Despite repeated assurances in recent years that increased military aid to Colombia would lead to a reduction in drug production in the Latin American nation, new figures show alarming increases in Colombian narcotics production throwing further doubt on White House claims that their anti-drug policies in Colombia are working.
According to some observers the promises of reductions are made to Congress in an effort to secure funding for Pentagon projects in Colombia that in many cases are unrelated to narcotics control.
Information taken from testimony given before the House Committee on Government Reform in Washington on December 12th, show that whilst nearly a million acres of Colombian soil have been fumigated in the past 5 years, cocaine production in Colombia has tripled in the same period.
Testimony given by Acting Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Paul E. Simons, also showed that opium poppy cultivation in Colombia has increased by over 60% in recent years while he guessed that Colombian heroin could now make up a third of all heroin consumed in the United States. This was despite the fact that the head of the State Departments Narcotics Control Bureau, Rand Beers, told a Senate committee in September 1999 that their programs would "eliminate the majority of Colombia's opium poppy crop within three years."
However, rather than call for a rethink of US anti-narcotics policy, Simons followed on from previous government officials by assuring the Committee that the way to reverse this upward trend was for Congress to approve yet another Pentagon request for aid to Colombia this time for $731 million for fiscal year 2003.
In separate testimony to the Committee Adam Isacson, a senior Associate at the Center for International Policy, pointed out the futility of current US counter-narcotic programs in Colombia:
"In much of rural Colombia, there is simply no way to make a legal living. Security, roads, credit, and access to markets are all missing. The most that many rural Colombians see from their government is the occasional military patrol or spray plane. When the spray planes come, they take away farmers illegal way of making a living, but they do not replace it with anything. That leaves the farmers with some bad choices. They can move to the cities and try to find a job, though official unemployment is already 20 percent. They can switch to legal crops on their own and risk paying more for inputs than they can get from the sale price. They can move deeper into the countryside and plant drug crops again. Or they can join the guerrillas or the paramilitaries, who will at least keep them fed."
He continued, "We need to go beyond spraying peasants and jailing addicts, the weakest links of the drug-trafficking chain. We have to devote more resources to stopping the traffickers who maintain international networks, the corrupt government officials who dont enforce the laws, and the bankers who launder the money. Too many of them are getting away with it."
Isacson went on to point out that a 1994 Rand Corporation study showed that a dollar spent on treatment was as effective as 23 dollars spent on crop eradication on reducing cocaine consumption.
Other information gleaned from the testimony include the fact that in coming months the US State Department will increase their fleet of aircraft permanently based in Colombia to 24 and that pilots for some of these are currently training in a classified location in New Mexico.
Representative Bob Barr (Republican-Georgia) also alleged during the hearings that at least 22 US helicopters have crashed or been shot down by rebels in Colombia in recent years although the Pentagon and US Embassy in Bogot have refused to confirm or deny this.
Another allegation that three State Department aircraft in Colombia were all hit by rebel ground fire on the same day last month was however confirmed as true.