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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Defense Department's ever-expanding counterdrug military aid program

U.S.-supported Ecuadorian troops on a riverine counterdrug patrol. Photo from U.S. Southern Command.

The U.S. Congress is finishing work on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which is rightly controversial because of language making it legally possible for the U.S. government to arrest U.S. citizens on U.S. soil for “terrorism” and detain them in military custody indefinitely.

In addition, deep within the bill, whose conference report is being voted today in the House, are provisions that extend and expand the Defense Department’s ability to give counter-drug aid to foreign militaries and police forces. These authorities, which date back to 1991, are now the second-largest source of military and police aid to Latin America, accounting for about $455 million in assistance in 2011.

The Pentagon has two such aid-providing authorities. Neither are in permanent law; they expire and must be renewed periodically. The first, and largest, is the one that first appeared in Section 1004 of the National Defense Authorization act (and was extended in 1995, 1999, 2002, and 2006). It allows the massive Defense budget to pay for training, equipment upgrades and other specific types of aid, including construction of counter-drug bases (as has recently been reported in Honduras).

Section 1004 expired when the federal government’s fiscal year 2011 ended on September 30 of this year. Because the defense bill’s approval has been so delayed, aid to the region’s militaries through this funding source has actually stopped completely for 2 1/2 months. The 2012 Defense Authorization bill, however, not only restarts Section 1004 aid, Section 1005 of the bill extends the program for another three years, through 2014.

The other, smaller program is called Section 1033, after the part of the 1998 Defense Authorization bill that first created it. This authority was once called the “Riverine Program” because it was used only to give $20 million per year in counter-drug aid to two countries, Colombia and Peru, to give their security forces what they needed to interdict drugs trafficked on rivers.

Back in 1998, the congressional Armed Services committees were skeptical about the Pentagon’s request to launch the Riverine Program. They were unenthusiastic about starting another channel of funding that, in effect, duplicates exactly the sort of aid that the State Department’s International Narcotics Control program already provides.

Fourteen years later, this “temporary” authority has become a classic example of how hard it is to bring a military aid program to an end. Once the Defense Authorization bill passes, and renews Section 1033 through 2013, what began as a $20 million-per-year riverine counter-drug aid program for two countries will have become a $100 million-per-year general counter-drug aid program for 35 countries. (The 2012 bill alone would add 13 countries to the Section 1033 club.) Of these countries, 13 are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Once the foot is in the door of a Defense-budget aid program, the door not only becomes impossible to close. It opens wide.

Herewith, a brief history of the Defense Department’s “Section 1033” legal authorities.

  1. Section 1033 of the 1998 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) establishes the program. It allows the Defense Department to provide riverine counter-drug aid to Colombia and Peru only: $9 million in 1998, and $20 million per year in 1999-2002, when the provision is set to expire.
  2. The 2001 NDAA removes Peru, making 1033 a Colombia-only program, but extends it through 2006.
  3. The 2004 NDAA removes the word “Riverine.” It increases the annual authorization from $20 million per year to $40 million per year. It reinstates Peru and adds seven more countries, for a total of nine. The new countries are Afghanistan, Bolivia, Ecuador, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  4. The 2007 NDAA extends the program through 2008. It increases its annual budget to $60 million. It adds seven countries, for a total of 16. The new countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belize, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Panama.
  5. The 2008 NDAA adds two countries, for a total of 18. They are the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
  6. The 2009 NDAA extends the program through 2009. It increases its annual budget to $75 million. It adds four countries, for a total of 22. The new countries are El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, and Senegal.
  7. The 2010 NDAA extends the program through 2010.
  8. The 2011 NDAA extends the program through 2012.
  9. The 2012 NDAA extends the program through 2013. It increases its annual budget to $100 million. It adds 13 countries, for a total of 35. The new countries are Benin, Cape Verde, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Liberia, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Podcast: "Successes, Failures and Losses": Daniel Mejía on drug policy

In this 50th episode of the Just the Facts Podcast, Adam talks with Daniel Mejía, an economist from Colombia's Universidad de los Andes, who just co-edited a book, "Éxitos, fracasos y extravíos," which thoroughly critiques, and proposes alternatives to, the U.S.-backed anti-drug policy in Colombia.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Podcast: The Week: Colombia free trade "Action Plan," Walid Makled, violence in Mexico

Adam gives an update on the Colombian FTA debate, the extradition of a Venezuelan narcotrafficker from Colombia to Venezuela, another mass grave in Mexico, Uruguay's amnesty law, and Peru's elections.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Podcast: U.S. policy in Mexico: a conversation with Bruce Bagley

At a conference in Mexico sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Adam talks with Professor Bruce Bagley, chairman of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami and a longtime expert on U.S. counter-drug policy in the Americas.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Podcast: Organized crime in the Americas: Steven Dudley of

Adam talks to Steven Dudley, co-founder of the recently launched website, about this new resource and organized crime and narcotrafficking trends in the region.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

State Department drug report: one more thing about Mexico

Following on the previous post about the State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released today:

A big hat-tip is due Bloggings By Boz for noticing a significant drop in the number of tons of cocaine interdicted by Mexican authorities in 2010. The 9.4 tons seized in 2010 compares unfavorably with previous years' data, which last year's narcotics report provides, but this year's does not.

