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The eradication answer.

Your article about drug policy in Colombia [Elizabeth Dickinson, "Fighting the Last War," January/February 2012] was nicely done and contained many insights. I would venture that the role of forced and sustained eradication, as practiced in Colombia, made some contribution to [Alvaro] Uribe's successes. Such a role has been, of late, minimized in Mexico. Do you consider that piece of the overall Plan Colombia package as having made an important contribution?


David Murray, PhD

Office of National Drug Control Policy

Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Dickinson responds:

Eradication has been a major part of the Colombian campaign--but it was more incidental than strategic. The effective aspects of Uribe's policy involved retaking massive sweeps of the state that had fallen into lawless hands--or had never lived under the rule of law in the first place. One of the most effective ways to do this was to send troops and police across the country. And on their way, they often participated in manual eradication schemes. The United States helped provide funding and expertise for spraying.

If you look at the absolute numbers of cocaine production in Colombia, however, they don't so much go down as shift geographically. As troops entered one area of the country, the coca production shifted elsewhere, as if a balloon were being squeezed on one side and the air simply moving to another. This has produced more a re organization of coca production than an eradication of it. And it mirrors the crisis in general. Coca production has shifted away from the obvious corridors and is now ever more at the margins of society. It has also shifted into the lawless portions of Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela.

Trying to eradicate coca crops is like arresting drug dealers. In both cases, you're dealing largely with victims of the drug economy, rather than the guys who are power brokers making the big money. Colombia was successful in that it was able to balance the political goals of the United States (to eradicate coca) with the real (and more useful) goals of taking power away from the mafia-like groups that had grown up to control territory.

So how this applies to Mexico is that it just makes the situation in that country even more difficult than the one in Colombia--which in some ways it already was anyway. There is no physical thing--coca--to try to stop. The power of Mexico's cartels is increasingly in their overt violence and the mafia-like control that they have been able to exercise over communities. Even if coca were eradicated in Colombia, it's likely that Peru, Guatemala, and other vulnerable spaces in Latin America would fill the gap. The market forces are just that strong.
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Title Annotation:LETTERS; cocaine eradication
Author:Murray, David
Publication:Washington Monthly
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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