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Welcome to "Ask the State Department" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to State Department officials.

Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, discussed the current worldwide state of affairs related to drug control, money laundering and financial crimes, as reported in the 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

Anne W. Patterson,  Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Anne W. Patterson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Sam writes:

AP and Reuters report that Guatemala is moving 75 percent of the cocaine reaching the United States . At the same time, Guatemala has failed to either prosecute or extradite any of its alleged kingpins in more than ten years since the murder of the nation's chief justice. Moreover, the Bush administration has identified the nation's top two former military intelligence chiefs as drug suspects. How did Guatemala get so bad? And how does the administration plan to finally end impunity for its alleged drug lords and others?

Anne Patterson:

Sam, thank you for your question on Guatemala . We are working with the government of Guatemala to address corruption at all levels. The recent indictments and arrests of three of the top people in Guatemala 's drug police unit for conspiring to send drugs to the States are strong testimony to the Government of Guatemala's growing commitment to stamp out corruption and drug trafficking. While it is discouraging that corrupt individuals feel they can manipulate the system and betray the trust of the two governments, these arrests show that no one, no matter how highly placed, has impunity.

Members of the Anti-Drug Police are undergoing complete financial, human rights, drug and anti-crime vetting. Some officers are leaving the unit as a result, and others have resigned as a "preventative measure." The unit is also being reorganized and retrained, all with the complete support of the Guatemalan government.

That said, the quantity of drugs that transit Guatemala remains a serious problem for the region. The latest cocaine flow assessment indicates a continued shift toward transshipment through the Central America/Mexico corridor - with some 90% of the volume. The majority of the drugs move by sea. Overland trafficking along the Pan-American highway is also a problem. There are indications that air shipments land in Northern Guatemala and are transshipped to Mexico . Guatemala still has only limited capability to project force into the extreme northern area of the country where the traffickers operate clandestine airstrips, and narcotics traffickers continue to pay for transportation services with drugs, which enter into local markets leading to increased domestic consumption and crime.

To help combat these problems, INL's maritime programs are designed to enhance interdiction capabilities for the whole region. For example, we transferred decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard cutters to Panama , Costa Rica and Nicaragua , and have provided training on operations and maintenance. INL has also assisted each country in strengthening its border inspections stations, particularly at key chokepoints, and has worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to establish mobile inspection and enforcement teams. INL programs seek to modernize criminal justice sector institutions, especially federal police and prosecutors, and to enhance interdiction capacity.

Dao writes:

Is there any indication that there are some money laundering and financial crimes from Vietnam towards foreign countries?

Anne Patterson:

Thank you for asking your question, Dao. Vietnam is not a large regional financial center. The Vietnamese banking sector is underdeveloped and the Government of Vietnam (GVN) controls the flow of all U.S. dollars in official channels. The nature of the banking system makes it unlikely that major money laundering or terrorist financing is currently occurring in financial institutions.

Malena writes:

Ms. Patterson,

How is the current drug situation in Colombia and Mexico, and what would you say are some of the obstacles the U.S. finds in winning the drug war in each of these countries? Are drug producing and trafficking operations different in scale?

Anne Patterson:

Thank you for asking about Colombia and Mexico , Malena. The United States has broad-based programs in Colombia , including alternative development, interdiction and eradication of narcotics, law enforcement, judicial reform and anti-corruption, human rights and humanitarian assistance for displaced persons and child soldiers. The direct and indirect results of these efforts provide useful measures for success:

  • Drug crop eradication continues at record levels with a 33 percent decline in coca cultivation from 2001 to 2004.
  • Over 14,000 paramilitaries had demobilized by the end of 2005.
  • Police presence has been established in all of Colombia 's 1,098 municipios (county seats), some for the first time.
  • Violence has declined significantly over the past two years. Political kidnappings, which are an important political barometer of overall stability, are down considerably and homicides have declined to their lowest point since 1987 and to less than half the record level of 28,000 in 2002.

