Sunday, May 13, 2012

Honduras and Drugs: Fact Check

Porfirio Lobo Sosa made a plea Saturday for the United States to cut its drug use because doing so would reduce the level of criminal activity in Central America.  He said the US must reduce its demand for drugs to zero because Honduras cannot change its geographic position.  He claims that a State Department document says that 79% of the cocaine that transits Mexico from South America is destined for the United States.

On the surface, at least, Lobo Sosa's argument seems logical, but is it supported by data on increasing drug use in the United States that could be correlated with the increasing criminal activity in Honduras?

Oh that it were so simple.  Lobo Sosa is dead wrong.

When we talk about drug trafficking in Honduras, we are, these days, talking about cocaine.  Cocaine is by far the most common drug to be seized in Honduras.

To support Porfirio Lobo Sosa's claims we would expect to see increasing cocaine use in the United States over a period when criminal activity also rose in Honduras. We would see an increase either in the number of users of cocaine, or in the per capita amount that each used in a year.  Sadly, the numbers fail to support Lobo Sosa's argument.

A 2011 study by the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse found that in general, cocaine use in the United States has been declining since 2003.  They also cite significant declines in the use of methamphetamines and amphetamines, while marijuana and ecstasy use has been increasing since 2009. The usage of other hallucinogens and inhalents remained steady. The US National Drug Threat Assessment for 2011 cites the above data to raise an alarm over increasing levels of student drug use (mostly marijuana, with a little ecstasy alarm too).

OK, that didn't support Lobo Sosa so let's try another angle.  The US Drug Enforcement Administration seizes drugs from traffickers in the US every year.  Given that enforcement efforts have been maintained or increasing, seizures should have increased if the amount of drugs entering the country was increasing.  What trends do these seizures show?

The DEA Stride system data shows that cocaine seizures (by weight) have declined by about 50% since 2007. Marijuana seizures have about doubled in the same time period, suggesting that there hasn't been either a general decline in drug imports or in efficacy of the DEA.

OK, that doesn't support Lobo Sosa either.  Let's look at see what the world consumption of cocaine is like.

The UN World Drug Report for 2010 puts a final stake in Lobo Sosa's argument.  It shows that the area under cultivation for coca has remained relatively constant since 2007, well below the high of 2000, and that yields of cocaine have also remained relatively constant since 2007.

In Colombia, coca cultivation decreased by 58% from 2000 to 2009 while Peru and Bolivia increased their production during the same period.  There were slight declines in the yield from processing coca leaves in 2008 and 2009, with Colombia being responsible for about half of the total cocaine production, Peru accounting for slightly more than a third of the total production, and Bolivia making up the rest.

While cocaine seizures skyrocketed in the last several years in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, they have declined slightly in North America.

In the two largest cocaine markets, for the last decade the number of cocaine users has remained fairly constant, at 6.2 million users in North America, and 4.1 million users in Europe.

It is precisely in Central and South America that use has been rising during this same period, to 2.7 million users consuming about 20% of the total production, versus 41% for North America and 26% for Europe.

Most of the drug planes that crash in Honduras are Venezuelan flagged.  The UN suggests Venezuela handles about 10% of the world cocaine exports, almost all of it grown and produced in Colombia.  Venezuela's ultimate customers are in the United States and Europe, but their transhipment points are in the markets where drug consumption is increasing, Central America and the Caribbean.

So to sum up, there an inverse relationship between cocaine consumption in the US and Canada and rising levels of criminal activity and drug trafficking in Honduras.  There is a clear correlation with increasing cocaine consumption among Latin Americans, and particularly Central American and Caribbean populations.

And in any event, cocaine trafficking might be on its way out for Hondurans.  Drug synthesis appears be the new drug trafficking business in Honduras.  Recent news stories suggest that such a change has taken place.

The Mexican authorities in the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan  recently stopped 136 tons of chemicals being trans-shipped from China to Honduras, all of them with legal as well as illegal uses.  The fact that the shipping manifest listed the shipment as aluminum sulphate when it arrived at the port of Veracruz from China, but the contents were found to be things like methylamine, used to make the synthetic drug methamphetamine, and phenylacetate, used in making phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) which in turn is used in synthesizing amphetamines, was the basis for believing it was destined for illegal drug manufacture.

Combine this with the April 1 interdiction of 320 tons of precursor chemicals in Guatemala, also being shipped to Honduras and we get the impression Honduras has already become a center for drug synthesis.

That's 456 tons of synthetic drug precursors that were bound for Honduras intercepted in two months of this year.  You'd need industrial scale facilities to make use of that volume of chemicals.  So far, no drug labs synthesizing these drugs have been identified in Honduras. 

Perhaps Porfirio Lobo Sosa should do a little research before he assigns blame to United States demand, which is not increasing, for increased criminal activity and drug trafficking in Honduras. He could look closer to home, at the impunity with which crimes are committed in Honduras, in order to help explain increased criminal activity there.

Ultimately the cocaine that transits Honduras, whatever its destination, comes from Colombia whose president Lobo Sosa counts among his closest advisors.

Maybe they should chat about this?

No comments: