Top drug policy officials from around the hemisphere, summoned to Washington in November for a summit with Clinton drug czar Barry McCaffrey, should face the reality that the U.S.-led "war on drugs" is a failure. That is a central message in two new briefs published by the Foreign Policy In Focus project.
Between 1981 and today, U.S. federal spending on anti-drug programs has grown from about $1 billion to roughly $18 billion, yet this policy has failed to reduce deaths, drug abuse, drug availability, or the spread of disease. The policy emphasizes law enforcement instead of effective demand-reduction measures," writes Eric Sterling in U.S. Drug Policy: Failure at Home. Sterling, who is president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, argues that the U.S. drug strategies at home and abroad both "rely upon coercion" and "disproportionately target the poorest and the lowest level participants in the narcotics commerce."
Similarly, U.S. security assistance to Colombia, given under the rubric of fighting drugs, has skyrocketed over the last decade from $18 million to almost $300 million-with Congress currently considering a multi-billion dollar additional military aid package. Yet the United States' counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia "have failed dramatically," writes Winifred Tate, a policy analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. In her brief, "Colombia's Role in International Drug Trafficking", Tate quotes a recent General Accounting Office study that found that "despite two years of extensive herbicide spraying" in Colombia "net coca cultivation actually increased 50 percent."
Noting that the "current level of military assistance and number of [U.S.] advisors in Colombia has now reached levels comparable to U.S. involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s," Tate warns that the U.S. "is being drawn, once again, into an unwinnable and costly Latin American civil conflict." Tate argues that the U.S. should cut off all assistance to Colombia's security forces and "lend its full support to a negotiated settlement of Colombia's internal conflict."