BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — Interruptions of the flow of cocaine to the United States are causing street prices to rise, a sign that the "war on drugs" is working, the White House anti-drug chief said here Thursday.
John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters that interdictions in Colombia, in other countries along cocaine transit routes and on the open seas were reducing drug supplies, according to data on price and purity gathered in 37 major U.S. cities.
As a result of reduced supply, street cocaine prices over the first nine months of the year rose to an average $136.93 per pure gram at the end of September, a 44% increase from January, he said. Price and purity data were supported by other measures, including reduced evidence of cocaine use as found in workplace tests, he said.
Price bumps in U.S. street cocaine prices have occurred before, touted by U.S. law enforcement officials each time as evidence that counter-narcotics policies were working. But the increases often proved temporary and were followed by supply adjustments by drug dealers and a settling back of cocaine prices.
However, Walters said his office had not seen such an extended rise in prices since the White House started tracking the data. "Nine months isn't temporary in my view," he said.
Critics who acknowledge that more cocaine is being seized point out that data on Colombian coca cultivation do not conclusively show that production is down.
Others, such as Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based organization advocating alternatives to the administration's drug policy, said higher prices inevitably cause dealers to boost supply.
"Assuming that high cocaine prices are hurting cartels is like assuming high gasoline prices are hurting oil companies," Piper said.
Others say the decreased supply may just reflect the fact that more Colombian cocaine is being shipped to Europe, where it can fetch even higher prices.
The announcement comes as the House and Senate are hammering out a fiscal 2008 version of Plan Colombia, the aid program on which U.S. taxpayers have spent $5 billion to fight drug trafficking and terrorism. The aid has brought improved security to Colombia but mixed results in the drug campaign.
Democrats in Congress are pushing for modifications in the program to offer poor Colombian farmers more economic alternatives to coca cultivation and processing, and to place less emphasis on spraying and military aid.
The White House is seeking similar aid for Mexico in a proposal called the Merida Initiative. President Bush on Thursday asked Congress to approve $500 million for Mexico as the first installment of a $1.4-billion package.
According to a State Department statement, the funds will be used for helicopters and surveillance aircraft, inspection equipment, canine units for Mexican forces, and security technology and technical advice
Responding to criticism that the plan focuses too much on military hardware and not enough on state-building and alternative economic programs, Walters said that security had to be established in Mexico before aid programs could take root.
Walters' visit comes as the Bush administration continues to push Congress to approve a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia. He said such a bill would provide a greater economic stimulus for Colombia than any alternative development program.
Chances are slim that Congress will vote on a trade deal this year, as Democrats are insisting that Colombian President Alavro Uribe first improve his record on human rights and environmental concerns and ensure the safety of union organizers.