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U.S. Department of State
1996 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1997

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs


Policy and Program Overview for 1996

We made solid gains against the drug trade in 1996. Working with our allies in the Western Hemisphere, the USG-led effort pressed the drug syndicates at their most vulnerable points. We interrupted their preferred trafficking approaches to the United States, forcing them to shift to longer routes in the Eastern Caribbean. We helped the drug source countries to eradicate coca plantations and opium poppy fields. The year's most successful operation was the disruption of the "air-bridge" that carried the bulk of Peruvian cocaine base to Colombia for processing and distribution. The cut-off not only deprived the Colombian trade of essential basic materials, but so depressed the price of coca leaf in Peru that growers abandoned fields in the coca-rich Upper Huallaga Valley. The exodus lowered Peru's coca cultivation in 1996 by 18 percent to the lowest levels in a decade. This was a significant change for the world's largest coca-growing country.

In Bolivia, the government's voluntary coca eradication program surpassed its annual target, kept cultivation levels from significantly expanding, and reduced potential coca leaf production by 12 percent. Unfortunately, this decline was more than offset by a 32 percent increase in both coca cultivation and potential coca leaf production in Colombia, despite an aggressive aerial eradication program by Colombian enforcement authorities. Colombian coca cultivation has nearly tripled since 1987 and the disruption of the Peruvian air-bridge may have served to reinforce to the Colombian drug cartels the importance of controlling all facets of cocaine production at home. Yet despite the Colombian expansion, total Andean coca cultivation was still two percent below 1995 levels.

Other progress. There was progress in other areas as well. Many governments strengthened their enforcement and judicial systems to make it more difficult for powerful drug syndicates to operate with impunity or to manipulate the courts. Several governments enacted anti-money laundering measures to narrow the drug syndicates' opportunities for safe placement of their fortunes. And, in a few cases, traffickers even saw governments impose the sanction they fear most: expulsion or extradition to the United States. The sentence imposed on Mexican Gulf Cartel boss Juan Garcia Abrego, expelled by Mexico to the US in early 1996--11 life terms, a $128 million fine, and the forfeiture of $350 million in assets--should send a powerful message to other foreign traffickers under indictment in the United States. We have been negotiating new agreements with governments that still have formal prohibitions on extraditing their nationals. Such extradition restrictions offer nationals who commit crimes in the US a safe haven at home, particularly in countries where corruption is widespread. We were pleased, therefore, that in November 1996 a new treaty between the US and Bolivia entered into force and provides for the extradition of Bolivian nationals to the US for narcotics offenses and other serious crimes. In addition, in early 1997, the US and Argentina initialled what could be termed a "model" extradition treaty. We hope to see other countries follow suit in the near future.

Since effective interdiction in Central America and the western Caribbean has pushed trafficking routes eastward, the USG has been solidifying bilateral cooperation with the key countries of the eastern Caribbean. During 1996, we negotiated an assortment of extradition, mutual legal assistance treaties and/or maritime agreements with Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. A new extradition treaty with France will cover the French Caribbean D»partements of Martinique and Guadeloupe. These agreements will give us important new tools with which to fight drug trafficking and prevent the eastern Caribbean from becoming the drug trade's dominant theater of operations. We and our principal allies in the anti-drug effort can take pride in these achievements: they confirm the general soundness of our approach. Our joint efforts are keeping the drug trade at bay--no easy feat in the post Cold War era when drug trafficking, terrorism, and international organized crime promise to become three of the dominant forces threatening democratic order and international stability in the next few years.

Disturbing elements. Yet not all the news was good. The drug trade remains a dynamic and formidable adversary. Even after suffering considerable losses, its wealth, power, and organization equal or even exceed the resources of many national governments. Despite the USG-led effort, in 1996 hundreds of tons of cocaine flowed not only to the United States and Western Europe, but to markets in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the countries of the former Soviet Union. The lines between cocaine and heroin-consuming countries are blurring. Cocaine and heroin trafficking, once limited to a few major routes and destinations in North America and Europe respectively, has become all but universal.

