombia and Iraq so long as 1) they felt as if the subjugation of those peoples protected their own children from drugs and terrorism and 2) the champion of subjugation framed his or her argument in compassionate terms.

  20. …I suspect Soccer/Security would enthusiastically support the complete subjugation of both Colombia and Iraq so long as 1) they felt as if the subjugation of those peoples protected their own children from drugs and terrorism and 2) the champion of subjugation framed his or her argument in compassionate terms.

    I couldn’t agree more look at what those those moms have done to our country with respect to drunk driving.

  21. The weather is a little rainy here, but otherwise quite nice!

    I understand that these bozos on both sides of the aisle are getting their pockets filled by the industries that depend on drugs staying illegal, but I’m surprised by the hold that the WoD still has on up and coming pols. Since everyone from National Review to previous drug tzars have publically stated the WoD can’t be won and the negative return on investment in marijuana prohibition, I’d have thought at least one new republican pol would jump on that wagon (or would it be off the wagon?).

    Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one!

  22. Ira Weatheral,

    Yeah, and imagine if there were no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to live or die for, and no religion too.

    It ain’t gonna happen. And the guy who put those words to music is now dead.

    Sorry, I’m depressed, and this seems the easiest way to vent.

  23. …I suspect Soccer/Security would accept the complete subjugation of both Columbia and Iraq so long as…

    And Afganistan, and North Korea, and Vietnam, and Mexico, and France, and any other country on the planet. I believe you’re exactly right when you say, “they are, by far, the most hostile demographic to libertarian ideals.” We joke every now and then about It’s For The Children comments, but Soccer/Security (I like to call them Harpo Network because of their devotion to Oprah and Dr. Phil) take that all VERY seriously.

    It’s probably the number one reason libertarian ideals will be a minority viewpoint for the near term (50 years).

  24. The failure of the Drug War in general, and Plan Columbia in particular, is a tribute to private entrepreneurship!

  25. I understand that these bozos on both sides of the aisle are getting their pockets filled by the industries that depend on drugs staying illegal, but I’m surprised by the hold that the WoD still has on up and coming pols.

    Ira, let me sell it to you the way my local congress critter did when being challenged for his state house seat.

    Rookie Candidate: Our prisons are over crowed, too much of our state budget is sucked into housing these prisoners, many of which are non-violent drug offenders incarcerated for simple possession, first time offenders, and/or suffering from addiction much similar to those addicted to alcohol and nicotine. We need a new drug policy that addresses those that are addicted but not criminals and eliminate mandatory sentencing laws to relieve the pressure on our prisons and our budgets.

    Incumbent: Its clear my challenger is soft on drugs and supports drug dealers in our local schools. I ask of my challenger, what base do you represent? Drug dealers? Criminal entrepeneurs? Those that want to control the minds of our children? I say to those in the great state of Washington, don’t give these liberals a chance to pervert the minds of our children and grant drug dealers access to our nation’s schools. Don’t give them the chance to grow marijuana, produce meth, or peddle crack near our churches, our homes, or our schools. We must remain tough on drugs or lose our great country to outlaws.

    I pretty much paraphrased it, but that is the reality I had in my district during the 2000 election year. You can guess as to which one was the R and which one was the D because depending on who the incumbent is, the rhetoric will always stay pretty much the same.

  26. We need a war on gasoline; that way, prices would decline and octane ratings would go up.

  27. man, i better spark up cause these posts are a buzz kill!

  28. I don’t know too many “soccer moms.” I hear the stereotype, I see the news stories that seem to confirm it, but I don’t know how many people actually fit into that category in reality.

    If real-life suburban mothers are as awful as the political consultants claim they are then I’m certain not a fan of theirs. But I won’t assume that suburban mothers are so awful just based on what I read in the papers.

  29. I’ve hinted before that I know a few things about public employees working on behalf of drug dealers. I used to think that maybe if the public just knew how seriously rigged the system is (rigged in favor of the drug dealers, of course), then maybe they’d realize that it’s time to end prohibition.

    Of course, my fear is that if the public realized how bad it really is, they would agree that this is a bad situation, but the “solution” would be to arrest the people in question and pass even tougher laws.

    Yeah, that’ll work. Right…

  30. I know a bunch of Soccer/Security Moms, and I think it’s as bad as advertised.

    …Having said that, considering that they’re so crucial to public policy discussions, how do libertarians appeal to them?

