Release of the 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Washington, DC
February 27, 2009

MR. DUGUID: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this special briefing on the release of the 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. We have to brief you today Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs David T. Johnson.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Good afternoon, and thank you for your patience. It’s my pleasure to present this year’s edition of the State Department’s International Narcotics Strategy Control Report. This report, sometimes referred to by its acronym, INCSR, is our annual review of foreign governments’ efforts to implement their international obligations under, in particular, United Nations drug control conventions.


Although 120 states and jurisdictions are covered in this year’s edition. A second volume describes the efforts of 127 states and jurisdictions to implement strong anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes. This two-volume report provides a comprehensive assessment of the worldwide illegal drug and transnational money laundering situation.


Producing these reports is time-consuming and it’s labor-intensive. We’re indebted to our diplomatic missions around the world for reporting much of the data and conclusions contained in this report. We’re also grateful for the invaluable contributions from other departments within the United States Government particularly the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as other elements of the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. We could not have produced this report without their input and their assistance.


This report covers calendar year 2008, and its conclusions reflect the Department’s analysis of the international drug control and money laundering environment during the last calendar year. But more than just an analysis of the past, we hope that this report identifies some of the enduring challenges that the United States shares with our international partners and points towards some steps that we can consider together.


The United States provides substantial resources to assist states in developing law enforcement and judicial institutions necessary to prevent illegal drugs and crime from reaching our shores. Likewise, we provide significant assistance worldwide to help our partners develop effective anti-money laundering regimes. We work with partner-states to provide advice and assistance to develop effective laws based on obligations set forth in the United Nations drug and crime control conventions.


The United States recognizes that the problems of drug and drug-related violence require a comprehensive solution. Democratic institutions in drug-producing regions must become stronger, more responsive, more inclusive, and more transparent. Governments must extend state services to marginalized areas both in rural and urban settings to give citizens a greater stake in their communities. Justice systems must become more universally accessible and impunity needs to end. Widespread corruption must be confronted and reduced. Law enforcement must become more capable of thwarting traditional and new methods for laundering illicit proceeds. And legitimate economic alternatives must be made available to those at the lower levels of the drug production cycle.


The United States must be judicious in determining where it can best leverage its limited resources to support the efforts of our partners. Also it remains essential for the United States and other consumer countries to reduce demand for illegal drugs at home in order to undermine the market incentives that make the illegal drug trade so profitable and difficult to uproot from safe havens abroad. We’re striving to do our part, and we aim to work with our international partners to meet these common objectives.


I’ll note a few of the highlights in the counternarcotics volume of this year’s report. First, along our southern border, the government of President Calderon took significant steps to reform domestic judicial and law enforcement institutions and promote the rule of law. The United States is committed to support these efforts, including further steps to confront and dismantle the drug cartels that are responsible for smuggling most of the cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine consumed within the United States.


Reflecting a sense of shared responsibility and vulnerability, Congress approved last summer the first tranche of funding for a regional counternarcotics and law enforcement cooperation plan that includes not just Mexico, but also the countries of Central America, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Our assistance will help these governments to develop more effective and professional rule of law institutions so that they can dismantle criminal organizations that threaten both them and us.


Second, Afghanistan’s narcotics situation remains very serious. But 2008 saw some limited progress. During this year, poppy cultivation declined by 19 percent after two years of record highs, and the number of poppy-free provinces increased from 13 in 2007 to 18 in 2008. Nevertheless, Afghanistan remains, by far, the world’s largest producer of opium poppy. Greater leadership and effort by the Afghan Government, both at the central and provincial levels, will be required to combat the corrosive effects of the drug trade which fuels both the insurgency as well as rampant corruption.


Third, in the Andean region, Colombia took further steps to consolidate the gains it has achieved over the past decade, including improving its ability to eradicate coca fields, destroy labs and interdict shipments, transitioning to a new accusatorial system of justice, and improving security for Colombia’s citizens by extending the presence of its beliefs and other government agencies throughout the country.


In Bolivia over the past year, Bolivian Government decisions limited cooperation and prevented us from achieving all that we could against international drug trafficking. The United States believes it is essential that our governments find new approaches in the coming year to put our counternarcotics relationship back on a more productive and cooperative path. I’ll attempt to answer your questions if you have any at this point.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: Sir, you mentioned the Merida Initiative. I was wondering how much is the Department asking for the third installment of the Merida Initiative in the current – you know, the budget that was proposed yesterday?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, as you probably know from perusing or reading carefully the President’s budget, it had – if you call – as it’s called in the lingo, top-line figures for the entire assistance budget for the United States. And in April, the – I understand the President’s entire budget in significant detail will be proposed. And it’s only at that point that we’ll be in a position to say exactly what the proposal will be. What I can tell you, though, is that we are firm in our efforts to work with Mexico. We consider this a partnership with them. And this is a multiyear effort, one that we will undertake, and we will see through to completion. But specific numbers are not something I can give you at this point.


