If the four-year slog in Iraq seems endless, consider this: The “war on drugs,” begun by Richard Nixon, escalated under Ronald Reagan, and continued by every president since, is now in its 37th year. In this long struggle, the past few months have been especially fruitful. In March, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a freighter off Panama laden with 20 tons of cocaine, in the largest maritime bust ever. That was followed in April by Colombian authorities’ seizure of a 15-ton cache most likely awaiting shipment to Mexico.
Of course, the good news is soured by the fact that cocaine production remains robust enough to allow shipment in 20-ton batches. The Coast Guard would need to repeat its recent haul about every two weeks to intercept all the cocaine that Colombia sends north, and there’s no guarantee traffickers wouldn’t just ship more to make up for the losses, as they have always done.
The map to the right tracks cocaine shipments from Bolivia and Peru, and from Colombia, which is the source of about 90 percent of the cocaine sold by U.S. dealers. As each kilo island-hops across the Caribbean or travels north through Central America and over the U.S.- Mexican border, its value increases. The rising price reflects cumulatively higher risk to distributors—mostly of shootings or arrests at international borders. Clearly, policing has a big impact on cocaine prices: On the streets of Bogotá, a gramo of cocaine can be had for under $2. Recreational users in America, on the other hand, typically pay upward of $50 a gram.