Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Drug Trafficking in the Americas: Reforming United States Trade Policy

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Drug Trafficking in the Americas: Reforming United States Trade Policy

Article excerpt


On December 2, 1993, Pablo Escobar, infamous leader of Colombia's Medellin drug cartel, was gunned down by Colombian authorities as he attempted to flee his hideout in a Medellin suburb.1 By this time, Escobar and his syndicate had killed dozens of people, exported tons of cocaine to the United States, and caused both Colombia and the United States to expend extraordinary amounts of manpower and resources in tracking him down.2 The irony of this incident was the awareness of all involved that Escobar's death would not slow the flow of Colombian cocaine into the United States: there was strong evidence to suggest that Escobar's rival, the Calí cartel, had contributed substantially to his capture in order to regain control of the lucrative cocaine market.3 Almost eleven years later, on November 22, 2004, President George W. Bush highlighted his visit to Colombia by announcing that he would ask Congress to renew a Colombian aid package aimed at fighting drug production in that country.4

This Note discusses the connection between United States trade policy and drug trafficking in the Americas. It begins with a discussion of the current drug use trends in the United States, the narcotics trafficking threat from the United States' neighbors in the Western hemisphere, the links between free trade and drug trafficking, and the anti-drug mechanisms the United States currently employs. This Note then proceeds to analyze the effectiveness of current economic measures in stemming drug trafficking and to explore alternative, trade-based approaches. Finally, it argues that in order to effectively curtail the influx of illegal drugs from its neighbors, the United States must face certain economic realities, however politically unpalatable, and modify its trade policy at a basic level.


Use of and trafficking in illegal drugs is a problem of international scale.5 The United States is especially familiar with the world drug problem: consumption of illegal drugs in the United States is measured in metric tons,6 and current budget allocations aimed at curbing drug use and trafficking exceed $12 billion.7 In response to what is deemed "an unparalleled transnational threat in today's world,"8 the United States government has, in addition to fighting domestic drug activity within its borders, taken an active anti-drug stance in its foreign policy.9

A. The Present State of Illegal Drug Use

Illegal drug use in the United States has been a problem for many years and shows no sign of slowing down. The 2004 National Drug Threat Assessment reports that in adults age eighteen to twenty-five, 15.4 percent report having used cocaine in their lifetime, 53.8 percent report having used marijuana, and 15.1 percent report having used MDMA (commonly known as "Ecstasy").10 In 2002, there were 1,209,938 mentions of drug use by emergency room patients (compared with 899,977 in 1995), and in 2000 alone, over 1.5 million people were admitted to substance abuse treatment programs in the United States.11 Americans consumed over 259 metric tons of cocaine in 2000 and over 13.3 metric tons of heroin in the same year.12 In response to the drug problem, the United States government throws more money each year into prevention, treatment, and law enforcement efforts; the recommended National Drug Control Budget for fiscal year 2005 is $12.6 billion, a 4.7 percent increase over the amount authorized in 2004, and nearly a 10 percent increase over the 2003 budget allocation.13

The United States faces significant drug trafficking threats from its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere because these countries can easily meet or exceed U.S. demands for illegal drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration "estimates that more than 80 percent of the worldwide powder cocaine supply and approximately 90 percent of powder cocaine smuggled into the United States are produced in Colombia."14 According to estimates, approximately 544 metric tons of cocaine left South America en route to the United States in 2002, with only 192 metric tons being seized or consumed on the way. …

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