The report claims that 95 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine passes through Mexico. Why would seizures decline amid sharply increased U.S. assistance, when they are not declining elsewhere in the source and transit zones?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fuzzy math in the State Department's latest narcotics report

The State Department has just released its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), which details foreign countries’ efforts, both U.S.-aided and otherwise, to halt the production and transit of illegal drugs.

While a generally useful document, the report paints a confusing picture of cocaine production. The numbers don’t seem to add up.

Note these three excerpts from the report. The first two are two paragraphs apart.

Crediting sustained aerial and manual eradication operations [in Colombia] in 2009, the USG also reported a decline in pure cocaine production potential of 3.5 percent, from 280 metric tons (MT) in 2008 to 270 MT in 2009 - a 61 percent drop from the 700 MT estimated production potential in 2001.

According to the Colombian government, Colombia in 2010 seized over 225.9 MT of cocaine and cocaine base. (Later, the report gives a 2009 seizure figure of 205.85 tons. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime assumes a 1-to-1 conversion rate between a kilogram of cocaine and a kilogram of cocaine base.)

There are approximately 250 metric tons of cocaine transiting through Venezuela annually, according to USG cocaine-movement estimates.

This language gives the reader the impression that Colombia potentially produced 270 tons of cocaine in 2009, of which 206 tons were interdicted, leaving about 64 tons.

Yet then, somehow 250 tons apparently got shipped through Venezuela alone. And incidentally, U.S. guards at the Mexican border seized another 61 tons, and the U.S. Coast Guard 93 tons, in 2009. Where are all these tons coming from, if not Colombia’s net 64 tons?

In fact, add those four figures together:

  • Colombia’s 2009 interdiction (206 tons)
  • U.S. border interdiction (61 tons)
  • Coast Guard interdiction (93 tons)
  • Venezuelan transshipment (250 tons)

That’s 610 tons of cocaine. But let’s add two more, from the 2010 INCSR:

  • Panama’s 2009 interdiction (52 tons)
  • Ecuador’s 2009 interdiction (44 tons)

That gives a total of 706 tons of cocaine seized or transshipped from these six sources alone in 2009: more than 2 1/2 times the 270 tons that the INCSR estimates Colombia produced that year. If the State Department is right, these six statistics alone would account for all of the INCSR’s estimate of world cocaine production for 2009 (690-710 tons).

In other words, according to the INCSR, all cocaine produced in the world in 2009 was either seized in four countries (Colombia, the United States, Ecuador, and Panama), or it passed through Venezuela. This is obviously ridiculous.

There are some possible answers, but they are unlikely to make up for this huge statistical confusion:

  • Some cocaine seized in Colombia and elsewhere may have been produced from coca grown in Peru, and possibly Bolivia, which according to the INCSR produced 420-440 tons in 2009, much of which went to Brazil and Europe. Because of Colombia’s geographical position, it is the source of the vast majority of cocaine that actually gets shipped to, and consumed in, the United States.

  • Cocaine seizure numbers may be inflated because the product may be less than pure – narcotraffickers “cut” the product with other substances (baking soda, sugars, other drugs) in order to stretch their supplies, and the seizure statistics may be counting the weight of these fillers. However, most of this “cutting” occurs after the product reaches the United States, as international smugglers are unlikely to waste scarce weight and volume.

  • Some of the seizure volume could be stockpiles of cocaine from previous years. It’s unlikely – there is very little evidence that cocaine traffickers maintain stockpiles to overcome supply volatility – but not impossible that stockpiles might increase total cocaine supplies by a small amount.

These are likely only very partial explanations for the numbers not adding up. The State Department needs to clear up the strong and erroneous impression its report leaves: that every last bit of cocaine produced these days is either seized before it reaches users, or passes through Venezuela.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Podcast: Antinarcotics Efforts in the Hemisphere

A recording of a presentation by WOLA's Adam Isacson, given at George Washington University's Elliott School on February 28. The handout referenced in the piece is viewable below, or download it here.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The U.S. government's cocaine production estimates

Note: the data in this post end at 2009. It will be several months – June for UN data and as late as December for U.S. data – until 2010 drug production statistics become available.

