Full scope on the War on Drugs

The United Nations wants to eliminate illicit drug cultivation by 2008
May 1998

An elderly cleaning lady enters the huge empty UN aula in New York with her polishing cart, to get the venue spic-and-span for an important upcoming meeting. A voice in the background explains: "Here, in this room, on the 8, 9 and 10 of June world leaders will join forces to confront the drug problem". As the lady dusts off a globe, in the swaying movement, a roaring helicopter appears spraying herbicides, followed by a fast sequence of images like burning drug crops, heavily armed soldiers and a farmer processing coffee. The voice ends with the slogan: "A drug free world - We can do it!"

The commercial will soon appear worldwide on national television in an attempt to rally public support for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session to Counter the World Drug Problem Together (UNGASS) to be held in New York. It was baptized in Vienna in the week of 16-20 March, during the meeting of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND), acting as the Preparatory Committee for the June 1998 Special Session. Pino Arlacchi, the Executive Director of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), had opened the week long session and introduced the slogan in his speech: "A drug free world - We can do it!" Arlacchi tried to convince the delegations of the member states to adopt his Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination (SCOPE) to eliminate the illicit cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy within 10 years. By the year 2008, the UNDCP wants to have rooted out the problem.

Advertising agencies are experts in capturing the content of a message in a nutshell, and the commercial makes perfectly clear what the UNDCP hopes will be the outcome of UNGASS. In 60 seconds SCOPE's proclaimed 'balanced approach' is rapidly turned into what it really comes down to: a global attempt to close ranks in support of a 'war on drugs'. Although the agency usually carefully avoids using controversial military metaphors in articulating their anti-drug strategies, Arlacchi, didn't hesitate to invoke the image at a press conference in Vienna at the end of a week of the PrepCom. "The 'war on drugs' has not been fought and lost," he said. "It has never started." SCOPE -with its innovative world-wide approach- is bringing new confidence and new resolve to root out the problem once and for all, according to Arlacchi.

In his opening speech to the PrepCom, Arlacchi urged the delegations to adopt a strong political declaration and ensure matching resources for the new strategy. He also implored member states to send government leaders to attend the Special Session in New York. Many heads of state and ministers will be included in the national delegations, politicizing the debates. In the case of the drugs issue, this is generally a disadvantage. There is a growing gap between the drug experts on the one hand, where many of the deficiencies of the applied strategies are recognised, and the politicians on the other hand, who fear looking 'soft on drugs', which paralyses genuine reflection. Amongst politicians it seems to be conventional wisdom that the reason force has not worked, is that not enough has been applied and that the logical response, therefore, is escalation - not re-evaluation.

The Road to New York

The original impetus for convening a global meeting on drugs came from Mexico back in 1993, when it proposed to hold a real Summit on the issue -like the one in Rio on the environment. The idea was to facilitate a worldwide reflection on the efficiency and viability of anti-drug strategies over the past decade, in order to improve and adapt them with a view to strategies for the next century. After many deliberations and conflicts, the initial idea has since been narrowed down to a Special Session on the issue. The focus is on how to strengthen and expand current drug control policies ten years after the adoption of the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

In November 1996, the General Assembly formally decided to convene a special session, which should "be devoted to assessing the existing situation within the framework of a comprehensive and balanced approach that includes all aspects of the problem, with a view to strengthening international cooperation to address the problem of illicit drugs". It assigned the task of preparing the session to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, with its seat in Vienna, Austria. Acting as preparatory body for UNGASS, the commission met five times over the past year.

The first conflict in Vienna in March 1997, was over the question of which country would hold the presidency during the preparatory process. Mexico had high hopes of gaining the presidency and had already put a lot of energy into preparing this first PrepCom meeting. It had originated the whole process and presented itself to head the bureau of the PrepCom. Mexico's candidacy was supported unanimously by of Latin American delegations en bloc. However, Mexico was not acceptable to the US, mainly because of worries about widespread corruption of Mexican counter-drug agencies: only a month before, in February 1997, the Mexican 'anti-drug czar' General Gutiérrez Rebollo was forced to resign over allegations that he protected Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the number one Mexican drug baron. (1) It took several hours of hard bargaining behind-the-scenes before a compromise was found in a Portuguese presidency. Mexico did in the end 'voluntarily' withdraw its candidacy. Informally, Portuguese officials confirmed that they would never have otherwise accepted to take over.

A battle that was lost at the very first 'PrepCom' meeting in March 1997 was the proposal to have an 'independent evaluation' of the efficiency of existing conventions. The idea was to commission independent experts to conduct such a study and prepare a document on the basis of which 'new strategies' could be proposed for the next century. The US, Great Britain and some others objected to 'independent' evaluation. In the end, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a group of 'thirteen high-level experts' in March this year, to "undertake a comprehensive review of how the efforts against illicit drugs have evolved within the United Nations System". Actually, the committee consists of the full chairing bureau of the PrepCom itself, plus some national delegates. Independent evaluation is nowhere to be found.

When the agenda-setting for UNGASS started back in 1997, several delegations stressed that the upcoming global event should mark the end of the 'era of finger-pointing' in drug policy controversies. The old dichotomy between producer and consumer countries should give way to the principle of 'shared responsibility' as the cornerstone of international drug control. The agenda should reflect a 'balanced approach' which includes all aspects of the drug problem, and should focus on those points which have been underexposed in the existing conventions. The agenda is clearly defined and does indeed reflect criticism emanating from developing countries. Several issues currently emphasise the responsibility of the western world: demand reduction, chemical precursors, amphetamines, and money laundering.

The March 1998 PrepCom approved the following documents for the General Assembly in June:

  • a Political Declaration, to reaffirm and strengthen the international community's commitment;
  • a document outlining the Guiding Principles on Drug Demand Reduction. It will constitute "the very first international agreement whose sole objective is to examine the problems, both individually 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), like XTC and speed;
  • Control of Precursors, containing measures to improve international control of chemicals used in illegal drug manufacture;
  • Measures to promote international judicial cooperation, like extradition, mutual legal assistance, transfer of proceedings, etc.;
  • Countering Money-Laundering, a document that reaffirms international commitment to the 1988 Convention 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.

Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and Alternative Development

The whole process of the Special Session with regard to alternative development -which in the view of the UN is always chaperoned by eradication of drug crops- is like a three-story building. First, the groundwork is laid out in the Political Declaration, defining the concerns, will and intentions of the international community and advocating the specific actions to be taken on all issues; second, there is the Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development which outlines the guidelines on this issue; and third, there is SCOPE -the Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination- which is meant to provide practical implementation.

The Action Plan defines alternative development as "a process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the context of sustained national economic growth and sustainable development efforts in countries taking action against drugs, recognizing the particular socio-cultural characteristics of the target communities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem of illicit drugs".(2)

"The need for a balanced approach to confront high levels of illicit cultivation" is stressed by the Action Plan, in which states are called upon to develop national strategies which should include alternative development, law enforcement and eradication. It recognizes alternative development as "one of the key components of the policy and programmes for reducing illicit drug production" and in some instances "more sustainable and socially and economically more appropriate than forced eradication" -only in the case of low-income production structures among peasants- but always imbedded in "comprehensive measures" including law enforcement and eradication.

Although alternative development is still limited to the elimination of drug crops, it is now broadened to encompass rural development, shifting from crop substitution to more integrated development programs -including infrastructure, health care and education- on a regional level to fight poverty. Under the header Improved and innovative approaches to alternative development it is described as "an important component of a balanced and comprehensive drug control strategy and is intended to create a supportive environment for the implementation of that strategy. It is intended to promote lawful and sustainable socio-economic options for these communities and population groups 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".

