WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
19 Jun 2008

Eradication Fails to Cut Drug Output, WOLA’s John Walsh Tells Congress

Decades of forced eradication of coca crops in Latin America has had little impact on cocaine production and trafficking, while leaving “a trail of social conflict, political unrest, violence and human rights violations” across the region, said WOLA Senior Associate for Drug Policy John M. Walsh in congressional testimony today.

The hearing of the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, took place the day after the United Nations announced that 2007 saw a sharp increase in coca growing in the Andean region, despite heavy U.S.-financed aerial herbicide spraying.

The U.N. estimates, based on satellite images and ground research, showed that land under coca cultivation increased by 16 percent to 181,600 hectares since 2006.

In his prepared statement, Walsh said that “the eradication of crops upon which farmers and their families depend pushes people deeper into poverty, and thereby reinforces their reliance on illicit crops.”  Sustained efforts to create alternative rural livelihoods and strengthen justice institutions in countries where farmers grow coca and poppy hold more promise for curbing the illicit drug industry than forced eradication. 

“Such an approach,” said Walsh, “will require patience and a departure from a results-now mentality obsessed with crop and seizure statistics.”

U.S. drug policies should focus more on harm reduction, which refers not just to reducing the harm caused by drugs to users and their families and communities, but also reduction of the damage caused by misguided, counterproductive policies meant to control drug production and transit, said Walsh.

Without a greater emphasis on harm reduction and drug consumption, progress in reducing the flow of drugs into the United States is “extremely unlikely,” he said. Failure to cut consumption in the United States will also undercut any gains against drug-related violence in Mexico under the Merida Initiative now before Congress, said Walsh.

“Even if Mexico succeeds in diminishing the drug-related violence that racks that country today, it will not necessarily entail or lead to a reduction in the flow of illicit drugs into the United States,” said Walsh.

To read Walsh’s full testimony, click here.

Walsh was quoted in an article about the rise in Colombia coca cultivation in today’s Washington Post.  To read the story, click here.

To read WOLA’s recent report on the failure of aerial fumigation in Colombia, Chemical Reactions, click here .

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Roger Atwood, Communications Director, [email protected], (202) 797 2171