Latin American Drugs II: Improving Policy and Reducing Harm
Latin American Drugs II: Improving Policy and Reducing Harm
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The Faces of Conflict: A Visual Journey Through Latin America
The Faces of Conflict: A Visual Journey Through Latin America

Latin American Drugs II: Improving Policy and Reducing Harm

The policies of a decade or more to stop the flow of cocaine from the Andean source countries, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, to the two largest consumer markets, the U.S. and Europe, have proved insufficient and ineffective.

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Executive Summary

The policies of a decade or more to stop the flow of cocaine from the Andean source countries, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, to the two largest consumer markets, the U.S. and Europe, have proved insufficient and ineffective. Cocaine availability and demand have essentially remained stable in the U.S. and have been increasing in Europe. Use in Latin American transit countries, in particular Argentina, Brazil and Chile, is on the rise. Flawed counter-drug polices also are causing considerable collateral damage in Latin America, undermining support for democratic governments in some countries, distorting governance and social priorities in others, causing all too frequent human rights violations and fuelling armed and/or social conflicts in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. A comprehensive shared policy reassessment and a new consensus on the balance between approaches emphasising law enforcement and approaches emphasising alternative development and harm reduction are urgently required.

Counter-drug policies such as the U.S.-Colombian Plan Colombia and the European Union (EU) Drugs Strategy have not found an effective mix of supply and demand reduction measures. While on both sides of the Atlantic the lion’s share of counter-narcotics funds are invested in controlling the drug problem at home, neither the Washington law-enforcement orientation nor the Brussels public health orientation (which is not homogeneously shared across the EU) has significantly reduced cocaine use. Policy coordination between the U.S., Europe and Latin America is severly hampered by the marked differences on both how best to address the world’s overall drug problem and how to reduce cocaine supply, as well as by unrelated political disputes.

While the U.S. runs large supply reduction programs in the Andean source countries, in particular seeking to eradicate coca crops through aerial spraying in Colombia but also investing considerable money in alternative development, the Europeans contribute on a smaller scale to the establishment of alternative livelihoods and strengthening of institutions. Drug-shipment interdiction and law enforcement in many of the transit countries are relatively major elements of U.S. policy, while Europe attempts to guard its borders closer to home and suffers from inadequate law enforcement cooperation within the EU.

In the absence of better coordination between counter-drug authorities on the three continents, highly efficient and sophisticated transnational trafficking organisations adapt rapidly and continue to find ways to cater to the world’s most lucrative markets. The harm they do is multiplied by their symbiotic relationships with illegal armed groups, most spectacularly the insurgents and the new groups that have sprung up following disarmament of the paramilitaries in Colombia.

Crisis Group’s detailed study is divided into two complementary reports published simultaneously. The first, Latin American Drugs I: Losing the Fight, principally examines the scope of the problem, including a detailed examination of cultivation and trafficking. This report analyses policies and their political and social ramifications and presents policy recommendations.

Bogotá/Brussels, 14 March 2008

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