There is even allusion to global aspirations in promoting "greater access to domestic and international markets for alternative development products, with a view to overcoming problems relating to prices and marketing resulting from the substitution of crops cultivated for illicit purposes by productions for licit commercial purposes" (in the chapter Strengthening of international cooperation for alternative development). But nowhere is it made clear how this should be done in an increasingly globalised and liberalised economy, which in the past has led to reduced and unstable world-market prices for possible viable alternative products.

Theoretically, free trade agreements might generate better access for alternative products on US and European markets, but will not guarantee prices which can compete with those of drug crops. As we saw in the 1980's, regulatory instruments to secure higher and more stable world-market prices for possible alternative products collapsed under the pressure of free trade, causing an increased dependency on drug crops. In 1985, the International Tin Council (ITC) disintegrated -leading to a virtual breakdown of the Bolivian economy- causing the migration of thousands of jobless tin-miners to the sub-tropical Chapare where they started growing coca to survive.

The plunge of coffee-prices with the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 not only resulted in peasants changing to coca cultivation, but also seriously disrupted alternative development projects trying to persuade coca farmers to grow coffee instead. (3) Today, the slump in coffee prices from a high in 1997 of 267 dollars per quintal (100 kgms) to 187 dollars and the expected decrease to about 110 dollars in 1999 poses a serious problem for Peru's anti-drug programs since it will diminish the appeal of one of the crops chosen as a substitute for coca cultivation. (4)

These kinds of regulatory instruments -notwithstanding their deficiencies- could provide competive market prices for non-drug crops, but are contrary to the current free trade ideology. No attempts have been made to initiate an 'innovative strategy' on fair trade to counter drug cultivation, nor are they likely to be forthcoming. In this respect -international trade-control measures to fight drug production- the discussions on the PrepCom document Control of Precursors were very illuminating.

With regard to precursors, the traditional producer-consumer controversy is turned 180 degrees: drug-producing countries are large 'consumers' of precursors, while the drug-consuming countries supply. During the PrepCom session heated debates took place over the proposal of drug-producing countries to introduce strict controls on the import and export of precursors. Chemical precursors are just as necessary to produce cocaine and heroin as coca leaves and poppy. Both are primary ingredients. In the case of Amphetamine-type stimulants, chemical products are the only raw material needed. The US, Japan and Europe opposed these attempts, fearing interference with precious principles of free trade. The price of fighting drugs at all costs proved too high in this case.

On the other hand, the UNDCP acknowledges that trade liberalisation and free trade zones are now providing additional venues for money laundering by drug cartels. The laundering of drug money is being made relatively easy these days as a result of globalisation of the marketplace.

Scattered throughout the Political Declaration and Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development are references to the principles of full respect for human rights and cultural diversity, promotion of democratic values, safeguards for the environment, national sovereignty and producer participation in developing and implementing alternative development projects. But nowhere is explicit mention made of these as the 'conditio sine qua non' for alternative development projects and its inevitable twin, crop eradication.

The reputation of the UNDCP on these issues is not undisputed. In the past alternative development programs aimed at crop substitution have simply failed. In many drug-producing countries, there is a complete breach of faith between UNDCP-offices on the one hand and peasant organisations and NGOs on the other. Many complaints concern the lack of participation by producers in the identification, preparation, implementation and evaluation of projects; the often excessive salaries of UNDCP staff; insufficient knowledge of local circumstances in drug-cultivation areas; the uncritical acquiescence to violent law enforcement measures and serious violations of human rights which frequently accompany counter-narcotic operations in these areas; and the close cooperation with controversial regimes - like the agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan last year, and, more recently with the military dictatorship in Burma.

"Words get lost in the translation to actions", Arlacchi said in his speech to the PrepCom. He used the phrase to recommend the approval of SCOPE. But it is more likely to relate to principles pertaining to human rights, safeguarding the environment, and producer participation. The 10-year elimination target of SCOPE will significantly increase the pressure to shift to repression and forced crop eradication, as it is highly unlikely that elimination through alternative development could be achieved within its time frame.


The third element in the UNGASS mechanism for alternative development is the controversial Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination - SCOPE. The UNDCP had hoped for PrepCom approval of the strategy, but didn't altogether succeed. Arlacchi asked the member states to recommend that the General Assembly at its special session endorse the initiative of the UNDCP to develop and implement SCOPE. His strategy was to have a reference to the plan in either the Action Plan on International Cooperation on the Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and Alternative Development, or the Political Declaration. A summary was presented to the member states during the PrepCom.

Initially, this went terribly wrong. Delegations felt overwhelmed by the plan they had received at a late stage, and word in the lobby was that Arlacchi was firmly opposed in some quarters. SCOPE was removed from the proposed draft Action Plan. During a plenary session on the draft Political Declaration -which also mentioned the 2008 elimination target date- the Dutch delegation diplomatically called for 'feasible goals' both 'in substance and target dates' and added that 'quantative benchmarks should not be an end in itself', which in diplomatic terms could be conceived as a strong critique on the plan.

It became clear that SCOPE would not be discussed by the PrepCom in Vienna. Most European and Latin American countries thought SCOPE was not sufficiently worked out, especially on the subjects of how to finance the proposal, monitoring and the collaboration with other UN organisations. Endorsement there end then would mean issuing a blanc cheque, they felt.

But the UNDCP lobbied successfully in the decisive hours of PrepCom trying to keep the plan on the agenda of the Special Session in New York. Arlacchi called for a press conference on the last day of the meeting. He declared that the outcome of the deliberations during the week on the several draft action plans was a basic endorsement of the proposals of SCOPE, though the details were not discussed. In the end, the final draft of the Political Declaration -only approved on an additional Saturday due to serious disagreements on the final text- calls to "strongly support" the work of the UNDCP in the field of alternative development, and to "emphasize the need for eradication programmes and law enforcement measures to counter illicit cultivation". Moreover, the declaration "welcomes" the UNDCP's global approach to the elimination of illicit crops and "commits" member states to work closely with the UNDCP "to develop strategies with a view to eliminate or significantly reduce the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by 2008." (5)

The cannabis plant was included at the request of Nigeria -where there is no coca nor opium cultivation. Nigeria considers cannabis to be an "extremely dangerous drug", and felt left out as far as funds for alternative development were concerned, noted Western observers. At the suggestion of the Latin American group of member states (GRULAC) "eradication of opium poppy and coca bush" was changed to "eliminate or significantly reduce". But in the end, without actually mentioning SCOPE itself, the general idea of the strategy is practically endorsed. An earlier version of the draft Political Declaration did not even include such strong commendation of the UNDCP "global approach". Arlacchi may not have gotten SCOPE itself into any declaration, but he got his go-ahead.

A SCOPE-like program is likely to turn up again, either at UNGASS itself or later when the implementation of its intentions are worked out. Who else is going to produce a global strategy along the lines the UN has already set out? According to insiders, lobbying to get SCOPE on the UNGASS agenda is still going on.

SCOPE's main objective is worldwide elimination of the illicit cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy by the year 2008. The strategy calls for a 'balanced approach' between law enforcement, alternative development and demand reduction, to rid the world of 'the scourge of heroin and cocaine'. Alternative development is intended to receive the bulk of the approximately US$ 4 billion budget: 74%. Law enforcement is allotted 20% and demand reduction 2%. The UNDCP itself doesn't have innate funds, so it has appealed to the international community to commit itself to SCOPE and to provide the necessary funding. (6)

The plan focuses on eight key countries in three regions: Bolivia, Colombia and Peru in Latin America; the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar (or Burma as the suppressed democratic opposition prefers to call their nation) and Vietnam in South-East Asia; and Afghanistan and Pakistan in South-West Asia. The supply of illicit opiates and coca derivatives today originates in these "limited number of well-defined geographical areas", according to the UNDCP in summing up the favorable factors in eliminating opiates and coca derivatives in their analysis of the situation.

