The Military and the War on Drugs in the Andes
Testimony prepared for the Committee on Government Operations, U.S.
House of Representatives
October 18, 1989
Donald J. Mabry
Senior Fellow, Center for International
Security and Strategic Studies, and
Professor of History
Mississippi State University
The recently-announced National Drug Control Strategy is actually a
cocaine strategy, one which sees coercion as the principal cure for the American social
disease called drug abuse. In its Andean initiative, it calls for United States
intervention in the internal affairs of three Andean countries--Bolivia, Colombia, and
Peru. While the Bush administration has proposed increased funding for educational,
rehabilitative, and research programs, most of the dollars would go to security
forces--law enforcement and militaries--in the United States and the Andes. The strategy
does not ignore other illicit drugs nor non-cocaine countries, but the emphasis on cocaine
and the Andes binds together the various pieces of administration policy. This emphasis on
the use of muscle is designed to relieve public anxiety over "crime in the
streets" and give the impression that the administration is not "soft on
This use of force is clearly apparent in the Andean initiative or
strategy. The administration proposes to beef up interdiction efforts through a greater
use of the U.S. military, to strengthen the military establishments of Bolivia, Colombia,
and Peru, and to utilize American policemen and soldiers more extensively inside these
nations. Military equipment and advisors have been dispatched to the Andes with the
likelihood that more will follow. Aid to Andean law enforcement, while programmed, is
secondary to the military effort. In short, the "military option" resurfaced as
a principal tool of international drug policy.
WHY THE MILITARY OPTION
The Andean strategy is puzzling. President Bush acknowledges that
the cocaine problem is created inside the United States and that the cocaine traffickers
are part of "multi-national criminal organizations" (emphasis added).
Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia view their drug problem essentially as a civilian law
enforcement issue and prefer aid which bolsters their civilian institutions. All three use
military units in antidrug campaigns but use them as a gendarmerie. No one wants foreign
troops on their soil and Andean leaders only reluctantly accept a limited number of
military advisors. Why, then, the popularity of the "military option?"
The "military option" seduces policy makers for many
reasons. The principal one is civilian failure to rid the nation of cocaine, combined with
the belief that the military has idle installed capacity which should be used to repel
this "invasion" of the United States. Americans want the cavalry to come to the
rescue, as it did in so many times in the movies. National testosterone levels surge in
contemplation of patriotic violence against a villainous enemy. For almost a century,
American antidrug policy has blamed foreigners for the American drug disease, thus
preserving the myth that Americans are naturally good but corrupted by evil foreigners.(1)
Americans confuse themselves by misusing the term "war."
In recent decades, they have "declared war" on numerous social problems, hoping
to rally people to a concerted effort just as they rallied to fight World War II. They are
using crusade and war interchangeably and evoking images of soldiers with the term war.
Soldiers fight foreign enemies, and cocaine kingpins are foreign, as
are the coca fields and cocaine laboratories. The new "evil empire" is South
American, based in Medellín and Cali and with colonies in Bolivia and Peru. Its
"swarthy" leaders are portrayed as cruel and ruthless; they use their private
"armies" to kill those who stand in their way. Police in American cities and
counties can bust street dealers but cannot reach traffickers in the Andes. The military
can. Thus does the idea of using the military as an international law enforcement agency
seem to be a logical policy.
The American perception of events in Colombia during August and
September, 1989 reinforced the idea of a military option. When the Colombian government
instigated a crackdown on narcotraficantes and the narcotraficantes counterattacked by
asserting that they had declared war on the Colombian government and ordering their thugs
to bomb and murder until the government was willing to negotiate, the United States
responded by sending $65 million worth of surplus military equipment to Colombia. As
Americans watched televised scenes of this equipment arriving in Colombia and of Colombian
military units on search and destroy missions, they tended to believe that there was a
military solution. Moreover, Bush asked for $261.2 million to fund the Andean
strategy--$97.5 million to Bolivia, $90.4 million to Colombia, and $73.3 million to
Peru--about $141 million of which would be military aid. Shortly thereafter, Secretary of
Defense Richard Cheney announced that the Pentagon fully supported the drug war.
Americans do not understand that Latin American militaries perform a
very different function from the United States military. In Latin America, the military is
principally an internal security force whereas the United States military
focuses on external security. A Latin American army is akin to a national
UNDERLYING AMERICAN LATIN AMERICAN POLICY ASSUMPTIONS
The Andean strategy and its predecessors assume that the United
States has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American nations.
Further, as the NDCS report states, Washington believes that it is cheaper and easier to
tackle drug trafficking in the Andes than it is in the United States. The historic
American tendency to blame foreigners for the American drug problem is so deeply ingrained
in the national psyche that few people recognize it for what it is.
