Sunday, March 10, 2013

PF April 2013 Drug Policy - Pro Position

Resolved: The continuation of current U.S. anti-drug policies in Latin America will do more harm than good

For part one of this analysis, click here.

The Pro Position

The Pro side of this debate must convince the judge the current U.S. anti-drug policies will result in harms which outweigh the benefits.  Since the resolution specifies "the continuation" we can see the final results will be a future determination but that does not mean we are not able to draw conclusions today.  It is said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results and this is a sort of rationale for the Pro case.  If we continue down this path without making significant changes we will continue to make the same mistakes.  Indeed, we have a really good idea, that despite some modification of domestic policy, the Obama administration is focused on continuing the same strategy.

The election of President Obama raised hopes that Washington would recognize the failure of present drug-control policies and the tremendous damage they have caused, and change those policies accordingly. Those expectations, unfortunately, have not been met. After two years in office, the Obama administration has softened the drug war rhetoric, but the change in discourse has had little impact in the actual implementation of programs and policies. In short, for all practical purposes, the U.S. “war on drugs” is alive and well.

The Pro Framework

Both sides are expected to provide a "comparative advantages" type of framework for evaluation.  By the end of the round the Pro must convince a judge to weigh the harms versus the benefits and vote Pro.  In order for that to happen, the Pro must show the harms are greater than the benefits.  In my opinion, the best way to do this is create an additional evaluative standard which essentially states, the goal of U.S. anti-drug policy is reduce drug usage and reduce trafficking in the U.S.  The Pro can then show how that has not happened and impact the position by citing the harms.  Pro is then saying to the judge, not only have we failed to meet our primary objectives but we have also created all of these negative consequences which are continuing to mount as we continue down this failed course.

Upholding the "sense" of policy failure in the mind of the judge should not be difficult.  Most evidence will confirm there exists a consensus of failure even though it may not be provable one way or the other.

Hakim (2011):
No one has yet discovered how to objectively measure the success or failure of national drug control policies—or what success or failure even mean in practice. Most Americans, however, today believe that the US “war against drugs” has failed.

And statistics (which are notoriously unreliable) confirm the suspicions of most adults that drug usage, though it may have fallen slightly, has been and continues to be significant in the U.S. and despite the billions of dollars spent to combat the problem, the cost effectiveness of our policies has not been good.

The "Plan"

Much of the Pro debate revolves around the U.S. anti-drug policy which became known as "Plan Colombia".  This arose from legislation enacted in the late 1990s to eradicate cocaine production in Colombia.  In a nutshell, the initiative provided billions of dollars to train and equip Colombian security and military forces to combat the drug problem and curtail in-country violence and lawlessness.  It also involved a comprehensive program of spraying herbicides and scorched-earth tactics to eradicate cocoa fields.  The program did seem to break the backs of the major cartels in Colombia and reduce the atmosphere of fear and violence.  Additionally, foreign businesses began to reinvest in Colombia and return to the region offering jobs and hope.  That, at least, is the view the U.S. promotes: Plan Colombia was a success.  However, other, perhaps less biased points of view paint a different picture.  The flow of coca from Colombia has not significantly abated and while the large visible cartels are no longer active, the cocaine industry continues to thrive deeper "underground".  Even worse, a large and powerful, paramilitary-style police force has emerged which has been accused of all sorts of crimes including corruption and mass murder and the flow of U.S. dollars reinforces the oppressive regime.  I encourage you to study this plan extensively because Plan Colombia is the heart and soul of the U.S. anti-drug policy in Latin America and the evidence will show, it is this plan which is being duplicated over and over as the model for how to deal with Latin American drug trafficking and violence.

Hakim (2011):
Latin Americans have long been critical of Washington’s anti-drug policies, and tend to blame US consumption of illicit drugs for the escalating crime and violence in their countries...The two pillars of the US battle against drug trafficking—eradication of source crops and interdiction of narcotics shipments—have done little to curtail the supply of drugs headed for the US and other international markets. From time to time, individual countries report some significant declines in the drug cultivation, production, or transit, but these have invariably been offset by increases elsewhere—the so-called “balloon effect.”  Diminished coca leaf production in Peru and Bolivia in the 1990s led directly to expanded cultivation in Colombia. In response to government spraying, coca production shifted to other parts of the country. When the US closed Caribbean drug routes in the 1990s, cocaine shipments were redirected to Mexico.

The Colombia Failure

If the model for the continued U.S. drug policy in Latin America is Plan Colombia, one would hope the initiative truly succeeded in not only meeting the objectives of the US anti-drug policies but did so with minimal "collateral" damage.