During his visit to Colombia this week and in a press release his office put out in December, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director (or “drug czar”) Gil Kerlikowske hailed a sharp drop in cocaine production in the Andes, where 3 countries – Colombia, Peru and Bolivia – produce nearly all of the world’s supply of the drug.

According to U.S. government estimates, cocaine production in the Andes has dropped sharply – from 875 tons in 2006 to 690 tons in 2008 and 2009.

Cocaine production in the Andes

U.S. officials see the reduction coming from Colombia, where both governments are steadily deemphasizing aerial herbicide fumigation in favor of programs to “consolidate” state presence in historically ungoverned zones.

U.S. analysts get their 690-ton cocaine production figure by measuring the area of coca cultivation detected in each country, and extrapolating the amount of cocaine that, based on numerous variables, traffickers can produce from the plants.

While it is good news to see supply reduced, there is reason for concern that this estimate may be too low. This seems apparent when comparing the 690-ton estimate to the amount of cocaine that countries seized over the course of 2009.

The text of the State Department’s March 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, combined with the Justice Department’s data for cocaine seizures on U.S. soil, shows 20 countries taking 495 tons of cocaine out of the market in 2009.

Colombia 205.9
Panama 52.4
Ecuador 43.5
Venezuela 27.7
Bolivia 26.8
Costa Rica 20.6
Mexico 20.0
Peru 19.7
United States (federal government, U.S. soil) 19.3
Brazil 18.9
Nicaragua 9.8
Guatemala 7.1
Honduras 6.6
Dominican Republic 4.4
Argentina 4.0
El Salvador 3.8
Uruguay 2.0
Bahamas 1.8
Paraguay 0.6
Jamaica 0.2
TOTAL 495.1

If 690 tons were produced and 495 were interdicted in these countries, it would leave only 195 tons to satisfy global demand. And these 495 tons don’t include any U.S. seizures on international waters, seizures on U.S. soil by state or municipal police, or seizures in Europe, Asia or elsewhere – which would reduce supplies still further.

The full global amount of cocaine seized in 2008, according to the UN World Drug Report (PDF), was 712 tons. This amount is higher than the 690 tons the U.S. government estimates was produced that year. At first glance, then, the impossible was achieved in 2008: cocaine seizures actually exceeded cocaine production. (Note that the UN report estimate of cocaine production in 2008 – 865 tons – is higher than the U.S. figure.)

What is going on here? The World Drug Report contends that U.S. and UN estimates of total cocaine production are estimates of pure cocaine, while the cocaine that governments seize is often impure: dealers adulterate their product with additives in order to stretch out their supplies. By the time it hits the streets of a consuming country, cocaine can often be only 50-60 percent pure.

Still, it would be surprising, and make little sense, for cocaine seized in Colombia or other transit countries – much less on the high seas or on aircraft – to be so heavily “cut” with worthless additives. Smugglers have little space and weight to spare as they seek to conceal their product, giving them a strong incentive to keep the product pure, adulterating it only as it arrives near its destination.

Impurity, though, certainly explains some of the data absurdly showing nearly 100% of cocaine produced as having been interdicted. But another likely explanation is that production estimates – which require a bit of voodoo to determine how much cocaine can come from an acre of coca – are too low.

The U.S. Southern Command, for one, employs a higher estimate than the official U.S. figure – though it is inexact. Its commander, Gen. Douglas Fraser, testified last year (PDF) that:

  • “illicit traffickers smuggle 1,250-1,500 metric tons of cocaine per year” and
  • “Of the approximately 1200 metric tons of export quality cocaine that shipped from source countries in South America in 2009, approximately 60 percent of that was headed north, destined for the United States”

Even in the same testimony, Gen. Fraser’s estimates don’t quite match. But they are higher than the estimates appearing in White House press releases. As drug-related violence throughout the region makes more than evident, cocaine continues to reach users throughout the world in large quantities.

When compared with seizure data showing 495 to 712 tons of cocaine per year being taken out of the market, then, Southcom's 1,200-1,500-ton estimate makes more sense.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Podcast: The U.S. fight to keep traditional coca use illegal

Though cocaine is illegal, some South American indigenous groups have chewed coca leaves for centuries. This traditional use violates the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Bolivia is trying to amend this international convention, but the United States is blocking its efforts. Adam talks with WOLA's Coletta Youngers about what is happening.

Incidentally, the website of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz no longer recommends coca tea as an altitude-sickness remedy, as Adam mentions in the podcast. The page where this recommendation appeared can still be viewed at the Internet Archive.

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