Colombia rose to dominate drug trade in a decade
BY DON BOHNING
In the decade since President George Bush
met in Cartagena with the chief
executives of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, Colombia has emerged as the dominant
country in virtually all aspects of the drug trade.
``We depart Cartagena having forged an unprecedented
alliance against the drug
trade . . . the first anti-drug cartel,'' Bush said on leaving the Colombian coastal
city on Feb. 15, 1990, after a four-hour summit. That was the last presidential visit
to Colombia prior to Wednesday.
The most notable difference since 1990,
according to U.S. anti-drug fighters, is
the centralization of production, processing and distribution in Colombia. That was
not the case in 1990 when Bolivia and Peru were the main producers of coca, the
raw material for cocaine.
As recently as 1995, the amount of coca
produced in Peru and Bolivia combined
would result in the production of 700 metric tons of cocaine while coca produced
in Colombia would account for only 230 tons.
By 1999, according to the White House Office
on National Drug Control Policy,
that number for Bolivia and Peru had dropped to 145 metric tons and for Colombia
had soared to 520 metric tons. Coca cultivation declined by 66 percent in Peru
and 55 percent in Bolivia during the same period.
When Bush visited Colombia, the country was producing virtually no heroin.
Now, it is estimated that 90 percent of
the cocaine entering the United States and
70 percent of the heroin seized here comes from Colombia, according to Robert
Weiner of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Back then, also, Colombia's violent Medellin
Cartel, ruling by terror and
intimidation, controlled virtually all aspects of the drug trade; then came the
white-collar Cali Cartel with its computers, accountants and lawyers, designed to
beat the system.
Now, say U.S. law enforcement officials
familiar with the drug trade, drug
organizations have learned from the mistakes of the past and specialize in single
aspects of the business such as production, processing, transportation,
distribution and money laundering instead of controlling the entire operation.
``Everybody's got a piece of the pie now.
The organizations are a lot smaller and
every one is developing its own expertise,'' said one official.
Still, U.S. officials say drug demand has
dropped significantly in the United
States, while Europe has become an increasingly attractive market, because of
the higher prices the product commands there.
``There are new markets in Europe because
that's where the money is,'' said one
official. ``This is a business driven by greed.''