The PoliBlog

The Collective
Thursday, July 19, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the Chicago Tribune: Afghan opium poppy crop hits record

Afghanistan’s heroin-producing poppy crop set another record this season, despite intensified eradication efforts, the American ambassador said Tuesday.

Ambassador William Wood said preliminary data show that Afghan farmers harvested 457,135 acres of opium poppies this year, up from 407,715 acres last year. The growing industry fuels the Taliban, crime, addiction and government corruption.

Government-led eradication efforts destroyed about 49,420 acres of poppies this year, a “disappointing” outcome, Wood told reporters at his private residence overlooking Kabul.

I know that I am quite the fatalist on this point, but my guess is that there will be yet another record next year. And, even if we do start eradicating crops, I have no doubt that there will still be plenty of poppies to make all the heroin that the market will bear.

It is not surprising in the least, yet still depressing in the extreme, that the US government thinks that exporting the Andean coca-eradication model will actually lead to any appreciable change to the Afghanistan poppy situation. It is like copying the Oakland Raider’s offensive plan from last season because, after all, they did score a few touchdowns.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Cocaine haul ‘largest in history’

Gardai have seized £135m of cocaine from the sea off the south-west coast of Ireland.

A man has been arrested in connection with the haul - thought to be the largest ever seized in the history of the Irish Republic.

It can’t compare to “historic” hauls in the Americas, however, as a dinghy and a van were involved.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Thirteen die in Rio slum battle

Clashes between police and drug traffickers in a slum in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro have left at least 13 people dead, officials say.

Guns and grenades were used in the fighting, with armoured vehicles and helicopters backing police units.

The violence began when more than 1,000 policemen advanced on Alemao, the slum stronghold of a drug-dealing gang.

Rio de Janeiro officials are trying to make the city safer before it hosts the Pan-American games on 13 July.


More than 30 people had been killed and 80 injured since the police first surrounded the slums in northern Rio known as the German Complex on 2 May.

But Wednesday’s police operation was the biggest to date, triggering fierce fighting for several hours in the slums which are home to some 100,000 people.

The city is expecting around 800,000 tourists for the games and will also be hosting “the global series of Live Earth rock concerts on 7 July.”

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT:Major drug suspect seized in Colombia

The capture of Herrera was one of the most important drug trafficking arrests in Colombia in recent years, a U.S. law enforcement official said Tuesday. Herrera is thought to have worked for various Colombian and Mexican cartels, he said.


A 2003 indictment in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Herrera annually managed the shipment of several multi-ton loads of Colombian cocaine, ferrying it by air, land or sea to U.S. markets via Central America and Mexico.

After escaping from the Mexico City jail, Herrera allegedly did anything but retire. Authorities say he became instrumental in repatriating hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profit from Colombian drug traffickers.

Sources said that Herrera was seized while arranging for a single-engine aircraft to carry $25 million from Central America to Colombia.

The piece starts with a story about how he tried to bribe the cops with $5 million. Apparently he can afford it:

After Herrera’s arrest in Mexico in April 2004, police searching his house in Guatemala found $14 million in cash. Herrera has “many properties” in Colombia and was heavily involved in laundering the drug profits he helped bring back here, DAS detectives said.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: BBC NEWS | South Asia | Afghan opium production ’soars’

Opium production in Afghanistan is soaring out of control, the annual UN report on illegal drugs says.

The World Drug Report says more than 90% of illegal opium, which is used to make heroin, comes from Afghanistan.

It says cultivation of opium poppies increased dramatically in the country, despite the presence of more than 30,000 international troops there.

The report says Afghanistan is unlikely to regain real security until the production of illegal drugs is tackled.

And that makes for a bleak forecast for Afghanistan, as the US and its allies are seeking to apply the same basic policies that have been used to combat coca cultivation in Colombia to the poppy problem in Afghanistan. Indeed, the new ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, was previously the ambassador to Colombia.

Given the utter lack of success in controlling the cultivation of coca, let along the amount of cocaine produced in the Andes, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to control the cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan. (On the topic of coca cultivation, there is an excellent column translated from El Tiempo over at Plan Colombia and Beyond that I had meant to note several days ago. While I am not sanguine about the policy recommendations it makes, the basic assessment of the problem is spot on).

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Monday, June 11, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Cocaine flows over Brazil-Bolivia border

in the tranquility, authorities see an increasingly sophisticated cocaine trade positioned to supply Brazil’s megacities to the east and Europe beyond.

The gateway for that trade is an imposing tangle of swamps, rivers, and rainforest along the 2,130-mile Brazil-Bolivia border, a daunting frontier neither country guards especially closely.

Bolivia has only one border officer for every 13 miles. On the Brazilian side, the sparse 100 border posts are manned by a patchwork of local and national officers.

