Why have billions of dollars and thousands of anti-narcotics agents around the world failed to throttle the global traffic in cocaine, heroin and marijuana? Blame wrong-headed policies, largely driven by the United States, and what experts call the balloon effect.
Squeezing a balloon in one place makes it expand in another. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one springs up. Take the example of Colombia and Mexico, at present a focus of U.S. attention because of large-scale violence that threatens to spill across the border.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, almost all the cocaine consumed in the United States was grown in Colombia and shipped to South Florida along a variety of sea and air routes. Colombian traffickers fighting for market share turned Miami into a city where shootouts, contract killings and kidnappings became part of daily life.
That began to change when enraged citizens appealed to the federal government for help to crack down on the “cocaine cowboys.” Then President Ronald Reagan established a special force to cut the cocaine pipelines and end the violence. “The Mexicans must rue the day the South Florida Task Force was set up,” said Peter Reuter, a scholar at the University of Maryland. “That was the beginning of the problems it faces today.”