Isacson (2010)
Colombia’s security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by “collateral damage.” They have carried a great cost in lives and resources. Progress on security has been stagnating, and even reversing. Scandals show that the government carrying out these security policies has harmed human rights and democratic institutions. Progress against illegal drug supplies has been disappointing. And wealth is being concentrated in ever fewer hands.
Okay, maybe there has been a little collateral damage but that is one person's opinion.  It doesn't necessarily mean it failed and should not be used as a model for additional initiatives.

Armenta (2013):
“A radically different approach to the current war on drugs must be developed and integrated into the peace plan for Colombia, otherwise the drug circuit and armed conflict will continue to undermine the prospect of realising the goals of the peace process ultimately bringing to an end the war in Colombia”.TNI wrote this in 20002 during the so called Caguan Peace Talks between the FARC and the Pastrana government. Everything we predicted would happen - if the country did not implement an alternative policy for resolving drug-related problems instead of the ill-designed Plan Colombia - has come to pass. There has been a further escalation of the conflict, more internal displacement, worsening state legitimacy in vast regions, increased human rights violations, and devastation of the environment.

Paley (2012):
In Colombia, the war has gone on for decades and involved billions of U.S. dollars, but is being rebranded as a fight against crime. Through the 1980s, the Colombian state became increasingly paramilitarized, a process which “manifested itself as threats, bombings, and selective assassinations or collective massacres of government officials...and of popular political leaders, workers, peasants, professors, human rights activists, and members of nongovernmental organziations.”
U.S. assistance to Colombia in the form of anti-narcotics program funding resulted in the strengthening of paramilitary and unofficial police groups, reported to have patrolled alongside the Colombian Army and involved in the vast majority of massacres and forced displacements in the country.

Alright, so paramilitary groups are flourishing in Colombia.  As long as they are operating to reduce violence and curtail drug trafficking, the goals of the anti-drug are being met.  Paramilitary organizations should be not equated with harms.  That is, unless you are an international corporation that wants to keep the labor unions out of your business.

Paley (2012):
In Colombia, paramilitarization is also beneficial to transnational corporations wishing to dissuade labor organizing:
As part of the protracted U.S.-supported counterinsurgency campaign, paramilitary–state violence continues to systematically target civil groups, such as trade union organisations, which are considered a threat to the political and economic “stability” conducive to the neo-liberal development of Colombia. This has made Colombia very attractive to foreign investment as poor working conditions and low wages keep profit margins high.
Well-documented cases of Chiquita Brands, Drummond mining corporation, and BP, the oil giant, have traced the links between paramilitary groups and U.S. and transnational corporations. In March of 2007, representatives of Chiquita Brands pled guilty in a Washington, D.C. court to making payments to the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries. “Chiquita made over 100 payments to the AUC amounting to over $1.7 million,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. “Chiquita Brands paid blood money to terrorists like Carlos Castaño to protect its financial interests,” according to the law firm representing the victims.

Plan Mexico

Even if the judge concedes that Plan Colombia did give rise to significant harms, perhaps the situation in Colombia is unique.  The anti-drug policies in Mexico are framed in the Mérida Initiative, started in 2008, some 10 years after the legislation which initiated "Plan Colombia".  One would think, if Plan Colombia resulted in failures, the U.S. would learn from its mistakes and change its policies.  As we said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different result.

Alvarez (2010):
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the problems plaguing Mexico and Central America to “Colombia . . . twenty years ago . . . where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country.” Clinton even hinted that the Obama White House was formulating a more intense version of the Merida Initiative — mimicking Plan Colombia — for Mexico and Central America to squelch drug trafficking in the region.

The rise of paramilitaries in Colombia has its counterpart in Mexico.  One of the most notorious and dangerous such groups is the Los Zetas.  The Zetas originally were the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel and recently separated from them.  The Zetas seem to be operating as an independent security organization for hire by traffickers or legitimate busnesses alike.  And so we, in a repeat of the Chiquita case, see a similar pattern emerging.

Paley (2012):
Both the U.S. government and critics agree that the Mérida Initiative in Mexico and Central America is a refined iteration of Plan Colombia...
But already we know that a group of Texas companies are accused of colluding with the Zetas to illegally import stolen fuel. “The Zetas are a paramilitary force,” Dr. William Robinson, author of A Theory of Global Capitalism, told me when I interviewed him last summer: “Basically it’s the creation of paramilitarism alongside formal militarization, which is a Colombian model.”

Plan Central America

In a never ending cycle of "insanity" the US continues to perpetuate the same policies as it extends its interdiction policies down the Central American isthmus.

