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Foreign Press Center Briefing with John Walters
Director of The Office of National Drug Control Policy

TOPIC: “Progress Report on Anti-Drug Efforts
in Colombia”

The Washington Foreign Press Center, Washington, DC
Thursday, November 17, 2005, 10:30 A.M. EST

MR. MACINNES: Good morning, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center here in Washington . We're delighted today to have our Foreign Press Center in New York join us by digital video conference. Our speaker today is John P. Walters, who is the Director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, and he's going to be speaking on progress on the anti-drug effort. He has a PowerPoint to start with, after which we'll take questions. I'll ask you to turn your cell phones off and during the question and answer period if you would identify yourself and your affiliation at the beginning and wait for the microphones to come to you. There will be two people with microphones that will assist you.

So without much further ado, Director Walters.

DIRECTOR WALTERS: Thank you. Can you hear me all right? I have a microphone on here. Thank you and let me go right to the information we want to announce. Last week I was in Colombia . I met with President Uribe and Colombian officials, U.S. personnel and others who are working there and working with partners throughout the hemisphere, indeed throughout the world, to help stem the shipment, production and the consequences of illegal drug use.

Today, I wanted to announce that in connection with those efforts we have seen—first slide—for the first time a decline in the purity of cocaine in the United States and an increase in price at the retail level. As many of you know, this has been an issue because the goal of supply reduction, obviously, in a balanced strategy of reducing both supply and demand, is to reduce the availability of these poisons to harm and continue the addiction of people who are victims of illegal drug use.

There has been some concern about when would we see this as a measure of whether or not supply is actually working, and we're pleased to announce that roughly beginning in February, based on our data of sampling inside the United States , there was a change in the availability of cocaine. Next slide.

This is a correlate to the announcement we made several weeks ago of the change in availability of heroin that is presumed produced in Colombia, so-called South American heroin, identified by the nature and characteristics of its chemical processing, which was analyzed from a different monitoring program that showed a 30 percent increase in price and a 22 percent decrease in purity between 2003 and 2004. This is from the domestic monitoring program.

I'd like to talk a little bit about what we think this means and then I'll be happy to take your questions because I think a broader understanding of how this process works is critical to keeping in mind what has been achieved and what the challenges are ahead.

Let me start with the next slide. Aside from the changes in available purity, if you walk away from here with only two things, this is the—actually, the second thing I'd like you to know from this briefing. This is—it looks a little busy. It looks like we're back in trigonometry class in middle school, which is frightening for some of us. But what this does simply is it has a percentage of what is consumed of various substances and it includes alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and meth, and then the percentage of users. You see that all these have a similar curve; that is the heaviest users consume vastly disproportionate amounts of these substances. This purple line is cocaine and it's probably the most skewed. That is if you look here, roughly, here—about here is 10 percent of the users. If you follow this up, about 80 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States we estimated consumed by roughly ten percent of the users.

Now, why is that important? It shows you that an addict base is the necessary underpinning of every substances of abuse, its patterns of consumption. And secondly, the reduction in the number of people who follow this category, that is, the treatment of people who are addicted. The diversion* into our drug treatment courts, where they come in because they violated the law but instead of being violent criminals, they are given an option as—that they're not violent criminals—to get in and stay in treatment.

Also, we know that particularly cocaine-addicted individuals are subject to disease. Many of them get sick, unfortunately, many of them die. Many of them also commit crimes for which they are incarcerated. We estimate that roughly 20 percent of the heavy user addicted population, each year, comes out of the consumption pool either through treatment, incarceration, death or disease and have to be replaced.

So we need to cut off the entry point through initiation—the people who start over here with non-addicted use—and we need to reduce this number. That is what constitutes demand—heavily focused on the addicted. Next slide.

For heroin, the underlining heroin number I announced today, which is also rooted in that kind of demand, these are the—this is a summary of what we've seen in terms of supply control in Colombia and elsewhere. The increase in cultivation by—based on the estimates that we have used—and a decline, due to eradication up through 2004—we don't have a 2005 number yet. At the same time, you see, we've had significant increases in seizures, especially through commercial air—that is, since September 11th of 2001, of course, the security procedures at airports and commercial and passenger air have been much greater. You see it reflected in the seizure rates through that mode.