Drug trafficking inside Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, or any other nation
is an internal matter for that nation. Put another way, it is up to Peruvians to decide
whether growing coca, exporting the leaves to another country for processing,
manufacturing cocaine in Peru, and selling is illegal. If Peruvians decide to make such
behavior illegal, then it is Peru's responsibility to enforce its laws. It is not the job
of the DEA or any other foreign agency.
Because drug trafficking is an international activity and because
most of the coca-based drugs wind up inside the United States, Washington sent Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents abroad to work with local governments to stop the
trafficking. Using DEA agents as liaison officers between Washington and a host government
makes sense. Local law enforcement agencies need information from other nations in order
to attack international traffickers and DEA agents can supply such intelligence. DEA
agents can transmit intelligence data collected in the United States to foreign narcotics
police through DEA agents stationed abroad. Because American federal law enforcement
officers have had more experience with organized crime and drug trafficking, both of which
are of recent vintage in Latin America, DEA training programs for foreign narcotics agents
also make sense.
However, DEA agents abroad do more than provide intelligence data or
train personnel. DEA agents conduct one of the most essential tasks of domestic law
enforcement--investigation, a local law enforcement responsibility. Investigative work
impinges on national sovereignty.
DEA agent involvement in foreign law enforcement has already become
even more extensive than investigations. In conjunction with host government law officers,
they have established base camps from which eradication and laboratory raids are launched.
Because they are subject to counterattack by angry coca growers or, in Peru, by Sendero
Luminoso (the Maoist-style guerrilla movement), the United States military, in a program
entitled Operation Snowcap, trains them in military tactics. They are becoming a
paramilitary force. Few people seem to be questioning the advisability of American law
enforcement officers enforcing foreign laws in foreign nations and of being trained to
engage in combat.
Perhaps one way to understand the underlying assumptions of United
States policy is to conceptualize what it would be like if foreign narcotic police and
military units were doing exactly the same thing inside the United States. Since the
United States is the largest single market for cocaine and crack, and since most of the
profits from the cocaine trade are earned inside the United States, Peru or some other
nation could make the argument that the American part of the trade is a threat to its
tranquillity and national security and, thus, it should station agents in key parts of the
United States to conduct investigations of American citizens engaged in the drug trade, to
train American security forces in antidrug tactics, and to establish base camps from which
to operate. Further, it would send soldiers to protect its agents and give them permission
to return fire. The goal would be twofold: to deal with that nation's drug trafficking
problem at its principal source, the United States, and to aid the United States, which
seems unable to solve its drug problem by itself.
American citizens would complain loudly and bitterly about such a
course of action, and many would charge that its very occurrence demonstrates the weakness
of the American governmental system. American security forces, encouraged by this outcry,
would cooperate most reluctantly with the foreign agents. Those who were also involved in
the drug trade would likely betray the antidrug efforts.
The United States, of course, would not tolerate such foreign
intervention in its domestic affairs; Latin American nations have little choice. They need
access to American markets for their legitimate exports and international loans to keep
their economies afloat. It is the sheer power of the United States that enables it to
impose its will on these considerably weaker nations, to engage in this hypocrisy.
The United States has failed to understand the implications of its
policy, and has embarked on a course that is fraught with danger, one which may backfire.
DEA agents and American military personnel are likely to die in the Andes and governments
may not be able to withstand the subsequent pressure Washington would surely bring to bear
to allow more American intervention. Moreover, the death of a uniformed soldier would have
more severe consequences than the death of a policeman, for many Americans would see an
attack on a soldier as an attack on the United States itself, as an attack on the flag.
Demand for further American military involvement would likely ensue.
The Andean strategy is based upon a misunderstanding of why the
cocaine trade exists and, thus, how it might best be ended. United States customers are
the reason the drug trade exists. Without the rich, pleasure-seeking American consumer
culture, the trade would be insignificant. United States consumers are able to purchase
drugs either because they have discretionary income or because they steal the necessary
money from someone else. These users value immediate self-gratification more than anything
else, an attitude which many see as a sickness. Security forces, policemen and soldiers,
cannot cure this ill; the remedies, as the NDCS report recognizes, lies elsewhere.
Analysis of antidrug policy, be it domestic or international, must begin with this
obvious, fundamental point.
On the supply side are the growers, processors, transporters,
wholesalers, and retailers. Whereas consumers seek pleasure, these suppliers, as the NDCS
report recognizes, seek profit. They can earn more money from drugs than they can from
other economic activities. For most Latin American drug farmers, drug crop production is
an escape from grinding poverty. People sell drugs, be they in the Andean nations or the
United States, to obtain large profits with minimal work and not much risk. The riskiest
job is at the street level in the United States, where the highly competitive marketplace
encourages these local businessmen to use violence against each other. Although driven by
the profit motive and the desire to partake of the American materialistic fantasy to
"have it all", some must sell drugs to support their own expensive habits.
