The Colombian Coca Crop

Wednesday, March 13, 2002; Page A28

It was irresponsible for The Post to print a March 8 Associated Press item on the U.S. government's report of a 20 percent rise in Colombian coca production in 2001, and fail to print a story detailing the Colombians' December report of a 25 percent drop in coca production.

The AP story acknowledged that one-third of the increase was due to the inclusion of an area not surveyed by the United States in 2000 because of cloud cover. So how can the U.S. government say that there is an increase when there is no accurate information for comparison?

The Colombians used survey and imagery techniques that did not rely on weather patterns so that they could have comparable year-to-year numbers. When I worked at the White House drug policy office, I asked how it was that we could get good numbers or year-to-year comparisons if we relied on cloud-covered imagery. The answer made no sense then or now. What does make sense is that the Colombians apparently took pictures in good weather and used ground-based strategies to override the problem.

When the world's No. 1 cocaine-generating country and major heroin producer is making great strides to reduce its cultivation with a five-year plan (with more than 1 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars in assistance at stake), the media should not rely on flawed U.S. statistics based on blurs through the clouds.



The writer was director of public affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Policy from May 1995 until August 2001.

"A Colombia Arms Deal and the Perils of Blowback" [Outlook, March 3] provided an eye-opening glimpse into the shadows of U.S. covert operations. How many "friends" will come back to haunt us, as Osama bin Laden did?

Our choice of friends and the tactics employed in this Colombian venture are an acute example of how we continue taking two steps back for every one step forward. DynCorp, one of the top 20 federal contractors, has sprayed toxic herbicides over 14 percent of Colombia, purportedly to eliminate coca crops. In Vietnam we sprayed close to 10 percent of that nation's land mass, and we are still evaluating the harm the program did to that nation and our veterans.

The war on drugs inflates the price of illegal narcotics. In the Hoover Institution's Hoover Digest, Joseph D. McNamara, former police chief of Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif., wrote that prohibition can cause a markup of as much as 17,000 percent.

Prohibition today is a greater failure than it was with alcohol. The names have changed, the product has changed, but the game remains the same. It is a game that is deadly to our freedoms and our neighboring nations.


Eugene, Ore.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company