Soros slams drug war as $17bn flop

Clinton and Blair will tell the UN they are beating the narcotics trade. The facts don't bear them out, writes Phil Davison
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The Independent Online
IF TONY BLAIR tunes in to US TV before attending the United Nations "drug summit" starting tomorrow in New York, he might see and hear President Bill Clinton say the following: "Do you think the war on drugs is a complete failure? I do. We're wasting $17bn a year. Heck, we're causing more crime than we're stopping. We need a drug policy based on common sense."

"Clinton" makes the statement in an ad on CNN. At least, it is the president's face, and his mouth is moving. But in reality, the mouth is being moved to fit the words of an impersonator.

The trick ad was placed by the Lindesmith Centre, a non-governmental organisation critical of US anti-narcotics policy. Effectively, it was placed by the billionaire industrialist George Soros, who favours at least a certain degree of legalisation of narcotics, and funds the Washington- based group.

The main criticism that Mr Clinton and Mr Blair will face tomorrow, both in the UN General Assembly's special session and in the wings, is that the "war on drugs" of the past few years has been futile.

"There are indications that our prohibitionist policies have increased drug-related disease and death," Mr Soros wrote in the Washington Post. "I am not for legalising hard drugs ... but I firmly believe that the war on drugs is doing more harm to our society than drug abuse itself.

"I tried marijuana and enjoyed it, but it did not become a habit and I have not tasted it in many years," Mr Soros wrote. "I believe that a drug-free America is a Utopian dream. Some form of drug addiction or substance abuse is endemic in most societies."

"The war on drugs as it is currently waged feeds the very violence it is intended to stop," said Kurt Schmoke, the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, who equates anti-narcotics policy with the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s.

"Prohibition came to an end and so, too, did an era of prohibition-related violence," Mr Schmoke said. "It's time to realise that the war on drugs is a helpless failure, too."

While both Mr Clinton and Mr Blair have boasted of successes in tackling the narcotics trade, the facts paint a different picture. The amount of drugs flowing to the US and Europe has increased dramatically in recent years, despite crackdowns on major cartels in Mexico and Colombia.

Production of coca leaf, the source of cocaine, has soared in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, despite eradication efforts. As a result, cocaine prices have dropped in America and Europe. More worryingly for anti-narcotics agents, production of opium - for the manufacture of heroin - is also rising in the western hemisphere.

Afghanistan and the "Golden Triangle" of South-east Asia used to be the main source, but more than half the heroin entering the US now comes from Colombia, from poppy fields protected by Marxist guerrilla groups. Mexico is the second biggest source, from fields often protected by Mexican military officers, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Heroin from Colombian and Mexican producers, now working in alliance, is reaching the streets of American cities with a purity as high as 90 per cent, according to DEA agents. That has created a new fashion for sniffing or smoking the drug.

Mexican agents last week arrested the two alleged leaders of the biggest cartel exporting methamphetamines, or speed, to the US and Europe, but agents warned that other dealers would take their place.

The more crackdowns there are in Mexico, the more drugs there are moving through the Caribbean islands. Customs officers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recently seized almost two tonnes of cocaine packed inside fake fuel tanks in a luxury yacht that docked from Bimini in the Bahamas. DEA agents in the Bahamas say more cocaine was seized in the first three months of this year than in the previous three years put together.

British officials who form part of Opbat (Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos), based in Nassau, say they have little hope of stopping drugs coming through the thousands of Caribbean islands from Colombia and heading for the US or Europe. Favourite transit points are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Aruba and Puerto Rico.

Almost every day, Miami customs officers stop Colombians carrying cocaine. The drug runners are usually uneducated people who have been bribed or blackmailed with threats to their families by local drug lords.

As for Mr Soros, he sees reducing demand as well as supply as the key to the narcotics problem. "De-emphasising the criminal aspect of drug use should be accompanied by more, rather than less social opprobrium for the drug culture," he wrote. "Education and social disapproval of cigarette smoking have been much more successful than the war on drugs. America is a world leader in cutting down on cigarette smoking, and, simultaneously, one of the world's losers in dealing with drug abuse."