Heroin, a smaller problem, much smaller area of cultivation, a dangerous drug, but one that we've also seen substantial changes in the production and substantial changes in seizures. The result has been, as we see in 2003, 2004, changes in the price, upward, and the purity, downward. Next slide.

Now, let me talk about cocaine, the new numbers we announcing today. First, demand. We have a national survey that measures demand in the United States among our—over 90—it's a sample of over—representing over 95 percent of the population, age 12 and above. We have consistent data from 2002, 2003 and 2004 that's the rate here.

For 2002, this map shows the intensity per capita of cocaine in 2002. Again, I think it's important to remember, while we are—have a serious problem with cocaine as with other drugs, a relatively small portion of the U.S. population actually is current or past month users, which will include both addicts and non-addicted users. You see, it's varied between .9, 1 percent, and .8 percent of the population. In fact, between 2003 and 2004, the reduction of .1 to .8, you see, is a 20 percent reduction, but because it's so small, it's hard to reliably even see changes of that magnitude within this kind of sample because it's small.

But this map graphically displays the changes between 2002 and 2004. The intensity of use above that—the national average about one percent to .8 percent, those that are above and those that are below. The lighter—the lighter shaded regions are below, the heavier shaded regions are above. This is 2004. You see in the—especially the Rocky Mountain area, the upper plains area and the Midwest , the intensity diminished on the same scale, the intensity increased in the southern central part and in the far northeast.

Here's the same—here's the overall numbers from which these charts are based. Here's the subset of those numbers of new users—entryway. There is a significant decline in past year use by 12 to 17 year olds, the entry point, so we're trying to cut off the entry point to the funnel that leads to addiction that is a big source of consumption. This is important because when we look at availability of a drug , that availability, measured in price and purity, is the intersection of supply and demand.

Many people have been waiting to see, are we going to see changes in price and purity in the United States . The fact is during this period and the reason for this slide is to show you that we believe through increased treatment, through increased drug courts, through increased prevention efforts of many people, demand was declining as was supply during this period. And it was necessary for supply reductions to overtake those demand reductions to begin to see the changes we saw today. Next slide.

This has a lot of data, but I want you to see the relative comparison to see—to be able to understand and hopefully help many people who worked hard on this and are asked to support it and to understand it, what has happened here because I think there's been some confusion in some cases.

This chart shows—these two charts are about Colombia. These two charts have to do with cocaine; that's global, focused on the Andean region where cocaine is, of course, produced in the world. What you see here is on the gray bars the actual estimated cultivation in Colombia. The green bars are the eradication rates. Again, there are two sets of numbers, as some of you know, in Colombia. One set of cultivation estimates is provided by the United Nations. It is lower during these periods. What the United Nations does essentially is take a sample of commercial satellite imagery, it takes an estimate at the beginning of the year and it subtracts all eradications. What that form of sampling and estimation will do, though, is tend to underestimate replanting or reconstitution in those areas because it will act as if eradication takes off the market all plants that are eradicated. We know that's not what's happening now so it tends to underestimate production.

The sample that you see here or the estimates you see here are based on the technique we have used, which essentially takes a sample of cultivation at the end of the year. Now, that sample we've had to adjust because the replant rates will nonetheless diminish the output. Instead of three, four or five harvests of leaves, they will get one, two or three harvests of leaves. So the same area under cultivation, if it's eradicated and replanted, may be a third or less productive than it was before.

What happens during the period of the mid-'90s to today is Colombia, as you know, became, as you've seen both of these numbers where pink is Colombia and these numbers showing Colombian cultivation, where the shift of cultivation into Colombia and its expansion vastly out-produced current world demand. You saw a wave of cocaine being produced through the expansion in Colombia that exceeded what had been the level of consumption. During this time, you also saw, and shortly afterwards, reports of greater availability of cocaine in Europe, greater abuse of cocaine in Brazil, talk of Brazil becoming in some cases the third largest consumer nation in the world based on some estimates that international bodies have done.

So what happened here was a huge wave of cocaine was set in motion to break on to the world markets. What Colombia did during this period is it cut the top off this wave, beginning with the presidency of President Uribe.

