Critics charge US is doing too little to halt drug trade at source. Experts say the US war on drugs must include cutting off supply in addition to easing demand. Has the US been tough enough, for instance, in slashing coca production in the Andes?
On paper it seems such an easy solution to America's growing cocaine problem. Simply convince peasant farmers in Bolivia and Peru to grow something other than coca (the raw material of cocaine), and the world's largest source of cocaine would begin to dry up.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the reality on the steep slopes of the Andes is that, pound for pound, illicit coca production is by far the most profitable enterprise available to peasant farmers. In the view of many rural Bolivians and Peruvians, it is the best thing that has ever happened to them.
But is the United States doing all it can to reverse that perception among South American farmers?
Some critics say more can, and should, be done to attack the cocaine problem at the source, while the future narcotics are firmly rooted in one place and growing in the open sunshine. They point to the mountain slopes of Peru and Bolivia, where more than 90 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the US is grown.
In coming weeks, the Reagan administration and Congress will be conducting a major reassessment of America's war on drugs.
That effort is expected to focus attention on the so-called demand side of the problem -- American addicts and drug users. But it will also address whether the administration is doing enough in battling international narcotics traffickers and growers.
In recent years, the US government has spent more than $8 million a year in Peru and $7 million a year in Bolivia on efforts designed to bring illicit coca production under control. During the same period, coca production has doubled in Peru and quadrupled in Bolivia, according to conservative estimates.
Meanwhile, cocaine shipments to the US are at an all-time high, as are US statistics recording cocaine users, cocaine overdoses, and cocaine-related deaths. And in major cities across the country, law-enforcement officials are struggling with the newest manifestation of the cocaine glut -- a cheap and highly addictive crystalline version known as ``crack.''
``We are not making any headway, we have not even halted our losses,'' says John T. Cusack, chief of staff of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. ``[The drug traffickers] have spread cocaine all over this country. ``There is hardly any place you can go in the United States where you can't find cocaine,'' he says.
Mr. Cusack says the Reagan administration should be more forceful in insisting that Bolivia and Peru stamp out illicit coca production in their countries. If necessary, he says, the US should withhold all aid until both countries undertake an effective crackdown. Cusack says US policy has been one of ``buying time'' rather than taking swift, results-oriented action.
In the meantime, the proliferation of cocaine in the US continues.
State Department officials respond that their critics do not understand the complexities of Bolivia and Peru. ``Most people in the US fail to recognize how formidable this problem is,'' a State Department official says.
US officials say they are beginning to see the fruit of years of careful maneuvering by diplomats and drug-enforcement experts. The recent crackdown in Bolivia against cocaine laboratories, with the help of US military helicopters and pilots, is being hailed as the first sustained commitment by the Bolivian government to bring coca production under control.