Significant gains are also being made in other key areas, including alternative development, strengthening democracy and respect for human rights, institutional improvement, justice sector reform and humanitarian assistance. But the job is not over and U.S. support will continue. Serious challenges continue that call for sustained United States cooperation. We need to ensure that the progress made to date is consolidated and provides the foundation for future gains.

Drugs are not something you will ever be able to beat, but a problem you can hope to contain, and I believe our efforts are doing that. We have accomplished a lot in Latin America over recent years. Colombia , Bolivia and Peru , for example, have come through some desperate situations within recent memory. Colombia was facing a narcotics-funded insurgency that was presenting a severe threat to the government. Bolivia was in the same position some 10 or 15 years ago, as was Peru .

In Mexico , during 2005, Mexican authorities increased their successes in their fight against the major criminal organizations and drug traffickers, arresting key criminals and seizing huge amounts of illicit drugs. Mexican military and police eradication programs increased pressure on opium poppy and marijuana cultivators. The Fox administration, likewise, continued its efforts to reform the criminal justice sector, specifically implementing measures to improve the technical capabilities of prosecutors and investigators. The United States and Mexico sustained an unprecedented level of law enforcement cooperation in combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes. Mexico has extradited 41 criminals to United States and the Mexican Supreme Court has just waived a provision in its law so it now allows the Mexican government to extradite criminals to the United States who would be subject to life imprisonment. So you can see, there has been very considerable progress.

GE writes:

How can the US separate itself from the drug trafficking problem? The U.S. creates a large demand for cocaine and coca leafs. How can your report vilify these poor third world countries?

Anne Patterson:

Thank you for raising this issue, GE. We understand fully that drug abuse is a serious problem all over the world, including right here in the United States. A number of U.S. government agencies work very hard to reduce the demand for illicit drugs by Americans and to attack drug trafficking operations operating in the U.S. It is the job of INL, and this report in particular, to report on the work being done by the countries of the world to curb the cultivation, production and trafficking of illicit narcotics. The INCSR is not meant to vilify any countries, rich or poor; it is simply a snap-shot of foreign government policies and practices over the past year and helps inform our own response to the drug threat. We look forward to continued cooperation from our international partners in fighting the scourge of drugs both at home and abroad.

AG writes:

If the US government is successful at reducing the demand side of coca, the poor peasant farmer suffers in Bolivia who is not able to make a living; if the US is successful in dropping the supply side of cocaine, this creates more criminal violence because it is harder to get drugs and can become more of a social ill for the US. What is the U.S. Department of State doing to address these concerns of poverty in Latin America and drug addition in the U.S. ?

Anne Patterson:

Thank you, AG. I'm glad to have the chance to talk about this important issue. As you know, INLfocuses on the international aspect of drug trafficking. ONDCP and other domestic agencies focus on the domestic side and are working very hard to reduce demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. I suggest you turn to them to learn about the many things being done to fight drug dependence in our country.

We recognize that eradication can be disruptive. In fact, it is designed to be disruptive, to inflict heavy costs on those who cultivate illegal drugs. For that reason, we also couple our support for eradication with assistance designed to provide alternative livelihoods. This is a big part of our counter narcotics strategy, in Latin America and elsewhere in the world, to provide alternative development and livelihoods for farmers who turn away from cultivation of drug crops. For example, our programs in Colombia have helped almost 2000 child solders and well over 1.5 million internally displaced persons. Over 60,000 families have received alternative development assistance and almost 1000 infrastructure projects have been built under U.S. programs. Alternative Development assistance is a critical part of our overall counter narcotics strategy, as we believe it is crucial to offer people legitimate opportunities to earn a living. But I disagree that decreasing the supply of cocaine opens the road to violence. Drug trafficking is always associated with violence. But it was the growing power of drug traffickers, and the large increases in coca and cocaine, that led to the great surges in violence in Peru , Bolivia , and Colombia in the 1990s.

Justin writes:

Since the United States left Panama over six years ago, have counter-narcotic efforts been hampered in that country? Have the Panamanian authorities taken proactive steps to derail narcotic activities in the region?

