WASHINGTON -- With Congress in recess, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee issued a two-paragraph statement containing a startling allegation. Rep. Henry Hyde contended opium production in Colombia has revived. It supplies, he continued, "more than 60 percent of U.S. heroin."
Hyde followed with this mandate: "We must eliminate all of the small, deadly opium crop in Colombia sooner rather than later to provide protection for our young people and to maximize use of U.S. aid in Colombia." For the veteran congressman from the Chicago suburbs to go public signified that his previous private appeals to high levels of the Colombian and U.S. governments fell on deaf ears.
Talk about needing to "maximize" U.S. aid suggests the $2.5 billion Plan Colombia, while keeping leftist guerrillas at bay, has failed in its original anti-drug mission. Hyde is implying that while the Colombian operation is a great success, the patient is dying. The poisonous export of heroin flows into middle-class suburbs to be ingested by America's youth.
The problem, as seen by Hyde and his experienced staff, is the neglect of the small, extremely profitable, twice-a-year opium crops grown in Colombia's high Andes. U.S. and Colombian officials have made an unannounced decision to concentrate on eradicating coca plants as the larger source of financing guerrillas. However, drug traffickers are happy selling heroin with a U.S. street value six times higher than cocaine.
The result is a serious U.S. setback in the war against drugs, seemingly unnoticed by a Bush administration committed to the war against terrorism. America is awash with heroin, flowing from east coast to west coast. The refined heroin is so pure that it need not be mainlined with a needle, and middle-class youths think they are safe by smoking or snorting it.
Henry Hyde early this year started demanding action. In a Feb. 3 letter to Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, he contended that it is possible to attack coca and opium at the same time. He pointed out that the Colombian National Police, then commanded by the fabled Gen. Jose Serrano (now ambassador to Austria), in 1999 and 2000 eradicated 80 to 90 percent of the opium crop. "It is our hope," Hyde told Uribe, that the eradication effort will return to Serrano's level -- "eventually eliminating the entire opium crop."
Hyde did not receive much of a response from Colombia, and four months later turned to the U.S. drug czar -- John Walters, director of national drug control policy. Meeting with the congressman on June 3, Walters echoed the State Department. He called it next to impossible to locate opium fields in the remote Andes.