Caught in the Crossfire

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Caught in the Crossfire
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    Caught in the Crossfire Developing countries, the UNDCP, and the war on drugs Tom Blickman    A Joint publication of theTransnational Institute (TNI)and the Catholic Institute for  International Relations (CIIR), June 1998 Drugs control is one of the most controversial issues of the latetwentieth century. US-led efforts towage a ‘war on drugs' have focused on wiping out production indeveloping countries, rather thantackling the demand for drugs in richcountries. Over time, eradicationstrategies have become increasingly militarised, and have led to humanrights abuses and environmental degaradation. And the war has failed.The amount of drugs produced and drugs-linked crops cultivated havenot decreased.This "Briefing" is published in therun-up to the United Nations General  Assembly Special Session(UNGASS) on drugs, to be held inNew York in June 1998. TheUNGASS provides a rare opportunity to re-think current drugs efforts. Member states are being asked to endorse a plan, known as SCOPE,for the eradication of drugs-linked crops by 2008. Is SCOPE viable? And what impact would it have on poor farmers who grow drugs-linked crops to survive? Introduction  A cleaner enters a empty hall at the United Nations building in New York to prepare the room for animportant meeting. A voice-over explains: "Here in this room, on the 8th, 9th and 10th of June, worldleaders will join forces to confront the drugs problem". As the cleaner sprays cleaning liquid onto aglobe, the scene cuts to a roaring helicopter spraying herbicides. There follow images of burning drugscrops, heavily armed soldiers and a farmer processing coffee. At the end, the voice concludes: "A drugfree world - We can do it!"This advertisement will soon appear on television screens across the world. It is an attempt to rallypublic support for the "United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to Counter theWorld Drug Problem Together", to be held in New York in June. The advertisement was first shown inVienna during a meeting of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) from 16-20 March, acting asthe Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the UNGASS. Pino Arlacchi, the Executive Director of theUnited Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), used the advertisement's concludingstatement in his speech to the PrepCom. He was trying to convince the attending member states'delegations to adopt his Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination  (SCOPE), a plan toeliminate the illicit cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy by 2008.In 60 seconds the advert turns the UN's 'balanced approach' to drugs control into an attempt to rally  support for a 'War on Drugs'. Although the UNDCP usually avoids using controversial militarymetaphors in articulating its anti-drugs strategies, Arlacchi invoked such images at a press conferenceto mark the end of the PrepCom. "The 'war on drugs' has not been fought and lost," he said, "it hasnever started." According to the UNDCP, SCOPE's innovative world-wide approach will bring newconfidence and resolve to efforts to root out the drugs problem.In his opening speech to the PrepCom, Arlacchi urged the delegations to adopt a strong politicaldeclaration and ensure matching resources for the new strategy. He also implored member states tosend their governments' leaders to UNGASS. Many heads of state and ministers will attend the SpecialSession, but this will politicise the debate. Where drugs issues are concerned, this is generally adisadvantage. There is a growing gap between the drug experts, many of whom recognise thedeficiencies of current drugs-control strategies, and politicians, who's fear of looking 'soft on drugs' isparalysing genuine debate. Conventional wisdom amongst politicians seems to be that force andrepression have not worked because not enough has been applied. The logical response, therefore, isescalation - not re-evaluation.Given the UN's commitment to a balanced approach to the problem of drugs, SCOPE clearly requiresclose scrutiny. The viability of its target dates, the effectiveness of the methods it proposes, and itslikely impact on developing countries all need to be considered. Of particular concern is the coherenceof such a strategy with development and human rights objectives. This paper looks in-depth at theUNDCP's proposed strategy, and, light of past experience, asks whether or not it is viable. The Road to UNGASS The srcinal impetus for convening a global meeting on drugs came from Mexican government, which in1993, proposed a Summit in the vein of the Rio Earth Summit. The idea was to facilitate a world-widedebate on the efficiency and viability of anti-drug strategies used over the past decade, and to developimproved strategies for the next century. After much deliberation and disagreement, the Mexicanproposal has since been watered down to a UN Special Session which, ten years after the adoption of the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, willfocus on how to strengthen and expand current drugs control policies.In November 1996, the UN General Assembly formally decided to convene a Special Session, whichwould "be devoted to assessing the existing situation within the framework of a comprehensive andbalanced approach that includes all aspects of the problem, with a view to strengthening internationalcooperation to address the problem of illicit drugs." It assigned the task of preparing the session to theCommission on Narcotic Drugs, based in Vienna, Austria. Acting as the preparatory body for theUNGASS, the Commission has met five times over