10 questions for the U.S. drug czar
CNN's Rafael Romo talks with Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s National Office of Drug Control Policy.
January 20th, 2011
08:57 PM ET

10 questions for the U.S. drug czar

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s National Office of Drug Control Policy, concluded Thursday a three-day visit to Colombia to assess the progress the South American country has made in its fight against drug trafficking and Marxist guerrillas. Under an agreement known as “Plan Colombia,” the United States has provided the country with more than seven billion dollars in aid in the last ten years.

CNN’s Rafael Romo sat down with Kerlikowske in the capital city of Bogota to talk about the United States’ role in tackling drug trafficking in Latin America.

Romo: Has Plan Colombia been worth it?

Kerlikowske: I think that the reduction in violence is very significant and is well noted by the citizens. I mean, [Colombia] is now a very viable country.

Q: Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue says that Plan Colombia has failed in reducing the production of drugs. Is that the case?

A: Cocaine consumption is down dramatically in the United States.  We have less of an appetite for cocaine. We use cocaine at far lower levels, particularly over the last four years. What we have seen is an increase in cocaine consumption in Europe.

Q: Are you really satisfied that the Colombian government is doing the best they can with the funding provided from the United States and that they’re not just telling you what you want to hear?

A: All my meetings with government officials here is clear that they’re doing everything possible to improve.

Q: What did Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tell you about the future of the binational relationship?

A: He knows all of the issues.  He recognizes the importance of the relationship. I think he also clearly understands the changing nature of drug trafficking, which is so much more international, less focused on a particular country.

Q: Colombian National Security Advisor Sergio Jaramillo told me that they’re increasingly focusing on prevention as opposed to just law enforcement. Is that your perception as well?

A: That was my clear take away and I think it’s a perfect transition to sustainability of safety and security and responsibility for more local control and I think it makes great sense.

Q: A cartoon published in the Colombian daily El Tiempo shows the United States as a tall Uncle Sam calling the shots while a short Colombian farmer is obediently waiting to take orders. Is it an accurate reflection of reality?

A: I really see this as an equal partnership. This is about working together and cooperating. If we’re not all in this together we’re not going to be very successful. And it isn’t about one country telling the other what to do.

Q: Can the lessons learned in Colombia be replicated in Mexico?

A: It’s important to realize that Colombia’s success didn’t happen overnight. What isn’t getting reported in Mexico is the number of successes they’ve had. There’s been some decimation of some of the cartels, a number of what they call “the high value targets,” those most sought-after have been arrested or have died in the attempt to be arrested.

Q: Still there have been 30,000 drug-related deaths in Mexico in the last four years.

A: It’s important for us to do everything possible to support President [Felipe] Calderon as he takes this on. Mexico is one of our largest trading partners. We share almost 2,000 miles of border and if ever there was a need for true partnership Mexico is it.

Q: Is this the right moment for a Plan Mexico just like it was for Colombia ten years ago?

A: There is [the] Merida [Initiative] and the [Obama] administration is working on the shifts for the next wave of what will happen with Merida.  It’s also important not to take our eye off the ball.  Merida is not just a Plan Mexico; it is about Central America as well.

Q: But funds allocated to the Merida Initiative pale in comparison to Plan Colombia.

A: What doesn’t get captured in the budget numbers is the ability to have training and technology and assistance, changes in the judicial system, law enforcement cooperation.  Those are probably as important as just how much money is put in each place.

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Filed under: Colombia • Drug violence • Drugs
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Doug

    The war on drugs is not won, down or over. Cocaine use isn't down because of the war on drugs it is because, just like throughout history the publics tastes are changing... It hapened in the past when when heroin was top dog as a drug than it switched to cocaine and now cocaine use is goping down as heroin and opiate use rises. The news or the govts at least are not telling the true story. Prohibition has never worked and never will. Prohibition keeps drug prices higher than if they were legal plain and simple. So an addict with a $100 a day habit has to steal $300-400 worth of drugs to fence to gett that $100... So crime is increase 3-4 fold because the drugs are not legalized and the prices kept down reasonabvle to their costs. I used to be and addict and see it first hand. Now the govt is switching opiate addict to suboxone which is 25 times stronger than morphine and from my experience almost impossible to get off of and the pharmaceutical companies are making a mint at $8 a pill with doc over prescribing up to four pills a day to addicts. So they basically switched their addictions to drugs as at least expensive if not more and making a mint. Its a nightmare and all because docs got me hooked on vicodin for a pinched sciatic nerve. I had to go to street drugs because they are cheaper and ins often doesn't cover the costs to see a doc once a month for five minutes to write another script and make $3-400 dollars for five minutes work. The newsa isn't even even covering this, most prescribing doctors know less than I do from research. I have taught me doc more about cutting down dosages than he even knew and he is supposed to be a specialist. Its sad and they have ruined my life.

    January 21, 2011 at 5:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. JJ

    You could at least spell the country's name right. Not misspelled once but in every location?

    January 21, 2011 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. Freethinker

    Legalize pot in the US now! Then decriminalize the hard stuff and spend a fraction of current budgets on treatment for addicts.

    January 21, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. what

    Drugs are not down and war on drugs aint working.what a waste of usa taxpayers' billions,we should have kept that money to pay china off loan.if gov gave addicts pills to block them getting high,no more drug use.

    January 21, 2011 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. BB*X

    He was asked "Q: Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue says that Plan Colombia has failed in reducing the production of drugs. Is that the case?"

    He didn't answer the question, no one asked about the consumption of cocaine in the US. This tells me that they are still producing the same amount of coke in Columbia but he didn't want to admit that Plan Columbia has done nothing to curb production. And who did they ask about consumption, the guy on the corner who told them that he hadn't snorted coke in a week? Oh, well you haven't used it in a week, that must mean consumption is down.

    January 21, 2011 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  6. Wes Stephens

    Cocaine consumption is down?
    Not where I am....and it's cheaper and more pure than ever.
    Just sayin'

    January 21, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. jo blow

    hypocrites should worry more about their own problems; the drug war is a joke and america is becoming a punchline.

    January 21, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. 420High

    We have to have a war on drugs or else what would all these DEA workers do, go on unemployment?!?

    January 21, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ken

    Prohibition will not work. Never has never will. Continuing with a failed policy is not in the PUBLIC'S interest!
    Distillers and prisonguard unions are funding most of the opposition to legalization. Yes, it's about money and power. Cannabis is certainly not to blame for society's ills. Prohibition causes far more damage than its use. For more info. NORML.org

    January 21, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. searchingForAnAthiestExtremist

    The question was about 'PRODUCTION'. While it's great to hear our consumption is down I would still be interested in a response to the question of production.

    January 21, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. trent

    Since my huge post didn't make it ill guess ill keep this short.

    A war on a desire won't work, it is like having a war on lust. Drugs will always be readily available if people still want them. So either keep throwing billions of dollars at the war on drugs or come up with a system that will help educate people.
    I recomend a system where people can have access to all desired drugs from legimate businesses that are taxed. The amount of drugs could be determined by select, intelligent people. The lower amount will let people get their high every few days or weeks but with the harder drugs the consumer will have to deal with withdrawls.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. searchingForAnAthiestExtremist

    I agree with Trent all the way.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. searchingForAnAthiestExtremist

    But I still wish people would answer questions...and I wish journalists would keep asking until they get direct answers.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damon

      Exactly. Typical "everything is fine, move along" is all you see here. Don't mind the dead innocent bystanders, or imprisoned/dead people trying to provide for their family.

      January 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
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