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ENCOD April Newsletter

No. 32, April 2002
The bi-monthly newsletter of ENCOD (European NGO Council on Drugs and Development)
Secretariat: Lange Nieuwstraat 147, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Tel. +32 3 272 5524 / Fax.: + 32 3 226 3476 / E-mail:

In a year from now, government representatives from all over the world will meet in Vienna to evaluate the commitment they made in 1998, at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, to eliminate or significantly reduce the supply and demand for illegal drugs. All figures, official and non-official, indicate that this commitment has not had any impact at all. We also know that the approach towards drugs control applied by the major actors (the United States and Europe) is becoming increasingly polarised. While the US government continues to be obsessed by the drugs phenomenon, going so far as to insist it is a part of an evil conspiracy that threatens America and its freedoms, Europe has started an irreversible process towards a policy that is based not on total prohibition, but directed toward finding a careful balance between punishment, treatment and decriminalisation of drugs users.
As we draw nearer to the Vienna meeting, it will be interesting to see how the United States and Europe will avoid a public confrontation on the drugs issue, a conflict that could have major implications for Transatlantic relationships. A foretaste of this "clash of cultures" took place at the recent session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March, in the form of a strong attack against the European practice of 'leniency' regarding cannabis use and possession.

According to an NGO observer present at the meeting, the incident was based on the latest report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The report contained strong language about the tolerance trend and called for broad consideration to ensure the consistent application of the provisions of the 1961 UN Convention across the globe. At the meeting in Vienna, several of the usual suspects (Sweden, Arab countries, US) took up this invitation and expressed their grave concern. Countries like Venezuela and Morocco pointed out an emerging contradiction between the trend towards depenalisation of cannabis consumption and the continuing pressure on Southern countries to eradicate cannabis with repressive means. The countries 'under attack,' such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy, kept silent, opting to avoid a debate rather than add fuel to the confrontation.

But when a resolution against the practice of leniency appeared, proposed by countries such as the Sudan and Libya, with the sponsorhip of the US and the INCB, it sent a shockwave through several European delegations, whose policies potentially could come under pressure by this resolution. Immediate informal crisis meetings were convened on how to counter the attack and intriguing discussions followed that brought to light the growing polarisation in drug control policy. Finally, a diplomatic solution was found among representatives of both attacking and attacked countries, leading to a final text that did not offend nor satisfy anyone. However, a new effort may well be undertaken next year. If a similar resolution appears on the issues of possession and supply (coffeeshops, cultivation for own use) it will be much more difficult to negotiate a compromise.

A public confrontation between hawks and doves on global drugs policies may be positive. Finally, the controversy on the UN Conventions on Drugs will reach the forum where decisions can be taken to modify them. And as we have seen in Europe, once the dialogue starts, sooner or later some progress will be made. However, it is a risky endeavour as well. What occurred in Vienna in March was that the US operated behind the scenes, leaving the frontal attack on Europe's policy to a group of developing countries that included some of its arch enemies. If the Taliban regime had still been in power, they too would have been part of this. At the moment, it does not seem likely that Europe will be able to gain much support among countries as Nigeria, China or Indonesia for its tolerant approach to drugs. Because of historical, cultural and above all, economic reasons these countries are more eager to stick to the 'war on drugs' philosophy.

Therefore, instead of taking a defensive attitude that tries to avoid international condemnation of policies it has applied with remarkable success, Europe should focus on how to put the essential question on the table: do we want to continue enforcing a global framework for drugs policies that leaves no room for manoeuvre to apply national or local policies which are not based on prohibition? In that case, it could very well be possible that Australia, Canada, Mexico and other [Latin American] countries could step into the scene. Then the outcome would be far less predictable.
Of course, in order to make this happen, international co-operation between drugs policy reformers is urgently necessary. Apart from proving that prohibition has failed to deliver its stated objectives, we need to mobilise political pressure on European government officials to take a more consistent and therefore more credible attitude in the international drugs policy debate.
By: Joep Oomen

One of the areas where the respective drug policies of Europe and the United States differ most concerns drug production. Europe’s approach is essentially directed towards the establishment of socio-economic alternatives for farmers growing illicit crops, while the United States continues to insist on repressive measures. In this article, Ricardo Vargas, a Colombian drug policy expert, analyzes the real impact of US policies on the phenomenon of illlcit drug production and trafficking in his country.

