Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Central America, Plan Mexico, and Where's The Drug Czar?

Assistant Secretary William Brownfield, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, is one of the few people in Washington who is working during August. Maybe that's because narco cartels never take a holiday?

For whatever reason, he made some extensive remarks at a Council of the Americas confab last week on the current state of counter narcotics efforts in the Americas.

The gist of his remarks was that in the 1990s our counter narcotics programs succeeded in choking off the major drug trafficking routes that existed on the Atlantic coast, and later we did the same to the Pacific routes that sprang up in the 2000s, so today the dominant trafficking routes to the U.S. come straight up through the middle of Central American and Mexico. Hence, we are re-running the Plan Colombia playbook, only this time we're calling it the Merida Initiative. I think that's a fair summary.

As a result of the efforts in northern South America, in the Caribbean, and in the eastern Pacific, you now see the overwhelming majority of the flow of narcotic products through Central America on its way to the North American market. And, I might add, beginning in the year 2007, you see a squeeze at both ends of the Central American isthmus, not just the efforts of Plan Colombia and its successor plans to the south, but the beginnings of an impact of the efforts to put the squeeze on the routes to the north in Mexico under the Merida initiative.

- snip --

And where are we today? Let's ask ourselves the question: How serious is this threat, that is affecting, and in my opinion, threatening the very core institutions of Central America today?

First, we calculate that more than 95%, let me repeat that figure, more than 95% of all illicit drugs that enter North America from South America have transited Central America. Ninety-five percent.

What impact might that have on the region? Here is a statistic, dates from 2010, the last year that we have full statistics. In 2010, the homicide rate in Honduras was 82 per 100,000 population, in El Salvador, 65, in Guatemala, 41. To put that in some perspective for you, here in the United States, a society not known around the world for its passivism and lack of violence, our homicide rate is somewhat below five. More than 70,000 youth in the seven countries of Central America, and overwhelmingly focused on the northern three of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are calculated to be members of gangs ... The entire population of Central America is about one seventh of the population of the United States of America. If you play the statistical game and say what would this correlate to in the United States, it would mean about a half a million gang members on the streets of the United States cities.

Ladies and gentlemen, Central America in a very real sense is a victim. It is a victim of geography, and it can do nothing about that ... It is a victim in a very real sense of progress elsewhere in the region. Progress in Colombia, under Plan Colombia, where thanks to the heroic efforts of a large number of Colombian citizens, the problems have been squeezed down substantially over the last eleven years, and the progress that we see beginning, I submit, more on that later, in Mexico, with the Mexican government's efforts to retake control of its own communities, its own streets, and its own borders.

-- snip --

If I could use the metaphor of three houses located side-by-side on a street. One house erupts in flames, and the community, alas, due to resource and budgetary issues, has only one fire truck. Where does the fire truck go? It goes to the house that is burning. Well, sure enough, sparks pass over to the third house and it starts to burn as well. The fire truck goes to the third house. It knows perfectly well that the house in between is eventually going to burn, but you’ve only got one fire truck. You're watching that house in the middle, you know that at some point in time you are going to go after it, but you’ve got one truck, and you are going to focus the truck on the house that is actual burning. And it is burning today, ladies and gentlemen, and I suggest to you that what we will talk about for the remainder of this morning is where to put that fire truck, what equipment to put on that truck, how many people we can put on that truck, and how we can get maximum value out of that truck.

-- snip --

We have limited resources to work with. On the 23rd of June, in the city of Guatemala, the Secretary of State committed $290 million from the United States Government to support this effort in the course of this year. Not $2.9 billion, not $29 billion, $290 million ... I do not see the likelihood of a vast infusion of new funds coming from that element of the United States Government that is constitutionally entitled to fund and appropriate the taxpayers' money in the United States in the foreseeable future.

A few questions followed, including this one, which went right to the heart of the narco trafficking problem - the demand by users in the U.S. for drugs that come from South and Central America:

QUESTION: I’m William Steadman. I’m a retired Foreign Service Officer. U.S. domestic demand is certainly a considerable problem which you noted. I’d like to know what is being done, what can be done, and what coordination exists among various U.S. government state and local agencies to deal with domestic demand. Thank you.

Ambassador Brownfield's answer was not so well focused. In fact, he tried to pass the ball to the Drug Czar, who wasn't present to receive it.

[I] got to tell you that you can bet that you could have asked the same question, as you well know, in the year 1965 or 1955, and in many ways, the fundamentals of that question have not changed. I suppose the simple answer to your question is we have not yet solved the problem of demand in the United States of America ... I would suggest to you, for example, that the demand in the United States for cocaine has probably has probably dropped, I would throw out a figure, as much as 50% over the last 10 years ... demand is elastic, both in terms of how much or how little demand there is, and where it is located.

I am not the right one to give you a detailed answer to that question, because, of course, I am the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, sometimes referred to as the Drug Czar, is that position which for the past roughly 40 years has had the responsibility been linking all of these elements together into a common strategy and a common approach.

If anyone passed that question along to the Drug Czar, I'm not aware of it. By the way, when was the last time anyone saw or heard from the Drug Czar? I think Miami Vice was still on TV the last time he mattered.

Ambassador Brownfield did much the same press conference again today, this time in Ciudad Juarez, Ground Zero in the battle over international narcotics and law enforcement.


Anonymous said...

Great Post TSB: I was hoping you could find the right Brown????. And thanks for pointing out that retired and skeptical FSO. I wonder at the cultural impact of all these
"foreign immigrants" coming into Mexico and clashing with that culture. And the $$$ laundry business is a huge reason demand can't be stopped. Great distillation! gwb

Anonymous said...

10:5(Pacific) Al Jazeera blog

AP - US officials told the Associated Press that the Obama administration is ready to make an explicit call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power and has notified Arab and European allies that an announcement is imminent.

Banki Moon takes the lead and Obama
follows! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: Juan Cole Flashes His Troglodyte
Side! gwb

Posted on 08/18/2011 by Juan
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