The drug trade is a business. Drugs are a seller's dream come true.
Demand for the product is apparently insatiable. Market potential seems limited only by
the number of people on the face of the earth. Consumers use the product quickly and then
want more. Demand is so strong that consumers will gladly pay exorbitant prices to obtain
the product, thus enabling sellers to pay high overhead charges (bribes, transportation
costs, weapons, and professional murderers) and still profit immensely.
The illegality of the drug business generates violence and
corruption. Illegality forces businesspersons to bribe public officials to ignore the law
or, when bribery fails, to use violence to accomplish the same end. Competitors maim and
kill each other because there are no legitimate means through which they can settle their
disputes. Drug traffickers cannot use the coercive power of the State, such as suing each
other in court, so they use private coercion. Drug violence in Washington, DC or
Medellín, Colombia is an effort to control markets, and rarely the result of drug-induced
psychotic states. In Bolivia, Peru, and, especially, Colombia, traffickers attack the
State when it attempts to enforce the law.
The point is that destroying illicit businesses is
a law enforcement task, not a military one. The NDCS report recognizes
this when it asserts that "most illegal drugs, the most dangerous in particular, are
grown, processed, and shipped or carried into the United States by multi-national criminal
organizations."(2) Fighting criminal organizations is
a law enforcement task.
Most Americans know little about Latin America in general and these
three Andean countries in particular. Colombia's 439,735 square miles makes it about as
large as Texas and New Mexico combined or almost three and one-half times larger than
Vietnam. Bolivia and Peru, the largest coca producers, approximate Colombia in land area.
Combined, the three are more than one-third the size of the United States. All three have
tropical lowlands, plains, and the mighty Andes. These geographical factors have meant
that their governments have never been able to control all of their national territory;
they have been too poor and too weak. Moreover, leftist guerrilla movements in Colombia
and Peru have further weakened those governments. All three nations have rich,
centuries-old cultures. Most Americans, however, think Latin American countries are small
places inhabited by benighted people with little education or culture, who are unable to
govern themselves properly, that is, by United States standards.
Thus, they misunderstand what is happening in Colombia, Bolivia, and
Peru and too quickly (and erroneously) speak of civil war and demand the use of military
power. What the traffickers began doing in Colombia in the late summer of 1989 is more
akin to Chicago gangster violence in the 1920s than it is to war. Declarations of martial
law in some Colombian cities mirror the use of American soldiers to suppress labor strikes
and riots in Pennsylvania in 1877. In spite of the use of the Colombian military to
enforce civilian laws, the violent acts of the drug traffickers, and the traffickers' use
of the term "war," there is no conventional war nor a trafficker-led guerrilla
war in Colombia. The narcotraficantes are neither trying to take and control territory nor
trying to topple the government. They do not want to govern Colombia nor to change its
economic and social system. They are gangsters run amok, not guerrillas or a army bent
upon conquest of territory. Anarchy does not reign in Colombia, for government still
functions and the vast majority of citizens obey the law. It is those institutions
targeted by the narcotraficantes that are in trouble.
Violence, economic instability, and political insurgency in the
Andes predate the drug trade by many years. Bolivia has averaged more than a president a
year since independence, and its economic problems are decades old. Peru suffered economic
and political instability long before the cocaine trade assumed its current importance.
Sendero Luminoso has only recently and partially become involved in the coca-growing
portion of the drug trade. Violence is a prominent thread in the weave of Colombian
history. The civil war between the Liberal and the Conservative parties, La Violencia,
ended in 1957 with a power-sharing compromise between those two parties. The compromise,
however, blocked other political groups from the electoral arena and, thus, encouraged
some to become political insurgents. The drug trade does adversely affect these countries
but one could also argue that cocaine has increased their economic viability.
Colombian narcotraficantes get the most press because they are the
most successful businesspersons in international drug trafficking. The so-called Medellín
and Cali "cartels" are the world's principal manufacturers and distributors of
cocaine. These astute Colombian businessmen recognized the existence of the market and
then developed it. They buy the raw materials from other countries--coca from Bolivia and
Peru, chemicals from the United States--and transform them into a marketable product,
cocaine. They transport and then wholesale the product abroad through trusted carriers and
sales personnel. They pay a variety of specialists-such as accountants, lawyers,
investment counselors, money handlers, guards--to help them conduct their affairs. They
pay the lowest possible wages to farmers and workers, and seek to keep them in a dependent
status. They have made Bolivia and Peru dependent nations. They pay few taxes on their
income, stash much of their money abroad, and contribute only enough to social welfare
projects to curry some favor with their Colombian neighbors. They differ from legitimate
businesspersons principally in their use of violence to protect and further their
Within Colombia, they utilize violence rationally. They want to be
accepted members of Colombian high society. It is only when the Colombian government
seriously begins to talk of extradition to the United States that they attack the
government directly, for extradition means that they will be imprisoned. A careful reading
of the August 23, 1989 text of "The Extraditables" makes this clear. The
narcotraficantes assert that they have been asking for peace since talks with the
government in Panama in 1984 (when they offered to go out of business and repatriate
capital to Colombia in exchange for a promise that they would never be extradited). They
believe that the Barco government has been unwilling to engage in a dialogue with them,
but instead has unjustly attacked them.(4) From their
perspective, their "declaration of war is an act of self-defense.
