Wednesday, March 31, 2010

S. 3172: New counternarcotics legislation in the Senate

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) recently introduced legislation (S. 3172) in the Senate intended to direct a more focused approach to regional counternarcotics programs.

The "Counternarcotics and Citizen Security for the Americas Act of 2010" (S.3172) differs widely from H.R.2134, the "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009," which was passed by the House of Representatives in December 2009 and now awaits passage in the Senate. While H.R. 2134 aims to establish an independent commission to evaluate U.S. counternarcotics and demand reduction policies, S.3172 attempts to create a multi-year, "comprehensive and coordinated" strategy for the existing U.S. counternarcotics programs in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean "to thwart the 'balloon effect.'" (The "balloon effect" is a term referring to what happens when one squeezes a half deflated balloon - in this instance, referring to the phenomenon in which successful counternarcotics efforts in one area leads to increased narco-related activities in other areas.)

The bill attempts to reflect "a more nuanced approach to counternarcotics efforts in the region," which would focus on programs aimed at:

  • Strengthening civilian institutions;
  • Decreasing military involvement in law enforcement;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of local, regional, and federal law enforcement institutions;
  • Improving the judicial system and the rule of law; and
  • Promoting viable and licit alternatives to the drug trade.

These new goals are closely in line with the "new phase" of the MĂ©rida Initiative, which was officially announced last week by the State Department and the Government of Mexico.

The new legislation mandates an "Inter-American Counternarcotics Strategy Report," which would describe, for example:

  • A detailed multi-year strategy for the region;
  • "The integration of diplomatic, criminal justice, civil society and economic development, demand reduction, military, and other assistance to achieve regional counternarcotics goals;"
  • A set of regional and country-specific metrics and monitoring protocols; and
  • Government efforts to investigate and prosecute allegations of human rights abuses committed by security agencies.

The legislation also attempts to address the problem of coordination between all U.S. government agencies involved in the counternarcotics programs. According to Sen. Menendez's press release, "program effectiveness can be limited due to fragmented management, unclear reporting chains, and duplicative and overlapping agenda." As a result, S. 3172 places authority in the hands of the Secretary of State. The text (PDF) of the legislation reads: "No United States Government international counternarcotics or anti-crime foreign assistance-related activity may be implemented unless it has been approved by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President."

Finally, this 28-page piece of legislation limits the use of U.S. contractors in a recipient country, modifies reporting and monitoring requirements of the health and environmental impacts of herbicide use in aerial eradication programs, and encourages the input and participation of local government and civil society in developing and carrying out the funded programs.

The text of the legislation has not been added to the Library of Congress' website, however it can be downloaded as a PDF here.