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Militarization of the U.S. Drug Control Program.

At a time when fledgling civilian governments in Latin America are struggling to keep security forces in check, the U.S. has enlisted the region's militaries as its pivotal partners in international drug control. This militarization, which begins at the U.S.-Mexico border, is undermining recent trends toward greater democratization and respect for human rights while doing little to stanch the flow of drugs into the United States.

Washington's militarization of its antidrug efforts is the product of a U.S. drug control strategy that has historically emphasized reducing the supply of illegal narcotics rather than addressing the U.S. demand for drugs. In 1971, three years after the first declared "war on drugs," President Richard Nixon took a crucial step toward militarization by proclaiming drug trafficking a national security threat. "Protecting the national security" has remained the rallying cry for providing more money and firepower to wage the war on drugs. Since the 1970s, U.S. spending on the drug war has risen from less than $1 billion to more than $19.2 billion annually. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, between 1994 and 2001, spending on international efforts increased by 175% and spending on interdiction programs increased by 68%.

In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan raised the curtain on a rapid expansion of U.S. antidrug efforts that continues unabated today. Reagan justified the expansion, in part, by developing the narcoguerrilla theory, which bolstered the national security rationale by positing ties between Cuba, the Colombian drug cartels and leftist guerrillas, and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Though this charge was largely fictitious in the 1980s, in Colombia today the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and the armed forces are all involved with the drug cartels and are using drug money to help finance their wars.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 1989 designated the Pentagon as the "single lead agency" for the detection and monitoring of illicit drug shipments into the United States. Soon thereafter President George Bush announced his Andean Initiative, a $2.2-billion, five-year plan to stop the cocaine trade at its source. Although U.S. military personnel had been involved in training, equipping, and transporting foreign antinarcotics personnel since the early 1980s, the Andean strategy opened the door to a dramatic expansion of this role and to a significant infusion of U.S. assistance to police and military forces in the region.

The Andean Initiative placed the spotlight on Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. Yet the vast majority of the Pentagon's international drug spending still went into its detection and monitoring operation in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico transit zones, the cost of which, according to a September 1993 General Accounting Office report, eventually swelled "out of proportion to the benefits it provided."

In late 1993, President Clinton shifted the emphasis of military operations, at least in terms of strategy if not spending. The focus shifted from interdicting cocaine as it moved through the transit zones into the U.S to dismantling the so-called "air bridge" that connects coca growers and coca paste manufacturers in Peru and Bolivia with Colombian refiners and distributors. As a result, drug traffickers quickly abandoned air routes in favor of the region's labyrinth of waterways. The Pentagon responded by supporting interdiction operations that targeted the waterways in both source countries and neighboring nations.

Coca cultivation in Colombia has risen sharply in response to recent declines in Peru and Bolivia, earning Colombia the dubious distinction of being the world's number one coca source. In 2000, the U.S. significantly escalated funding for militarized counternarcotics programs in the Andean region with a $1.3 billion supplemental for Colombia and neighboring countries. Seventy-five percent of the funds allocated for Colombia went to security forces, and nearly 50% of the funds allocated for neighboring countries were directed toward military and police forces. The Bush administration has requested $730 million in the FY 2002 budget to expand counterdrug, alternative development, and government reform programs in the Andean region.

Today, the vast majority of Washington's international antinarcotics spending goes to Latin America and the Caribbean, where thousands of U.S. troops are annually deployed in support of the drug war, operating ground-based radar, flying monitoring aircraft, providing operation and intelligence support, and training host-nation security forces. Despite this militarization and the massive funding for Washington's drug war, illegal drugs still flood the United States. In fact, illegal drugs are more readily available now, at a higher purity and lower cost, than they were when the drug war was launched.

Key Points

* The U.S. has enlisted Latin America's militaries as its pivotal partners in international drug control.

* Protecting national security is used as the rationale behind the militarization of U.S. counternarcotics efforts--and is strengthened by campaigns labeling insurgents "narcoguerrillas."

* Militarization and increased funding for the war on drugs have failed to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States.

Gina Amatangelo <> is a Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, specializing in international drug control programs in the Andes region.
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Article Details
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Author:Amatangelo, Gina
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:May 15, 2001
Previous Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.
Next Article:Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

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