the past year.The first of many conflicts in the run-up to UNGASS took place in Vienna in March 1997. At issue wasthe question of which country would hold the Presidency during the preparatory process. Mexico hadhigh hopes of gaining the position and its candidacy was supported by all the Latin Americandelegations. However, the US, concerned about widespread corruption in Mexican counter-drugagencies, blocked Mexico's candidacy. Just one month previously, in February 1997, the Mexican'anti-drug Czar' general Gutiérrez Rebollo was forced to resign over allegations that he protected Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the most powerful Mexican drug baron. ( 1 ) It took several hours of hardbargaining behind-the-scenes before a compromise was found in a Portuguese presidency. Officially,Mexico voluntarily withdrew its candidacy, but Portuguese officials admit privately that withdrawal wasa pre-requisite to their take-over. Another battle lost at the first PrepCom meeting was over the proposal for an independent evaluation of the efficacy of existing drugs-control conventions. The idea was to commission independent experts todevelop new strategies for the next century. The US, Great Britain and some other countries objected.In the end, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed 13 "high-level experts" in March this year to"undertake a comprehensive review of how the efforts against illicit drugs have evolved within theUnited Nations System". In fact, most of the 'experts' are members of the governing board of thePrepCom itself. "The main aim of their work will be to recommend how to strengthen futureinternational cooperation against illicit drugs, and to identify measures aimed at reinforcing UNDCP'sactivities in the field of drug control." ( 2 ) Independent evaluation is nowhere to be found.When the agenda-setting for UNGASS started back in 1997, several delegations - many of them fromdeveloping countries - stressed that the upcoming global event should mark the end of the 'era of finger-pointing' in drugs policy. The old dichotomy between producer and consumer countries shouldgive way, and the principle of 'shared responsibility' should become cornerstone of international drugscontrol. These delegations wanted the agenda to, first, reflect a balanced approach that tackled allaspects of the drug problem, and second, to focus on areas which receive little attention in existingconventions.  The finalised agenda does reflect these demands. Many documents approved by the PrepCom for presentation to the UNGASS emphasise the responsibility of the western world to, among other things,reduce demand, control the use of chemical precursors and amphetamines, and tackle moneylaundering.The documents which will be presented to the UN General Assembly are:a "Political Declaration", to reaffirm and strengthen the international community's commitment tocombatting drugs;a document outlining the "Guiding Principles on Drug Demand Reduction". This will constitute"the very first international agreement whose sole objective is to examine the problems, bothindividually and collectively, that arise because a person might or does abuse drugs";an "Action Plan against Manufacture, Trafficking and Abuse of Amphetamine-type Stimulants"(ATS), such as XTC and speed;"Control of Precursors", which contains measures to improve international control of chemicalsused in illegal drug manufacture;"Measures to Promote International Judicial Cooperation", such as extradition, mutual legalassistance, transfer of proceedings, etc.;"Countering Money-Laundering", a document that reaffirms international commitment to the 1988Convention provisions on proceeds of crime, and establishes principles upon which further anti-money laundering measures should be based;an "Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development".The global nature of the proposals put forward, the call for a balanced approach between supply anddemand, and the emphasis placed on co-responsibility, all mean that both developed and developingcountries will be affected by the outcome of the UNGASS. Even so, it is clear from the proposals onalternative development and the eradication of illicit drugs-linked crops that a particular burden is beingplaced on the so-called producers - i.e. developing countries. "Unbalanced Approach" Criticism was expressed during the PrepCom that discussions were focussing too heavily on thesupply side of drugs control. Even though the strong emphasis placed onreducing demand, through the"Guiding Principles on Demand Reduction" document, was considered a major achievement, manydelegations were not convinced.In a move designed to confront the developed, consumer countries with the principle of co-responsibility, Mexico proposed that 2003 be included in the "Political Declaration" as a target datefor demand reduction. The proposal was accepted in a diluted form - 2003 is now the target date for "new and enhanced drug demand reduction strategies" and there is a commitment "to achievesignificant and measurable results" by the year 2008.Even so, no strategic plan specifically addressing demand reduction was prepared for the PrepCom, aswas the case with SCOPE which primarily addresses supply reduction. Demand reduction is not asubstantial element of SCOPE - only 2 per cent of the budget is allocated to it. Despite its call for a"balanced approach addressing simultaneously the supply of and the demand for illicit drugs", SCOPEis clearly more concerned with the eradication of narcotic substances, than the demand for them. Eradication of Drugs-linked Crops and Alternative Development  At the UNGASS, there will be three elements to the discussion of alternative development - which, inthe view of the UN, should