Colombian politicians understand the real threat of the
narcotraficantes, that the latter have become a "state within a state." The
traffickers obey the law only at their convenience, and, in doing so, subvert the state.
Bribed police personnel, judges, soldiers, and other public officials work for the
criminals, not Colombia. They have corrupted and compromised the Colombian military not
only through monetary bribes but also by sharing intelligence data about their common
enemy, leftist guerrillas, and funding paramilitary groups to murder leftists. As the
traffickers have purchased large landed estates, they have used these paramilitary groups
to clear the area of leftist guerrillas, something the military failed to do.(5) Thus, even though the narcotraficantes are nationalists,
conservatives, and capitalists, traditional values in Colombia as elsewhere, they have
demonstrated that the government cannot perform the most fundamental governmental task,
that of providing basic physical security, because the state no longer has a monopoly on
force. Governments which cannot perform this task do not survive. Militaries often create
dictatorships rather than allow such a collapse and the possibility of a leftist takeover.
The lesson learned by Colombian politicians is that large-scale criminal organizations are
as much a threat to democratic government as are leftist guerrillas.
Reasserting State control is not easy. Whereas the Colombian
government has had to disperse its assets among the normal functions of government, the
billionaire narcotraficantes have been able to concentrate their resources on the
promotion and protection of their illicit activities. Their wealth enabled them to
outclass Colombian security forces. Hence, Bogotá's request for international aid.
Bogotá wants supplies for its national police (which conducts 85-90% of antidrug
operations(6)), $19 million for security systems for its
judiciary, and helicopters. Given sufficient aid, Bogotá is confident that it can
suppress this latest challenge from the traffickers and, perhaps, destroy their
Within Colombia, the issue is whether the government and the people
it represents have the will and the means to break the power of the traffickers. Colombia
cracked down on the traffickers in the mid-1980s but the public eventually tired of the
effort. During the course of the crackdown, the drug kingpins went into hiding, mounted a
massive nationalistic propaganda campaign within Colombia to portray that government as a
tool of the United States, and tried to bargain for amnesty.(7)
The Colombian government made no deal but did ease up on its attacks on the traffickers.
If the crackdown begun in August, 1989 fails, the government may seriously begin
negotiations with the traffickers. It has already been trying to negotiate a peace with
FARC, M-19, and other guerrilla groups.(8) Further, the
trade brings $4 billion in export earnings and helps support 1.2 million of the nation's
32 million people.
Assuming the best possible scenario--that Colombia is able to arrest
and convict the Extraditables and destroy every cocaine laboratory in the nation--how will
the cocaine business be changed? Not much. The Colombians have well-established linkages
with producers in Bolivia and Peru and distributors in North America; those below the
level of the Escobar-Ochoa-Rodríguez Gacha hierarchy are likely to continue the business
even if their bosses are busted. Cocaine laboratories are primitive and inexpensive. Given
access to precursor chemicals (solvents) such as ether and acetone, a fundamental
knowledge of chemistry, and a supply of coca leaf, new traffickers can create laboratories
in any other Latin American country or in the United States. Cocaine laboratories
currently already exist in Bolivia,(9) Brazil, and Peru.
Destroying coca production in Bolivia and Peru is more difficult and
fraught with more serious consequences than destroying the Colombian manufacturing and
wholesaling enterprises. Growing coca is not illegal in either nation, where chewing the
coca leaf (from which cocaine hydrochloride or cocaine is extracted) is a relatively
harmless, centuries-old tradition. Equally important, coca production is vital to the
economies of both nations. Eradicating it without replacing the money it earns would
create economic disaster. Coca floats both economies. In Bolivia in 1989, there were more
than 100,000 acres of coca under cultivation,(10) and
350,000-400,000 people directly employed (out of a population of 6.5 million people) in
some phase of the cocaine trade.(11) In Peru, about three
percent of the population is supported by coca; by comparison, less than three percent of
the United States population is engaged in agriculture. To put it bluntly, too many
Bolivians and Peruvians depend upon coca income to suppose that they would passively
accept the destruction of the cocaine enterprise. Bolivian coca growers, organized into a
confederation and supported by the national labor federation, actively and sometimes
forcibly resist efforts to destroy coca fields. Although not as well organized, Peruvian
growers also show little interest in reducing their income. In Peru's Upper Huallaga
Valley, the largest coca-growing area, they are supported by Sendero Luminoso, which the
government cannot suppress.(12)
In spite of these difficulties, the governments of Bolivia and Peru
are fighting the drug culture, albeit not as effectively as they or the United States
might like. Besides the problems outlined above, both nations teeter on bankruptcy. By
themselves, they cannot increase their antidrug forces or equip them properly. Their
disadvantages in the face of the numerous and well-financed traffickers are significant.
