Byline: Oakland Ross Toronto Star
If you squeeze a balloon in one place, its membrane will promptly expand somewhere else.
In the drug-eradication business, this phenomenon is known as the balloon effect, and it's a chronic challenge in the war on drugs.
"The war against narcotics trafficking is based on interdiction and eradication," says Jerome Mangelinckx, director of the Lima-based Centre for Research on Drugs and Human Rights. "But eradication is very inefficient. For every hectare they eradicate, another one comes into use. This has been going on for 30 years."
Consider Plan Colombia, a decade-old U.S.-funded campaign to combat the cocaine trade in its South American heartland, with a cumulative financial outlay of more than $7 billion, at a human cost that can barely be guessed at.
Under the program, American experts have trained Colombian soldiers and police and provided them with sophisticated equipment, including Blackhawk and UH1H ("Huey") helicopters.
The central result?
In 2012, Colombia remains what it was when the program began - the world's largest producer of cocaine, supplying more than 90 per cent of North American demand.
Granted, U.S. consumption of cocaine has been declining in recent years, but that reduction has been partly balanced by an increase in cocaine use in Europe. And, while Colombian production of the drug has dwindled, there have been offsetting increases in Peru and Bolivia.
Much of the cocaine trade remains controlled by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas(FARC), Colombia's Marxist guerrilla operation. True, the Colombians no longer rule the international supply chain as they once did. The Mexicans do that now.
"Historically, the Colombians would never have allowed a Mexican to come down there," says Special Agent Christopher Jakim of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "But the Mexicans are very involved in Colombia now."
Or, as they say in Spanish: mientras mas cambian las cosas, mas se mantienen igual.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In other words: the balloon effect.
2012 Toronto Star. All rights reserved.