Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

A Small Victory in the Drug War?
U.S. drug officials are declaring new progress in the almost-forgotten war on drugs. The price of cocaine is up in major cities for the first time in decades, signaling a possible shortage of drug on the street.

But even drug czar John Walters acknowledges, however, it will only really be progress if the measures can be sustained over time. My guess is that such a reduction will be short lived. I hope I am wrong.

While the "war on drugs" was proclaimed in the late 1980s with almost as much fanfare as the "war on terrorism," it is now only occassionally in the national radar screen. But it is worth remembering the drug wars that ravaged our major cities, threatened the very existence of Colombia as a nation and has cost us tens of billions of dollars.

Those direct and more quantifiable threats have eased, although drug production has not, at least not for significant periods of time. Nor has the narco danger abated in many parts of the world.

While there is little indication that drug trafficking finances Islamist terrorism except perhaps in Afghanistan, the billions of dollars that flow through that economy certainly fuel other terrorist movements around the world, from the paramilitary AUC to the Marxist FARC in Colombia, to gangs in Central America and heroin traffickers across central Asia.

The human cost is tremendous, and the cartels, despite the upbeat talk, control much of Central America, from the coasts of Honduras, to most of Guatemala to the Caribbean shore of Mexico and, of course, much of the border areas.

I have covered drug trafficking up close for 20 years, and recall similar assessments that a significant corner was being turned in combatting the supply side. But like water running down hill, the coke, or money or precursor chemicals may be blocked for a while, but eventually find a way to flow again.

Interdicting the money flows into Mexico and elsewhere delivers the biggest bang for the buck, because the cartels are in it for the money. Take that away and they are really hurt.

The seizure of $200 million in cash in Mexico in March shows the magnitude of the drug problem on several levels.

The first is the vast amounts of money. The $200 million hurts, but it is really a drop in the bucket in the overall drug economy. The second is more worrisome. The meth production and distribution ring involved people from Canada to China in a vast transnational network moving illicit goods.

Those pipelines can be used to move virtually anything, from humans to nuclear components. And here is simply too much money at stake and too many entrenched interests across the board for the flow to stop.

It is encouraging that the new Mexican government seems to be able to take steps that previous governments wouldn't but then, most Mexican governments start off with a bang, only to lose enthusiasm as the cost grows.

U.S. officials are carrying out a record number of corruption investigations on this side of the border too, showing that we have much to do to put our own house in order.

It is interesting to note that Richard Nixon carried out one of the few programs that focused as heavily on demand as it did on supply. It is also interesting to note that during the few years of this experiment, drug use dropped consistently.

Perhaps there is a lesson there. But, after 20 years, it will take more than a momentary rise in the street price of coke to make me think real progress has been made.

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