Secondly, says the agency, "after three decades of experience, the international community is now equipped with tested methodologies and the know-how to tackle the problem in the producing areas. The strengthening of the drug control mechanisms in the regions concerned has paved the way for full-scale interventions and most producing countries have adopted well-defined national strategies and action plans that are ready for implementation."

"At the same time," continues the plan's summary, "it is possible to monitor the areas at risk in order to prevent the 'balloon effect' from nullifying the overall impact of elimination programmes." The 'balloon effect' is the movement of cultivation to previously untouched area as a result of increased enforcement in an area of cultivation (when you squeeze one part of a balloon, the air simply moves to another part without reducing the total amount of air).

The last favorable factor is that "there is no alternative to concerted and comprehensive action". The expression of a "clear political will and the adoption of a common agenda on the part of the international community" is therefore required. The Special Session of the General Assembly on Drug Control "offers an historic opportunity for all positive forces to converge", according to the UNDCP.

Creating 'clear political will'

During the lobby for SCOPE, Mr. Arlacchi adapted his tactics. He started to stress especially acceptance of the fact "that demand reduction now is on an equal footing with production and drug trafficking" as "the major achievement" of this PrepCom, in an obvious effort to counter criticism. Looking at SCOPE, it is clear that the plan primarily addresses the problem from the supply side. Choosing this approach is controversial, especially with the Latin American delegations who see the American consumer market as the major feeding-pump of the drug problem: demand generating supply.

While discussing the Political Declaration, Mexico proposed to include 2003 as a target date for demand reduction in an obvious move to confront the developed consumer countries with the principle of 'equal responsibility'. Now the year 2003 is the target date for "new and enhanced drug demand reduction strategies" and there is a commitment "to achieve significant and measurable results" by the year 2008.

The UNDCP is looking elsewhere to develop demand reduction. No SCOPE-like approach is available on this issue, neither has the UNDCP developed one in advance – like they did with SCOPE – on the basis of previous versions of the Guiding Principles on Drug Demand Reduction. Looking at the amount of money allocated for demand reduction in SCOPE (2% of the budget), this cannot be considered a substantial element of the strategy. The strategy promotes the eradication of the production narcotic substances in 10 years, not the demand. Thus contradicting the "balanced approach addressing simultaneously the supply of and the demand for illicit drugs" SCOPE says it is advocating.

To help establish the 'clear political will' it needs, the UNDCP is already mounting a global propaganda campaign. During the PrepCom the above-mentioned commercial The Cleaning Lady was presented -produced at rock-bottom price by the sympathetic US advertisement agency Hal Riney & Partners. It is meant for worldwide distribution on the eve of the New York Special Session. The spot is likely to prove contentious. The herbicide-spraying chopper is rather awkward, to say the least. Chemical fumigation is prohibited by law in Bolivia and Peru. The first message the peasant of these countries receive, is that their government intends to break the law to eradicate their means of subsistence. Given the already strained relations between growers and the government in the region, this is like throwing fuel on a fire.

Arlacchi has not only had to face scepticism from delegates, but within the UNDCP the recently appointed Executive Director is seen as an outsider who overruled critical assessments of SCOPE by the agency's specialists. He is nicknamed "El Niño", a kind of human equivalent to the meteorologic phenomenon which creates havoc world wide. But UN Secretary General Annan says that the "renowned Italian crime fighter" has brought vitality and credibility to the UNDCP in its fight against drugs. Observers say that the Executive Director has "considerable political support", which is clearly true from the US side.

International organisations like the UNDCP are a key component of the overall US counternarcotics strategy, says the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1997, the yearly overview of drug control by the US State Department. "The US contributions to UNDCP have had significant impact on the operations and expansion of UN counternarcotics programs and policy," the report states bluntly. The US were the first to introduce the 10-year target date into the PrepCom deliberations, consistent with their own national drug control strategy. The US proposal suggested: "States should commit to ending all illicit cultivation of opium poppy and coca bush by the year 2008, using all available means, including alternative development, eradication and law enforcement." In the UNDCP's first draft for a Global Plan for the elimination of Illicit Narcotic Crops, the 10-year target date was not yet mentioned. (7)

Arlacchi did play an important and brave role in fighting the Mafia in Italy, but the small peasants involved in the cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy are not mafiosi. In his drive to deny organized crime an important source of income, he is irresponsibly putting the onus for the problem on the shoulders of the relatively innocent growers of the raw material - those who depend on these crops to survive - who risk losing their lives and livelihoods as the fight escalates.

The Executive Director has a habit of turning a deaf ear to critique. After a critical session on SCOPE with some delegations during the PrepCom, he thanked them for their support, while dismissing the strong reservations that had been made. When European Commissioner Emma Bonnino castigated the 10-year US$ 250 million UNDCP-agreement with the Taliban because of their bad human rights record -specifically discriminating policies against women - he disregarded it as "inter-Italian politicking". Asked about the human rights abuses under Taliban rule, Arlacchi responded: "We also champion human rights, to save 8 million heroin addicts." (8) The agreement with the Taliban is likely to violate the gender principle laid down in the Political Declaration - "to ensure that women and men benefit equally, and without any discrimination, from strategies directed against the world drug problem, through their involvement in all stages of programmes and policy-making".

Since the PrepCom, Arlacchi has been plugged in to the mass media to bolster support. He could be seen on CNN's Global View, and CNN Special Correspondent Christiane Amanpour was taken on a trip through Iran -"one of the world's busiest drug smuggling routes"- to get the message across that "the United Nations says the country needs help to stop the smuggling of heroin across Iran's eastern border and on to Europe". (9)

A closer look at SCOPE

Whether or not UNGASS endorses SCOPE in one form or another may not be that important. The UNDCP already has in fact set its strategy in motion through actively assist countries to develop national drug-control plans along the lines of the SCOPE-framework, like the one in Afghanistan -curiously enough with the same 2008 time frame- and the even more ambitious plan in Bolivia With Dignity!. With this US$ 952 million plan the Government of Bolivia "has decided the country should come out of the coca-cocaine circuit in the next five years", by 2002. (10) The allocation of funds within the budget between alternative development, law enforcement (eradication and interdiction) and demand reduction (prevention and rehabilitation), almost equals the 70-20-2 formula of SCOPE.

A closer look at the confidential 170-page draft of SCOPE reveals the flaws in the strategy, which are less obvious in the summary presented to the PrepCom session. The plan mentions three ideal conditions for alternative development: (1) Effective control of the area by central government and an absence of counterpressure from insurgent groups; (2) The provision of an enabling economic environment at the national and international level which facilitates the presence of market forces that make illicit cultivation less attractive; (3) Consistently applied disincentives through law enforcement and eradication.

A large part of the strategy is centred around elimination and countering the 'balloon effect' in an almost military fashion: development of satellite reconnaissance, rapid assessment teams (RATs) to monitor displacement of drug crops, and the research and development of biological and chemical weapons for "environmentally safe" eradication. The more general, if tacit thinking behind SCOPE is that since drug crop cultivation has been reduced to a well-defined 'pocket' of production areas in the eight above mentioned countries, the containment of this pocket and a last massive final offensive can eliminate the problem once and for all.

