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This article originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.
By Marc Hanson
This afternoon’s House mark-up of the State, Foreign Operations spending bill will show the world just how far and how fast some in the U.S. are willing to retreat from assuming America’s traditional leadership role in global affairs.
The House GOP leadership has allocated the State, Foreign Operations subcommittee 9 percent less funding than was appropriated for the same accounts last year. This puts the subcommittee in a challenging position. Cuts are inevitable.
The subcommittee has already telegraphed what it would like to do. Support for vulnerable countries in some of the world’s most volatile regions will be slashed; natural disaster preparedness and response capacity will be diminished; global health programs and American assistance to refugees will be drastically scaled back – at a time when the world’s most vulnerable people need it the most.
Yet the House Appropriations committee will continue to spend hundreds of millions more on programs that are completely ineffective.
In Colombia, a counternarcotics effort is about to receive another $100 million. This program has zero chance of doing anything more than harming peasant farmers, but it is set to continue unless the subcommittee amends the bill to end the program.
This coca eradication program, which is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and executed largely by DynCorp, makes sense on paper.
The logic is simple. Kill off coca plants to reduce cocaine production. This, in turn, should drive-up cocaine prices, lower demand, and ultimately reduce cocaine use here in the U.S. It is market logic at its purest– less supply equals higher prices equals less cocaine use. But the world has not confirmed this theory.
After billions of dollars spent each year for more than a decade, we have learned that aerial fumigation and manual eradication have absolutely no impact on cocaine prices or use. In fact, the wholesale price of cocaine has fallen by 90 per cent over the past 30 years, when adjusted for inflation. And over that same period of time, demand for cocaine – apparently entirely unaffected by price dynamics – has collapsed. Only half as many Americans use cocaine now than did 30 years ago.
This is not to say fumigation has no impact. Indeed, it has an enormously negative impact on Colombia’s many peasant farmers.
On Sunday, a friend emailed from Colombia to tell me about a village she visited this month. “After the fumigation, the village (which drinks, bathes, and fishes in the river) had skin infections and diarrhea for a month,” she said. “More than a few women in the community are pregnant…the fumigation was in March while they were in their second trimester. They fear for the health of their babies.”
Some government programs might be worth $100 million. Some counternarcotics programs might even be worth inflicting a certain amount of pain on poor farmers. But given that coca eradication in Colombia has had no impact on cocaine use in the U.S., it’s hard to argue that aerial fumigation is worth the cost or the pain.
American taxpayers should not have to spend another penny on this ineffectual program. House appropriators should cut this destructive program today, and redirect those vital funds to assist people in need.