Historically, drug abuse patterns have followed generational rhythms, alternating between waves of stimulant and depressant abuse. That pattern may be changing. We are now seeing more dual drug use, with users combining cocaine and heroin to offset each drug's respective stimulant and depressant effects. In this year's INCSR chapters we see references to "poly-drug use" in a variety of countries. We are no exception. The United States, once the world's primary cocaine user, is now also consuming increasing quantities of high-purity heroin. Europe, traditionally the major Western market for heroin, has acquired a voracious appetite for cocaine and amphetamines. Colombian cocaine syndicates have established distribution centers on virtually every continent. The relatively straightforward diagrams of trafficking routes of a decade ago have become today's complex webs, linking virtually every country in the world to the main drug production and trafficking centers. And new connections sprout every month in unlikely places. In October 1996, Italian anti-drug forces broke up a trafficking ring in an otherwise obscure small southern Italian town that had served as an entrepot for heroin from the Balkan Route, Colombian cocaine that had entered through Holland, and Moroccan hashish that had transited Spain.

We are also witnessing changes in the way the various syndicates do business. Large Mexican drug organizations have gained control of much of the US-bound cocaine traffic formerly dominated by the Colombians. Meanwhile, Colombian cocaine syndicates have turned increasingly to heroin production. A substantial amount of the heroin seized on the east coast of the United States in 1996 can be traced to Colombian refiners. At the same time, Nigerian smuggling organizations that formerly specialized in heroin shipments have branched out into cocaine. Crack cocaine addiction, once viewed distantly by much of the world as a curse peculiar to America's inner cities, is becoming common throughout the hemisphere. The Government of Belize now considers crack its greatest domestic drug problem. In Costa Rica, crack figured in 60 percent of arrests in 1996. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, it has become the drug of choice and principal addiction of the city's "Street Children." And there were reports that it is being used increasingly in the Netherlands, as well as in that country's former colonial possession, the Netherlands Antilles. Crack cocaine seizures there have increased dramatically, particularly in Curacao. The fight, quite clearly, is far from over.

The Threat of Synthetics: Methamphetamine. The spread of crack is not the only bad news. Amphetamines are back in force, this time globally. These synthetic drugs, which have been gaining popularity over the last half decade, are well on their way to becoming the drug-control nightmare of the next century. Methamphetamines, hybrid cousins of the "speed" of the 1960's, are challenging or even displacing cocaine as the stimulant of choice on the world drug market. The demand for methamphetamines generally, and MDMA ("Ecstasy") in particular, has been increasing not only in the industrialized nations, but in most of the countries of the developing world. Methamphetamine's relative ease of manufacture from readily available chemicals appeals as much to small drug dealers as to the large international syndicates, since neither has to rely on vulnerable crops such as coca or opium. Synthetics allow trafficking organizations to control the whole process, from manufacture to sale on the street. Synthetics yield large profit margins and can be made anywhere. Mexico is the principal supplier for the United States, but there are centers of methamphetamine production in countries as far apart as Poland, Japan and the Philippines. There have even been reports of some heroin refiners in Burma adding methamphetamine to their product line. Ecstasy has developed almost an international cult following, to the point that there are Internet sites giving detailed instructions on how to make and use MDMA "safely."

Unpublicized progress. But we should not overrate the power of the drug trade. Viewed out of context, the many achievements of individual countries may seem insignificant. Small steps do not grab headlines; many never come to the attention of the media. The countless routine drug seizures, the jungle drug labs or airstrips destroyed every day, the arrests of corrupt officials, or the improved performance of police and judicial authorities benefitting from USG assistance receive at best only fragmentary coverage in the world media. But these small steps add up to important and lasting gains at the expense of the drug trade. As we have seen, cumulative achievement pays off. Over the long term, such steady progress offers the best hope for transforming a potential threat to the stability of nations into a manageable nuisance.

