Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada meets today with President Bush in Washington, D.C. The perennial U.S. determination to fight drugs by ripping up coca plants will certainly drive the meeting. As representatives of NGOs who monitor drug policy in Bolivia, we hope that the presidents face up to some uncomfortable facts.

U.S. international drug-control policy is ineffective. Over the last decade, despite spending more than $25 billion on drug-control programs overseas, more illicit drugs are available in the United States, and at cheaper prices, than ever before. Plan Colombia was so profoundly unsuccessful that coca cultivation in the Andean region increased 21 percent during the plan's first year.


Yet U.S. officials seem to hold out hope for the supply-side strategy of combating drugs despite the admonitions of market economics and studies commissioned by their very own agencies. Searching for a model of success, the U.S. officials cling to the Bolivian experience. True enough, Bolivians eradicated 70 percent of their coca over the last few years. Yet that coca was quickly replaced by new crops in Colombia and Peru and replanted crops in Bolivia, leading to an overall increase in production.

Unfortunately, the eradication in Bolivia, achieved at high cost to Bolivians, has not prevented cocaine from falling into the hands of Americans. And unfortunately, the alternative development programs, well intentioned as they may be, have not provided former coca farmers with sufficient family income for food and other necessities.

The collateral damage of the U.S.-backed war on drugs in Bolivia is painfully evident. Thousands of Bolivians accused of drug offenses languish in overcrowded jails, many spending years incarcerated before even being granted a trial. In confrontations between September 2001 and this February, 10 coca growers and four members of the security forces were killed, and at least 350 protesters were injured or detained. Bolivian security forces funded by the United States shot and killed coca federation leader Casimiro Huanca as he led a peaceful protest against the lack of markets for alternative development produce.

While the United States continues to fund the security forces in Chapare, Bolivia's coca-growing region, neither the United States nor Bolivia has shown sufficient desire to prevent abuses. For example, the officer in charge of the troops that killed Huanca was given the puny sentence of 76 hours of house arrest. In a stunning acceptance of these abuses, the U.S. Embassy official in charge of narcotics affairs stated in a BBC interview that these types of abuses will occur and that he was unsure whether the recent abuses constituted "gross" human-rights violations.

Sanchez de Lozada has suggested a willingness to demilitarize Chapare and return law enforcement to the police. Although there are many obstacles, the damage of the drug war can be mitigated by taking these steps:

* Establish a dialogue between Chapare residents and the government.

* Demilitarize the region.

* Improve alternative development programs via sound planning, consultation with Bolivian communities and adequate marketing for products.

* Shift U.S. resources away from ineffective source-country eradication to the proven, cost-effective method: treating drug addiction at home.

Tina Hodges is a program assistant at the Washington Office on Latin America in Washington, D.C., and Kathryn Ledebur is director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Pubdate: Thu, 14 Nov 2002
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2002 The Miami Herald