United States anti-drug efforts in Latin America criticized by WOLA report

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Sunday, December 5, 2004

Washington, DC — The "War on Drugs" waged by the United States has been criticized in a report released by the Washington D.C.-left wing based human rights group Washington Office on Latin America. The report, "Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy" (Summary, PDF), investigated "the impact of drug control policies on human rights and democracy" [1] and declared that present policies in the War on Drugs have failed to achieve any meaningful success.

The United States government's primary aim in the War on Drugs is to reduce the volume of illegal narcotics imported into the United States. By reducing imports, prices of the drugs will rise and, so the government reasons, drug use will decline. The government's efforts are primarily directed towards eradication of crops used to produce finished drugs, and towards strengthening the governments of regions in which drugs are produced by offering military and financial aid, the most notable of which is Colombia.

The 400-page WOLA report documents evidence that U.S. efforts to combat illegal drugs in the Americas have served to weaken democratic instutions in Latin America, and have placed the burden of the drug war upon the poorest of their citizens. Co-editor of the report, Coletta A. Youngers maintains that the U.S. policy of crop eradication generates "social unrest, instability and violence" as poor farmers are having their source of income destroyed. Youngers further states that U.S. policies "have contributed to confusing military and law-enforcement functions, militarizing local police forces, and bringing the military into a domestic law enforcement role. They have thus strengthened military forces at the expense of civilian authorities – in a region with a tragic history of military rule" [2].

As a measure of their success in the War on Drugs, the Office of National Drug Control Policy points to statistics from 2001, which are the most recent published on the ONDCP website, that show a decline in the worldwide level of coca cultivation [3]. The ONDCP also claims success in interdiction efforts and highlights statistics on drug arrests within the United States as measurable achievements in the War on Drugs [4].

However, the Drug Enforcement Agency's latest statistics (from 2003) show street prices of drugs to be near an all-time low [5]. The same DEA report also concedes that most drugs "are readily available".

While a senior ONDCP official has stated that the WOLA report "is filled with errors, irrelevancies, and misinterpretations" [6], WOLA has called for a renewed debate on drug war policies, supported by their findings and the latest government statistics that show illegal narcotics to be cheaper and more plentiful than ever before.

WOLA was founded in 1974 by Joseph Eldridge, Joyce Hill of the National Council of Churches and Thomas Quigley of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Quigley led the Religious Task Force on El Salvador, part of a coalition called Committee In Solidarity With the People of El Salvador (CIPES). Papers captured in El Salvador belonging to FMLN guerrilla leader, Farid Handal, "documented CIPES' connections with member groups of the Latin network and the international communist movement( Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism, Harper/Collins, NY, new edition 1994, p. 682).