The first condition -effective control of the area by central government and an absence of counterpressure from insurgent groups- immediately turns into the first obstacle to successful implementation. Some of the major heroin and cocaine producing countries have major problems establishing effective control of large parts of their territory. Afghanistan -now the world's largest illicit producer of opium and one of the key areas of SCOPE's strategy- is in the midst of a long term civil war. Curiously, the UNDCP recently reached an agreement with one of the factions, the Taliban -who control two-thirds of country- while the UN doesn't even recognize the Taliban as the country's representative. The plan is to convince farmers to grow onions in stead of opium poppy. (11)

The official Afghan delegates at the PrepCom belong to the other faction. They protested the UNDCP deal with Taliban. The agency runs the risk of being used by the warring factions in the fight for international recognition, while no substantial counter drug effort will be made. The US is very sceptical about any meaningful counternarcotics progress by the Taliban, despite the November 1997 response to the UNDCP initiative. Major impediments, according to the US State Department, are "inaction and lack of political will of the Taliban faction, which controls 96 per cent of Afghanistan's opium­growing areas, as well as substantial drug trade involvement on the part of some local Taliban authorities". (12) Narcotics remain Afghanistan's largest source of income, and Taliban authorities reportedly benefit financially from the trade and provide protection to heroin laboratories.

Trouble in Burma

The same scenario -using drugs as a crowbar to gain international recognition- goes for Burma where the UNDCP and the Government are drafting a 10-year drug control program to erase poppy by 2008 - the magic date. The military regime is trying to improve its dismal human rights record by looking tough on drugs. A Western diplomat dismissed the recent counter-drug efforts of the military junta as 'window dressing': "What this government wants to do is perpetuate itself in power. They know it's got a bad image. They looked at drugs and found this the one issue they have. They'd like to use whatever they've done to improve their image and try to get sanctions lifted." (13)

According to the US State Department, the regime's highest priority is to end insurrection -notably the opium producing ethnic armies in the North- and counternarcotics interests in these areas are a secondary consideration. (14) The regime employs costly public-relations consultants in the US to try to change the mood in Washington. The US decertified Burma again this year for not achieving full compliance with the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and is very concerned about the commitment of the Burmese fighting narcotics. (15)

Burmese officials are seeking equipment from the US that they say will help them to wage a more effective war on drugs. Among its stepped up enforcement efforts, the government would resume an aerial opium-eradication spraying operation that had been conducted with US help prior to the 1988 aid cutoff. In particular, officials say, they need helicopters, surveillance planes, support arms, including rocket launchers, night vision goggles, satellite navigation equipment, and thermal imaging sensors. Some Burma analysts say any new equipment would be used to fight insurgent armies seeking autonomy from the central government and to strengthen the junta's grip on power rather than to stop opium traffickers. (16)

There is substantial evidence that the military regime itself is heavily involved in drug cultivation and trafficking. According to a recent investigation by The Sunday Times and human rights groups, the Burmese junta is secretly expanding the number of opium farms in designated 'drug-control areas', and has driven thousands of villagers from their homes in a program to transform rice fields into poppy plantations, despite receiving millions of dollars a year from the United Nations to combat drugs. Last January 5,000 people were evicted from one village alone - Ngape, in the Arakan Yoma mountain range in central Burma. The government claimed they had been ordered out for refusing to destroy poppy crops. However, a farmer who sought refuge on Burma's border with India said: "We had never grown opium before. The soldiers said we had to plant poppies or lose our land." (17)

The regime has used video footage which appears to show poppy fields being destroyed to support applications for UN aid, the Times reported. (18) But interviews with farmers, soldiers and former civil servants have confirmed that the military presides over a huge network of opium-producing villages in regions officially said to be drug-free. Aid workers admit that restrictions on their movements render them powerless to make checks. "There is no independent monitoring," said a source at the UNDCP.

Not all experts agree on the direct participation of the regime in the drug trade, but it is widely acknowledged that they at least condone trafficking by ethnic opium war lords as part of peace agreements. The governing generals are seeking to prop up their wheezing economy by appealing to drug traffickers -both current and former- to invest their money in Burma. (19) And yet, an UNDCP mission is colaborating with Burmese authorities to draft a 10-year project for the elimination of poppy cultivation and development of opium substitution, and recently sponsored a seminar on the issue in Rangoon.

If there is any poppy substition going on in Burma, it is rather the drug market itself which regulates the transition. The substitute is likely to be amphetamine type stimulants. Methamphetamine, or "ya ba" -the "crazy drug"- as it is called locally, is rapidly rising as an export commodity. It is even easier to produce than opium, and laboratories are springing up like mushrooms along the Thai border. Moreover, observers fear that while the Asian financial crisis is hitting Burma hard, the country will become increasingly dependent on earnings from the drug trade. (20)

Mr. Arlacchi visited Burma in May, chatting with the military junta on behalf of the UNDCP while just three weeks before the fellow UN Commission on Human Rights expressed its deep concern at "the continuing violations of human rights in Myanmar (...), including extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and enforced disappearances, torture, abuse of women and children by government agents, arbitrary seizures of land and property, violations of freedom of movement of people and goods, and the imposition of oppressive measures directed in particular at ethnic and religious minorities, including systematic programmes of forced relocation, and the widespread use of forced labour, including work on infrastructure projects and as porters for the army".

All this next to more 'conventional' human rights abuses such as severe restrictions on the freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly and association, access to information including censorship controls, the absence of due process of law, including arbitrary arrest and politically motivated arrest and detention, detention without trial, secret trials without proper legal representation, and inhuman treatment of prisoners, leading to illness, injury and death in custody. (21)

Nevertheless, the UNDCP is collaborating with Burmese government authorities. "Bringing uniform law and order" is one of the goals of the future country plan in which the UNDCP is to cooperate with the military regime, recognizing the fact that it will not be possible to achieve the objective of a drug control program without considerable assistance to the government. So, the UNDCP "will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the national law enforcement capacity", completely ignoring the absolute lack of respect for human rights, supression, torture and the regime's own involvement in the drug business. SCOPE does not mention these well documented facts, it merely regrets that "most bilateral and multilateral aid (notably from the international financial institutions) has been suspended", without even saying why.

The Colombia scenario

Colombia is another example of a government having trouble in controlling its national territory. Large regions of Colombia are in the hands of FARC guerrillas, who levy taxes on the cultivation and marketing of coca leaves and coca paste. The situation is getting more complex by the day due to the growing influence of paramilitary forces -allegedly backed by the Colombian army- who fight the rebels, and have excellent links with notorious drug trafficking syndicates. (22)

Consequently, counter-narcotics operations in Colombia consist primarily of chemical fumigation: last year 48.000 hectares of coca and poppy crops were eliminated through the aerial spraying of herbicides. Nevertheless, the total area under drug-crop cultivation expanded by 10 percent, according to the US which is monitoring coca areas by satellite. (23) The fields were simply moved to other areas. One can imagine what will happen next: these fields will then be sprayed and cultivation -which in itself is not particularly friendly to the ecosystem- will again move to other regions. A 'vicious' circle, contaminating ever-expanding areas.

There is grave concern about the long-term effects of the massive spreading of these chemicals across the vulnerable ecosystem of the Colombian Amazon tropical rainforest, where coca cultivation is concentrated. Not to mention the health problems it causes for peasants, their livestock and food production. The Guaviare and other coca growing regions of Colombia were the scene of widespread social protest in the Summer of 1996, when an estimated 241,000 people participated in massive marches -one of the largest peasant mobilizations in Colombian history- to protest aerial eradication, lack of government support for economic development and the increasing presence of the Colombian military.

