HOLGER JENSEN September 18 1989



HOLGER JENSEN September 18 1989




It was a startling scene: the President of the United States holding aloft a bag of crack cocaine on national television. George Bush twice showed the plastic container, which he said was seized in a park across the street from the White House, as he unveiled his $9.3-billion antidrug strategy last week. Calling drugs “the gravest domestic threat facing our nation today,” Bush promised “an assault on every front”—more arrests, more prisons, swifter punishment for pushers and users, more treatment centres for addicts and the dispatch of U.S. troops, if requested, to

help Latin American countries stamp out drugs at their source. But no sooner had Bush finished speaking than bombs rocked Colombia, an answer from that beleaguered country’s drug traffickers. Later in the week, Colombian students added their voice, shouting during demonstrations in Bogotá: “Gringos go home.” And Democratic congressmen dismissed the President’s domestic strategy as nothing more than a rehash of what the government is already doing—with little success.

In his first address to the nation from the Oval Office, Bush acknowledged that his plan contained no major innovations. “The basic weapons we need are the ones we already have,” he said. “What’s been lacking is a strategy to effectively use them.” He proposed shifting money in the next fiscal year from other federal programs to spend $3.7 billion for law enforcement, $1.9 billion for the prison system, $295 million for the court system, $1.4 billion for prevention and education and $1.1 billion for treatment. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said that the plan is “not tough enough, bold enough or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand.” And New York Congressman Charles Rangel, chairman

of the House Narcotics Committee, charged that the President’s preoccupation with not raising taxes had resulted in a “nickel and dime” approach.

Bush, clearly stung, responded that Americans were getting “fed up” with “partisan carping.” He urged his Democratic critics to “get behind the program” or face repercussions in the next election. But congressmen became even more critical when they learned that the cost of the program had been vastly understated. Although Bush’s plan would cost $2.6 billion more than was spent on combating drugs in the current fiscal year, the President claimed that next year’s increase would only amount to $844 million, because most of the added funds would not be spent until future years.

But Bush was speaking only of federal spending.

What he did not mention in his address—but what drug policy director William Bennett was forced to acknowledge at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing later— was that state governments would have to come up with as much as $12 billion just to meet prison-building goals. “You’re really saying to the states, ‘Not only do your part, do 96 per cent of the part,’ ” said Biden. “The states are being asked to make a multibillion-dollar commitment in one year, next year. The money just isn’t there.”

Overall, roughly 70 per cent of the Bush plan is devoted to upgrading law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The remaining 30 per cent will be used for treatment and education. That ratio is much the same as in the previous drug wars fought by presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which clearly failed.

One new element is Bush’s so-called Andean Strategy, which would triple military and police aid to the cocaine-producing nations of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. He allocated $308.2 million to the three countries—in addition to

the $77 million already granted to Colombia— for the first year of what he hopes will be a fiveyear campaign in the Andean region, costing Washington about $2.4-billion.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia characterized the effort as “too little, too late.” Officials in Colombia and Bolivia said that the Bush plan was “better rounded” than previous American efforts because it addressed U.S. consumption as well as cocaine production at its source. But they, too, claimed that the amount of aid allocated to the source countries was minus-

cule compared to the vast profits generated by the drug trade—an estimated $3.5 billion annually in Colombia alone and $3 billion in Peru and Bolivia. “Too much blood is being spilled here for us to get the short end of the stick,” said Juan Carlos Pastrana, the editor of Bogotá’s daily La Prensa.

Medellin, the headquarters of Colombia's most powerful cocaine cartel, has suffered a rash of bombings since drug traffickers declared “total war” on the government in response to a crackdown that began last month. There have been periodic explosions in Bogotá, the capital, as well, and the cartel’s gunmen have launched a murderous campaign against the wives of Colombian army and police officers, killing two last week. But their threat to assassinate 10 judges for every cartel member who is extradited to the United States did not

deter authorities from sending one of those arrested in a major sweep of the drug lords’ territory to face trial in Atlanta. Eduardo Martinez Romero, a mid-level cartel member wanted in the United States on charges of money laundering, was flown out of Colombia last week on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane. U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh then praised “the extraordinary courage and resolve of President Virgilio Barco” for continuing the crackdown.