Bolivia is a good example. Both the military and UMOPAR (drug police) fight the
traffickers. The 650-member UMOPAR uses decades-old weaponry, insecure communications
equipment, and too few helicopters and planes to ferry strike forces to cocaine sites and
to combat traffickers with their better equipment and intelligence systems. Further, the
paucity of radar coverage means that traffickers can fly in and out of the country with
THE ANDEAN STRATEGY
The Andean strategy seeks to remedy these deficiencies primarily
through military means. According to the NDCS report:
law enforcement, military, and economic
assistance will be provided to the three Andean cocaine-producing
countries to isolate major coca-growing
areas; to block delivery of chemicals used for cocaine processing;
to destroy cocaine hydrochloride
processing labs; and to dismantle the trafficking organizations.(14)
Although monies will be provided for law enforcement and economic
assistance, the Andean strategy already means primarily military equipment, American
military advisors, strengthening Andean militaries, and a greater interdiction role for
the United States military.
The soldiers being sent to Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru as advisors,
trainers, and maintenance personnel may eventually fight as well, administration
pronouncements notwithstanding. The NDCS report asserts that "we can and must
accomplish these objectives with a minimum of direct involvement by U.S. personnel. This
is a cardinal point. The countries of the area must carry the principal burden
themselves."(15) William Bennett, director of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy, has denied that there are plans to send Special
Forces on drug-fighting missions in combat zones in Peru and Bolivia, but he did say that
the United States is willing to send Special Forces advisors to the Andean countries.(16) Newspaper reports indicate, however, that President Bush
signed a classified National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) to permit deployment of
American soldiers in "secure" areas of the Upper Huallaga Valley, Peru's
principal coca growing region and one of the strongholds of Sendero Luminoso. Press
reports also assert that the NSDD also allows Special Forces units training UMOPAR forces
in the Chapare region of Bolivia to leave their base camps and accompany UMOPAR on routine
patrols.(17) The introduction of Special Forces units may
mean the death of American soldiers and an escalation of the American military presence.
Sendero is likely to attack such patrols since the American presence will bolster its
cause; since American soldiers have permission to return fire, the potential for military
escalation is great. Such patrols might encounter armed resistance from peasant growers in
Bolivia and Peru.
American pride in Special Forces units notwithstanding, there really
is not much that United States advisors can teach Latin American security forces about how
to deal with their own people. To think differently is to accept the idea that American
soldiers understand Latin American social psychology better than Latin American security
forces. Moreover, American strategy and tactics are based on American wealth and
technology, neither of which exist in the Andes. Recent military history supports this
view that infusions of American military resources into local foreign situations have
little significant impact.
STRENGTHENING ANDEAN MILITARIES
Most of these advisors, however, will simply train Andean armies in
the use and maintenance of the American equipment being sent to Andean armies. The initial
shipment of $65 million in military equipment to Colombia was largely symbolic,
inappropriate, and flashy. The arrival of jets, C-130 military cargo planes and Huey
helicopters had greater symbolic value in the United States and Colombia than would more
useful patrol cars, small arms, and police radios which will no doubt follow.
