The List: The Drug War’s New Battlegrounds
Despite efforts to stem the global trade in narcotics—indeed, often because of them—new trade routes are emerging around the world, posing challenges to authorities and local populations alike. In this week’s List, FP takes a look at the newest fronts in the global war on drugs.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
Cocaine to the United States
Traditional source: Colombia, via Mexico or Central America
New front: Venezuela, via Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The U.S. State Department noted a 167 percent increase in cocaine flight traffic to Hispaniola from 2005 to 2006, and the Miami Herald uncovered a classified U.S. document in March that reports a nearly fourfold increase in cocaine-smuggling flights to the island since 2003. Traffickers are 98 percent successful, according to the papers summary of the report.
Reason for the shift: The deteriorating U.S.-Venezuela relationship. Hugo Chvezs heated anti-American populist stance led to the cessation of 17 years of anti-drug cooperation with the United States in 2005. But thats not the only reason for cocaines new path: As Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Anne Patterson said in March, Success in Colombia has basically led to a migration to some of this into Venezuela.
The effect: Bolivias populist leader Evo Morales looks to be taking cues from his regional mentor, Chvez, and resisting international cooperation on the drug trade. Gang crime and drug violence are up in Venezuelan border areas, and the movement of Colombian cocaine to Venezuela also threatens development for poor local populations who have yet to see the fruits of Chvezs grandiose promises to alleviate poverty.
The crackdown: In response to growing international outcry, Venezuela announced last month that it would purchase Chinese satellite systems and Russian spy planes to help monitor the situation. But without meaningful international cooperation with the leading destination country, Venezuela looks primed to continue its new role as the principal transit country for Andean cocaine, as the U.S. State Departments 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) described it in March.
Opiates to Iran, Russia, and Eastern Europe
Traditional source: Afghanistan, Burma, and Laos, via Iran and neighboring Central Asian countries
New front: Through the hands of a resurgent Taliban. The 2006 U.N. World Drug Report credits Afghanistan with producing 89 percent of the worlds opium in 2005. Last years crop was the largest on record in Afghanistan, and opium from Latin America and Laos has even tumbled as a result. Although poppy production has been on the rise since coalition forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, the past few years have seen the group reemerge as a major trafficking organization.
Reason for the shift: A power vacuum that emerged once the Taliban was first defeated in 2001-02 has again been exploited by the group. Corruption among top Afghan officials remains a major problem, as President Hamid Karzais government has failed to meet Afghans security and economic needs.
The effect: Addiction in Iran, Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and Turkey is up, thanks to increased traffic and easier access. And just at the time international investment in Afghanistan has never been more necessary, drug trafficking and Taliban-related violence deters potential investors and donors. And, of course, the Taliban is able to fund its growing criminal and military activities with ever more drug money, threatening to derail hopes for Afghanistans democratic development based on the rule of law.
The crackdown: Karzais government has taken the lead in eradication and counternarcotics efforts, with pitiable results. Accordingly, NATO forces are launching an offensive of their own in Taliban-friendly Helmand province, which accounts for 45 percent of the countrys poppy crop. Facing mounting addiction problems at home, Russia plans to establish anti-drug bureaus in more than 50 countries, including Afghanistan. The U.S. government is emphasizing judicial interventions, working with the Afghan government and Norwegian prosecutors to establish a task force for convicting traffickers. But it may be Iran, surprisingly, that is doing the most to halt the westward flow of opiates, earning the country rare praise from U.S. officials. Assistant Secretary Patterson said in March, [Irans] been very active on the border in preventingin interdictingshipments coming out of Afghanistan Theyve been, of the neighbors, by far the most aggressive.
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