This chart simply takes and uses the estimate of what this level of cultivation converts into pure cocaine and the export quality cocaine, which is not 100 percent pure. I think it's, what, 84 percent, 84 or -5 percent pure. So these are the metric tons of pure cocaine just in Colombia. You see that even though the last two years—2003, 2004—where actual cultivation didn't decline, when you adjust for the reduction in production caused by eradication that had to be replanted, there was a significant decline in the ability to produce cocaine in Colombia. That translated into a decline in the production of cocaine worldwide, which you see in these numbers.

This chart, at the same time we see a decline in cultivation, you see a decline resulting from cocaine seizures. We have had historic and record seizures of cocaine in the transit area. You see here the old story, we seize 10 percent of these drugs, which has emerged and is still fixed in people's mind, is an anachronism of the past. We're seizing over 400 metric tons of cocaine based on a market that, as you can see here, is about 700 tons overall in some cases.

Now, the question has been, since eradication started dramatically, since seizures have been going up dramatically, why haven't we seen changes in cocaine availability last year or the year before?

When we estimate cocaine on the basis of the plants that are sampled and seen in the fields, those leaves are not instantly turned into cocaine. There's a pipeline. This is not like a piano wire, strung tightly, wherein you hit on one end you immediately see or hear the result on the other end. This is a pipeline that has some length and some flexibility in it. What is that? This chart, as the white box shows, is an estimate of U.S. consumption during the period '98 to 2004. The red box is seizures during that period and the blue box is what's left over, based on Andean production as a whole.

The question became relevant in 2004, once consumption and seizures eat up all of estimated production, why don't we see a scarcity at this point, because there's also cocaine in the rest of the world. I did not add the rest of the world because most of those estimates are pretty speculative.

The reason for that is that you are not seizing and consuming coca leaves that were grown in 2004 in 2004. You are seizing and consuming coca leaves that were probably grown and processed in 2003 and 2002. In looking back at what we know from people who have worked on this problem in Colombia and elsewhere, it takes roughly a year to two years—depending on how much you account for stashes and supplies—to pick the leaves, do the first level of processing, consolidate that processing, do a second level of processing, consolidate and stage that processing for shipping outside of the country, move it outside the country of Colombia into the Caribbean or into Central America and Mexico, consolidate that, move it across the U.S. border and turn it into retail cocaine in the United States. Between 12 and 24 months, depending on how much they may be stockpiling or storehousing in that process, are the best reasonable estimates that we have seen from those who work on this.

The following two charts first just shift the overall consumption—the overall production bar first one year into the future and then two years into the future. You see, for both of those, there was additional cocaine available in the system for both—during 2004. Both of these models, however, indicated that in 2005, production as we measure it based on the subtractions done by eradication, would no longer be able to meet the level of interdiction and consumption. Next slide.

That's the data we're releasing today. Roughly, in February of this year, cocaine availability in the United States, as measured in terms of purity and price, purity has gone down and price has gone up. Now, it's important to remember two things about this. What we're doing here with the policies and the efforts of many people are not an on-off switch. It's not a matter of yesterday there was cocaine, today there's no cocaine. You're seeing a constriction of the productive capacity to meet the demand globally we're measuring here in the United States.

If we follow through, we will continue to see this. It will be not be uniform in every place. It will not necessarily be visible to every user. Some users will not notice the difference, day-to-day, week-to-week. Over time, that will change. But what we've seen for the first time, is for those—and I know there are many of those, some of whom are actually working on this problem—who did not believe it was possible to change the availability of cocaine in the United States or elsewhere, that this was somehow a market that was incapable of being controlled or reduced. What has happened is, what we're announcing today is, there's no question that's happening. Last slide.

This just gives the summary of both cocaine and heroin purity. Obviously, there are many people who have worked hard to make this possible. First and foremost, the people of Colombia, led by President Uribe, the people who have worked in government, the people who have worked in the armed forces and the police, the people who have worked in the courts—many of whom have made tremendous sacrifices, including the sacrifices of their lives.

Our partners also, though, include United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, countries of the Caribbean, countries of Central America that have cooperated with us. In the United States, this has been a policy supported by bipartisan leaders in Congress and the executive branches of the United States has been working together here and broad—the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice and their components.