Enhancing the power of Latin American militaries has two potential
problems. To varying degrees, the militaries of these nations are riddled with
narcocorruption. The Colombian armed forces have long been abusing the population. One
report asserts that the military, in league with right-wing death squads, terrorizes and
kills innocent people in Uraba state.24 The level of corruption can reach quite
high; the Bolivian military government of 1981 was implicated in the cocaine trade.(18)
The military chief of the Upper Huallaga Valley, army general
Alberto Arzeniega, may be an ally of the traffickers. Communication systems are insecure
and fast helicopters and high-powered weapons are of marginal utility when someone picks
up the telephone to warn traffickers that a raid is about to take place. Increasing the
power of Andean militaries may also encourage them to marginalize civilian government. The
civilian government must always be substantially stronger than the military to avoid
military dictatorship. This is a serious concern. Bolivia was governed by a series of
military dictatorships between 1964-1982. Civilian government is of recent vintage in
Peru, the military having ruled from 1968-1980. Colombia has not had a military
dictatorship since that of General Gustavo Pinilla's of 1954-1958. Colombia's military has
only 60,000 members for an almost thirty-two million-person population, and Colombian
civilians seek to keep it under their control. Nevertheless, the military often ignores
its civilian commanders. Military dictatorship is a long-standing scourge in Latin America
that the UNited States should not encourage through its antidrug policy.(19)
AMERICAN COMBAT TROOPS
Recognition that these Andean militaries may not be trustworthy
allies in the antidrug campaign prompts some Americans to advocate sending American
troops. Many questions need answers before such a decision is made. What would be the
rules of engagement? Would the American army (or even a multinational military force) be
expected to occupy the Upper Huallaga Valley in Peru, the Beni and Chapare in Bolivia, the
Colombian lowlands, and then Brazilian and Venezuelan lowlands when the crops spread
there? Or would the military destroy cocaine laboratories in other nations when they are
installed there? Would the military be expected to occupy Medellín, Bogotá, Cali,
Barranquilla, and other Colombian cities? Would the United States be expected to assume
civilian powers in these nations? Would the United States assume responsibility for the
millions of citizens of these nations? How many soldiers would be committed and for how
long? Long enough to destroy existing laboratories and to spray herbicides on coca fields
or enough to insure that the cocaine business will not reoccur? And what about marijuana,
that other Colombia drug crop? Is this "two-toke dope," to use the words of
Richard Craig, to be ignored in the process,(20) or would
American soldiers join forces with the Colombian National Police, the Colombian military,
and United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, all of whom have also been
trying to destroy the marijuana market?
In contemplating the introduction of U.S. troops into Andean
countries, even as advisors, no planner should underestimate the power of nationalism.
Foreign troops would encounter resistance from growers, dealers, business and professional
persons who directly and indirectly profit from the trade, nationalists, guerrillas, and
numerous others. The Andean governments do not want American soldiers on their soil.
Colombian Defense Minister General Oscar Botero, on September 1, 1989 made it clear that
Colombia did not need "foreign troops to solve our domestic problems," including
the American military advisors sent by President Bush.(21)
As Gonzalo Torres, Bolivian undersecretary for drug suspension recently put it: "The
Bolivian armed forces and police are sufficiently prepared to carry out the fight against
drug trafficking."(22) Operation Blast Furnace in
1986 was met with such criticism in Bolivia that DEA official David Westrate testified
that DEA did not think it could be replicated.(23)
Peruvians agree. Finally, as in Colombia, neither Bolivians nor Peruvians want foreign
troops on their soil.
Bolivians, Colombians, and Peruvians, like their American
counterparts, detest the drug trade, but their patriotism would be offended by the
presence of foreign soldiers, even a multinational force, on their soil. Latin Americans
would oppose foreign military intervention in their countries. Rivalry among Latin
American nations can also be quite intense, for some of them have fought each other.
When one remembers that most of the trade takes place inside the
United States, belief in a military solution to drug trafficking logically dictates that
the military attack drug trafficking criminal organizations inside the United States. Most
Americans recognize that using the military in such a way would destroy civil liberties
INTERDICTION AND SURVEILLANCE
The United States military recognizes the danger and does not want
to fight in the antidrug crusade, but the president and Congress have dragged the Pentagon
into the fray. Department of Defense (DOD) secretary Richard Cheney (as did his
predecessors, Frank Carlucci and Caspar Weinberger) argues that military personnel are not
and should not be police, that utilizing military personnel for law enforcement activities
would detract from military readiness. DOD officials argue that the mission of the armed
forces is to protect the nation from foreign armies, not drug smugglers, and that civilian
law enforcement agencies should be given the resources necessary to do the antidrug task.
Unpersuaded, the Federal government mandated and subsequently escalated military
participation, providing additional funds at each step. At the international level, the
Federal government ordered DOD to help interdict drug trafficking into the United States,
create an integrated intelligence and communications network, and train foreign military
personnel and both U.S. and foreign police forces.
Even though the Pentagon antidrug budget has grown rapidly, DOD
officials argue that Congress and the executive branch underestimate the cost of
interdiction and surveillance programs, the principal DOD antidrug task, does not
understand that acquiring the necessary physical assets would take time, and that, short
of a real declaration of war which would give the military a free hand, the possibility of
success is extremely low. In its April, 1989 report to the House and Senate armed services
committees, DOD estimated that 24-hour surveillance of the U.S. "southern
fence," the border from Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California, full
interdiction capability, and CI3 programs would cost between $480.4 million and $760.5
million annually, depending upon the equipment mix, and would require a third of the
Navy's fleet, more radar planes than the nation owns, and nearly 100 army battalions.
