As cocaine falls out of favor, U.S. sets other goals

Costa Rica’s importance to drug dealers in the United States is declining as cocaine is losing favor and being replaced by heroin made in  México.

That is the opinion of a man who should know. He is William R. Brownfield, U.S. assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. He will be in Costa Rica today, in part, to distribute this country’s grants from the $750 million the U.S. Congress has allocated for Central American security.

The U.S. Embassy said that Brownfield will announce a multimillion dollar donation for the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas, visit the coast guard station in Caldera and meet with legislative and judicial officials.

Casa Presidencial said that Brownfield will meet with President Luis Guillermo Solís and announce a program that will contribute to helping Costa Ricans lead secure lives free of any violence.

He also will be checking on the progress of a program announced in 2012. It is the  Integrated System for the Improvement of Police Strategy, based on the New York City program, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s CompStat, that resulted in a major decline in criminality there. The United States invested $500,000 in mapping technology so police can follow trends in crime.

Brownfield also was here in 2013 when he announced a $1.6 million program with the Paniamor Foundation to, as the U.S. Embassy characterized it at the time, fight domestic violence in the country and to give support to reduce the demand for drugs and programs that get police to work more closely with the communities they serve.

The heart of the U.S. government’s plan is to stem the flood of Central American illegal immigrants who mainly come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Brownfield probably also will discuss the thousands of illegal African immigrants who are trying to head north from Central America to enter the United States. The embassy here has been silent on the crises.

His visit comes at a time when citizen concerns about crime are rising because the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz, which runs the prisons, has released thousands of inmates before the expiration of their sentences to reduce prison crowding.

U.S. dollars have been the main glue that keeps Costa Rica’s drug fighting program in operation. The United States is financing a new coast guard station in Golfito, as well as an elaborate police facility to reduce smuggling on the InterAmericana Sur at Kilometer 35. There are many more programs, including training for Costa Rican officers in the United States and the visits by U.S. law enforcement figures here.

Despite all this emphasis on fighting the cocaine trade, Brownfield told reporters in Washington Friday that U.S. cocaine consumption has declined by 50 percent over the last 10 years and over the last five years

William R. Brownfield discusses police mapping strategy when he visited a police station in Tibás in March 2013.

William R. Brownfield discusses police mapping strategy when he visited a police station in Tibás in March 2013.

the consumption of heroin has increased by more than 200 percent.

He attributed the increase in heroin to the decades-long use of legal pain-killing opioids that eventually bring hooked people to the heroin habit because the white powder is cheaper. He told reporters Friday that since the 1980s opium-based pain medication was prescribed widely in the United States.

“As we moved into the 21st century, we then had a large segment of our society – this is a U.S.-specific response – that had developed a dependency, if not an addiction, to opioid-based pain medication,” he said based on a U.S. State Department transcript of the meeting.

“As that dependency and addiction spread more broadly into communities, those who produce and market heroin spotted an opportunity to develop a market. And what did they do? Despite the fact that they are a criminal enterprise, they did what any good lawful enterprise would do: identify the market and offer their product substantially cheaper than the alternative.”

He said the result is “a genuine, authentic, unquestioned heroin crisis in the United States, something that we have not seen . . . since the late 1940s and the early 1950s.”

He also said that a Chinese-produced additive to heroin called fentanyl comes into the United States mostly from México, and it is “a product that is like 30 to 50 times more potent, more powerful, and more dangerous than is the heroin.” He said that tens of thousands of drug users were dying each year due to the fentanyl.

Brownfield’s job has been complicated by U.S. states where voters chose to legalize marijuana.

“Every time I go down to Mexico and engage in conversations with authorities of the Mexican government in terms of cooperation on this issue, I hear about legalization and, in a sense, how can we ask for cooperation on this issue when states in the union are legalizing marijuana and cannabis in the United States of America,” he said.

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