A crusade in tatters
According to the official figures of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that were published last month, coca cultivation in Colombia during the year 2001 increased by one of the largest increments ever recorded, from 136.200 to 169.800 hectares. This corresponds to a 24.67% increase over the previous year, and is particularly significant for several reasons:

1. December 2000 marks the starting date of Plan Colombia, and the aerial fumigation of Roundup Ultra (a particularly agressive combination of pesticides) as its main weapon. Until today, a total area of 132.000 hectares of coca and 4.028 hectares of opium poppy has been fumigated. Considering such intensity of attempted crop eradication, the reported 25% increase in the area covered with coca can truely be called a horrendous strategy failure.

2. An increase of these dimensions is not explained by a vertiginous growth of demand for cocaine from one year to another. The reason is a different one: the fumigations and the increasing seizures of substances that are ready for consumption inevitably lead to an exaggerated expansion of the existent areas under cultivation. In other words, current drug control policies, in particular the practice of forced erradication, create the conditions for maintaining stable prices of cocaine paste or even provoking them to rise. Announcements of more fumigations lead to farmers growing more coca. As a consequence, the virgin forests, the rivers and in general the tropical rain forests are affected by the impact of the irrationality of current policies.

3. But the serious environmental damage caused by the fumigations and the exaggerated increase of cultivation are not the only problems. There is something worse: those who carry out these policies do not recognize this reality and continue to ignore the empirical evidence. They claim there is a need for expanding the fumigations, because, as the director of the DEA Asa Hutchinson and his Colombian right hand general Socha say, they will put an end to illicit cultivations within three years.

While fumigations affect farmers, including their families, foodstuffs, houses and water sources, drug traffickers in Colombia are stronger than ever. With their significant manpower, they know that they are able to invest in the production of coca and poppy over thousands of new hectares, taking advantage of the critical situation of the Colombian rural economy and the legal sector in general.

Today, there are more than 160 organizations involved in drug trafficking in Colombia, with more than 4000 people linked directly to the business. They benefit from current politics that do not have any credible and effective strategy against them. This lack of efficiency is usually hidden behind ingenuous comments claiming that fumigations “have prevented the processing of 769 tonnes of cocaine that could have gained the drug traffickers 19 billion dollars.” What is not said openly, is that those 19 billion dollars have simply been recovered with more cultivation and greater processing capacities than ever before.

Current politics do not contain a strategy against drug traffickers
One of the most consistent proofs that demonstrates the absence of policies against the strongest and most unknown part of the drug chain can be found in the report of the US State Department that was published recently. In the case of Colombia, its characteristics are the following:

1. The report does not mention at all the subject of the seizure of assets, keeping in mind that this is a strategic element of a true fight against drug trafficking.

2. The report ignores that one important source of money laundering in Colombia is the purchase of land, and fails to recognise it as an issue that requires realistic strategies in the field of the fight against drugs.

3. The report does not mention the type of strategies that are applied to what is referred to as “well established trafficking organizations based in Cali, Medellín, Bogotá, and other cities throughout the country”.

4. Finally, the references to the relationship between drugs and paramilitarism are simplistic, and consequently, do not pay attention to the complexity of this situation. They are reduced to comments that are both generalised and useless. No clear decisions are defined in this area.

Although the document offers insight into the diversity of areas where various agencies of the US administration is beginning to intervene, developing its own strategy, it is clear that this strategy is imposed upon Colombia in a unilateral way. The approaches developed by Washington serve basically to justify the encroachment of its institutions.

This fact becomes more significant in the light of the conditions experienced by some Colombian state entities, taking into account their bad situation regarding budget, infrastructure and qualified personnel to implement their functions. In this context, the involvement of the different branches of the army in the fight against drugs is particularly preoccupying. Obviously, the participation of the army in this area does not accord with the previous and consistent design of an integral strategy that responds to the necessities and expectations of the country in as regards military security. It does not even respond to the minimum requirements of security for the life and integrity of many people who are slaughtered systematically or expelled from the areas where they live and work.

The security of the USA
The designated concept of security responds to the defense of the interests of the USA more than to a reasonable response and confirmation of the monopoly on the use of arms by the Colombian state. This also extends to topics such as borders, prison policies, State of Law, air and sea space etc., environments in which the drugs issue distorts political intentions, or ends, or goals?. In short, the specifics of the US cooperation in drug policies do not accord with the national needs of Colombia but rather to the approaches and requirements of security as defined in Washington. That adds another element that increases the problems that already exist in this country.
At the moment, Colombia is also starting to experience the danger of this renewed definition of security -- from the fight against drugs to that against terrorism -- caused by the events of September 11 and the crisis in the middle-East peace process. Those sectors that have a vested interest in war are seizing the opportunity to modify the correlation of forces with the insurgent groups, redirecting Plan Colombia towards a new emphasis in which guerillas are classified as the incarnation of terrorism.

