Influential House Armed Services Chair Calls for Rethinking

Press Release March 21, 2007
Media Contact

Bill Piper at (202)669-6430

A top U.S. lawmaker urged the Bush administration yesterday to rethink U.S. financial support for Colombia’s fight against drug trafficking, which he said has yielded few dividends.

“We have spent over four billion dollars since 1999 to stem the flow of illegal drugs into our country and aid the Colombians in their fight against home-grown terrorists,” said Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO), chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

“But, according to the latest figures from the Justice Department, the supply and purity of illicit narcotics on our streets has not changed much in the last several years,” the Democratic lawmaker said during a hearing of top U.S. military commanders from around the globe. In 2005, 169 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted to cut funding to the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (more commonly known as “Plan Colombia”). The House could vote on the issue again later this year.

A growing number of Latin America experts, elected officials and environmental groups support cutting U.S. funding to the drug war in Latin America because it has failed to reduce the availability of drugs, is destabilizing Latin America, hurting poor families, and driving drug traffickers deeper into the rainforest, destroying one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems.

Even as evidence mounts that the U.S.-led drug war in Latin America is doing more harm than good, the Bush Administration is seeking to escalate the drug war in Afghanistan, importing the same policies that backfired in Latin America: forced eradication of farmer’s crops, fumigation, and heavy-handed military tactics. A report by the United Nations and World Bank last year concluded that the Bush’s Administration’s drug strategy in Afghanistan is driving poor people into the hands of the Taliban, destabilizing the Afghan government, and increasing the power of the country’s crime syndicates.

Last year Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO), who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested licensing Afghan farmers to grow opium for legal pain medication. That proposal, and other alternatives to the Bush strategy, is gaining support around the world, most notably Canada and the United Kingdom.

“The U.S. exported its punitive drug policies to Latin America and devastated the region, now the Bush Administration wants to export this failure to Afghanistan,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Only the stakes are much higher in Afghanistan. If policymakers allow the war on drugs to undermine the war on terror, the cost could be huge in terms of lost American lives,” Piper said.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.