Controlling Supply: The Importance of Crop Reduction. Though we must reduce consumption at home, our success in keeping illegal drugs from ever reaching the US depends on how effectively we attack drug supply beyond the country's borders. For the drugs that threaten us most--cocaine and heroin--a five-stage, grower-to-user chain connects the drug producer abroad with the consumer in the United States. At one end is the farmer growing coca or opium poppies in the Andes or Burma; at the other is the cocaine or heroin addict in a US town or city. In between lie the processing (drug refining), transit (shipping), and wholesale distribution stages. We cannot reduce the flow of drugs to the United States unless we strike as close as possible to the source. Thus, the USG's international drug control programs target the first three links of the chain: cultivation, processing, and transit. We stand our best chance if we can eliminate the first stage, cultivation, altogether. By eliminating drug crops on the ground, no drugs can enter the system. It is the equivalent of removing a malignant tumor before it can spread. And it is by far the most cost-effective means available, as the costs rise exponentially at each subsequent intervention point. Since large-scale eradication, however, is not politically feasible in many countries, we must also aggressively attack drug refining and transshipment while we determine the most suitable means of reducing drug crops in a given national context.

Coca Reduction. The coca crop offers the most immediate opportunity for radical reductions. For now, at least, extensive coca cultivation occurs in only three countries--Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In countries that grow coca with a high alkaloid content, current studies indicate that, on average, every 200 hectares of coca eradicated deprives the drug trade of a metric ton of refined cocaine. A coca field is a large, stationary target; a load of finished cocaine distributed among trucks, boats, and aircraft is not. Even manual eradication, therefore, can play an important role. But we have better means available. Modern agricultural spray aircraft could, in a matter of months, take out a large percentage of the coca crop using environmentally safe herbicides. Since it takes two years for a coca bush to become productive, intensive aerial spraying campaigns could unquestionably cripple the cocaine trade for at least two years.

Eradication, however, is not a panacea; there are other means of reducing crops. The right combination of effective law enforcement actions and alternative development programs has also proven successful. The USG has therefore concentrated on working with the governments of the Andean coca growing countries to find the best way to eliminate illegal coca. Though all three governments agree in principle that coca cultivation must be reduced, only Colombia permits aerial eradication. Bolivia, where some coca is reserved for traditional uses (i.e., chewing), will only allow manual eradication of illegal coca, a process that is slow as well as dangerous to eradication personnel. Peru, the largest cultivator, has been ambivalent, because it also produces some coca leaf for traditional purposes. In the past, its government would destroy seedbeds, but was not prepared to risk the political and economic consequences of eradication without assured, long-term compensation from abroad for displaced farmers. In 1996, however, it agreed to eradicate some coca in national parks and in abandoned fields. Our goal in the coming year will be to work with the governments of all three countries to implement much greater coca reduction programs in order to starve the drug syndicates of the cocaine that keeps them in business.

Political Will. The key to dealing with drug supply, however, is an intangible: political will. The best-trained, best-equipped anti-drug units cannot succeed for long without the determined commitment of their country's political authorities to take the often painful measures that can mortally wound the drug trade. Where political leaders have had the courage to put the long-term national interest ahead of short-term economic and political considerations, we have seen the drug trade suffer. And where they have compromised, we have seen the drug syndicates prosper accordingly.

Drug organizations learned long ago that where political will is weak it can establish a profitable and insidious modus vivendi with a government. In potentially unstable political and economic circumstances, political leaders at many levels may be tempted to negotiate an informal pax narcotica. In return for the benefits of large immediate cash flows into the economy (or into their political coffers), they confine their counternarcotics operations to sectors least likely to trigger a backlash from drug interests. For instance, the government of a major drug cultivation country can focus on interdiction rather than eradication. The authorities in a major drug refining country can eradicate crops yet permit drug syndicates to prosper by exploiting corrupt enforcement and timid judicial systems. Governments of offshore financial centers may crack down on trafficking, while profiting from drug revenues protected by bank secrecy and lax laws that facilitate money laundering. In all cases, the short-term political peace or personal prosperity that corrupt politicians enjoy only allow drug interests to dig in for the long term. Therefore, a basic tenet of USG antidrug policy is to strengthen political will in the principal drug producing and transit countries by preventing drug interests from becoming entrenched. When that occurs, corruption inevitably follows. And we have seen that large-scale corruption, by vitiating the rule of law, soon places democratic government in jeopardy.

