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Articles - International & national drug policy
Written by Andy Atkins   
Wednesday, 03 April 1996 00:00

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april 1996

DRUGS AND DEVELOPMENT
NGO Concerns and Proposals
by Andy Atkins

Introduction

It is obvious that the illegal drugs trade has severe consequences for developing countries. Much has been written and said about this. Over the past few years, however, concern has grown among a number of European NGOs about the failures and dangers for developing countries, of certain international drugs control policies. These recieve much less of an airing in public and political fora and in the media.

So, without wishing to obscure the damage done by the drugs trade itself,' what I wish to do here is this:

• summarise some of the longstanding concerns felt by European NGOs and our overseas partners in relation to specific strands of international drug control policy;

• explain some of our policy proposals regarding these concerns, with particular reference to EU and member state policy;

• conclude with some emerging questions, some unkowns, if you like, which I feel require much greater discussion.

NGO Concerns

Let me look first, then, at some key concerns. This is by no means an exhaustive list but represents those that exercise us most at this moment in relation to Latin America.

Strengthening Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice

The first concern surrounds the hidden dangers of tougher law enforcement in developing countries. A major strand of international efforts to reduce drugs supply from the South, has been to promote tougher local anti-drugs laws and more effective enforcement of those laws. Given the illegality and obvious damage caused by the drugs trade this is a totally understandable response. But in practice it has had perverse consequences.

While the drugs trade carries on undiminished, some of the legislation introduced to reduce it has instead restricted civil rights and encouraged human rights violations. There are several reasons for this:

a) Legislation is often crude, defining certain crimes' imprecisely and criminalising a range of activities which would not be considered misdemeanours elsewhere.

b) Moreover, new drugs control laws have often reduced both the evidence required to convict the accused and the rights of the accused to a defence.

A prime example of this is Bolivia's Law of Coca and Controlled Substances, known locally as Law 1008, which was brought in under US pressure in 1988. Under this law a person may be charged on the basis of very flimsy evidence which, until recently included confessions signed under duress. No bail is permitted for anyone charged under Law 1008, which inevitably means long periods of detention awaiting trial.

And, incredibly, if anyone is found innocent of charges under Law 1008 the case must then be heard by the appeals court and subsequently the supreme court. Only when all three have reached the same verdict may the accused be released. According to the law this compulsory retrial for those initially found innocent should take no more than 95 days. In practice it frequently takes years.

Such clumsy laws should be of concern wherever they are found. But, in countries such as Bolivia with a recent history of political intolerance, such catch-all legislation is particularly dangerous and open to abuse.

This widesweeping legislation, combined with a slow court system, has led to notorious overcrowding of gaols with largely indigent inmates. According to a recent report by the organisation Americas Watch, around 50 per cent of Bolivia's entire gaol population is held under Law 1008. And a study by the Catholic church found that in 1994, 65 per cent of these had not even been sentenced, but were being held pending trial.

c) The human rights impact of such legislation is compounded by the fact that it is often enforced by police or military authorities with little regard for the norms of due process and human rights. Drugs control legislation has endowed these historically undemocratic forces with even more power over civic life. But it has provided few safeguards against the abuse of that power.

Again, in the case of Bolivia, the paramilitary drugs control police, known as UMOPAR or the Leopards, are responsible for an increasing number of serious human rights abuses including torture, rape and murder. They are notorious for their use of arbitrary detention and violent property searches, and habitually relieve those they search of whatever cash or valuables they possess. The common and understandable perception in Bolivia is that Law 1008 has provided an already corrupt police with a licence to extort.

d) Linked to the drive for better drugs law enforcement in Latin America, has been an increase in security assistance given by countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. There are many problems surrounding this. One of the most worrying is the risk that what is ostensibly counternarcotics aid will be used for counter-insurgency purposes.

US aid to Colombia provided a case in point. In 1989, for example, the United States gave Colombia US$60.3 million in security aid for drugs control. Interestingly, two-thirds of this was allocated not to the the police who were supposedly the lead drugs law enforcement agency, but to the armed forces. And, as a US congressional investigation discovered, of the $40.3 million diverted to the army, fully $38.5 million was spent on Operation Tricolor 9b, a massive counter-insurgency campaign.