In returning to Colombia last week, it was the first time I'd been there since August of 2004. When I went there in August 2004 and landed, unfortunately, about that same time, the FARC in Colombia killed nine police officers, ambushed them, and I attended their funeral in a small town outside of Cali—saw their families, met their colleagues, to show respect and thank you for what they had done. They were killed because those officers in that region had been destroying laboratories and stashes of cocaine that the FARC used to finance its terrorism. They are one example of all too many individuals who have died in Colombia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, U.S. personnel and foreign personnel, who have fought those who would make their living off the enslavement of others to addiction and are willing to use crime and violence to make that business work.

What we're announcing today is that that effort has substantially changed the vitality of the beast that they sought to stop. Our challenge is to follow through. We're not done. But what we have shown today is those who have been preaching that this is not possible, those who believe that supply control is inevitably doomed to failure, those who have made the reputation of over years, saying that we ought to forget about trying to protect our citizens and live with the consequences of substance abuse are wrong. Now, the empirical data is we can both control and reduce demand and we can control and reduce supply. The excuses for not trying are gone. The excuses for not following through are no longer pertinent.

We need to follow through. We will be working with—and my meetings in Colombia were, in part, to—will continue the process of follow through and we will continue to do that here as well. But I want to end by, again, thanking those and particularly recognizing those who have given their lives and they and their families are in our thoughts and prayers regularly for we know that these benefits are bought at a high price. And we are sorry that that price is so high, but that price that has been paid has now shown a profound result. With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.

MR. MACINNES: We'll now take questions. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Thank you, I'm Maria Pena with EFE News Services. Despite the success stories you've brought here today, last week there was a hearing in Congress about how Mexican and Colombian drug cartels are making the fight against drugs that much more difficult in Central America because they're using it as a bridge to—between the U.S. consumers and the South American producers.

So my question is, what is the U.S. doing to stem that tide and to make sure that you do win the fight in Central America and elsewhere?

DIRECTOR WALTERS: Well, we're working with governments throughout the hemisphere and indeed throughout the world. We also work with the Government of Afghanistan on opium cultivation. We work with governments throughout the hemisphere on both coca, poppy, marijuana production, synthetic drug production. We've worked with the Government of Mexico extensively on all these criminal organizations that bring these poisons to all of our countries.

We'll follow through. We have to focus. I do think that, though, there's a tendency sometimes to talk about this that, you know, in what I think is a superficial and foolish manner. But because this isn't over tomorrow, we can't do anything about it. That's obviously not serious. As with any public safety, public health, public education problem, the core of civilized society is to build the capacity to protect people, to give them a better life through dealing with those threats. And we have been partners with governments throughout the hemisphere, respecting their sovereignty, respecting their need to do what is best for their citizens; but preventing drug trafficking increasingly from using borders as shields. And I think there is a growing consensus -- I hope the success of this effort will strengthen that consensus to stand up and help to make this beast weaker and less of a threat as rapidly as possible.

MR. MACINNES: We'll take the next question from New York.

QUESTION: Enrico Woolford from Capitol News in Georgetown Guyana, in South America. My question is, having made some progress with regard to the supply and demand side of cocaine, what is being done in terms of the proceeds, the money that is gained by the drug lords, particularly in countries in the Caribbean and in South America?

DIRECTOR WALTERS: It's an excellent question and I think that one of the challenges ahead to exploit additional weaknesses of trafficking is to do a better job about the money. We have now created joint task forces. Our Drug Enforcement Administration has made a requirement that every investigation involving trafficking and transport include a money-laundering component.

As much as traffickers are willing to use violence and intimidation to protect their drugs, they're even more determined to protect their money and I think we are not satisfied at the level of our disruption of their money at this point, although we continue to seize larger sums. We have been working with the Mexican Government as well as the Colombia Government to cut off what has been a means of money laundering through the black market peso exchanges. But this is an area that we intend to strengthen and try to bring to bear additional intelligence resources to go after the methods and the structures by which traffickers use to maintain their funds. The money is their power. The money is their motivation. The money is their addiction and we intend to cut them off from that as rapidly as we possibly can. And I think there is—that's an area where there is more to do and more vulnerability and I hope we can exploit to weaken this threat further.