always be twinned with the eradication of drugs-linked crops. The "PoliticalDeclaration" lays the groundwork, defining the concerns, will and intentions of the internationalcommunity and advocating specific actions to be taken on all issues. The "Action Plan on InternationalCooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development" (hereafter referred toas the Action Plan) outlines the guidelines for taking this issue forward. Finally, SCOPE attempts tooutline a strategy for practical implementation. "Political Ideals" The Action Plan defines alternative development as: A process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs andpsychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the contextof sustained national economic growth and sustainable development efforts in countries takingaction against drugs, recognizing the particular socio-cultural characteristics of the targetcommunities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution tothe problem of illicit drugs. ( 3 ) It also stresses "The need for a balanced approach to confront high levels of illicit cultivation" and callson states to develop national strategies which include alternative development, law enforcement anderadication. It recognises alternative development as "one of the key components of the policy and  programmes for reducing illicit drug production," and, in the case of low-income peasant farmers, itargues that alternative development is "more sustainable and socially and economically moreappropriate than forced eradication", albeit when imbedded in "comprehensive measures" including lawenforcement and eradication.Throughout the Political Declaration and Action Plan, reference is made to the need to: respect humanrights and cultural diversity; promote democratic values; safeguard the environment; respect nationalsovereignty; and encourage the participation of producers in developing and implementing alternativedevelopment projects. But nowhere are these conditions mentioned explicitly as the sine qua non for alternative development and its inevitable twin, crop-eradication.The UNDCP's reputation on these matters is not undisputed. In the past, alternative developmentprograms focussing on crop substitution have simply failed. Moreover, in many drug-producingcountries there has been a complete breach of trust between UNDCP-staff and peasant organisationsand NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Complaints concern the lack of participation of localpeople in the identification, preparation, implementation and evaluation of projects; the often excessivesalaries of UNDCP staff; insufficient knowledge of local circumstances in drug-cultivation areas; tacitacceptance of violent law-enforcement measures and human rights violations which frequentlyaccompany counter-narcotic operations. "Economic Realities" While still linked to eliminating drugs-linked crops, alternative development programmes are movingaway from crop substitution towards more integrated approach, which considers all rural development,including health care and education. The Action Plan, under the heading "Improved and innovativeapproaches to alternative development", describes it as: An important component of a balanced and comprehensive drug control strategy and is intendedto create a supportive environment for the implementation of that strategy. It is intended topromote lawful and sustainable socio-economic options for these communities and populationgroups that have resorted to illicit cultivation as their only viable means of obtaining a livelihood,contributing in an integrated way to the eradication of poverty. In another chapter, "Strengthening of international co-operation for alternative development", there is anallusion to promoting "greater access to domestic and international markets for alternative developmentproducts, with a view to overcoming problems relating to prices and marketing" But nowhere is it madeclear how this should be done in a global economy in which trade regimes are being increasinglyliberalised, and the price of possible alternative products is likely to be unstable.Free trade agreements could give alternative products better access to US and European markets, butthey cannot guarantee prices that could compete with drugs-linked crops. Indeed, in the 1980'sregulatory instruments designed to secure higher and stable world-market prices for agriculturalproducts and raw materials collapsed under the pressure of free trade doctrines, causing increaseddependency on drugs-linked crops. An international drugs-control policy also needs to address fluctuations in commodity prices. In 1985,the "International Tin Council" (ITC) disintegrated, leading to a virtual breakdown of the Bolivianeconomy. As a result, thousands of jobless tin-miners migrated to the sub-tropical Chapare region andstarted growing coca to survive. Similarly, many peasants turned from coffee to coca cultivation whencoffee-prices plunged following the collapse of the "International Coffee Agreement" in 1989. The fall inprices seriously disrupted alternative development projects aimed at persuading coca farmers to growcoffee. ( 4 ) More recently, coffee prices slumped from a high of $267 per quintal (100 kgms) in 1997 to$187 per quintal today, and are expected to fall to $110 per quintal in 1999. This is a serious problem inPeru, where coffee is one of the crops chosen as a substitute for coca cultivation. ( 5 )Regulatory instruments - notwithstanding their deficiencies - could secure competitive prices for nondrugs-linked crops. But, as they are contrary to the current free trade ideology, they are not considered.No attempt has been made to initiate a 'fair trade strategy' to counter drug cultivation, nor is one likelyin the