Anne Patterson:

Thank you for raising this important question, Justin. Counter narcotics efforts in Panama saw some very noteworthy successes in 2005. The Torrijos Administration has closely cooperated with U.S Government on law enforcement and security issues. As of mid-November, Panamanian seizures totaled 10.3 metric tons (MT) of cocaine, 9.5 MT of marijuana and over $10 million in currency.

In April, the Panamanian legislature passed significant legislation to control the transiting and diversion of chemicals for drug production, especially precursor chemicals used to make amphetamines and methamphetamines. We also saw an increased capability of the Tocumen Airport counter narcotics taskforce, especially in training and K-9 (drug dog teams) capacity. The Government of Panama also strengthened the Public Ministry's anti-corruption office, and they continued many public school demand reduction projects, including initiating the "culture of lawfulness" program, and the National Police Panama City DARE program.

Astrid writes:

1. How is the INL evaluating the effectiveness of the aerial spraying program in Colombia ? The Colombian Environmental Management Plan (EMP) prohibits aerial herbicide spraying over populated areas. Yet, communities have complained that their towns, homes, and schools have been directly sprayed, and some of these complaints are well documented. I refer specifically to reports from indigenous Eperara Siapidaara and Afro-Colombians in the Pacific, indigenous communities in the Sierra Nevada, and campesinos in Arauca . How do you explain these apparent violations of the EMP?

According to International law (Covenant ILO 169) and the Colombian Constitution and laws (Law 21, 1991), the government is obliged to engage in prior consultation with indigenous and tribal groups (Afro-Colombians) whenever an administrative or legislative decision will affect them or their territories. The Colombian Constitutional Court upheld that this obligation applies to the sprayings program as well (Decision SU-383/03, May 13, 2003). Yet, indigenous and Afro-Colombian lands in Nariño, Chocó, Cauca, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta , among others, have been sprayed while the Colombian government (GOC) has only consulted with the Amazonian indigenous groups that sued the GOC. Considering these blatant violations, how can the INL assert that this program is being carried out in compliance with Colombian law?

Anne Patterson:

Aerial eradication is a vital element of Plan Colombia , and I'm glad you raised these important questions, Astrid. First, we need be be clear - the Colombian aerial spray program targets fields of coca and opium poppy, which are illegal in Colombia . Pilots do not spray the rainforest, villages or people. Spraying takes place under rigid parameters for wind and humidity and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that the spray program is employing Best Management Practices to minimize drift and unintended contact with other vegetation.[1] The spray program also follows all regulations and guidance of the Government of Colombia's Environmental Management Plan for Aerial Eradication. Most recently, the eradication program was evaluated through a rigorous and independent scientific study, which determined that:

The aerial eradication spray program in Colombia is conducted with modern state-of-the-art aircraft and spray equipment. The spray equipment is similar to that used for forest spraying in other parts of the world and produces large droplets which minimize drift of spray.[2]

The Colombian National Police uses multi-spectral and satellite imagery to plan spray missions, but no spraying ever takes place without positive visual identification of an illicit crop by the eye of a carefully-trained spray pilot. Aircraft-mounted global positioning systems (GPS) record the precise geographical coordinates of all spray activity to permit later review.

To ensure the accuracy and effectiveness of the spraying, an interagency committee - including representatives of the Colombian Ministry of Environment and an independent environmental auditor - conducts post-spray verification on the ground.

All complaints against the spray program are investigated and compensation is paid to owners of legal crops that have been sprayed in error. These cases are rare: despite hundreds of complaint investigations in the field, just 16 cases to date over the last three years have merited compensation.

[1] "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pesticide Programs Details of the 2003 Consultation for the Department of State Use of Pesticide for Coca and Poppy Eradication Program in Colombia" ("EPA 2003 Analysis"), June 9, 2003. Executive Summary, p. ii, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/27516.pdf

[2] Dr. Keith R. Solomon, et. al, "Environmental and Human Health Assessment of Aerial Spray Program for Coca and Poppy Control in Colombia, A Report Prepared for the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) section of the Organization of American States," March 31, 2005, p. 9, http://www.cicad.oas.org/en/glifosateFinalReport.pdf

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