Is The U.S. Responsible For Colombia's Decline In Cocaine Production?

ANALYSIS

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The United States is congratulating itself for the sharp decline in cocaine production in Colombia, while highlighting president Barack Obama's multi-million dollar drug education, prevention and treatment programs.

Cocaine production declined by 25 percent from last year, and fell a remarkable 72 percent since 2001, according to U.S. figures.

This drop has corresponded with a 39 percent decline in cocaine use in the United States over the past six years, which the White House and Drug Czar R. Gil Kerlikowske credits to domestic drug prevention programs and Plan Colombia, the joint U.S.-Colombia military operation to squash cartels.

"They have tremendous implications, not just for the United States and the Western hemisphere," Kerlikowske said of the findings.

"Clearly reducing supply is incredibly helpful in reducing the demand here in the United States," he noted in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The second thing that I think that is really important is the educational efforts -- that are often not given the credit reducing the level of consumption in the United States."

But do the findings really show that the United States is winning the war on drugs?

According to figures from the United Nations, cocaine use dropped only slightly worldwide between 2000 and 2009. The percentage of the population who were regular users of cocaine in North America fell from 2.4 percent in 2006 to 1.9 percent three years later, stayed static in South America and Europe, and probably increased in Africa, although only limited information was available about the continent.

Colombia was once the drug trafficking powerhouse of the world, but that title now belongs to Mexico, whose gangs supply the United States with 90 percent of the cocaine traveling into the country.  Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán, the fugitive leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, is now richer and more powerful than Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar was in his heyday.  

However, Mexican cartels generally do not produce their own cocaine -- the cartels do produce marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine -- and purchase the drug from South America and bring it north via extensive trafficking routes. In the early 1990s, Colombia was the top supplier of cocaine to Mexican cartels, but the latest report suggests that Colombia had been surpassed by Peru and Bolivia for the first time since 1995.

This is not only because production is decreasing in Colombia, but also because it is increasing in Peru. According to a 2011 United Nations report, cocaine production in Peru increased by two percent between 2010 and 2011 - and by 50 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the Global Post -- while it fell by one percent in Colombia over the same period (the U.N. figures contrast dramatically from the U.S. figures.)

This shift toward Peru could be occurring because of the success of Plan Colombia. As Colombian police, with training from the D.E.A, continue to shut down coca farms and eradicate cartels, the cocaine trade has shifted to the safer Peruvian jungle, where the United States is only marginally involved.

Kerlikowske did enthusiastically acknowledged the progress made by Colombians at combating drug production -- an issue that is directly involved in many of the country's other serious problems, including violence, crime, political unrest and rampant kidnappings.

"It was a sustained effort for nearly a decade -- steady strategic pressure across more than one administration in both the United States and Colombia," he said. "It didn't happen (due) solely to the efforts by the United States. This was a partnership by the United States and Colombia."

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