In such campaigns the military's priority is to defeat the guerrilla forces and control the rural communities perceived to sympathise with them. Their priority is not drugs control. Such internal conflicts already occasion severe human rights abuses. Our fear is that adding more arms to the situation through the diversion of drugs control' assistance is likely only to fuel the conflict and increase human rights abuses.

These are some of the problems surrounding increased law enforcement. Basically, there appears to be a lack of coherence, in practice, between drugs control policies supported by the international community, and human rights norms also, theoretically, supported by the international community.

So what do we European NGOs propose? We have not been arguing against all law enforcement activities. No one wants to see the big and frequently brutal traffickers go free. But evidence from Latin America suggests that the international community should be more discerning about the kind of drugs control legislation it supports, more conscious of the political and social context in which it will be enforced, and should excercise greater scrutiny over the use of drugs control assistance. A few simple measures would be:

Recommendations

•. The European Union and member states should not exert pressure on countries to adopt drugs control legislation which would not be acceptable in our democracies.

• Before granting drugs control assistance to a third country the European Union and member states should seek the opinion of international human rights bodies and their own internal specialists, as to the implications for human and civil rights of that country's drugs control legislation.

• The European Union and member states should actively encourage third countries to amend drugs control legislation and bring it in line with international human rights covenants, where it, or the context of its application, is likely to violate human and civil rights norms.

• The European Union and member states should not offer security assistance for drugs control purposes to countries where there is evidence that drugs law enforcement forces are responsible for serious human rights abuses or corruption.

Forcible Crop Eradication

A particular component of law enforcement which we feel merits special scrutiny, forcible crop eradication. The eradication of drugs-linked crops has long been a chief aim of international drugs control policies. And it is one that most directly affects the poorer sectors of society as most of the crops are grown by peasant farmers.

Again, it might appear logical at first sight to eradicate illegal crops. But, our observations suggest that forcible eradication is frequently ineffective. Moreover it often carries a high cost to society, aggravating existing conflict, provoking wider instability and ultimately impeding attempts to control the drugs trade by any method.

Peru is a sad example. Attempts to eradicate coca in Peru's Huallaga Valley, in the early 1980s, without providing alternatives for the peasants, increased their support for the guerrilla forces of the Sendero Luminoso. Guerrilla control over the valley subsequently became so formidable that all attempts to eradicate coca had to be abandoned because of the security threat to drugs control staff, many of whom were killed. Sendero went on actively to promote coca cultivation, in order to tax the peasants and the drugs traffickers to finance their insurgency. Peru is now the world's largest coca producer, with the Huallaga Valley the world's single largest coca production zone. And President Fujimori is steadfastly refusing to eradicate coca.

We have already heard what instability is being caused by forcible eradication in Colombia. It is also a major ingredient in the swift slide towards social conflict that Bolivia has experienced in the past 18 months. Here it has provoked serious confrontations between the farmers' unions, who enjoy the moral support of diverse sectors of the country, and the government. It was partly in an attempt to quell this. dissent that President Sanchez de Lozada declared a state of siege in April. This remains in place. We would argue, therefore, that there can be a high price to pay for forcible eradication. When that price is increased poverty, social instability, and conflict in societies where democracy is still fragile and shallow, we think that price can be too high.

Some people would no doubt argue that almost any price is worth paying to defeat the drugs trade. But there is little evidence from Latin America that forcible eradication has ever had any long term effect on net drug supply. Rather, eradicaton seems to have created a balloon effect'. That is, repressing or squeezing cultivation in one area has simply caused it to expand into others. A similar phenomenon can be observed regarding the repression of trafficking routes, money laundering centres and so on. If one route is closed down, traffickers soon find new routes.

I would suggest that the balloon effect' is the result of simple economic logic:

• Where the local economy does not offer farmers viable alternatives to drugs-linked cultivation, many will simply replant if their crops are eradicated, either in the same place or in more remote territory beyond the easy reach of drugs control forces. They have little choice.

• If eradication reduces cultivation in one area, but international demand for the final drug remains the same, the price paid to remaining producers is likely to rise. This often induces a short term increase in production from areas not affected by eradication. And, in the medium term, it can induce replanting in those areas where eradication has taken place.

• The functioning of this natural law of supply and demand is often assisted by criminal traffickers. Faced with a restriction of raw material supplies from one source (due to crop eradication or the disruption of trafficking routes), traffickers respond by increasing their purchases from alternative sources and by offering incentives to induce cultivation in previously unaffected areas.

