November 17, 2005

Colombia aid makes cocaine more costly in US

By Jason Webb

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Cocaine is becoming more
expensive on U.S. streets in a sign that a $3 billion aid
program to Colombia is finally bringing results and reducing
illegal drug imports, the White House drugs czar said on

The price of cocaine on U.S. streets rose by 19 percent
from February to September, hitting about $170 per pure gram,
according to data published by the White House Office of
National Drug Control Policy.

Higher prices probably mean less of the illegal stimulant
is making it to U.S. shores, as users try to outbid each other,
the office's director, John Walters, told Reuters.

He hailed more expensive cocaine as a sign of the
effectiveness of more than $3 billion in mainly military aid
since 2000 to Colombia, which produces most of the world's
supply of the drug.

"What we see on the streets of the United States is the
clear and irrefutable evidence of a change in availability that
will help us reduce demand and will change the profitability of
the cocaine market for those who make money off the death and
destruction of lives through addiction," Walters said in a
telephone interview from Washington.

The U.S. aid money has gone largely for an aerial spraying
program to destroy coca bushes, which are used to make cocaine
and are grown by peasants in remote jungle regions, often under
the protection of Marxist rebels or far-right paramilitaries.

Until now, cocaine prices had been falling in the United
States, fueling critics of the aid program both in the United
States and Colombia who said this showed new coca bushes were
being planted to replace those destroyed by spraying.

One prominent critic said cocaine was still cheap and the
rise in the price this year was insignificant.

"It would be pure nonsense to point to this recent blip as
evidence of success of U.S. international drug policies. The
effective price is still just a small fraction of the price 10
and 20 years ago," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of
the Drug Policy Alliance.


The long wait for signs of an ebb in the cocaine flow to
the United States was due to stockpiles of the drug and of coca
leaf, which helped smugglers to keep serving their customers
even as production fell, Walters said.

Thursday's data also showed a 15-percent fall in the purity
of cocaine sold in the United States since February, which
Walters believes shows dealers are trying to make up for a
shortage of the drug by mixing it with other substances.

The signs of falling cocaine production will be a boon not
only to the U.S. administration but also its close ally,
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is preparing to run for
reelection next May.

The Colombian government says that cocaine pays for many of
the weapons used by Marxist rebels and far-right paramilitaries
fighting in a 41-year-old war, and that getting rid of the drug
will make them easier to defeat.

About 2 million Americans use cocaine, which was once the
official remedy of the United States Hay Fever Association but
banned in the early 20th century.

Although only 15 percent of those users account for 80
percent of consumption of the drug in the United States,
Walters said.

The White House also believes Colombian heroin is getting
more expensive and less pure in the United States. While a
smaller business than cocaine for Colombia's drug traffickers,
Colombia is the main supplier of heroin to the eastern United