Chemicals used to turn Bolivian coca leaf into cocaine flow easily from Brazil, and processed coca paste slips back just as easily, officials say.

“We have noticed a growth in the traffic of cocaine, and principally cocaine paste, over the last two years,” Marcio Paulo Buzanelli, director of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, told The Associated Press. “One indication of this are the seizures in the Brazilian states that border Bolivia.”

Having been in the Amazon region where Colombia, Peru and Brazil come together as well as deeper into the Peruvian Amazon, it is hardly a surprise to learn that it is difficult to control what goes along these borders–especially the less populated the area.

In Peru I did see a law enforcement presence, part of which was clearly aimed at the drug trade. However, when ones looks at the handful of planes and boats and then looks out at the vast jungle and the seemingly endless rivers, and it is clear that if one wanted to move contraband, that it wouldn’t be all that difficult to do so if one knew the area.

This is just another in a long list of reasons why the drug trade is so difficult to control.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Cross-posted from La Política Colombiana:

Shockingly, the AP reports that the number of hectares of coca under cultivation has risen, despite the increased eradication effort: Colombia’s president says White House survey shows 8 percent rise in coca

Despite record drug eradication efforts, a White House survey found production of coca in Colombia rose for the third consecutive year in 2006, President Alvaro Uribe said.

Uribe, who travels to Washington on Wednesday to secure the continued flow of U.S. anti-drug aid, revealed the findings of the still unreleased report at the end of a long speech Friday. A transcript was posted Sunday on the president’s Web site.

Uribe said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy survey, which is based on satellite imagery, found that production rose 8 percent last year, to 156,000 hectares (385,484 acres) — an area twice the size of New York City.

I mean, really, who could’ve seen that coming?

This also contradicts statements from the US government from about a month ago.

Certainly when compared to the stated goals, the current policy is an abject failure:

One of Plan Colombia’s main goals was to halve production of coca within five years, but the latest estimate indicates 27 percent more coca is being produced than in 1999, the year before the anti-drug effort went into effect. A recent dip in the U.S. street price of cocaine, and rise in purity, also points to abundant supply.

Despite this, the response is predictable: there will be a call for more money to be spent to try and eradicate more hectares and yet regardless of how much money we spend we are going to be in the same place a few years from now, looking back and saying “well, we just need a few more million, and then we’ll get ‘em”–and meanwhile the cultivation of the coca plant with continue as will the consumption of the drug.

One wonders at what point we stop and actually reassess if this is a smart way to spend the taxpayers’ money.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

From Thoreau of Unqualified Offerings:

I’m going to make a prediction: If the war czar is destined to be as successful as the drug czar, then jihadists will soon be setting off bombs in our cities with impunity.

Sadly, that’s about right.

(And really, why do we keep appointing “Czars”?)

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AFP: US aid to Colombia is stemming flow of cocaine: official

US aid to Colombia is helping stem the flow of cocaine coming out of the South American country, the head of Washington’s top anti-narcotics agency said here Tuesday.

“Plan Colombia is working. The amount of land used for the cultivation of coca is at an historic low in Colombia,” the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Karen Tandy, told a drug law enforcement conference in Madrid.

Of course, the cultivation metric is a favorite amongst drug warriors, never mind that it doesn’t really mean much.

Two problems:

1) Even if the numbers of hectares under cultivation in Colombia are at “historic low[s]” that doesn’t mean that a) the overall number of hectares under cultivation are at similar lows (it can be grown elsewhere, and cultivation has been increasing in Peru), and b) that still doesn’t mean that the actual supply of cocaine has been substantially altered. (Note, also, a careful reading of the first paragraph that aid is “helping”–hardly as definitive an outcome as the headline suggests).


2) There is still the problem that price isn’t going up, a key metric for determining if interdiction policies are actually working.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: U.S. Colombia aid fails to drive up cocaine price

Billions of dollars in aid to Colombia have failed to drive up the price of cocaine on American streets, the head of the top U.S. anti-narcotics agency said on Tuesday.

Officials in Washington have said crop spraying and military pressure on drug-smuggling guerrillas and paramilitaries would make cocaine more expensive in the United States following a U.S.-backed offensive launched in 2000.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief said that a higher price — a key indicator of success in the war on drugs — had failed to sustain itself for long.

Imagine that.

It seems like I recall reading somewhere that the recent spike in prices was going to be temporary and repeated pieces about how the current policies don’t work. I wonder where I read that?

And I am sorry, but this is perhaps one of the saddest examples of rationalization that I have seen in a long time:

U.S. and Colombian officials say the failure of the cocaine price to move may be due to effects including hidden stashes of cocaine coming on to the market.

Yeah, that’s it, that’s the ticket: the policies really are working, but it is just those secret stashes that are keeping prices down.

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