QUESTION: But it’s true that you won’t reach the 1.4 billion that was proposed originally, right?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: I’m just not in a position to tell you figures. What I can tell you, though, is the partnership that we have will extend into several years and that I think that it’s clear that at the end of the time that we tote up all of the assistance that we have, it’s going to be not just that figure, but it’s probably going to be significantly more, because this partnership has a long way to go in it.


QUESTION: You point out that, you know, the three areas or two countries – well, three countries, I guess, but also Mexico, Afghanistan, Bolivia, but you also mentioned broader Latin America, but you didn’t mention Venezuela. But I’m just curious are these the most pressing threats to the – to the national security? I mean, the report says that these – this is a – you know, the drug trade itself in general is --


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Right. I didn’t – no, it was by no means a comprehensive or an indication. It was – if anything, it was indicative more of the place where we have the greatest investment of U.S. foreign assistance resources.


QUESTION: Well, why is it – why are these places then the place where you have the greatest investment?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, I think that for many reasons, the partnership that we have with Mexico, as well as our – the border that we share and the threat that Mexico is experiencing now is the reason for me highlighting that, as well as the initiative that’s been undertaken that your colleague asked me to comment on a few minutes ago.


In the case of Colombia, we have a long-term ongoing program with Colombia, where we have significant taxpayer assets invested. And we have a – what we believe to be a very successful partnership with the Colombian Government and I want to – thought it helpful to talk about that. Likewise with Afghanistan, where we have the largest source of opium poppy in the world and a significant investment across the board of the United States Government. The focus of my colleagues in this report in particular, is on the narcotics piece. But you know, I can talk about --


QUESTION: How serious is the situation in Mexico right now?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, I think that what you see is a government, a courageous government led by President Calderon that is confronting these drug cartels and limiting their ability to do their business. They are confronting each other and the result is unfortunately a significant level of violence. The situation – I think my colleagues in consular affairs put out a Travel Alert last week, just to make the public and the United States aware of some of the challenges that are faced there as they’re making their plans for travel in the spring and summer.


And so this is – it is a serious challenge for both the Government of Mexico and the United States. But we think it’s a challenge that the Government of Mexico is taking seriously and they’re taking the steps that are going to be necessary to get their hands around this. The kind of investments that we are making through our foreign assistance program in cooperation with Mexico will result in serious and significant systemic changes in the way Mexico’s judicial and law enforcement systems work. And what the – and that’s, I think, a serious effort on our part, but it’s going to take some time.


QUESTION: How big a threat is this violence, growing violence on the border to the U.S. and to have it, you know, sort of lapping across the border and coming to --


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, I would refer you, I think to you know, the crime statistics which are collected by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. It’s actually quite paradoxical that Ciudad Juarez, which is significantly threatened and there is a significant number of murders taking place, is in many – by the way many people look at it and certainly me, is almost a single megalopolos with El Paso, Texas, and El Paso remains one of the safest places in the United States. That’s not to play down the feelings that people along the border have. I think they’re serious. But I think we need to look at this on the basis of what is actually happening. But we also need to be, and our law enforcement authorities definitely are, prepared and preparing to take the steps that they need to protect the American public.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: Just a – if I can follow-up on Matt’s question.




QUESTION: This is the first time the reports mention now Mexico is a major precursor of chemicals source country. I don’t see how Mexico is winning the war on drugs. Now it’s a major source for the purchase of chemicals and money laundering and drugs and killings in Mexico. How Mexico is winning the war with this – I mean, with this level of corruption that you mention in the report as a major problem to win the war on drugs in Mexico?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: When I can – what we firmly believe is that the Mexican Government is taking the steps that it needs to take, and is being quite courageous in them, to confront a significant problem, and it’s doing so in cooperation with the United States. I’m not – I don’t think the – you know, this is not an athletic contest. And so –


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Mexican people is paying a very high price.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: I – the Mexican people are paying a very high price because drug-fueled organized crime groups are killing each other and they are being confronted by the Mexican law enforcement authorities, and there is significant violence that’s resulting from that. But I think – I believe and I think the Mexican Government believes that only through this sort of very effective systematic work can they retake the streets that they need to do.


QUESTION: In other words, you are predicting more violence for Mexico?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: I’m not predicting anything. I’m telling you what the programs are that we have underway with Mexico. And I’m referring you to the report which lays out what the steps were that were taken – were last year.