foreseeable future. SCOPE"Initial Reactions to the Plan" The third element in discussions of alternative development at the UNGASS is the controversial"Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination" - SCOPE.Member states were asked to recommend that the UNGASS endorse UNDCP's initiative in developingand implementing SCOPE by making reference to it in either the Action Plan, or the PoliticalDeclaration. To this end, member state delegations were presented with a summary version of SCOPEduring the PrepCom (a 170-page draft version was also made available informally). The move  backfired. Delegates were suspicious of the plan, which they received without advance warning, andopposition to it soon developed. Mention of SCOPE was then removed from the draft Action Plan.During a plenary session on the draft Political Declaration - which also mentions the 2008 eliminationtarget date - the Dutch delegation diplomatically called for "feasible goals" both "in substance and targetdates" and added that "quantitative benchmarks should not be an end in itself (sic)". In diplomaticlanguage, this is strong criticism.It soon became clear that SCOPE would not be discussed by the PrepCom in Vienna. Towards the endof the meeting however, Arlacchi called a press conference. In an effort to keep SCOPE on theUNGASS agenda, he told journalists that though the strategy itself had not been discussed in detail,several action plans drafted during the week had all, more or less, endorsed its proposals.In the end, UNDCP got its way. The final draft of the Political Declaration - approved on an additionalday of negotiations - calls on UN member states to "strongly support" the work of the UNDCP in thefield of alternative development, and to "emphasize the need for eradication programmes and lawenforcement measures to counter illicit cultivation". Moreover, the declaration calls on member statesto "welcome" the UNDCP's global approach to the elimination of illicit crops and to "commit" to workingclosely with the UNDCP "to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing theillicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by 2008.""Eradication" was changed to "eliminate or significantly reduce" at the suggestion of the Latin-Americangroup of member states (GRULAC). Cannabis was included at the request of Nigeria, where there is nococa or opium cultivation. Nigeria considers cannabis to be an "extremely dangerous drug" and Westernobservers believe it wanted to ensure it was not left out when funds for alternative development weredisbursed.SCOPE does have its supporters though. "US contributions to the UNDCP have had significant impacton the operations and expansion of UN counternarcotics programs and policy," the US StateDepartment's "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1997" states bluntly. The US was thefirst to introduce the year 2008 as a target date for crop eradication, asking that member states"commit to ending all illicit cultivation of opium poppy and coca bush...using all available means,including alternative development, eradication and law enforcement." ( 6 ) It is interesting to note thatthis approach was not a part of the UNDCP's srcinal plans. Although Arlacchi did not manage to get SCOPE mentioned in any of the PrepCom declarations, he didget its endorsement for a go-ahead. Insiders say the UNDCP is still lobbying to get SCOPE on theUNGASS agenda. Even if these attempts fail, a programme something like SCOPE is likely to emerge,either at UNGASS or in the near future. "What Does SCOPE Propose?"  According to the plan presented in Vienna, SCOPE's main objective is worldwide elimination of the illicitcultivation of the coca bush and opium poppy by the year 2008. The strategy calls for a balancedapproach between law enforcement, alternative development and demand reduction, to rid the world of "the scourge of heroin and cocaine". The bulk of SCOPE's almost $4 billion budget, 74 per cent, isearmarked for alternative development. Law enforcement is allocated 20 per cent and demandreduction 2 per cent. As the UNDCP does not have access to funds of this size, it is appealing to theinternational community to provide the necessary resources fo SCOPE. ( 7 )SCOPE focuses on eight key countries in three regions: Bolivia, Colombia and Peru in Latin America;the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam in South-East Asia; and Afghanistan and Pakistan in South-West Asia. The strategy argues that as the bulk of illicit opiates andcoca derivatives srcinate in a "limited number of well-defined geographical areas" it will be easier toeliminate them by focusing on these areas.SCOPE's second main argument is that: After three decades of experience, the international community is now equipped with testedmethodologies and the know-how to tackle the problem in the producing areas. Thestrengthening of the drug-control mechanisms in the regions concerned has paved the way forfull-scale interventions and most producing countries have adopted well-defined nationalstrategies and action plans that are ready for implementation. At the same time, it is possible tomonitor the areas at risk in order to prevent the 'balloon effect' from nullifying the overall impactof elimination programmes. The 'balloon effect' is the movement of drugs cultivators to previously untouched areas to escapeenforcement measures. (If one part of a balloon is squeezed, the air simply moves to another part andthe total amount of air is not reduced).The third and final argument is that "There is no alternative to concerted and comprehensive action.[...]Clear political will and the adoption of a common agenda on the part of the international community" is
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