However, the extradition precipitated an

anti-American demonstration at Bogotá’s National University. Hooded students burned a U.S. flag and demanded the withdrawal of military advisers and equipment sent by Bush to assist in the Colombian crackdown. Observers recalled that the Medellin cartel had instigated similar nationalistic disturbances when drug lord Carlos Lehder was extradited to the United States in 1987. At week’s end, Barco suffered another setback in his war when public protests forced him to back off from imposing military rule on Cali and Medellin. The president had replaced the mayors of the two cities with military officers, but rescinded the order when legislators—some of them alleged by Colombian leftists to be in the pay of the cartels—charged that the action was unconstitutional and undemocratic.

The real test of Barco’s resolve will arise

when—and if—the security forces apprehend one of the self-styled Extraditables, the 12 kingpins of the Medellin and Cali cartels. The Colombian government is offering $295,000 rewards for information leading to the capture of Medellin chieftains Pablo Escobar and José Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha.

But the other top leaders are not on the list. The chief of Colombia’s national police,

Maj. Gen. Miguel Antonio Gomez Padilla, denied reports that they had fled from the country. “I know that they are on Colombian territory,” he said. “There is progress in intelligence in the search for them.” Gomez Padilla predicted that the violence would intensify as his men tried to neutralize the traffickers. But he added that the crackdown had achieved one notable result: “There are no exports of cocaine at this moment.”

U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed that the flow of drugs from Colombia had slowed to a trickle. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Martin Daniell said that air and sea interdiction had virtually stopped in Florida and that the southwest region, along the Mexican border, was experiencing a similar standstill. However, senior DEA officers said that

cocaine prices were following no discernible pattern—indicating that some areas are still glutted with the drug while elsewhere supplies may be drying up. Last week, in Miami the price increased to as much as $27,000 per kilo from $7,000. In New York City the price was still stable at $20,000 per kilo.

In Canada, police officials said that they could see no decrease in the amount of cocaine reaching the streets, where it sells for $80 to $120 a gram. And Robert Fahlman, head of the RCMP’S strategic intelligence branch in Ottawa, predicted an upsurge. “Because of the crackdown, we’re going to see more and more cocaine entering Canada [destined] for the United States,” he said. “And once it’s in Canada, if they can sell it here, that means one less border to cross. The availability in Canada will likely increase.” Fahlman added that police forces across the country continued to make numerous cocaine seizures over the past three weeks. But Sgt. Paul Guillemin of Metro Toronto’s 14th Division drug squad said that it is “a holding action,” adding that “we are starting to lose ground.”

Canada has an estimated 300,000 cocaine

users, compared with eight million in the United States. And its National Drug Strategy, which was adopted in May, 1987, is the exact opposite of the American approach. Of $210 million allocated for the five-year program, 68 per cent was dedicated to education, prevention and treatment. Only about 18 per cent, $38 million, went to the RCMP and Canada Customs for more personnel and equipment. “What we’re trying to do in Canada is much more balanced,” said David Archibald, chairman of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. He added, “Many provinces have been involved in education and health promotion” even before the National Drug Strategy was implemented. “Young people by and large seem to be turning toward healthy lifestyles,” said Archibald, including less drug abuse.

Surveys of Canadian adolescents indicate an overall decline in illegal drug use—to 23 per cent in 1987 from 39 per cent in 1979. But in an Ontario study, cocaine abuse did not follow that trend, rising to 6.1 per cent in 1987 from 3.3 per cent of the total population in 1984. Those figures lead some police officers to express concern that not enough is being spent on law enforcement. Guillemin pointed out that none of the funds in the National Drug Strategy had gone to local police forces. And he called the $38 million spent on Customs and the RCMP “a drop in the bucket when you put it on a national scale.” He also complained that effective law enforcement is not being followed up with strong sentences for those convicted of drug trafficking. Many of those who are jailed get out on parole after serving only a third of their time. “The deterrence at court level is nil,” said Guillemin. “They’re not going to stop selling drugs for 30or 60-day terms.”

However, the American approach, which stresses law enforcement, has also failed to eliminate the drug problems. Since 1980, U.S. resources devoted to the war on drugs have more than tripled, drug convictions have increased by 161 per cent and the sentences handed out by judges have grown by an average of 11 months. But drug use is still soaring. The American Civil Liberties Union recently reported that “with a current prison population of 600,000, the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other industrialized country, with the exception of South Africa and the Soviet Union, and convictions for drug law violations are now the singlelargest and fastest-growing category in the federal prison population.”

Bush’s strategy is designed to put yet more users and traffickers in jail. But in Canada, Health Minister Perrin Beatty said that prevention programs were “more appropriate,” adding that the police will have to work with the tools that they already have. Both strategies will now be tested in what promises to be a long and deadly war.