The argument is not credible due to the absence of clear concepts such as the international dimension of terrorism (are the FARC comparable to Al Qaeda? Are they able to destabilize the region?) and much less in connection with the recognition of the current social and economic conflict that should be solved with important reforms. Neither is this argument a response to the presence and cover-up of rampant impunity, of an extreme humanitarian crisis and the practice of political exclusion of several population sectors from participating in the process of finding solutions to the serious problems of the country.

In light of these complex problems, the role of the United States in prolonging a repeatedly unsuccessful drug control strategy with a strong military component is becoming a factor that adds more problems to the internal conflict instead of creating solutions. Additionally, it is particularly preoccupying to see that the strategy keeps silent on the fight against the more and more powerful drug trafficking groups in Colombia, while being reduced to a useless and dangerous ritual for the farmers who form the most visible part in the drugs chain. Perhaps these lacks and inconsistencies are explained partly by the fact that the strategy is only meant to enrich the US companies that produce the arsenal, deliver the mercenaries and necessary devices to fumigate. In this way, a giant fraud is perpetrated on the civil society that pays taxes and feeds the political class in the United States.

A European response
When contrasted with a broad observation and reflection of the scenario in Colombia and the Andean region, the claims for numbers of fumigated hectares of illicit cultivation, destroyed laboratories, confiscated drugs etc, merely become the data needed to justify a complex and useless bureaucratic institution financed by the ‘fight against drugs’. In this scenario, European countries should look for more enlightened definitions of the situation of the Andean region and of the Colombian conflict.

To refer to a single topic: if it is generally agreed that Europe is and will be more successful with a less criminalised treatment of the drugs issue, it should play the role of trying to obtain more dialogue in the global drugs debate and criticise interventions that contribute to activating the time bomb which the Colombian and Andean case could result in.
By: Ricardo Vargas M., researcher at Acción Andina/TNI

News on ENCOD
Visit of Evo Morales to Brussels
On 23 March, Bolivian coca producers’ main leader Evo Morales Ayma visited Brussels, invited by a group of 11 NGO’s among others, ENCOD. Morales was expulsed from the Bolivian parliament in January this year following violent confrontations between security forces and coca peasants, but miraculously re-entered the political arena announcing his candidacy for the presidential elections in June this year. In Brussels, Morales spoke to an audience of 70 on the failure of eradication policies that Bolivian coca peasants are facing since 1980, and the need for partnership between Europe and Latin America to counter the US based ‘war on drugs’. A report on the visit can be found at . The visit concluded with a new invitation to Morales, to participate in a hearing in the European Parliament in the end of April.

Conference on European drug policy
In the coming weeks, some meetings will take place on the issue of the planned Conference in the European Parliament, which ENCOD is involved in. Its goal would be to convince decision-makers in the European Union and its Member States to address the need to reform UN Conventions as a way to remove the current tensions between legislation and practice. On 3 April, a first informative session will take place in Brussels with several Members of the European parliament who have shown interest in forming a cross party group on drugs that would support the initiative. Two days later, a meeting between several drugs policy reformers from in- and outside Europe will take place during the Conference of the Transnational Radical Party in Geneva, where the Conference proposal will be the main point on the agenda. Finally, on 6 May, a hearing is planned in the European Parliament where drug experts from several countries will give an update on the current situation. It is expected that one of the outcomes of this hearing will be a call for European co-ordination around the proposal for the reform of the UN Conventions.

European Drug Policy Resource Centre ENCOD is involved in the planning of a European Drug Policy Resource Centre, which will essentially consist of a website in different languages, offering an overview of relevant information on European drug policy. The overall goal is to facilitate the creation of a breakthrough in the European drug policy debate by presenting the already existing wide variety of alternative policies to the global community, and to stimulate the development of policy change and existing alternatives by creating a forum to strengthen the drug policy reform movement.
A pilot version of this site is expected to be online in the course of April. For more information on these and other ENCOD projects, please contact

DRUGS and DEVELOPMENT is the bi-monthly newsletter of ENCOD (European NGO Council on Drugs and Development). Currently, the following organisations are members of ENCOD: ARSEC - Spain, ASK-Switzerland, BCA - Belgium, CYAH - Spain, CISS - Italy, GfbV - Austria, Gruppo Abele - Italy, GRUP IGIA – Spain, GVC - Italy, ILA - Germany, LA - Belgium, MLAL - Italy, TNI - Netherlands. For more information on ENCOD’s activities, please contact the secretariat.
Responsibility for the published articles in this newsletter is exclusively of the authors. The newsletter can also be obtained in Spanish (please contact the secretariat or visit our website:

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