WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
20 Jul 2010 | News

The United States’ Failure to Reduce Illegal Drug Supplies Demands a Dramatically Different Strategy in the Americas, Testifies WOLA at House Hearing

In the first decade of the 2000s, the U.S. government spent $9.9 billion on aid programs to help governments in Latin America and the Caribbean reduce the supply of illegal drugs coming to the United States. That is 48 percent of all U.S. aid, and 85 percent of all military and police aid, to the Western Hemisphere.

"The result has been a wash," said Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America. "Measured in tons, the region is producing the same amount of cocaine as a decade ago. Measured in U.S. street prices, supply is satisfying demand as well as ever. Measured in drug-related violence in Latin America, the problem may now be even worse."

Isacson is testifying at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy on "International Counternarcotics Policies," which will take place at 10:00 AM in room 2247 of the Rayburn House Office Building. His panel of non-governmental experts will follow testimony from the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, and the most senior counternarcotics officials at the State and Defense Departments.

While lamenting the frustrations of past get-tough policies in the region — aerial herbicide fumigation, military offensives, ill-conceived crop-substitution schemes, increased human rights abuse —Isacson notes a tentative, but important, shift in the proposals coming out of the administration. "We are hearing more discussion about strengthening civilian governance, justice, and economic opportunity," reads Isacson's testimony (available here in PDF format).

This policy shift, the testimony goes on to explain, must be fostered and encouraged to move away from the failed hard line of the past and toward (1) reducing illegal drug demand at home by increasing access to treatment and through community corrections, such as Hawaii's HOPE probation program; (2) helping countries in Latin America to govern — with a robust civilian presence— the lawless zones where drugs are produced and trafficked; and (3) building up judicial systems to resist narco-infiltration and halt human rights abuse.                                                                                          

"This is a direction that the past twenty years of U.S. drug policy has sought to avoid taking," says Isacson. "Put plainly, it looks a lot like ‘nation-building.' But today, after decades of trying failed shortcuts like fumigating coca-growing populations, we know that no other solution exists."

For more information, please contact:
Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy
aisacson@wola.org; (202) 797-2171