Quietly, the war on drugs gains ground
Monday, President Bush meets with Colombia's leader to discuss funding of antidrug measures.
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The US is fully behind Plan Patriot, with the Bush administration succeeding in limiting the number of military and civilian personnel allowed in Colombia at any one time. Arguing that Uribe needed further help to do away permanently with "narcoterrorists," Bush won a doubling of the military cap to 800 troops and an increase of civilian contractors to 600 from 400.Skip to next paragraph
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With news on other fronts like Iraq increasingly becoming negative, Bush administration officials have loudly sung the praises of Plan Patriot.
"Plan Patriot has been successful," says Gen. Brantz Craddock, headof US Southern Command, on a recent visit to Bogotá. "After receiving detailed reports, I see that progress has been significant, above all in the counterterrorist and counterdrug areas."
Still, some argue that the FARC is in a strategic retreat, biding its time instead of confronting the Army head on. Several midlevel FARC commanders have been captured or have deserted, but no major chiefs have yet been nabbed.
Though US troops cannot participate in direct combat, they are training Colombian mobile units and providing logistical help, intelligence, and helicopter support and maintenance.
Adam Isacson, a Colombia analyst at the Center for International Policy, a watchdog based in Washington, warns that the involvement of US troops in the Colombian conflict may continue to escalate. He says aid to Colombia has become increasingly military - one-third to one-fourth of aid is now considered military assistance, compared with none in 2002. "The main pitfall is that we're slowly getting involved in a conflict that has the potential to grow," he says. "If the strategy is going to be a largely military one while neglecting the social side, we're going to be chasing this around for a long time."
Indeed, US and Colombian officials are puzzled by the fact that despite record eradication and seizures, there has been no corresponding drop in US street prices. Some US officials speculate that drug traffickers may have stockpiled a substantial amount of cocaine along supply routes. And the UN says student surveys reveal US cocaine use is stabilizing and even diminishing.
But Francisco Thoumi of Bogotá's Rosario University, an expert in drug trafficking, says that aerial spraying alone won't work. He argues that despite massive fumigation, there have been substantial new plantings that include more productive coca plants and plants grown closer together, thereby producing more coca per acre. He also cites rumors that farmers have produced coca plants resistant to pesticide. "I am very pessimistic" that the drug war can be won under the current policy, he says. "All of my work has brought me to the conclusion that the problem can't be solved with repressive policies. In the best of cases, the coca crops will move to other countries," like Bolivia and Peru.
Thoumi further argues that at one time, Colombia trafficked in drugs without growing them. Thus, eliminating coca crops in Colombia won't do away with the myriad cartels that sell them.