Twelve individuals were victims of extrajudicial executions and seven disappeared in the violence that ensued. A number of protest leaders subsequently received death threats and seven were killed, apparently for their involvement in the protests. (24) Clearly, the actual counter-narcotics strategy of the Colombian government does not comply with the guiding principles on alternative development and eradication set out by the PrepCom: respect for human rights, environmentally safe eradication and participation of the local communities.

Although spraying has been not successful, there is no intention to revise the policy. "It's ironic and disturbing that the one country where you have massive aerial eradication is the one where you've got an increase in coca production," says Coletta Youngers of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There's something fundamentally wrong there." (25) Again, the conventional wisdom seems to be that the reason force has not worked, is that not enough has been applied and that the logical response is escalation - not re-evaluation.

The liquid herbicide used until now -glyphosate- has not proven sufficiently effective, so a new, granular one is under consideration: tebuthiuron - better known by its trade name Spike 20P. The Colombian environment ministry advised against tebuthiuron in 1994, saying it might damage forests and contaminate ground water. "If everything we've analysed so far is true, and this has to be proven scientifically, our forests, our massive Amazon forests, could basically be converted into prairies," Colombia's Environment Minister Eduardo Verano de la Rosa was quoted as saying recently. He has refused to endorse a proposed field test, but is likely to be overruled by a potent lobby, including the vigorous police chief, General Rosso José Serrano, and Colombia's National Drugs Council, who are in favour of the new chemical. Ivonne Alcala, head of the Colombian anti-drug office, dismisses concerns: "If we were spraying holy water, they would say the holy water is causing birth defects," Alcala said. (26)

Even the manufacturer, Dow Agrosciences, is reluctant to see tebuthiuron used. The label reads:

Do not apply Spike 20P near desirable trees or other woody species. Exposure of even a small part of a plant root system may cause severe plant injury or death.

Dow says it is "very risky" to apply tebuthiuron "where the terrain slopes, rainfall is significant ... and the application is made under less-than-ideal circumstances". (27) An accurate description of the areas in Colombia where most of the coca and poppy is grown.

At the moment the UNDCP does not actually support fumigation projects in Colombia -the financial support and technical assistance (helicopters and training) is largely provided by the United States-, but it does not oppose to it either, despite the Action Plan guidelines that "eradication efforts should utilize available research and ensure that environmentally safe methods are employed". In discussing the future national drug control strategy of Colombia, the UNDCP endorses forced eradication by aerial spraying, but it "should focus on commercial cultivation instead of the present indiscriminate fumigations". The question is: who is going to establish where subsistence cultivation ends and commercial cultivation begins? Then there is still the problem of environmental damage.

SCOPE demonstrates that the UNDCP increasingly considers the use of chemical andor biological 'weapons' to counter drug cultivation, provided they are 'environmentally safe'. "As the plan progresses, the importance of eradication will grow," notes SCOPE, both to stop cultivation attempts in new areas and the resurgence in areas where alternative development has been implemented. The development of biological or chemical agents can help to complement "tedious manual eradication".

In combination with sophisticated reconnaissance satellite systems and Rapid Assessment Teams (RATs) chemical and biological weapons are intended to counter the 'balloon effect' and restrict drug crop cultivation to the 'pocket' of eight key countries where it is concentrated for now. After all, "in areas where viable alternative sources of income already exist, law enforcement measures are required against persistent illicit cultivation", says the Action Plan. Where there was no previous cultivation, one could argue, viable sources of income were available, and alternative development projects are therefore not necessary.

An UNDCP expert group recently adopted two protocols. Environmental impact studies are included, but these will "focus initially on herbicides currently used" and which may be required for "use in other geographical areas". A contract was signed just prior to the PrepCom for a research program in Uzbekistan to test a biological control agent based on the pathogenic fungus Dendryphion papaveraceae which destroys opium poppy. The donors to the project insisted on anonymity, indicating the controversial nature of the program.

The small carrot and the big stick

Colombia's current national drug control strategy is very well described in SCOPE, as "based on two distinct, but complementary courses of action: the carrot and the stick". The stick being forced eradication, the carrot alternative development projects. This approach, albeit less explicitly without using the "carrot and stick" metaphor, is copied in SCOPE. It is caught in the 'balanced approach' guidelines or – in the third of the SCOPE's 'ideal conditions' for alternative development – "consistently applied disincentives through law enforcement and eradication". Alternative development gains in effectiveness when it is backed by credible eradication measures, is the idea.

Colombia's carrot, the PLANTE presidential, program entitles smallholders in the regions of illicit cultivation to receive technical and financial assistance, if they cease cultivation of illicit crops. PLANTE has only been able to assist 100 percent coca or opium poppy-free campesinos, who then almost invariably find themselves without a livelihood for some time after the eradication. The UNDCP acknowledges that insufficient synchronization between development projects and forced eradication is a major problem in the current Colombian strategy. PLANTE's coverage has been far from total. Furthermore, lack of coordination between PLANTE and the Anti-Narcotics Police has meant that campesinos have had to wait for a long time after eradication before they are offered assistance by PLANTE, if at all. The stick is already used with full force, while the carrot has barely been planted.

"But the lack of proportion between the big stick and the small carrot only partly explains why Colombia has failed to stop the spectacular increase in coca acreage," notes SCOPE. Even if PLANTE was to improve and be provided with more resources, Colombia would never reach its elimination objective, unless it gained control over the regions of illicit cultivation. The UNDCP acknowledges the problem. It is difficult to imagine a sustainable solution to the illicit crop cultivation issue outside the framework of a solution to Colombia's internal conflict. This is reinforced by deeper involvement in cultivation and first processing stages of the illicit drug chain by the guerrilla and especially the paramilitary bands, according to SCOPE. Intensified fighting has led to a paramilitary advance on the regions of illicit cultivation.

The situation in Colombia is deteriorating rapidly. The distinction between counter narcotics and counter insurgency operations is becoming more blurred by the day, fuelled by the pressure and military assistance of the United States. The recently appointed US ambassador in Bogota described Colombia as a hemispheric security problem. There is talk that the decades-old internal conflict is being "vietnamized". Alarmed by recent setbacks to the Colombian military in its fight against the guerrilla, the Clinton administration is considering increasing military assistance within the framework of cooperation between the two countries in fighting drug trafficking. (28)

The White House is considering a Colombian request to buy 12 Cobra attack helicopters, which would make Colombia the first South American country to receive sophisticated weapons since President Clinton lifted a ban on such sales last year. Paramilitary groups -backed by the Colombian military according to many observers- committed 46 massacres on 260 peasants last year, according to a recent report to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva by special UN human rights delegate, Almudena Mazarrasa. Moreover, in 1997 an average of six families an hour were displaced from their homes by the armed conflict, which has forced nearly 1.2 million people to flee their homes in the past five years. (29)

Although there are several initiatives to start peace negotiations, the largest rebel group FARC is stepping up the struggle rather than thinking in terms of peace. Recently, FARC nearly wiped out a elite battalion of the Colombian army. In spite of the overwhelming signs that conflict is escalating, the UNDCP is looking optimistically to the future. According to the agency's time table for Colombia's internal peace process – a recurrent and unresolved theme on the country's political agenda since 1982 – peace is to be achieved by next year. As for the guerrillas, the UNDCP has already recruited them for counter-narcotics operations: demobilization of guerrilla groups and other armed groups could be facilitated "by giving employment to the former guerrilleros in eradicating by hand illicit cultivation, as well as in reforestation and protection of national reserves".