Alvarez (2010):
A “Plan Central America” would be modeled on Plan Colombia and the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement, and might allow U.S. armed forces to land in Mexican and Central American military bases...Many activists see the landing of U.S. troops in the region as an attempt for Washington to retain power in the region through force. A leaked U.S. Air Force document outlined that the purposes of U.S. forces in Colombian air bases would not be restricted to counter-narcotics operations but would offer “full spectrum operations throughout South America” and would meet threats from “anti-US governments.” There would be nothing stopping the U.S. government from using similar bases in Central America to maintain pro-neoliberal and pro-U.S. administrations in those nations. An increasingly independent and confrontational Latin America is not in Washington’s perceived best interest.
And resistance is futile.  National leaders which fail to see things the US way, will not only loose millions of dollars, they also run the risk of destabilization and political intervention.

Kozloff (2010):
As ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya found out, challenging U.S. economic and military power can have consequences. As I revealed at the time, Zelaya had been a staunch critic of the U.S. militarized drug war prior to the 2009 coup. Indeed, Zelaya even went so far as to write personally to newly-elected President Obama, claiming the drug war was misplaced. In the event, his controversial outbursts on the drug war cast Zelaya afoul of Washington. But the Honduran leader didn't stop there, going so far as to suggest that Honduras should turn U.S. military bases which were used for drug surveillance over to civilian control. Now that the military and the Honduran elite have gotten rid of Zelaya, the Central American nation has returned to the U.S. orbit.

Ulterior Motives

Now, having coached and judged Public Forum debate for a number of years I realize that the fact the US continues to push a seemingly failed policy year after year and locale to locale seems to indicate, either the US federal government does indeed meet the definition of insanity, or there is another reason it continues to push the same agenda.  And in this case one may argue the current anti-drug policies are not entirely about keeping drugs out of America in the first place.  Perhaps, just perhaps, there are ulterior motives which are not insane at all.

Kozloff (2010):
Moves to bring the U.S. Navy to Costa Rica have sparked widespread suspicions that Washington is looking for a justification to remilitarize the Central American region. It's undeniable that a recent increase in violence has sparked panic. However, some have argued that the real issue has to do with the causes of violence. While the right argues that the spike has to do with drug cartels, the left believes that the violence has more to do with poverty and rising inequality. In Costa Rica, the gap between rich and poor has been widening dramatically in recent years. Consider that in the 1990s, the wealthiest 10% of Costa Rica's population made 15 times what the poorest tenth earned. However, in the 2000s that figure was nearly 25 times.
(There is an important clue in the first sentence of Kozloff's quotation above.  Nevertheless, I will not take it any further.  I leave it you to pursue if you think it may be of value to your case.)

Other Harms

Having pursued the continued push of Plan Colombia as a solution to the Latin American anti-drug campaign, I would like to offer a few more arguments which illustrate the failures of current U.S. drug policies.

The Harms of Helping the Farmers

As I have noted several times in this analysis, one of the strategies of the government has been to undermine the incentives of the various farmers to continue to grow things like marijuana and cocoa bush.  To be sure, these are cash crops so if a farmer is going to uproot his cocoa to grow soybeans or corn there better be some money in it.  For this reason the government subsidized these farmers without fully comprehending the consequences.  Additionally, it was thought that economic development in some of these regions would improve the lot of the farmers and thus provide further incentive to grow "legitimate" crops.  I leave it to Ian Vasquez to summarize the results.

Vasquez (2003):
Here, too, serious obstacles and unintended consequences undermine the best-laid plans of Washington and the governments of drug-source countries. Coca plants, for example, grow in areas and under conditions that are thoroughly inhospitable to legal crops, making a switch to legal alternatives unrealistic. (Only 5 to 10 percent of the major coca-growing regions in Peru and Bolivia may be suitable for legal crops.) Farmers can also earn far higher returns from illicit plants than from the alternatives. For that reason, even when they enter crop-substitution programs, peasants often continue to grow drug plants in other areas. Ironically, in such cases, the U.S. government subsidizes the production of illegal drugs.
The drug industry also benefits from improved infrastructure. One World Bank report reviewed road projects, funded by the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank, in coca-growing regions in Peru. ‘‘While the roads were useful in expanding coca production, they have severely hampered the development of legal activities.’’ It is interesting to note that the major coca-growing regions in Peru and Bolivia— the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Chapare, respectively— were sites of major U.S.-funded development projects in previous decades.
Colombia’s efforts to convince the United States that it wishes to cooperate in the fight against narcotics led Bogota´ to undertake coca eradication and other counternarcotic initiatives. Those initiatives have created resentment among peasant populations, who have consequently increased their support of major guerrilla groups, and have reinforced the business relationship between drug traffickers and the rebels who protect illicit drug operations.