QUESTION: Thank you. Reuben Barrera with the Mexican News Agency, NOTIMEX. I find that what we hear and saw in that hearing two weeks ago about what's going on in Central America. There has been some—well, actually, a prominent think-tank group this week released a report pointing that there is a lot of increasing parallels in the way how drug traffickers organizations work in Mexico. They say that there is a tendency to compare Mexico in some sort of a new Colombia in this area because they point the fact that these drug traffic organizations are now more violent, they have greater resources, and in some ways they now operate with more independency with Colombian drug traffic organizations than ten years ago.

So the question is if you have seen any signs that Mexico is becoming some sort of Colombia place where these drug organizations operate?

DIRECTOR WALTERS: Well, there's no question that over the last decade the movement of shipments of heroin and cocaine from South America up to the United States through Mexico has increased. Substantially greater shares of drugs that used to go through the Caribbean as a result of interdiction efforts, as a result of government efforts in the Caribbean, as a result of our efforts, as a result of extraditions and enforcement efforts in parts of Colombia, have been shifted toward Mexico. As you probably know, we are now working more intensively with the Mexican Government to both coordinate joint efforts in the hemisphere on seizures—there's been record seizures over the last several years of cocaine—and efforts recently also to seize money coming back into Mexico from drug users in the United States to pay for these drugs and therefore pay for the organizations downstream that supplies it.

In addition, we have, as you know, worked with the Mexican Government on a broad range of efforts to target the major trafficking organizations. There is no question that those organizations over the last ten years became more violent and more powerful. How did they do that? Because of the money paid by the United States drug users to those organizations' retail representatives. As President Bush said at the beginning of his administration, it is unacceptable that the American drug consumer is the single largest funder of anti-democratic forces in this hemisphere.

Our job is not to ask other countries to do what we need to do ourselves. We need to reduce demand. That's why we set the goal, at his direction, of a 25 percent reduction of drug use over five years, a 10 percent reduction in two years. We have received a 17 percent reduction over three years for young people. We want to continue to move toward his goal over the next five years through expanded treatment. His first initiative was to bring more of those who are addicted into treatment. We've begun to deploy those resources. We are deploying resources to screen people in our public—in our health system for addiction as a routine matter. We know that people who are addicted regularly come in because they're in accidents, the victims and perpetrators of violence. They're subject to diseases and maladies at a greater rate than non-using citizens. We want them screened in the public health system and in emergency rooms and in doctors' offices and my office has been working with HHS and other agencies of our government to do that.

In addition, you will remember two years ago President Bush announced for the first time the federal government will support communities who make the decisions, their own decision, to use random drug testing with school children. We know that drug and substance abuse starts with adolescence. People begin the process of using that results in too many cases in addiction.

Random testing, while it's been controversial, is being adopted in more and more places. Why? Because we understand addiction as a disease, because we understand that testing, when it's done confidentially and to refer young people to help, cuts off the path of that disease most dramatically. My office is now monitoring this throughout the United States. On average, we see one school district a week now adopting random student drug testing. Why? Because it works. Many of our employers use testing as a way of protecting their work force from both the disease of addiction and from the consequences of that disease that affects the corporate ability to function effectively. We're just applying that same lesson to our own population.

Again, there are tools that will work on both demand and we believe this shows tools that will work on supply that many people need to understand and more fully appreciate and countries throughout the world can adopt. I have met just two weeks ago with my counterpart from Russia and we talked a great deal about both supply but also a great deal about demand reduction efforts that Russia is interested in, as have been our European counterparts. So I think yes, there's no question that these mafias have grown in power. They've grown in power both because the supply both inside and outside Mexico, more importantly outside Mexico, was growing. That, we're showing today, has changed demonstrably. And because consumption was not being checked and that, we have shown, I think steadily over the last several years, we intend to do and we hope to do it more rapidly. And when supply and demand efforts coincide, that's when you can see dramatic changes.

