The US has been at war for at least 50 years against drug trafficking. A fight that, despite all the resources he dedicates, is losing. In the previous five years more cocaine has arrived in the country, for more places and cheaper (wholesale) than ever. Now, a study indicates that the US anti-drug policy itself has created an ecosystem in which drug traffickers respond to each coup by adapting, opening new routes and nodes.
In 2016, the latest data available, the conglomerate of federal agencies of the US Government that fights against drugs disposed of 4,700 million dollars to prevent cocaine from entering the country. It is a money dedicated only to intercept shipments, there are other items to destroy the crops or fight the drug traffickers already on American soil. The money is distributed to almost a dozen agencies, from coastguard and border surveillance, to intelligence services, through the main anti-drug agency, the DEA. In the case of cocaine, the transit zone to be monitored is to the south: Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
However, in 2017, according to official data more than 1,100 tons of cocaine arrived in the country, 97% from Colombia. It is the highest number ever recorded. In addition, the cocaine sold in the streets is about $ 20 cheaper than 10 years ago (calculated in grams of pure cocaine) and its purity has risen 22% in this time. In parallel, deaths from overdose purity. In parallel, deaths from overdoses have doubled compared to 2007. One last data reflects failure as none: The Coast Guard, which has the mission of intercepting suspicious vessels in non-territorial waters, seized 8.2% of the flow estimated total cocaine. Rarely intercepts 10% of all traffic.
The geographic area of transit since it watches the US has multiplied by three
Now, a group of geographers assures that the origin of so much failure is in the same idea of the interception. In fact, they maintain that it is the anti-drug operations that generate the conditions for more drug trafficking. To confirm this, they created Narcologic, a model fed with elements of economic theory, geographic data and available official statistics of seizures in the transit zone in several departments of Guatemala, Honduras, Panama. Nicaragua and Costa Rica Its objective was to reproduce the evolution of the caches since 2005.
"Narcologic generates spatial and temporal patterns of cocaine trafficking qualitatively accurate and quantitatively realistic in response to interception events," explains University of Alabama researcher and lead author of the study, Nicholas Magliocca. "In particular, we compared the timing, magnitude and location of cocaine shipments simulated by the model with those collected in the Consolidated Anti-Drug Database" This repository collects all official information on operations against drug trafficking. "Narcologic was able to recreate the timing and location of cocaine flows in seven departments of Central America," he concludes. Only in the quantities confiscated could not be entirely accurate, although it reproduced the temporary trend of increases and decreases of the intercepted.
The results of the model, published in the magazine PNAS, also reproduced a displacement of the traffic routes towards the south and towards Pacific waters. This displacement (see map), started years ago, has caused an enlargement of the area used by drug traffickers. "The transit zone has been enlarged from 2 to 7 million square miles between 1996 and 1997," says Magliocca. "It is a clear response and a result of the interception operation." or what Narcologic reveals is that there is a dynamic relationship between interceptors and drug traffickers in which they show a great capacity for adaptation.
The ultimate consequence is that there are now more entry routes than in the past. To the Caribbean route of the 60s and 70s have been added the coastal trasiegos on both sides of the American coast, the road routes and the Pacific way that is born on the beaches of Colombia or Ecuador. The critics with the anti-drug policy had coined the term balloon effect to define the result of the operations against the narco: Pressing it only achieves that the air goes to another side. Now these geographers also speak of something more graphic, the cockroach effect: By crushing it, it spreads. This expansion makes the interception network more porous, which would explain the low percentage of seizures despite the increase in funds. But it also has other collateral damage.
Only 10% of the flow of cocaine that transits through Central America is seized
"When the police intercept the traffickers, they are encouraged to operate in remote areas that are difficult for the police to access, and in Central America they are protected and indigenous areas, generally forested, or owned by small indigenous or mestizo farmers," recalls the geographer from the Ohio State University (USA) and co-author of the study, Kendra McSweeney. To the initial deforestation to open airstrips or roads, buy and deforest lands to pretend that they are farmers, launder their money or even grow oil palm. "Therefore, the main impact is deforestation and the dispossession of small farmers," adds McSweeney.
For the creators of Narcologic, this geographic model could serve to detect before acting these possible collateral damages or to explore alternative anti-drug strategies, from escalation of interceptions to "a minimization of interception operations".