Further, that report argues against the probable success of the effort.(24)
If the United States sought to prevent the maritime passage of illicit narcotics through
the entire Circum-Caribbean area, the task would be even more difficult. This area (the
Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea together) comprises 1,664,500 square miles, or about
46% the size of the United States. Smugglers have proven extremely flexible in countering
interdiction efforts. Some believe that the report is an attempt to discourage civilians
from ordering the military to perform an unwanted task, but the fact remains that cost of
using expensive, sophisticated military assets for civilian law enforcement would be high,
even if withdrawn from current inventory.
Instead of using the military on the ground in the Andes, Washington
can provide valuable non-interventionist military aid as envisioned by the National
Defense Authorization Act (1988) and the National Drug Control Strategy report. The
targeted three Andean nations do not have:
- satellite and high-altitude photographic capabilities,
- national radar coverage,
- other high technology electronic surveillance devices inside their boundaries,
- the ability to monitor the open sea and international airspace.
Such data can be shared with these Andean governments. Although interdiction efforts
will not stop drug trafficking, traffickers cannot ignore it. Multinational interdiction
efforts, which inevitably will rely upon American military resources but not require only
American military personnel, can squeeze the drug traffic into narrow corridors, thus
increasing the possibility of interdiction.
Drug trafficking is an international law enforcement
problem best met by traditional law enforcement techniques. Latin American legal systems
1. secure computer systems for criminal investigations and for processing people
through the judicial system,
2. the ability to intercept the communications of the drug traffickers,
3. the types of security system successfully employed by Italy to protect the judicial
4. and better investigative means, mobility, firepower, and communications.
As Major General Miguel Gómez Padilla of the Colombian National Police has made clear,
the nation needs the kind of equipment used by policemen, not by the military.(25) In sum, it is the civilian legal system that needs
bolstering in Colombia, not the military.
Nations should also sign and enforce the United Nations Vienna
Convention on narcotics trafficking. Through this convention:
1. fugitive drug traffickers could lose their safe havens,
2. illegal assets stashed in foreign bank accounts could be repatriated, and
3. international money laundering could be stopped.
Confiscating the profits of the drug trade and capturing key traffickers would reduce
the drug problem to a manageable size.
Latin American nations have little experience with large-scale
criminal organizations. The United States and other nations have. Help from the Justice
Department, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation, would be more valuable than
help from the Defense Department. Successful law enforcement techniques, modified for
local circumstances, are needed in drug countries. Paid informants are a key to successful
criminal investigations. In Colombia and other countries, the reward for informants whose
information leads to arrests of major drug traffickers may well have to include relocation
to another country in addition to financial rewards; the United States will likely be the
country of choice.
Within the United States, the Federal, state, and local governments
can stymie drug trafficking by adopting measures proposed by the National Drug Control
1. a crackdown on money laundering,
2. an assault on domestic criminal organizations,
3. control of the exportation of precursor chemicals, 4. strengthening the legal system
so as to increase arrests of major drug dealers and their speedy prosecution,
5. and aid to citizen groups which resist drug use and drug peddling in their
What these governments need to address more effectively are corruption among American
public officials (without whom the drug trade cannot exist) and the sale of high-powered
arms, one of the principal business tools of drug traffickers.
Unilaterally, Washington can also take economic measures to give the
citizenry of Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru some viable economic alternatives to drug
production. The quickest and most obvious solution is for Americans to buy more legitimate
products from these countries, thus providing income for the people there and tax revenues
for the governments. Medellín, for example, has historically been the major industrial
center of Colombia; buying its products would stimulate legitimate enterprise. The United
States can stimulate manufacturing by adopting a version of the in-bond plant policy which
has been successful in Mexico.
Several possible ways to change Andean agricultural practices might
be possible. American agricultural scientists can be funded to find acceptable alternative
uses for the coca plant. Crop substitution programs are also a possibility but face
several serious problems. Which crop is the most important consideration, for substitute
crops would have to yield an income commensurate with coca or farmers would not switch
crops. Further, American farmers would resist Andean crops which would compete with
American crops. The success of any crop substitution strategy would depend upon the
willingness of the U.S. to guarantee markets for those crops, for, without markets, such a
program would fail. Crop substitution programs would not necessarily lead to a reduction
in coca acreage, for Andean farmers are likely to mimic American farmers by expanding the
total acreage they cultivate, growing acceptable crops on some acres and coca on the rest.
Similarly, they are also likely to imitate North American farmers if they were to be paid
not to grow coca or if the United States bought the entire current Andean coca production.
At the international level, Washington can lead in the creation of
multilateral solutions. As a start, it can ratify and encourage its allies to ratify the
anti-drug Vienna Convention of the United Nations. Other nations need to understand that
decreasing the sale of illicit drugs in the United States will cause the trade to shift to
them. The traffickers have begun to export to Europe; a decline in the American market
will simply speed the process. Asian and European nations need to recognize that it is in
their self-interest to help eliminate drug trafficking everywhere. Eastern European
nations have the beginnings of a serious drug problem. Cocaine is being sold in Hungary,
Poland, the Soviet Union.