Overcrowded Prisons

Finally, I will end this topic by discussing the prison situation is Central America.  The US has long taken a prohibitionist stand on drugs and initiated zero-tolerance policies for traffickers.  Those hard-line stances have been exported into the regions in which we provide foreign aid.  But tough laws aimed at curtailing trafficking often disproportionately harm those who are poor and unable to legally protect themselves.

Metaal, et al (2011):
the shift toward punitive drug laws came in response to international pressure, specifically stemming from the three major drug conventions adopted under the aegis of the United Nations, which promoted stiffening sanctions for drug offenses. These treaties required that the countries modify their domestic legislation so as to criminalize all acts – except use – related to the illicit market in controlled substances. In some cases, the legislation went beyond what the treaties required. The Andean countries in particular submitted to the pressures of the “war on drugs” waged by the U.S. government, which conditioned economic assistance and trade benefits on the acceptance of its drug strategy...Washington has used its political influence and aid and trade policies to ensure collaboration with its so-called “war on drugs.” By the late 1980s, the U.S. government was demanding implementation of harsh drug control legislation that included steep sentences and mandatory minimums – and much of the legislation that appeared in fact went beyond the requirements of the UN Conventions. In some cases, such as Law 1008 in Bolivia, the U.S. government was even drafting the proposed laws. By the 1990s, the United States was routinely using arrest and seizure statistics to evaluate levels of Latin American drug-control cooperation. Washington has thus exported its model of harsh drug laws and mandatory minimum sentencing across the region.
The findings in this study are therefore deeply disturbing: countries across the region have filled their jails with consumers and low-level offenders, whose roles in the drug trade are quickly taken by others. Even in countries that have launched major campaigns against drug traffickers – such as Colombia and Mexico – the number of major traffickers behind bars remains miniscule. The region’s harsh drug laws and their aggressive enforcement are having a devastating effect on people who come from the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society, while failing to achieve any meaningful success in curbing the illicit drug trade.

The emphasis placed on criminal sanctions has created overwhelming caseloads in the courts, the study found, and has contributed significantly to the region’s prison overcrowding crisis. Harsh sanctions have led to the imprisonment of tens of thousands of people—mostly from the most disadvantaged and marginal sectors of society—for disproportionately long periods of time for small-scale drug offenses or simple possession. Yet their confinement has proven to be ineffective in controlling the drug trade, as low-level offenders are those most easily replaced. Paradoxically, many enter jail with no direct connections to drug organizations but eventually leave as part of organized criminal networks. The study revealed that even in Colombia—put forward by Washington as the model country for drug control—only two percent of those deprived of liberty for drug offenses appear to be major participants in drug trafficking networks.

Click here for the Con Position


Rethinking U.S. Drug Policy, Politica Exterior, Inter-American Dialogue
Peter Hakim, 2011

The illicit drugs market in the Colombian agrarian context, Why the issue of illicit cultivation is highly relevant to the peace process, Transnational Institute
Amira Armenta, 2013

Donʼt Call it a Model, On Plan Colombia's tenth anniversary, claims of “success” don't stand up to scrutiny
Washinton Office on Latin America
Adam Isacson, 2010

Systems Overload - Drug laws and prisons in Latin America
Washinton Office on Latin America
Editors: Pien Metaal & Coletta Youngers, 2011

Militarization & Economic Transformation in Colombia & Mexico
Drug War Capitalism
Dawn Paley 2012

A Plan Colombia for Mexico, Americas Program
Posted on: 10/09/2010 by Laura Carlsen

U.S. Marines to Costa Rica: What's Behind the Story?, Th eHuffington Post
Nikolas Kozloff, 2010

The Drug War: Towards a 'Plan Central America'
North American Congree on Latin America
Kevin Alvarez, Oct 28 2010

Drug Control Policy: What the United States Can Learn from Latin America
Washington Office on Latin America
Coletta A. Youngers

Time to Debate a Change in Washington’s Failed Latin American Drug Policies
Council On Hemispheric Affairs
BY COHA Director Larry Birns and COHA Research Associate Michael Ramirez
April 1, 2009

Cato Handbook for Congress: Policy Recomendations for the 108th Congress
Chapter 56, The International War on Drugs
Cato Institute
Ian Vasquez, 2003


  1. You need to CONCENTRATE more on your evidence


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