Interview with Marilyn Quagliotti, Deputy Director for Supply Reduction
By Dialogo April 17, 2012
From her position in the White House’s Executive Office of the President, Marilyn Quagliotti is responsible for coordinating the U.S. government’s efforts to reduce the supply of drugs to the United States. This responsibility, which she took in June 2011, as Deputy Director for Supply Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is not foreign to her.
In her 32-year military career, in which she reached the rank of major general, Quagliotti also commanded a U.S. Army unit in support of interdicting drug shipments in Panama as they cut through the American continent from south to north.
During an interview with Diálogo in February 2012, at a Science and Technology Conference organized by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Quagliotti stressed that the National Drug Control Policy is based on the principle of shared responsibility to counter the transnational organized crime and narcotics trafficking from two angles: reducing the drug supply as well as reducing drug consumption in the United States.
Diálogo: What priority is given to South America, Central America and the Caribbean in the United States National Drug Control Strategy?
Deputy Director Marilyn Quagliotti: This administration looks at this region a little bit differently. When President Obama came in, he wanted to achieve what he calls a “rebalance” of the administration’s approach to drug control. And one of the efforts that we’ve been focusing on since the president took office, along with our new director of ONDCP, R. Gil Kerlikowske, is prevention, treatment and recovery.
In the past, many of our Latin American partners that we’ve talked to have pointed their fingers at us and said, “the reason we have this problem is because of the demand in the United States for drugs.” So the focus of the strategy that we are trying to implement is really a rebalancing… taking a focused look at what we are doing internally and reprioritizing some of the funding to go into prevention treatment and recovery. For example, we spent over US$ 10 billion last year on this particular area. This year we’ve asked for another US$ 10billion so we can grow our programs to reduce demand.
Now, as far as supply reduction goes, we’ve never taken our eye off this hemisphere. Unfortunately, the source countries for almost 95 percent of the drugs that come into the United States are in this hemisphere. So we have continued to expand our efforts in supply reduction, in close cooperation with our regional Partner Nations. The other major area that we’re concerned with, as far as supply reduction goes, is Afghanistan which is the number one heroin producer. But the drugs coming into the United States mainly come from this region, so we’re very focused on Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It is definitely a priority for our office when you look at supply reduction. It’s a priority for the U.S. government.
Diálogo: So what you are basically doing is to address the drug problem from both ends: reducing the supply and, at the same time, working on reducing the consumption of drugs in the United States?
Ms. Quagliotti: It’s a shared responsibility. We can’t just point our finger at other people and say “stop growing drugs, stop trafficking drugs,” if we’re not going to do anything about consuming drugs. So, yes, we are focused on both aspects.
Diálogo: Can you give us some examples of cooperative drug interdiction efforts between the United States and some of the Partner Nations?
Ms. Quagliotti: Well, we have ongoing programs with Colombia and we’re very grateful and proud of their efforts to dramatically reduce the production of cocaine. But not only that, they have really transformed their government. It’s really been amazing to watch the progress that Colombia has made to go after this problem in a whole-of-government way. Colombia is an excellent example of building successful cooperative interdiction programs.
Mexico is also making wonderful progress in their efforts. We feel like they are really transforming the way they approach this problem. We view them as a partner, and I hope they view us as a partner because we are amazed at what they’ve been able to do in a very short period of time. We work with any government or any organization that wants to provide assets to help interdiction.
USSOUTHCOM has a very good capaability to leverage assets from many countries that want to participate in interdiction efforts, from the planning process to operations. USSOUTHCOM has helped coordinate communications, intelligence and operational procedures. All the countries in the region, for example, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica, are adding capability to their navies and maritime services. They all recognize the importance of participating in interdiction. So , in the years to come, we will have a more coherent and extensive effort toward interdiction in the region.
Diálogo: How is the ONDCP helping other countries in the region in eradicating coca cultivation as part of the efforts to reduce the production of drugs?
