Drug war failure, needs changes

Every year in Colombia, more than 3,000 people, mostly citizens, are killed in the crossfires of a brutal civil war that has its roots in the drug trade, according to a May 24, 2005, BBC News article.The United States has pledged billions of dollars to stop the drug war in South America and has attempted to destroy the crop altogether through mass eradication programs since the 1970s.

But so far its tactics have been useless.

The United States needs a new approach to the drug war, such as stimulating the Latin American economy in other ways – by directly funding alternative crops for cocaine farmers.

Don Coerver, associate dean of the history department, who specializes in U.S. and Latin American relations, said the United States’ efforts in South America have been fruitless.

“We’ve been in a 30-year drug war, and it hasn’t gotten better,” Coerver said.

By far, the most prominent drug in the war is cocaine, and the biggest distributor is Colombia, which is the source of 80 percent of the world’s cocaine, according to a July 5, 2005, BBC News article.

Cocaine is derived from coca, a traditional crop that grows on the steep slopes of South America. It is vast and profitable, making it an easy solution to the hunger woes of peasant farmers in South America.

The plan to eradicate the coca leaves in mass numbers is extremely ineffective, mainly because supply will always meet demand for drugs.

According to a 2005 Harvard Review of Latin America, destroying coca crops creates a “balloon effect,” where production will increase elsewhere to equalize the destroyed crop.

In 2005, the United Nations reported cultivation of coca crops increased by 3 percent since 2000.

The United States needs to start stimulating the economy of countries dependent on drug sales in areas other than cocaine and marijuana. This can be done in two ways: creating a demand for the crop and investing in its cultivation.

Investing money in legitimate crops for coca farmers would make farming them as financially feasible and easy to grow as coca, significantly slowing the production of cocaine.

Drugs are a lucrative industry mainly because of the United States’ demand for them. If the United States turned the billions of dollars a year it spends on drugs toward buying legal crops from South America, it would make a significant dent in cocaine sales.

Steven Sloan, assistant professor of Spanish, said many farmers are growing coca because it’s the most advantageous crop to sell. If farmers were given a legal option that is as profitable, they would choose the legal route.

“For the most part, people are in this because they have no other choice,” Sloan said. “They don’t necessarily want to be.”

In addition to eradication, the Untied States has attempted to send billions of dollars of aid to South American countries in the name of fighting the drug war. In July 2000, Congress approved $1.3 billion in military aid to Colombia alone.

However, due to a lack of follow-up by the United States on its money, most of it falls unchecked into corrupted hands or is funneled into projects separate from the drug war.

Sloan said more than 80 percent of America’s aid to Colombia goes to the country’s military, where it is spent on training, weapons and helicopters.

“The taxpayer is sold this idea we’re fighting drugs, but the money is really going elsewhere,” Sloan said.

Until the United States makes a significant policy change, the drug war will continue to destroy thousands of lives. The current strategy is failing, and the problem is ultimately in the hands of the more affluent demand side to make changes to it.

Features editor Amber Parcher is a junior international communication major from Austin.