The United States can solve its drug problem at home; it cannot do
so in the Andes. American consumers sustain the cocaine business. The Andean strategy,
popular because it focuses attention away from this unpleasant fact and gives the
impression of dynamic action by Washington, is flawed. The presence of American policemen
enforcing local laws in the Andes inevitably irritates the local population and undercuts
local government. Washington's emphasis on military solutions for a law enforcement
problem also undercuts both United States and Andean civilian government while
strengthening the power and prestige of militaries. Leftist guerrillas must be rejoicing
that Washington is helping them recruit new members to combat what the guerrillas call
American imperialism. Increased military power certainly would be a threat to civilian
government in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. The cost of a Latin American military solution
to the drug problem may be the end of democracy in Peru and Bolivia, both of which have
long histories of military dictatorships. But it also may mean a continuation of the
cocaine trade. Soldiers, even in a military dictatorship, are not particularly good at
destroying private enterprise.
1. William O. Walker III, Drug Control in the Americas
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981); Douglas Clark Kinder, "Nativism,
Cultural Conflict, Drug Control: United States and Latin American Antinarcotics Diplomacy
through 1965" in The Latin American Narcotics Trade and US National Security.,
ed. Donald J. Mabry (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989).
2. NDCS, 61.
3. Rensselaer Lee, "Why the U.S. Cannot Stop South American
Cocaine," ORBIS (Fall 1988), 499-505; Rensselaer Lee, "The Cocaine
Dilemma," in Mabry, Latin American Narcotics Trade, 59-72.
4. Bruce Bagley, "Colombia and the War on Drugs," Foreign
Affairs, 67:1 (Fall 1988), 70-92. Fabio Ochoa made a similar offer during the August,
1989 crackdown began; see Eugene Robinson, "Kin of 'Extraditables' Calls for
Negotiations; Bombings in Medellin," The Washington Post, August 30,1989.
5. On the problems in relying upon the Colombian military, see Linda
Feldmann, "Bush Approach Seen by Many as Best by Default," The Christian
Science Monitor, September 1, 1989.
6. Joseph B. Treaster, "U.S. Gives Wrong Equipment to Fight
Drugs, Bogota Says," The New York Times, September 12, 1989.
7. Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen, Kings of Cocaine (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1989, 170-77.
8. Bruce Bagley, "Colombia and the War on Drugs," 87.
9. James Painter, "Bolivia Struggles in War On Drugs," The
Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 1989, 6.
10. Painter, "Bolivia Struggles."
11. Lee, "Cocaine Dilemma," 60; Kevin Healy, "Coca,
the State, and the Peasantry in Bolivia, 1982-1988," Journal of Interamerican
Studies and World Affairs, 30: 2 & 3 (Summer/Fall 1988), 106 says 500,000.
12. Cynthia McClintock, "The War on Drugs: The Peruvian
Case," Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, 30:2 & 3
(Summer/Fall, 1988), 127-28.
13. Major Carlos Barriga of UMOPAR as quoted in Painter,
14. NDCS, 61
15. NDCS, 63
16. Associated Press, Clarion-Ledger, September 11, 1989.
17. Michael Isikoff, "An Anti-Drug Delta Force?" The
Washington Post National Weekly Edition, September 18-24, 1989, p 32.
18. Healy, "Bolivia," 111; see also Coletta Youngers,
"Colombia Military's Link with Drug Dealers," The Christian Science Monitor,
September 11, 1989.
19. Abraham Lowenthal, ed., Armies and Politics in Latin
America (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1976).
20. Richard Craig, "Mexican Narcotics Trafficking: Binational
Security Implications," in Mabry, Latin American Narcotics, 40.
21. Associated Press Dispatch, Clarion-Ledger, September
2, 1989. Colombia also wants $19 million dollars to buy equipment to protect its juridical
system; see John M. Gushko, "Colombia Asks Help in Protecting Judges," The
Washington Post, August 30, 1989.
22. Quoted in Painter, "Bolivia Struggles."
23. David Westrate, testimony in Narcotics Interdiction and the
Use of the Military: Issues for Congress, edited by Raphael Perl and Roy Surrett
(Washington: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 1988), 6-7.
24. Department of Defense, report to House and Senate armed
services committees, accompanying April 20, 1989 letter of Acting Associate Attorney
General Joe D. White to Les Aspin, Chairman, Committee on Armed Service, House of
25. Quoted in Joseph B. Treaster, "U.S. Gives Wrong Equipment
to Fight Drugs. Bogotá Says," The New York Times, September 12, 1989.