'Counterpressure from insurgent groups'

The UNDCP applauds the Bolivian drug control master plan 1998-2002, the first to fit with the approach of SCOPE. The plan With Dignity! was approved by the new Government of former military dictator President Banzer at the end of December 1997. According to the plan, all illicit and transitional coca bush cultivation will be eliminated by the year 2002. This will involve the eradication of some 38,000 hectares of coca plantations, at a pace of 8,000 a year. Newly planted coca crops are subject to compulsory destruction by the DEA-trained FELCN. The so-called Plan Banzer also foresees the resettlement of 15,000 coca growers in new colonization areas.

The bulk of the US$ 952 million budget is destined for alternative development projects (US$ 700 million or 74%). The Bolivian Government is prepared to finance 15% of what is required, with the rest to come from the international community. The Chapare peasants say that as long as alternative sources of income are not available, they will carry on growing coca. Alternative development programs as projected in the Plan Banzer are notoriously slow to bear fruit, and in the past have often been a complete failure (30). According to a 1994 opinion poll, 77% of the Chapare coca-farmers didn't have any confidence in alternative development projects. (31)

Evo Morales, the coca-growers' most outspoken leader -and a deputy for the Chapare region- said his members would never permit complete coca eradication, and complained that the government had not consulted the growers about the plan. This is contrary to claims of the Government itself, which says there was a lengthy consultation process after General Banzer took office in August 1997. (32) Morales' own coca field was one of the first to be eradicated after the cocaleros in the Chapare revolted against the plan in April 1998.

The Government says it is determined to ensure that implementation of With Dignity! happens without violence and with the full cooperation of those concerned, but this does not seem to be working out. From April 1, coca farmers blocked the roads to protest broken agreements and the reduction of compensation for voluntary eradication. Compensation was reduced to US$ 1,650 that month while US$ 850 shifted to 'communitarian settlement'. Over a five year period, the individual US$ 2,500 compensation in exchange for one hectare of coca is to be reduced to US$ 500 for 'community development' projects in 2001, which are easier to monitor by the government and are supposedly more beneficial to the region than individual payments. The coca-farmers fear they won't have a say in the development of community projects. In 2002 there will be no economic settlement whatsoever and every illicit crop will be eradicated.

Some 5,000 troops of several specialized military and police units subsequently moved into the region, virtually converting it into a 'war zone'. The area of Villa 14 de Septiembre was completely surrounded by the military. Human Rights Minister Edgar Montoya was denied access, as was Morales himself and another national deputy. Both have received continuous death threats ever since. The military stated that they were acting under orders to let no-one into the zone. Press access was also denied. The Chapare is living under a virtual state of siege, as the freedom to meet and move has been abolished and military police patrol the zone.

Approximately 120 hectares of coca were forcibly eradicated immediately. Tear gas was fired every other day. At least eight campesinos were killed and more than 100 wounded. Since human rights groups could not enter the area, reported human rights abuses could not be checked accurately. There are reports that some 40 farmers have disappeared. Many campesinos hid in the jungle and dozens were detained in Cochabamba. Women who had to leave their children behind, are uncertain as to their whereabouts. Interior Minister, Guido Náyar, admitted forced eradication operations reached military proportions, but blamed the cocaleros for the violence and accused them of undermining the Plan Banzer. Behind it all was the "black hand" of drug traffickers, who organised and funded the demonstrations because they own cocaine production laboratories in this zone and political interests manipulating the unrest, said Náyar. (33)

If With Dignity! is to be considered a pilot project for SCOPE-like strategies, it is not very promising. Forced eradication under the new Banzer Plan is already under way, while alternative development -apart from previous projects- for the more than 30,000 families has barely begun. Until now the approach has not been very 'balanced'. The protests of the cocaleros have been treated as 'counterpressure from insurgent groups' denying 'effective control of the area by central government', instead of the voices of equal counterparts in 'participatory approaches that are based on dialogue'. The government is not planning to withdraw the military from the Chapare, possibly for the next five years. The region risks being declared "zona militar", meaning that the army would have "total sovereingty". The military is proposing to move its national headquarters to Cochabamba near the Chapare, in order to better comply with the goal to eliminate coca in the region, and remove itself from political interference in the capital La Paz. (34)

"Words get lost in the translation to actions," UNDCP-director Arlacchi could be proven more right than he intends. The present course of affairs is unlikely to boost the confidence of the small-scale coca producers, who after many years of disappointment with alternative development projects, and ruthless confrontations around past forced eradication campaigns coupled with large-scale human rights abuses (35), are not readily convinced of the benefits of the new approach.

Debt hijacking

The third 'ideal condition' for SCOPE – the provision of an enabling economic environment at the national and international level which facilitates the presence of market forces that make illicit cultivation less attractive – is something far beyond the reach of the UNDCP. The agency is unable to guarantee high and stable market prices for alternative products which can compete with drug crops. The international community resorts rather to "comprehensive law enforcement programmes [that] affect the profitability of illicitly cultivated drug crops and, in doing so, make alternative sources of legal income more competitive and attractive," as the Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development puts it. That comes down to fighting poverty by reducing earnings. Ultimately, drug control policies are not designed to fight destitution, but to eliminate drug production and consumption at all costs.

SCOPE is also advocating private sector investments in alternative development: "The private sector will have an important role in the form of productive investments in the area of production." Tis is to be encouraged by Governmental measures, such as tax breaks and complementary public investment programmes, as well as preferential trade agreements at the international level. This could prove counter-productive. In Bolivia, for instance, cocalero leader Evo Morales warns that the land vacated in the Chapare with the resettlement of some 15,000 coca farmers to other regions, will be turned over to the production of export crops by medium and large scale private-sector companies, and the peasants will be left out.

The Banzer Plan wants to advance competitive agroindustry along the lines promoted in SCOPE. Most alternative development products are tradeable, the plan says, and have to compete within the specified regulations of the globalizing economy. "This (...) compels agroindustrial initiatives to be implemented from a medium scale to a large one", the plan continues, by enterprises with the appropriate know how, capable of commercialization in the international market. To that end, the implementation of a set of exempting measures which encourage large scale undertakings is proposed, amongst others a new Tax Incentives Law. Within five years, agricultural and livestock production will have increased at least 70%, the plan forecasts. (36)

If and how the profits of agricultural industry and the alleged boosting of the national economy in these kinds of development schemes will trickle down to the most impoverished sectors of society is left to the mythical mechanism of the globalized free market economy. After all, this has been the root of the problem: those who resorted to coca cultivation did so to survive.

The financial resources required to implement SCOPE will come from the governments of the countries concerned, bilateral donors and international organizations. About a third could be covered by the governments concerned and the remaining two thirds by the international community. About two thirds of the latter would come from donor countries through bilateral arrangements and about one third from multilateral organizations. International assistance may take the form of grants and loans.

Two options are being considered to complement government and bilateral and multilateral donor grant funds. One is the establishment of special loan mechanisms for drug control plans and, in particular, alternative development programmes. The other involves the renegotiation and conversion of the debts of the producing countries concerned. Funding to support national programmes could than include four main components: loans, converted debts, grants and government resources.

One possible mechanism for the establishment of special loans would involve international financial institutions -in particular the World Bank and regional development banks- and the UNDCP. "Repayment conditions could be determined by performance criteria, the main and most obvious one being that illicit crop cultivation has stopped in the country," according to SCOPE. "A country that has succeeded in eliminating illicit production would then see its debt totally or partially canceled, the rest being reimbursed at favorable conditions in the case of partial repayment." Work on the financial and loan management side would be entrusted to the banks, while the UNDCP would provide expertise for situation and request assessments, program implementation and progress monitoring.

