About the WHDPC

The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission (WHDPC) is an independent Congressional commission created through bipartisan legislation included in the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017 (Public Law 114-323). This enabling law instructs the Commission to “conduct a comprehensive review of United States foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere to reduce the illicit drug supply and drug abuse and reduce the damage associated with illicit drug markets and trafficking.”

The Commission began its work in May 2019 when Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, swore in nine Commissioners, telling them to make “an honest assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t as we consider how to spend our counter narcotics dollars in the future” and reminding them “with a record 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, we can’t waste any time in getting drug policy right.”

The Commission’s ten original members were appointed in January 2017 by the president and by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives. All serve on a volunteer basis. Two commissioners (John Walters and Mary Bono) later resigned because they could not devote sufficient time to the Commission’s work. Under the Commission’s enabling legislation six members constitute a quorum.

Shannon O’Neil from the Council on Foreign Relations was selected as Chair by her fellow commissioners: former Representatives Mary Bono, Sam Farr, Pete Gallego, and Matt Salmon, former head of US Southern Command, General Douglas Fraser, former US ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel, and former Obama Administration senior officials Juan González and Dan Restrepo.

Research

Over a year and a half, the Commission studied US drug policies and programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, assessing current efforts to reduce illicit drug supply and address the damages associated with trafficking and drug abuse. Commissioners and/or staff have met with scores of US and Latin American government officials, civil society experts, academics, and activists. They also met with international organizations including the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

WHDPC staff supplemented these interviews with a wide-ranging review of academic literature, policy papers, government documents, project evaluations, and news reports about counternarcotics polices in this hemisphere.

This research focused primarily on major foreign assistance programs: Plan Colombia, the Mérida Initiative, Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). Commission staff also reviewed analysis of anti-money laundering and anti-corruption efforts in the Americas.

In addition, the WHDPC commissioned white papers by Bryce Pardo, associate policy researcher with the RAND Corporation, Adriana Beltrán, Maureen Meyer, and John Walsh at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Juan Salgado and colleagues at the World Justice Project (WJP), and Julia Yansura and Lakshmi Kumar at Global Financial Integrity. Juan Carlos Garzón, director of conflict dynamics and peace negotiations at Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP), provided a paper on alternative development programs in Colombia. Enrique Roig, former Coordinator for CARSI with USAID, provided analysis of violence prevention programs.

Foreign Travel

Although the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed travel plans, Commissioners were able to visit Colombia in February 2020 to meet with US embassy staff as well as senior government officials and civil society representatives.Arrival by helicopter

In Colombia, Commissioners met with US diplomats, including Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, political counselors, and INL and USAID. They also met with the Colombian Defense Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, and with presidential counselors responsible for coordinating security and development in post-conflict areas. The Commission also held roundtables with Colombian lawmakers, business leaders, and civil society experts.

In addition, the Commission met with General Óscar Atehortúa, director of the Colombian National Police (PNC). Members traveled with the PNC to the municipality of Tumaco, located in the border department of Nariño, to witness eradication efforts and speak with those implementing and benefiting from USAID supported alternative development and financial inclusion programs.

On a previous visit to Colombia in January, the WHDPC executive and associate director traveled to the departments of Florencia and Meta to assess USAID and INL programs in post- conflict regions.

field pickWHDPC staff also traveled to Mexico and Central America. In Mexico, they met with US diplomats and Mexican experts in Mexico City and visited Guanajuato to meet State Attorney General Carlos Zamarippa, discussing INL-supported programs to strengthen the state’s capacity to investigate crime with enhanced criminal analysis and modern forensics technologies.

Staff then traveled to El Salvador, meeting with US diplomats and law enforcement officials in and around the capital. Staff also visited USAID program sites for violence prevention in San Salvador, Chalchuapa, and San Vicente, meeting with local officials and program implementers. Staff also discussed the country’s security situation and political climate with journalists and human rights advocates.

Roundtables, Briefings, and Workshops

June 2019
Latin American Diplomats

Mexican Ambassador Martha Bárcena hosted a roundtable discussion with diplomats from Mexico, the Andes (Colombia and Peru), and Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama).

August 2019
Overview of Counternarcotics Policies

WHDPC commissioners held a full day of presentations and briefings by experts from the Congressional Research Service and former or current senior officials from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, and the Treasury. Topics included lessons learned from foreign assistance programs as well as border security and anti-money laundering/counter terrorism finance efforts, such as sanctions and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

 December 2019
Indicators

The WHDPC held a workshop on supply-side indicators and performance measures. Bryce Pardo discussed findings by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center with officials from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Department of State’s Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and USAID.

February 2020
Plan Columbia

The WHDPC met with US officials and outside experts to analyze eradication and alternative development in Colombia. Juan Carlos Garzón of FIP presented research on the impact of eradication and alternative development programs in Colombia, with comments by Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, Dr. David Spencer of the National Defense University, and officials from the ONDCP, the State Department/Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and USAID.

March 2020
Mérida Initiative & CARSI

the WHDPC held a discussion on criminal justice/police reform and violence prevention programs in Mexico and Central America. Juan Salgado presented findings by the WJP on the impact of criminal justice reform in Mexico, Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America discussed efforts to strengthen police, and Enrique Roig of Creative Associates (formerly with USAID) discussed violence prevention. Discussants included Eric Olson of the Seattle Foundation and the Wilson Center, Ricardo Zúñiga, diplomatic fellow at the Wilson Center, and officials from State Department/INL and USAID.

June 2020
SOUTHCOM

The WHDPC held a virtual meeting with Admiral Craig S. Fuller, head of the US Southern Command, and members of his staff to discuss drug interdiction and how to coordinate overall US strategy in the region.