QUESTION: Last thing, on the Merida Initiative. This week the House of Representatives got $150 million for the Merida Initiative for the second year. The original request was $450 million for Mexico and they approved three hundred. How these can be read in Mexico as support from the United States to the war on drugs, when your – the U.S. Congress is cutting money to help Mexico in that war? And what are you guys doing to stop the consumption of drugs in the U.S. ?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, I’ll answer your last question first. The Department of the Department of Health and Human Services tells me that the United States at the federal level of alone, is spending $14 billion this year in order to undertake programs to reduce demand and provide treatment services for drugs in the United States.


On the question you raised about the congressional decision to – on the appropriation amount, it was not what the executive requested, but it is a significant amount of money and a significant amount of resources. It is a very large program. And I think if you would, as you discuss with the congressmen and the senators on the Hill, their commitment to this is a long-term commitment. It’s not a one-, two-, or three-year commitment. It is a very long-term commitment.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: Yes. I don’t know if you are aware of the recent background on the international drug networks in Morocco, which resulted in at least 160 arrests, among them security members – forces and members. And although the U.S. is not concerned directly, what will be the U.S. contribution to, if any, to help Morocco in these efforts?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: I’m going to give you an initial response, but also ask you if I can get back to you on that question. We do have an assistance program with Morocco. It is not large and it is quite focused. But we are a partner with Morocco in helping Morocco work on rule of law issues. And with that, I’d ask maybe one of my colleagues after the briefing if we can get back to you, if you can get with us on a contact point.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: David, can you address Afghanistan and the issue of corruption there? And as specifically as you can, whether the government led by President Karzai is doing all it can do, in your estimation?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: I don’t know that I can tell you whether it’s doing all it can do or not. I think it’s clear that more must be done in order to address the issue of corruption across the board. But I think that we have to be of assistance in working with the Afghans. And as I mentioned in my statement, we need a more aggressive effort by the Afghans themselves to deal with one of the major factors that fuels the corruption, and that’s the growth of opium poppy and the refinement of it and marketing it into heroin. Afghanistan still produces more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin or opium poppy which, ultimately results into heroin. And that’s where our focus is. But we also have programs working with the authorities in Afghanistan to develop the capacity to deal judicially with the corruption issue, but clearly, a lot more needs to be done.


QUESTION: Can you – you want to take a stab at the issue of eradication or is that beyond your bailiwick?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, what – what about it?


QUESTION: The issue of eradication.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: But what about it? I’m --


QUESTION: Thepoppy crops and other –


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, we have a significant program with Afghanistan on what’s referred to as manual eradication assisting the central government in creating a capacity to extend its reach and to assist the individual governors within Afghanistan on their governor-led eradication projects. As I mentioned earlier, the program – the problem of poppy in Afghanistan is focused now down significantly in the southwest, in Helmand and Kandahar in particular. We have, in assisting the governor of Helmand, Mr. Mangal, a – not a large program, but one that’s concentrated, and we believe could become a model where we have been able to combine a very robust education and alternative development program with eradication, and that’s ongoing now. We think this program’s likely to be quite successful.


And – but the key really is what the Afghans do themselves, and particularly what the governors do themselves. And we have a program of incentives there which provides an amount for each province which is poppy-free or largely poppy-free, in order to augment their development budget. And that program is funded at a level of $38 million by the United States, but additional funding from the United Kingdom and some other countries as well. That allows provinces to know that if they are able to perform in this way, that they get an extra amount for development, but also an extra amount where they, in partnership with us, make a decision as to how it’s to be used. And it’s quite rapidly disbursed.


QUESTION: Okay. Can you say anything about what you need to see or what the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia need to do to –


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, in Venezuela, we – our cooperation on the drug control issue is quite minimal and not at our instigation, if you will. We’d like to see a much more robust cooperative program with the United States, with the Drug Enforcement Administration. We’ve not had a large assistance program for Venezuela, but the small one that we’ve had in the past has been minimized by the Government of Venezuela. Significantly more, we believe, could be done there. But the real challenge that we face in Venezuela is the use of the territory of Venezuela, particularly along the coastal region in the west, adjacent to Colombia, where significant quantities of cocaine are shipped out to – through the Caribbean in the direction of the United States, but also significantly and growing to the east to West Africa and upward into Europe, putting significant pressure on some very weak states in West Africa. And so we’re quite concerned about that.

We have ongoing discussions with the Government of Bolivia. We are quite concerned, disappointed at the decisions that Bolivia took during the course of the last calendar year to remove the DEA, to limit the activities of the AID in its alternative development programs. So I think that, as an initial step, getting back to where we were is where we’d like to be in Bolivia.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: Some governments have had assisting programs or subsidizing programs for their agriculture in order to encourage farmers to shift from opium production to another agriculture production. Now, the last year has seen – period of the last year had agriculture commodities have seen very high prices internationally. Did that have any impact on the production of opium nationally?