Some of the most poor underdeveloped countries have to cough up one third of the financial requirements for SCOPE, while the rich highly developed countries -where the consumer market is and most of drug-related profits are stashed- come off with two thirds. If this was to be calculated in percentages of the GDP of producer countries on the one hand and the total GDP of the international community on the other, the result would be a devastating inequality leaving the producer countries bearing the brunt. So much for 'shared responsibility'.

Moreover, producer countries would virtually be hijacked through new debts to the international community with the UNDCP acting as a kind of comptroller general. To finance their part of the deal, the already debt-ridden producer countries would have to borrow substantially. The UNDCP would help broker loans with preferable interest rates and repayment terms or come up with even more favorable deals -the cancellation of debts or debt conversion- but the producer countries would be totally dependant on how the UNDCP monitors their 'performance': how many acres are eliminated. Countries who do not meet the UNDCP's performance criteria will be 'punished' with extra debts.

Equally important, such an approach could have a severe impact on peasant farmers growing the crops to be eradicated. The US policy of certification, which links financial assistance on drugs-control performance, has lead to Latin American governments using repressive measures and committing human rights abuses to meet deadlines. SCOPE threatens to institutionalise this on a global level.


The drug issue cannot be resolved by simple solutions. If there is any lesson to be learned from past experiences in drug control, it is this one. In the past, every possible policy has been tried. Different approaches like interdiction, forced eradication, alternative development and even demand reduction have been attempted, but in the end have had little impact on either supply or demand of narcotics. With the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the UN banned cultivation for purposes other than medical and scientific use. Within a period of 15 years for opium and 25 years for coca, all cultivation should have stopped by 1979 and 1989 respectively. Those targets were not reached. Now, the UN is preparing itself to find yet another final solution in June in New York, and the UNDCP is lobbying to get a plan adopted to eliminate all illicit coca and opium poppy cultivation in ten years.

SCOPE is presented as a 'global' and 'innovative' strategy where all elements are merged in a 'balanced approach', and new technologies -like satellite monitoring and improved chemical and biological counter-drug agents- are enlisted to bolster the right political moment for a historic turning point in the fight against drugs. "There are naysayers who believe a global fight against illegal drugs is unwinnable. I say they are wrong! Our slogan for the Special Session is 'A Drug Free World - We Can Do It!' And we can do it," Arlacchi sermonized to member states from his pulpit in Vienna. "It will be a historic opportunity for all of us who care so deeply about a future free from the evils of illegal drugs."

Where questions of faith are concerned, facts tend to be ignored, especially when the flock thinks their moment of redemption is near. "I just returned from a visit to the Andean region two weeks ago," Arlacchi said. "And I met with peasant farmers and local leaders. I talked to people. I can tell you -from the valleys to the cities- they are convinced that the time is coming when illegal drugs are going to be very hard to find." A month later peasant farmers and local leaders in Bolivia set up road blocks to protest the elimination strategy of the government, which Arlacchi applauded in his speech. At least eight have died since.

The UNDCP has set 2008 as the target date to eliminate coca bush and opium poppy cultivation. First of al,l this is not likely to happen. Reality in the respective producer countries is simply too complex to comply with a directive from the UNDCP office in Vienna. Second, it poses a serious threat to a peaceful solution with full respect for human rights, safeguarding the environment, and producer participation in developing and implementing alternative development projects.

Alternative development is recognized by the UNDCP as one of the major instruments to counter drug cultivation and will receive the bulk of the SCOPE budget. But past experiences have shown it is not a miracle medicine. Sometimes it has worked to the benefit of some of the most poor inhabitants on this globe, and that is a positive result. In most cases though, projects have failed and were even counter-productive. In Colombia and Bolivia, UNDCP programs to shift to specific foreign coffee bush proved disastrous, leaving peasants with no income at all.

In Pakistan, joint efforts in drug enforcement and alternative development have not lead to elimination but to a shift in cultivation, both inside Pakistan -leading to more erosion and deforestation- and to neighbouring Afghanistan. A former UNDCP field officer concluded that supply reduction policies in Pakistan were ineffective and inadvertently promoted use of more dangerous drugs and health problems in the country itself (users shifted from smoking opium to injecting heroin). Other unintended negative consequences include an increase of corruption and the corrosion of good governance. (37)

Moreover, according to the independent research institute Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues, the Pakistani army's intelligence service (ISI) reportedly uses drug money to finance the work of about ten Muslim fundamentalist organizations operating out of Kashmir (India) and Xinjiang (China). (38) This goes to show that Pakistani support of the UNDCP strategy is ambiguous, to say the least.

Alternative development never resulted in elimination of drug crops, nor has interdiction or eradication for that matter. The reason why former major producers of narcotics like Turkey and Thailand have virtually eliminated illicit opium production is that those countries have developed in a general way, independent of counter-narcotic alternative development policies, says a report written for the World Bank. (39) In both cases, however, world-wide production was not affected. Instead, production moved out of Turkey to Iran and Afghanistan, and from Thailand to Burma.

The report, considered too controversial to be published, estimated that over US$ 300 million has been poured into alternative development projects in the Andean countries since 1983. "However, while the amount of alternative crops has, in some case, expanded so has the production of coca/cocaine," the report says. "Alternative development programs alone (...) cannot raise the relative returns from non-coca crops to a level sufficient to compete with the present high returns from coca." Farmers tend to diversify into new crops while still retaining coca. They have learned through experience to wait and see whether alternative projects work and if prices for new crops remain stable. Some observers speak of 'parallel development' rather than alternative development.

Alternative development can have "perverse" affects, says the World Bank report. Infrastructural works like roads and bridges may also work to attract coca production facilitating transport for coca-paste as well as precursors. Fertilizers can be used to grow coca as well. Finally, crop substitution can be self-defeating, a project that achieves its goal -reducing the supply of coca leaves- raises coca prices and makes coca more profitable to grow. It all goes to show that alternative development is a complex matter as well.

Alternative development by itself is unlikely to develop alternatives as attractive as drug crops, even within its broader concept of rural development. The concept is ambiguous. An integrated counter-drug strategy like SCOPE includes interdiction and eradication to raise the risk of growing opium poppy or coca in both its economic and social aspects, to force growers to abandon cultivation. On the one hand, alternative development sometimes provides an important safety net in real socio-economic terms for former drug-growing peasants. On the other hand, it grants legitimacy to crude enforcement methods like eradication. It boosts the reputation of the drug enforcer, who really cannot afford the image of a destitute peasant robbed of his or her means to survive.

Among the lessons learned from alternative development is the enormous complexity of the undertaking - it is an approach which requires long-term vision and investment. There must be real commitment to creating conditions necessary in which development can flourish. The emphasis must be placed on development and the recognition of people's rights to participate in their own development. Strategies such as SCOPE fundamentally undermine development processes by failing to provide realistic time-frames in which non-repressive solutions can be pursued. By not articulating clearly the relationship between eradication and alternative development, SCOPE creates a de facto situation in which repression is the only solution.

After all, the UNDCP has not been set up to rid the world of poverty, but drugs. SCOPE's main objective is: Worldwide elimination of the illicit cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy and of the production of illicit opiates and coca derivatives by the year 2008. That is the endorsement the UNDCP wants to get from the UN General Assembly Special Session in June in New York. Nothing more and nothing less. The question is who will bear the brunt of this strategy? In real terms it is going to be the small scale producer, the cocalero in the Chapare or the opium grower in Afghanistan. "The frontlines are still at grass-roots level," UNDCP-director Arlacchi said to the PrepCom. And that is the real message of SCOPE.