    I thought maybe school choice would be a good issue for us, but in the LA’s South Bay (birthplace of the AYSO), the public schools in places like Palos Verdes, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach are just fine, thank you. For that matter, the schools in Torrance aren’t bad either. It’s the parents in Inglewood that want school choice.

    …So I keep coming up blank with an appeal strategy for Soccer/Security Moms. Is it even possible for libertarians to appeal to them directly? …anyone?

  31. Ken-

    You’re probably right that school choice won’t be a winning issue among housewives in Hermosa. I guess the problem is that libertarians want to change the status quo, but housewives in Hermosa are pretty comfortable. They might not mind lower taxes, but they might be easily scared by horror stories of what will happen to their schools if taxes are cut.

    Then again, are housewives in Hermosa really the soccer moms that political strategists are interested in? I always thought that they were interested in the midwest, mostly, where the culture is somewhat different and the incomes are somewhat lower.

    Given just how much change would be involved in implementing libertarian public policy, I suspect that a successful libertarian movement (be it via a major party or a third party or whatever) would have to take on a populist aspect. “We’re going to go after the biggest welfare queens of all, including the ones in corporate America! And we’re going to make damn sure that you keep your money! And nobody has the right to tell you that you can’t listen to Howard Stern! And if you like a joint after a long day at the office that’s your own damn business! You’ve earned it!”

  32. Cut in taxes caused by cuts in entitlements?

  33. Soccer moms (and dads) can’t follow reasoned arguments. Their eyes just glaze over. Thus, libertarians probably can’t appeal to them. Our only hope is devolution of power, so we can move away from the soccer types and rule ourselves.

    If federalism ever made a real return, I’d move to the nearest libertarian-friendly place, pronto!

  34. We have met the enemy and it is broader (yuk yuk) than soccer moms.
    The enemy is anyone who thinks a law can make something “bad” go away.
    A plurality, maybe a majority, has a love-hate relation with “bad.” Junk food is one example.

    This being Friday evening, if I post again, kindly disregard.

    Am enjoying the CD, Zombie Fela and Afrika 70, blaring from the computer up here in the attic.

  35. Here I am back already… unable to restrain myself.
    One of the “bad” things the majority–including soccer moms–want to go away is young black men.
    The War on Drugs has caused many many to go away (to prison), and that accounts for much of its popularity, but a war on anything, over the longer term, just makes the initial reason for conflict worse.
    We are increasing the “potency” of young black men. Rap music is my evidence.

    That was really, really it for me.

  36. “We are increasing the “potency” of young black men. Rap music is my evidence.”

    Ruthless must be seriously hammered.

  37. Actually, I think he’s making fun of Badnarik–remember when he had that blurb on his site about how letting convicted prisoners work out all day only makes them stronger?

    …Am I right, am I right?

  38. KenShultz,
    Were you attempting to jerk my impaired bobber?
    Surely you can understand how rap music is symptomatic of the distinguishing characteristics of young black men which causes the majority to hope the War on Drugs sweeps them off the streets.

  39. Ruthless,

    There are lots of different kinds of rap-music. But it’s true (as it is with most music) that a lot of the popular stuff certainly represents the worst of the genre.

  40. Les,
    If you hadn’t, I had Walter William’s recent column to back me up.
    But, musical tastes aside, how sad is it that black Baptist ministers allow their hysteria over drugs to blind them to the fact the War on Drugs has morphed into a war on young black men?
    Are black Baptist ministers traitors? As an atheist, I’m fine with defining them that way.

  41. War on Drugs has morphed into a war on young black men?

    What do you mean “morphed”? I thought it was designed that way from the start.

  42. thoreau,
    I hope we can start a new thread based on your contention.
    Where the hell is the outrage?!

  43. Were you attempting to jerk my impaired bobber?

    No, not at all. I think I misread your comment.

    If by your “potentcy” comment, you meant that by sending black men to jail for drug related crimes, the drug war is making anti-social elements within the black community an even greater threat to civil society, then I think I agree with you.

    It’s not the first time I’ve misread a comment, and it probably won’t be the last time I apologize for doing so. My bad.

  44. Ken,
    The War on Drugs creates more terrorists, and the Global War on Terror creates more drugs.

    And the correct spelling is “potency.”

    Ain’t life grand?
    Peace and love.

  45. Any word on whether or not this article was double-posted at The Onion?

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