The 17 percent decline I talked about with teenage drug use included in it a 60 percent decline in ecstasy use, something that had been growing dramatically last—five years ago. Why? Because we both targeted specifically youth attitudes about ecstasy and we had cooperation, particularly with the Dutch and some of our European counterparts, in enforcement that radically reduced the availability of ecstasy. When supply and demand come together, we can see even more dramatic drops in the consumption rates and the consequences and the money and the crime associated with drug trafficking. That's what we want to do.


QUESTION: Hi, Alfonso Luna-Morales from the AFP, a French news agency. I want to know what the annual cost for United States of fighting drugs in Colombia.

DIRECTOR WALTERS: The overall budget for the Andean Initiative, which includes more than Colombia, is about $740 million. And I think about a little over 400 million of that is in Colombia. The overall national budget of the United States is about $12.5 billion. We spend about $3 billion on treatment and we spend roughly 42, 43 percent on demand reduction and the rest on supply reduction, which includes—the largest area is enforcement inside the United States but also includes border and foreign operations.

QUESTION: Yes, I'm Natalia Orozco from RCN TV Colombia. Dr. Walters, (inaudible) speaking about a second Plan Colombia that you will start in 2007. Is your office going to support this idea and what—I mean, which budget can we expect from that?

DIRECTOR WALTERS: Yes, President Bush and President Uribe spoke about this when President Uribe visited with President Bush at Crawford a number of months ago. We're now in the process of continuing to expand the cooperation that we're working on and following through. I'm pleased to say, as you may know, that the Congress just passed our budget for the next fiscal year for these programs and gave even slightly more than the President requested. So we are now working to set forth from where we are now how we're going to go year to year.

I think you're most likely to see a kind of, you know, five-year program then. What we're trying to do is year-to-year follow-through in the most effective ways. It doesn't mean any pullback. It doesn't mean any hesitancy. But as you know, we appropriate money year to year in our congressional system and we believe that support will remain strong. We certainly will fight to make sure that it's strong. And my meetings with Colombian officials were, in part, to talk about what kinds of operations we need to have to go forward and then how we apportion what contributions the United States can make and what contributions and burdens that the Colombian Government will make, which of course are the greater burden.

QUESTION: My name is Juan Carlos Rodriguez from the Associated Press. Would you like to see the U.S. aid to Colombia continue to focus mainly on plant eradication efforts or would you also like to see more of an emphasis on the social programs and the other side of Plan Colombia type of thing?

DIRECTOR WALTERS: Well, I think we've learned that we need to have a mix of programs here where, partly, as President Uribe has been, I think, the most eloquent and effective advocate: bringing rule of law to communities; giving them protection; bringing courts, schools, health care to municipalities of Colombia for the first time in modern history; of giving people a sense of economic opportunity as well as liberty and security.

You know, Colombia has had, I think, unprecedented GPD growth in the last several years; declines in, of course, violence, murders, kidnapping, terrorist attacks. It's also had what I think are probably unprecedented growths in foreign investment in the last two years into Colombia as a result of this. So it's all part of the same thing.

I think there's a tendency here to think of this as either/or on drugs. I mean, there's a kind of, maybe it's a right brain/left brain problem, I don't quite know, that you either have to focus on demand or you focus on supply. President Bush has said from the beginning that we need a balanced strategy. What we've learned is this is a market phenomena; we need to reduce both demand and supply if we're going to have lasting change.

You know, in the past we've tried to do just treatment or just enforcement, just interdiction, and what we've learned, and what I think we're joining with our partners in applying, is the benefit of extending lawful order, not just removing a criminal strength through money and the drug business, but also bringing in courts that work, the ability to make a living and see a better future for your children, the ability to move around in your own country without fear and to understand that next year is likely to be better than this year as we work together in a peaceful and productive manner.

So I mean, that's the hope that has obviously fueled the support for President Uribe's policies in Colombia. I think that's the path we're going to follow for the future. And I think the largest area that we hope to move forward in is opening up trade. As much as, you know, aid needs to be a component of this, there is no question that the amount of money that's produced by individual aid programs are dwarfed by the expansions of real trade, of free trade that's grown between Colombia, between Mexico, between other countries of the hemisphere, and we've made it a priority to try to expand those areas of trade because they are good for everybody.

MR. MACINNES: Thank you very much.

Last Updated: November 18, 2005