Ms. Quagliotti: ONDCP establishes the policy and strategies for the U.S. government, other agencies really execute that policy through a series of programs. Eradication is part of an overall policy to reduce the production of drugs and the overall drug supply entering the U.S. and global markets. Eradication programs require a more holistic approach based on security in the cultivation zones, the actual eradication operations, and finally alternative development programs. We are helping the government of Colombia eradicate. We are providing assistance in Peru and Bolivia in a smaller way. This year, the government of Colombia plans on eradicating about 140,000 hectares of coca, using both aerial spraying and manual operations on the ground. Manual eradication programs are on-going in Bolivia and Peru, although not to the same extent as they are in Colombia. Mexico also has substantial manual eradication programs in place. We assist by establishing the policy and then other agencies, primarily the State Department and, in some cases, the Department of Defense and the USAID come in and execute the policy. They provide resources, training, advice and recommendations on alternative crops, and demonstrations on crop substitution and alternative development options.
Diálogo: Through which organizations or programs is the United States helping the nations in the Western Hemisphere to counter problems such as transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, gangs, and money laundering? Do you have organizations that you or work with directly to do this?
Ms. Quagliotti: Well if you look at Mexico and the level of effort that we put in Mexico –and in Colombia before that– the United States has looked at it as a whole of government approach. By that I mean that once drug trafficking becomes part of a country, its society begins to become corrupted: corruption in the police, corruption in the judicial system, in the private section, etc. You have rule of law issues across the board. When that occurs, you can’t just go in and arrest people and expect to get a conviction, because you know that the judges may be corrupt, or the justice system doesn’t put people in prison; or if people get to prison, they escape from the prisons. You just can’t approach it as a single issue that needs to be worked.
You’ve got to work it across the spectrum. If you work it across the spectrum, I would think that there are a lot of things that would apply. First, strong leadership from the very top — you have to have a president who believes that this needs to be done to save the country. And you have to have a president that has strong will and really wants to get this done. Next, you would have to have what I call the continuum of justice, which is an effective, comprehensive justice system: the police, the investigators, the prosecutors and defense attorneys, the judges, and the corrections system – the prisons and rehabilitation systems. And that there is not impunity, and that people who violate the rule of law, won’t get away with it.
Then I would say you need a trusted financial system — the financial and banking elements must be addressed. So when someone is arrested, their illicit assets are seized. They can’t launder their money, they’re not allowed to establish front businesses where they could hide their money so that they could become billionaires. A trusted financial system means regulating your financial system, understanding how money laundering works, doing something about it once you understand how it works, and making sure that those people who do these types of horrible things don’t get away with them and don’t become billionaires because of it.
The fourth thing is the people of the country – civil society — have to understand that this is a long term process. Things don’t get solved overnight. So you would have to have the people in the country on your side understand what you’re getting ready to go through, and the role that they’re going to play in supporting the government.
In addition to that, you have to have political will, which is legislative support to the president when he asks for changes and laws which are necessary in order to make all the things I just talked about work. This is a very complicated, long-term process that is taking place in Colombia, and now Mexico. Hopefully, it will also happen in other countries that are going through the same thing that Colombia and Mexico are going through.
It takes a lot of hard work, training, understanding of complex issues, and of how they all interact and how one affects the other, in a sustained effort over time. When you change presidents, congresses, or other elected officials, there has to be this basic level of understanding that all of the work that took place before has to continue. And that’s where the people, and the will of the people, play a role in determining success or failure.
Diálogo: Finally, with all these changes in Colombia and Mexico that you have mentioned, do you see new trends in drug trafficking in the region?
Ms. Quagliotti: We do. The traffickers are very quick to find new ways to transport their products. The intelligence and operations people who conduct interdiction follow this very carefully, as do we, because our role is to make sure that there are enough resources in place once the shifts occur in order to react to those shifts. What we see happening right now, and I don’t think this is a surprise, is a lot of air traffic from Venezuela into Honduras.
Unfortunately, most of the drugs are moving through Central America and Mexico, through that air bridge. We also see a lot of maritime traffic. Primarily, we’re seeing more submersibles, which is a threat we are concerned about. And we are seeing go-fasts, which has traditionally been a way to traffic drugs. But we expect that once we put assets and capabilities into Central America, they will move someplace else. So we have to be prepared for that.
We are also seeing drugs being trafficked through Africa into Europe where there is a very large demand for illegal drugs. That was quite a shift. I wouldn’t say we didn’t expect it –we expected it, but we didn’t think it would shift to the extent that it has thus far. We track drug flows very closely in order to move intelligence and interdiction assets to react to what the traffickers are doing.