Corruption. The fight against the drug trade is really part of a broader struggle against corruption. Like an opportunistic disease that breeds only amidst social and moral decay, the drug trade needs corruption in order to flourish. Drug organizations wield a powerful instrument for corrupting an already weak society: money. In terms of weight and availability, there is currently no commodity more lucrative than drugs. They are relatively cheap to produce and offer enormous profit margins that allow the drug trade to generate criminal revenues on a scale without historical precedent. Assuming an average retail street price of one hundred dollars a gram, a metric ton of pure cocaine has a retail value of $100 million on the streets of the US; more, if the drug is cut with additives. Thus the 100 or so metric tons of cocaine that the USG typically seizes each year could theoretically be worth as much as $10 billion to the drug trade -- more than the gross domestic product of many countries. Even if only a portion of these profits returns directly to the drug syndicates, we are still speaking of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. To put these sums into perspective, in FY 1996 the total USG budget for international drug control operations was approximately $1.6 billion. That equates to 16 metric tons of cocaine; the drug trade has lost that much in two shipments and scarcely felt the loss.

Wealth on that scale confers on large trafficking organizations a practically unlimited capacity to corrupt. In many ways, it makes them a greater threat to democratic government than most insurgent movements. Guerrilla armies or terrorist organizations seek to topple governments by force; drug syndicates, like termites, destroy them quietly from within. In theory, when a country's interior or defense minister, attorney general, or even president, is on its payroll, the drug trade can assure itself a secure operating environment. And the longer established the drug organization, the stronger its capacity to corrupt.

The ultimate fear of all democratic leaders should be that one day traffickers might take full control of a country by putting a majority of elected officials, including the president, directly on the payroll. While this has yet to occur, we have seen some uncomfortably close near misses. The more we help reduce corruption, the less likely is the prospect of a viable "narcocracy" in this hemisphere.

The Certification Process: A Weapon Against Corruption. Drug corruption, like any form of subversion that lives on decay, is a creature of the shadows. Since it shuns the light, the best way to attack drug corruption is to expose it regularly to public scrutiny. The USG every year shines the equivalent of an international spotlight on corruption through the drug certification process. Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act requires the President to certify annually that each major drug producing or transit country has cooperated fully or has taken adequate steps on its own to meet the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Convention, including rooting out public corruption. Governments that do not pass the test lose eligibility for most forms of US military and development assistance; they also face a mandatory "no" vote by the USG on loans in six multilateral development banks.

The Process Works. The certification process has proved to be a remarkably effective diplomatic instrument for keeping all governments aware of the need to pull their weight in the international antidrug effort. By now, most governments are aware that US law requires the President to provide an annual assessment of counternarcotics performance. And most know that the outcome of that assessment depends heavily on their efforts throughout the year. The drug certification process holds them publicly responsible for their actions before their international peers. Though many governments understandably resent the process, most governments try to ensure that they receive full certification the following year. They know that the President of the United States would not make such a serious determination without sound, objective evidence. The purpose of the law is not to punish; it is to hold every country to a minimum acceptable standard of cooperation, either by meeting the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Drug Convention or by their own efforts. We believe that openness is one of the best safeguards against corruption. Most governments also recognize that we are not asking any country to do the impossible. By regular and sustained collaboration throughout the year we work with most of the governments concerned to establish realistic goals for certification purposes. We know that some governments face greater obstacles than others and we take that into account.

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