The New Cocaine War: Peru Overtakes Colombia as World's Top Coca Grower

With the declaration by the United Nations on Thursday that Colombia has reduced its coca crop by 25 percent, meaning Peru has likely passed the country as the world's largest cultivator of coca, Colombians can breathe a sigh of relief. Ravaged by a decades-long civil war in large part funded by that country's massive drug trade, Colombia is now making progress in bringing its conflict with the FARC rebel group to an end.

But success in Colombia far from heralds the end of the drug war, and decreasing production there only illustrates the degree to which the manufacture of drugs -- in particular cocaine -- is shifting globally. Even as the traditional strongholds of cocaine use -- North America and Europe -- witness decreases in the drug's prevalence, cocaine is becoming more popular elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia and South America. With economies booming and incomes rising, the once-favorite drug of American yuppies is now more accessible to the new upper classes of the developing world.

Welcome to the new cocaine war.

The story of declining coca production in Colombia and its gradual shift to Peru is part of a long-running trend in cocaine manufacturing. Since the 1990s, crackdowns in one Latin American country have pushed production elsewhere. While cocaine production has generally decreased over the past decade, that decline has been centered in Colombia.

New drug-consumption trends are creating something of an altered picture. Though the rate of drug use remains far lower in Asia than elsewhere in the world, drugs, including cocaine, have made remarkable inroads on the continent in recent years. For Latin America's cocaine barons, growing disposable income in Asia has created a potentially lucrative market. In July 2012, for instance, authorities in Hong Kong seized their largest-ever shipment of cocaine, valued at a whopping $98 million.

That trend is mirrored in the United Nations' annual drug report from this year, which documents how the share of global cocaine use is moving away from regions like North America and into other countries:

The prevalence of global cocaine use tells a similar story:

But as methods of making the drug have changed, and as the production and distribution of cocaine have evolved, the drug's customers have changed too. These changes have undermined the widespread perception that cocaine is predominantly a rich man's drug. The United Nations has examined this question and found that in Latin America cocaine use is far less tied to increases in income, which likely reflects the availability of the drug along supply routes and the presence of cheaper versions of the drug. In Europe, meanwhile, higher rates of cocaine use are associated with greater levels of per capita income.

With the cocaine market gradually shifting away from the United States, cartels are now moving into countries like Brazil. With its 5,000-mile border with Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- the world's three-largest cocaine producers -- smuggling the drug into Brazil is a relatively easy and lucrative enterprise. From there, the drug either hits the domestic market or is shipped to Africa en route to Europe. Providing 36.8 percent of global cocaine demand, the United States is still far and away the world's largest market for the drug. But Brazil is not far behind, with 17.7 percent of the global market. Though trendlines on cocaine usage are moving the right direction in the United States -- cocaine use has dropped by an estimated two-thirds in 30 years -- drug cartels can still make enormous sums off of moving the drug into the U.S. market.

Colombia's success in decreasing coca production can be largely attributed to its militarized approach to dealing with its cartels and an aggressive eradication program. Politicians in both Colombia and the United States are likely to point to the U.N.'s findings about coca production as an example of the success of the so-called Plan Colombia.

But as cocaine begins to move out of Colombia, other markets are opening up for the drug, ensuring its continued prevalence both in Latin American and elsewhere around the world.


National Security

Making You 'Comfortable' with Spying Is Obama's Big NSA Fix

Barack Obama held a press conference on Friday afternoon, supposedly to announce reforms of the NSA's far-flung surveillance programs. In reality, the White House briefing was the start of a marketing campaign for the spy programs that have turned so controversial in recent months. And the president's message really boiled down to this: It's more important to persuade people surveillance is useful and legal than to make structural changes to the programs.

"The question is, how do I make the American people more comfortable?" Obama said.

Not that Obama's unwilling to make any changes to America's surveillance driftnets -- and he detailed a few of them -- but his overriding concern was that people didn't believe him when he said there was nothing to fear.

In an awkward analogy, the president said that if he'd told his wife Michelle that he had washed the dishes after dinner, she might not believe him. So he might have to take her into the kitchen and show her the evidence.

The tour of the NSA's kitchen appeared today in the form of two "white papers," one produced by the Justice Department, another by the NSA, that offered a robust defense of the legal basis for the programs, and their value, but offered practically no new details to the administration's already public defense. If the president meant to offer more proof that the programs really are fine, it was not to be found in the information his administration released today.

What structural alterations the president said he is willing to make to the surveillance regime mostly took the form of initial sketches and broad commitments to balance "security and liberty." In perhaps his biggest concession, Obama said he was willing to consider changing procedures in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes NSA surveillance, so that an opposing position to the government's could be heard in certain circumstances. Without committing to any specifics, he also said he'd work with Congress to "pursue appropriate reforms" to the bulk phone records program. And Obama announced he'd convene an independent review board on the state of national security technology and its role in modern society. (It might take the form of this one, which was convened a decade ago.)

But these changes, while not merely cosmetic, have already been proposed by members of Congress and outside experts. The president offered no proposals to fundamentally change the surveillance programs, because as far as he's concerned, they don't need to be changed.

Now if he could just make everyone see that.

Friday was a start. In his most extensive remarks to date about the controversy over surveillance programs that has dogged his administration, President Obama sought to assuage his critics, and the public at large, that there is nothing to fear from the National Security Agency. And he should know, because he's the president.

"If you start seeing a bunch of headlines saying 'U.S, Big Brother looking down on you,'" Obama said at an afternoon White House press conference, "understandably people would be concerned. I would be too if I wasn't inside the government."

The crux of the president's message rested on his fundamental and considered belief that the NSA's global surveillance programs, including those that collect the phone records of millions of Americans, are both legal and tightly regulated. The president, who as a candidate railed against the intelligence excesses of the NSA under George W. Bush, said today that he'd been skeptical of those programs, and that once in office, having had the chance to review them, found that they were essential.

"The two programs at issue offer valuable intelligence that helps us protect the American people and they're worth preserving," Obama said, referring to the bulk collection of phone records and electronic surveillance of foreigners overseas, which frequently sweeps in the communications of American citizens.

Obama resisted any suggestion that the leaks by former NSA-contractor Ed Snowden had caused him to rethink his position. Indeed, he said he'd initiated a review of intelligence programs before Snowden began providing details about them to the press two months ago. As a result, Obama said he decided to "tighten some bolts" by adding additional layers of oversight of secretive intelligence gathering.

And it was those steps, he said, as well as the constitutional system of checks and balances that has kept the NSA from violating Americans' privacy, overstepping legal bounds, or reverting to the kinds of domestic spying that were a hallmark of darker days, when the intelligence community routinely spied on some Americans to monitor their political activities. The programs are useful, legal, and working just fine, he insisted.

But, Obama allowed, not everyone in the country is so confident.

"It's not enough for me as the President to have confidence in these programs. The American people have to have confidence in them as well."