The balloon effect' therefore, erodes the gains of eradication. Worse still, by spreading cultivation over a much wider area, it makes it even harder to contain. It exposes more communities to the destructive consequences of closer contact with the drugs trade. And it spreads wider the environmental damage done by illegal cultivation and processing activities. So what do we propose in relation to eradication?

Recommendations

• In areas where drugs-linked crops are grown by peasant producers, the European Union and member states should support crop eradication only in the context of negotiated agreements between farmers and third country governments. These should provide for voluntary eradication following the establishment of viable economic alternatives for the farmers.

• Even in areas where drugs-linked crops are grown directly by drugs traffickers or their employees, the European Union and member states should support forcible eradication only when there exists a clear and enforceable strategy to prevent a balloon' effect following eradication.

Conditioning Aid on Drugs Control Performance

A third tool of international drugs control policy which give rises to concern is the growing trend towards conditioning aid to developing countries on their drugs control performance. Since the late 1980s the United States has adopted a drugs certification procedure towards developing countries. The president must annually certify whether each country is cooperating with US drug control objectives. If a country is decertified, US aid is cut off and US representatives on the international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank must veto any funding applications.

The draft European Action Plan to Combat Drugs proposes that the European Union should also condition its aid to developing countries on drugs control performance, although it has not defined criteria for doing so.

But experience from Latin America suggests that unless this policy instrument is used with extreme precision, it is likely to exacerbate many of the problems we have already mentioned. Let me illustrate this with the case of Bolivia.

For several years now the United States has regularly threatened the Andean countries with decertification in an attempt to prod them into toeing the US line on drugs. The most dramatic effects of this have been in Bolivia. In March 1995, the United States delivered an ultimatum that it would decertify Bolivia unless it complied with three demands by 30 June: eradicate 1,750 hectares (ha) of coca; develop a mutually acceptable plan to eradicate coca in the medium to long term; and agree a mutually acceptable extradition treaty.

Bolivia is one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the western hemisphere. A cut in US bilateral aid and US backing for multilateral assistance would be catastrophic for Bolivia. Not surprisingly, therefore, President Sanchez de Lozada was forced to step up forcible eradication. In doing so he has walked roughshod over agreements with the peasant federations and thus provoked waves of protests which he has been barely able to control. On 18 April, a couple of weeks after the US ultimatum, Sanchez declared the state of siege.

Ostensibly the justification was to allow the government to break the prolonged strike by the country's teachers who were opposing a reform of the educational system. But it was no coincidence that the government was simultaneously facing a threat of decertification.

In fact, just hours before the state of siege was declared, the Bolivian authorities arrested the key elected leaders of the Chapare peasant federations, along with a number of visiting foreign journalists and academics (including Hugo Cabieses and Roger Rumrrill who have been CI IR visitors to the UK in the past 18 months).

While the foreigners were expelled from the country, the Bolivians were told they were being held under State of Siege provisions and would be charged under Law 1008. While in detention, many of them were sent into internal exile to remote parts of the country (violating international human rights conventions), and the army was ordered into the Chapare to begin registering the land for eradication.

Although the leaders were released without charge after two weeks, they have been constantly harassed since, and some were rearrested earlier this month. Clashes between UMOPAR and peasants defending their crops are leading to a rising number of deaths.

Unlike Colombia and Peru, Bolivia, although the poorest of the three, has been notably peaceful in the past decade. It has not suffered the violent upheavals and widespread human rights violations of its neighbours. The conditioning of foreign aid on meeting imposed drugs control targets must take much of the blame for producing the instability and the reversal in the democratising trend that Bolivia is now experiencing.

One of the explicit aims of European development policy, as defined by the Maastricht treaty, is to promote democracy. We would argue that if European policy goes down the US road, adopting a similarly crude style of conditioning, the effects of European drugs control policy would soon be contradicting its development policy.

So what lessons does this suggest for European policy? We offer the following:

Recommendations

• The European Union and member states should not condition general development aid on drugs control criteria.

• If the European Union and member states wish to condition drugs control assistance, they should develop clear criteria for doing so. This should not include complying with eradication targets. More usefully, it could include evidence that the government of the third country is tackling impediments to drugs control such as corruption among government employees, and human rights violations by law enforcement bodies.

The concerns I have raised so far centre on the side effects of what one might term the coercive approach' to drugs supply control. Given these concerns it should not be surprising that the members of European NGO network on drugs and development advocate the need for a much greater emphasis on an economic approach'. At the heart of such an approach are measures to reduce drugs supply by tackling the rural poverty which is the primary local motor of the drugs trade. We have, therefore, welcomed economic initiatives by the European Union.

At the same time we cannot pretend that economic initiatives have proved any more successful to date in reducing drugs net supply. Let me briefly examine why.

Alternative Development

The chief tool of the economic approach has been alternative development'. Previous speakers have already mentioned some of the problems faced by alternative development programmes. So let me just emphasise what we believe to be one of the most significant. It is this: such programmes have been attempting to replace the drugs-linked economy with islands of profitable, legal enterprise. But they have been expected to do so against the current of national and international economic processes which have continued to undermine the viability of the traditional peasant economy.

To Give Some Examples:

• Low or wildly fluctuating commodity prices for tradional export crops such as coffee or cocoa, have foiled attempts to replace coca and poppy with these.

• Structural adjustment programmes, characterised by cuts in public spending and privatisation, have reduced services on which the peasant economy relied. These include cheap credit, state marketing networks, and agricultural extension services. This has further undermined the ability of peasant farmers in isolated zones to make a living from conventional' crops.

• Finally, free trade policies, involving the reduction of tarrifs on imported foods, has put the local peasant producer at a further disadvantage. This has sometimes rendered peasant producers unable to compete with cheap foreign imports in their own national food market, never mind in the international market.

A sobering example is that of the San Martin province in Peru which covers the Upper Huallaga valley. Until 1989 it was a major maize growing area, with 75,000 ha sown that year. But in 1990, President Fujimori introduced his Fujishock', cutting import tariffs, transport and food subsidies and cheap agricultural credits overnight. The economic package was designed to re-establish Peru's credit-worthiness with the international financial institutions. But the sudden lowering of import tariffs, meant that imported, mass produced maize began to flood the domestic market undercutting local peasant-grown maize. By 1992 maize production in San Martin had dropped from 75,000 ha to 4,000 ha. Many peasants replaced it with coca.

Alternative development can hardly be expected to work in this macroeconomic environment. In fact, these economic policies have driven peasants into drugs-linked cultivation much faster than alternative development or forced eradication has been able to lift or drive them out.

We would argue, therefore, that there are some major contradictions between the economic policies being pursued by the Andean countries, with the support of the rich countries, and the drugs control policies advocated by these same rich nations. So what policy recommendations can we make?

Recommendations

• First, if European Union member states are serious about tackling the economic causes of drugs supply, they should put the drugs trade on the agenda of the IMF and other international financial institutions in which they have a vote. They should particularly put pressure on them to ameliorate the impact of structural adjustment packages on the rural economy of developing countries.

• Second, the European Union and member states should pursue methods stabilising low and fluctuating commodity prices. They should particularly consider what they could do to encourage an increase in fairly traded produce.

We must be realistic, however, and accept that what we are really asking'for is coherence between EU development policy on the one hand and the international economic policies advocated by the member states and the Commission alike. This may sound reasonable. Indeed the Maastricht Treaty commits the EU and member states to taking into account' the aims of its development policy in the formulation of their other policies. So, we have a good basis ,from which to call for coherence. But the contradictions are so deep that reducing them is likely to be slow.

Trade preferences

Let me end this section with a few words on a more recent economic tool: this is the special trade preferences which the EU has offered to drugs-producing countries since 1990.

We have welcomed the granting of preferences. But although they have brought benefits for the Andean economies as a whole, they have provided little benefit for the peasant sector. Not surprisingly, therefore, there is little evidence that preferences have reduced or even retarded drugs-linked cultivation. This is acknowledged in a recent European Commission document. Among the reasons are these:

• Those involved in drugs-linked cultivation are small peasant farmers who typically lack either capital or access to credit. Financially, they are the least able to invest in alternative production in order to respond to enhanced export opportunities offered by the European Union.

• Zones of drugs-linked cultivation are usually isolated. They lack the transport and communications facilities necessary to market legal produce successfully at the national level, let alone on international markets. Thus, in geographical terms also, peasants in these areas are the least able to take advantage of EU trade concessions.

Nevertheless, the NGO network feels it is worth persisting with preferences which, we believe, could be made more effective quite easily:

Recommendations

• More aid funds should be targeted at projects specifically designed to enable the small peasant sector to take advantage of trade preferences by, for example, improving the quality, supply and marketing of peasant produced goods eligible for tariff reductions.