1 For more information on the Gutiérrez Rebollo case, see: Carlos Fazio, "Mexico: The Narco General Case" in Crime in Uniform (TNICEDIB, Cochabamba: December 1997).
2 "Draft Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development", Commission on Narcotics Drugs PrepCom document E/CN.7/1998/PC/7/Rev.1, 19 March 1998.
3 James Painter, "Bolivia & Coca - A Study in Dependency", Lynne Rienner Publishers, London 1994, p. 128.
4 "Coffee Not a Promising Alternative to Coca", Abraham Lama, IPS 5 April 1998.
5 "Draft Political Declaration", Commission on Narcotics Drugs PrepCom document E/CN.7/1998/PC/9/Rev.2, 21 March 1998.
6 "An international strategy to eliminate the illicit cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy: progress report", Commission on Narcotics Drugs PrepCom document E/CN.7/1998/PC/CRP.4, 3 March 1998. SCOPE - Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination
7 See:" Eradication of illicit narcotic crops and promotion of alternative development programmes. Proposal by the United States", Commission on Narcotics Drugs PrepCom document E/CN.7/1997/PC/CRP.9, 27 November 1997; "A Global Plan for the Elimination of illicit Narcotic Crops. Proposal by the United Nations International Drug Control Programme", Commission on Narcotics Drugs PrepCom document E/CN.7/1997/PC/CRP.11, 1 December 1997; and "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1997", Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, US Department of State, Washington DC, March 1998.
8 ""Chiudiamo la via dell'opio afgano"", Corriere della Sera 26 October 1997; and "Kabul fa litigare Bonino e Arlacchi", Corriere della Sera 27 October 1997.
9 CNN, 7 April 1998.
10 "With Dignity! - Bolivian Strategy for the Fight Against Drug Traffic 1998-2002", La Paz January 1998.
11 "Afghan Farmers Told "Grow Onions not Poppies"", IPS, 9 December 1997.
12" International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1997"; and "Dangerous Liaisons, Drugs are driving politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan", Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 April 1998.
13 "UN, Junta Cooperating in Drugs War", Bangkok Post, 16 April 1998; and "Where Opium Reigned, Burmese Claim Inroads", The New York Times, 19 April 1998.
14 "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1997"
15"" The US is using the UNDCP as intermediary to fund a alternative development program in the Wa ethnic area of northern Burma, to circumvent possible negative reactions in Washington. The aid is directly going to the project, and there is no US counternarcotics assistance to the Government of Burma, because of concerns about the lack of democracy and human rights in Burma, and the commitment of the Burmese to fight narcotics.""See:" Dollar Diplomacy", Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 May 1998; and US Department of State press release, 3 April 1998.
16 "What Burma Wants: Recognition and Helicopters", Christian Science Monitor, 6 May, 1998.
17" Burmese Junta Forces Farmers to Grow Opium", The Sunday Times, 10 May 1998. The investigation is partly backed up by the findings of the local correspondent of the Paris-based" Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues" (OGD):" Burma:" "The 'Free Zone of the 3 Gs'". The Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, May 1998; see also "The Burma-Singapore Axis: Globalizing the Heroin Trade", Leslie Kean & Dennis Bernstein, Covert Action Quarterly Nr 64, Spring 1998.
18 Some foreign journalists were invited by the Burmese government in April to witness the junta's efforts in counter-drug operations, and were taken to see the "destruction" of fields of opium poppy at a village near Lauk Kai, in the Kokang region. According to Newsweek correspondent Tony Emerson, the poppy plants had already been drained of the opium. See: "Burma's Men of Gold", Newsweek, 20 April 1998.
19 See also the 6 May 1998 series in the Christian Science Monitor:" Opium As Cash Crop is Still Difficult to Beat"; and "Buddhist Way to Wean Drug Lords From Opium Trade".
20 "The Dream Merchants", Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 April 1998; and "Burma's Men of Gold", Newsweek, 20 April 1998.
21 United Nations Commission on Human Rights: 1998 Resolution on Burma, 21 April 1998.
22 See on the emerging role of the paramilitary:""Ricardo Vargas Meza," Colombia: The heresy of the Manicheans", in Democracy, Human Rights, and Militarism in the War on Drugs in Latin America (TNICEDIBInforpress Centroamericana, Guatemala: April 1997); and Frank Smyth", Colombia's blowback - Formerly CIA-backed paramilitaries are major drug traffickers now", in Crime in Uniform (op. cit).
23 "Como arar en el mar", Revista Semana, 26 January 1998.
24 "Coca Eradication Efforts in Colombia", Coletta Youngers, WOLA Briefing Series, June 2, 1997.
25 "Colombia Farmers Stuck With Drugs", International Herald Tribune, 2 March 1998.
26" Colombia wary of US-backed herbicide", Reuters, 15 April 1998; and "Coca, Poppy Killer May Harm Amazon", Associated Press, 23 April 1998.
27 "Herbicides versus market forces", The Economist, 11 April 1998.
28 "US May Boost Military Aid to Colombia's Anti-Drug Effort", The Washington Post, 28 March 1998; and:"¿Nuevo Vietnam?", Revista Semana, 13 April 1998. Moreover, the Clinton administration wants to sharply increase funds to fight drug trafficking in Colombia, and set this goal: that within three years, Colombian cocaine and heroin would disappear from American streets. See: "US Plans Wider Drug Fight in Colombia", The New York Times, 1 April 1998.
29 "A Dismal Year for Human Rights", IPS, 3 April 1998.
30 See for instance: "Les ironies du développement alternatif en Bolivie", Mauricio Mamani Pocoata, in Alternatives Sud, Vol. III (1996), Drogues et narco-trafic: le point de vue du Sud, Centre Tricontinental.
31 "Grüne Hölle, weißer Schnee", Robert Lessmann, Süddeutschen Zeitung, 18/19 April 1998.
32 "Growers dismayed by 5-year strategy", Latin American Regional Reports, 27 January 1998.
33 "Un clima de violencia que recrudece", Los Tiempos, 20 April 1998; Andean Information Network Updates, 8 and 20 April 1998; Boliviapress, 20 April 1998; "Banzer Secretly Considers State of Emergency", IPS, 21 April 1998.
34 "Los militares no saldrán del Chapare en cinco años", Los Tiempos, 12 May 1998; and "El Chapare sería oficialmente declarado una "zona militar"", Los Tiempos, 10 May 1998.
35 "Update on Human Rights and Antinarcotics Efforts in the Bolivian Chapare", Lee Cridland and Veronica Ramos, Andean Information Network (AIN), Coletta Youngers and Amy Nahley, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Memorandum 30 April 1997; and" Bolivia: Human Rights Violations and the War on Drugs," Human Rights Watch Vol. 7, No. 8 (B), July 1995.
36 Interview with Evo Morales in: Hoy, 13 April 1998; and "With Dignity!", p. 27-30.
37 "Squeezing the Balloon: International Drugs Policy", Ralph Seccombe, Drug and Alcohol Review 14, 1995.
38 "Pakistan: Drugs Helping the Jihad in Asias", The Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, July 1997; see also: "The World Geopolitics of Drugs 1995/1996", Observatoire Geopolitiqe des Drogues: Paris, September 1997.
39 "Illegal Drugs in the Andean Countries: Impact and Policy Options", The World Bank, Report No. 15004 LAC, January 1996. Some of the findings are also available in "The Andean Cocaine Industry", Patrick L. Clawson & Rensselaer W. Lee III, St. Martin's Press: New York 1996.