And also about the countries in the Middle East and the Gulf states, they have seen in the recent – in the recent years, rise in the consumption of drugs. Do you see any new progress in fighting these – this rise among the countries of the Middle East? And does the quality of the political relationship between the United States and other country – does that quality hinder or contribute positively to – into the cooperation between the United States and those countries in fighting drug trafficking and transition and consumption?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Should I just choose a question? (Laughter.)


Well, I will not remember all of the questions that you asked me there, but I’ll try to answer a couple of them. The level of cooperation – our effort to engage with governments on counternarcotics cooperation is not politically based or driven. On the other hand, a cooperative relationship based on partnership generally works better when you’re cooperative partners. So it’s – it’s something that’s – I suppose, inescapable, if not what – if it’s not what’s driving your decision making.


In the case of the economic impact of the relatively high price of agricultural products, particularly, I suppose, in the first six to nine months of the past calendar year, we believe it did have an impact in Afghanistan and did contribute to what we anticipate will be a further decline in the production of opium poppy. That’s one reason we’re modest in claiming our programs have accomplished these changes. We think they’ve made a contribution. But whether the price of competing products are also a factor – but we’ve used – attempted to use this to our advantage as well. In Helmand, working with the governor, we have worked with our efforts to – on counternarcotics also with USAID to not just provide alternative development in some distant future, but to provide seeds, fertilizer, and even contracting for the output of the farmer to take away the economic risk. So these – we’re trying to leverage this fact. But I don’t know how to, you know, give you a quantitative analysis of what – what produced what.


I don’t want to give you a comment on the, you know, rise or fall or change of Gulf states’ cooperation, because I haven’t taken a close look at that to see. Nothing leaps out at me as a huge decline. On the other hand, nothing looks – leaps out at me as a huge improvement either.


QUESTION: Could you name certain problem countries and –




QUESTION: -- and whether they’re transitional or consumption?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: No, I can refer you to the report. But no, I can’t give you an honor roll here.


QUESTION: Thank you.




QUESTION: Real quickly on Mexico. Yesterday and the day before on Capitol Hill, the National Intelligence Director mentioned several times that – because the influence, intimidation, and overall corruption in the federal government and drug cartels, the federal government of Mexico is losing the control of some parts of its territory. Do you agree with that view? The National Intelligence Director is supposed to know what he’s talking about.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, what I see in Mexico is a government which is taking very strong steps to reform its police and its judiciary. I think the real challenge that is to be addressed beyond that is really at the state and local level. And that’s where – I don’t think they’re, in the normal sense that one thinks of losing control of territory --


QUESTION: Chiapas, for example.






ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: I don’t think that, as most people think about this, I don’t think it qualifies. But I think in the sense that states and localities don’t have the ability effectively to provide law enforcement throughout their cities, I think that is a challenge that is – that has to be dealt with.


MR. DUGUID: Last question, I believe.




QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. DUGUID: Sorry, one more.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Okay. You in the back of the room there. Sir.


QUESTION: Also on Mexico.




QUESTION: And a lot of the major complaints of Mexican officials on the U.S. is the lack of cooperation to stop the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexico. Is there any chance for the U.S. Administration to halt the traffic, to ban imported arms? Or it’s hard to deal with issue because of the U.S. legislation, especially the Second Amendment?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, this is a challenge for a number of reasons, not least the – that the controls going from north to south are not that strict. So as you pass from north to south, the level of inspection is not as granular, shall we say, as headed in the other direction.


But I would say that we have taken a couple of very significant steps that are contributing to helping Mexico deal with this and helping us deal with it. The provision at all of our consulates in Mexico over the course of the last year of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, eTrace program, giving Mexican law enforcement the ability rapidly to determine the origin of weapons that have been seized, both to help them and to help us in prosecutions. And I think if you saw earlier this week, the announcement of a significant case involving a gun dealer who had been engaged in conspiracy for straw purchases.


So I think it’s those kind of prosecutions and the cooperative efforts that we can work with each other which are really where we should be focusing our efforts. If we simply say that, you know, it’s a constitutional issue and we can’t do anything about it, I think we’re not willing to throw up our hands like this. It is something we can do something about, and we are taking some steps to do some things about it.


Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. DUGUID: Thank you, Ambassador. The report, I believe, as we’ve been in here, has been posted on the State Department website,


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHNSON: And I do have some CDs of it, if anybody wants to step up.


QUESTION: Thank you.

PRN: 2009/175