• The European Union and member states should consider a long term extension of the preferences on agricultural goods. This would give small and large investors alike more incentive to enter sectors benefiting from the preferences. In this respect, the Commission has recently agreed a three year extension of preferences on agricultural and fishery products.

Conclusion

These are some of the long-held concerns of European NGOs working on the drugs trade and developing countries. On some of them we feel that we are making progress. On others less so. So what are the most important tasks ahead? Let me conclude with a few thoughts:

a) I would say that the first one is to avoid further polarisation between the North and the South. In particular there is an urgent need to avoid an escalation of the kind of coercive policies which are causing such disruption in the Andean region. The drugs trade may threaten democracy and human rights but so do these policies. Moreover, public resentment of them is causing an increasing backlash against Northern led drugs control policies, making it even harder to find a consensus. The main culprit is the United States. But in the face of an increasingly aggressive US stance under President Clinton, the Andean nations are looking to the European Union to provide a counterbalance both in terms of an alternative source of cooperation in drug control, and an alternative opinion in debates in international drug policy fora. To the extent that the European Union accepts this role, it could have an important influence on events.

In early October the justice ministers of the Andean countries met with the ministers of the European Union's troika and pleaded for greater EU cooperation. They also called for EU backing for a 1997 world summit on the drugs trade. EU support will be crucial if this is to happen as, so far, the United States has said it sees no need for such an event. Apparently there is nothing to discuss.

b) There is an urgent need to find effective ways to reduce demand for drugs in the North. This, surely, is one of the primary motors of the drug trade. The good news is that there is more and more official acknowledgement of the need to target demand. This is manifest for example in the European Action Plan to Combat Drugs and in the British government's recent white paper Tackling Drugs Together. What is much less certain in my view is that significant resources are forthcoming to back the good words. Last year, at least, supply control still consumed a greater proportion of the UK's drugs control budget than demand reduction. President Clinton also pledged during his election campaign to place much greater emphasis on demand reduction. But the $13 billion United States federal drugs control budget is still split roughly 60:40 between supply control measures and demand reduction. Without a reduction in demand for the natural drugs coming from Latin America, neither the coercive nor the economic approach to reducing supply is likely to have much effect.

c) At the same time, however, I think there is a need to avoid a too severe swing of the pendulum that might lead to the abandonment of all economic . measures to control supply. An early draft of the European Parliament's recent report on the European Action Plan to Combat Drugs suggested that all EU funds for alternative development should be switched to demand reduction. And officials at the United Nations Drug Control Programme report that donor countries are increasingly sceptical of the value of the economic approach' to supply reduction.

The problem is this: whether we like it or not, the economic base of large areas of the Andean countries is drugs-linked cultivation. And the drugs economy makes a considerable contribution to the economy as a whole. Because of this economic dependence on the drugs trade, an abrupt fall in Northern demand for drugs without economic alternatives being available could have some adverse consequences for the producer countries.

Excess drugs production could lead to a swift escalation in local drugs consumption, for example. At the same time a prolonged fall in the value of coca, could lead to an acceleration in deforestation. Why? Because, coca has been so profitable and resilient a crop relative to others, that peasants have been able to survive off a much smaller area of land than would have been necessary to earn a living from other crops or ranching.

Thus, if coca becomes. unprofitable, peasants will be forced to clear much. larger areas of land to live from other products if these continue to pay so. badly. Synchronising effective measures to reduce rural poverty in producer countries with demand reduction in the North, would seem the only way to pre-empt these consquences.

To summarise therefore, I believe those of us concerned with drugs or development per se should demand much greater coherence between internationally-supported drugs control policies, human rights norms and economic policies.

• We must demand that the North put its money where its mouth is in pursuing demand reduction.

• We should insist that Southern perspectives hold equal weight in the formulation of international drugs control policies.

• And we must vigorously resist any moves to hold Southern countries to ransom over their drugs production or their different views, when it is we, in the North who provide the bulk of consumers, not to mention precursor chemical and money laundering facilities.

Andy Atkins coordinates the CUR programme of research, information and advocacy on the drugs trade and development. On behalf of CIIR, he plays an active role in the advocacy work of the European NGO Committee on Drugs and Development.

 

Our valuable member Andy Atkins has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.