High time to demand peace on drugs
Posted on: 03/04/2012 by Talli Nauman
This post is also available in: Spanish
The U.S. drug war on neighboring American countries has been going from bad to worse ever since Plan Colombia and Plan Condor began wreaking untold environmental destruction of herbicidal fumigation on the biologically diverse countries of Colombia and Mexico in the 1970s.
Now 40 years later, U.S. Congressional and White House officials who cling to the resulting Merida Plan are shamelessly touting its success in Central America and Mexico, while it is killing not only plants but tens of thousands of innocent people in the nations bridging the land gap between Colombia and the United States.
U.S. government supplies of everything from military advice and equipment to personnel for manning the battles that Latin Americans refuse to fight have brought political adversaries nearer than ever to a breaking point in this futile war.
Entire countries in Latin America and entire states in the U.S.A. recently have come out of the closet with banners unfurled for marijuana legalization, a measure that would defeat the purposes of the drug cartels in a way that the decades-long armed conflict has failed to.
The ultimate interests of health and environment tend to become lost in the ideological tug-of-war over whether to drain more money out of military coffers for the cause (at the rate of U.S. $15 billion a year — $500 per second) or legalize the contraband in order to tax it, regulate it, and replenish social service coffers (saving U.S. $44.1 billion a year on law enforcement and generating at least $32.7 billion in tariffs in the United States).
However, the jury has long since come in with the verdict. “The war on drugs has failed,” said the Global Commission on Drug Policy almost a year ago, on June 2, 2011. Among luminaries on the independent ad hoc commission were former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, and the former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria, and Ernesto Zedillo, respectively. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter immediately endorsed it.
Studies and articles abound on the inefficacy of military might being brought to bear on the drug world. They frequently direct attention to the fact that crack-downs on crack or other drugs result in two kinds of increases: deaths and drug prices, both of which strengthen the underworld’s reign of terror, especially in populations outside the boundaries of the United States, the source of the demand that fuels the trade.
The voices of U.S. government apologists for the drug policies that have promoted this are, on the other hand, scarcely reflected in the mainstream media in the United States, where readers could use the information to base opinions and political action for the alternatives.
When Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign and Related Programs on March 29, the New York Times and Washington Post were among the media outlets to miss the story.
The Obama Administration asked for more money to continue “the work we are doing to address these challenging threats to the security of the people of the Western Hemisphere.”
Omitting the official statistic of more than 60,000 dead since 2006 in the drug war on Mexico, Brownfield asked for U.S. $199 million to fight the Mexican drug war for Fiscal Year 2013, on top of the U.S. $249 million already appropriated for fiscal 2012 to “ensure continued and sustainable progress.”
The administrator of the Merida Initiative thanked Congress for the support that has resulted in the delivery of eight Bell helicopters to Mexico’s Army, three Black Hawk helicopters to Mexico’s Navy, and four Black Hawk helicopters to Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Security and its Federal Police. The United States has dedicated a total of more than U.S. $1.6 billion in security assistance since the inception of the Merida Initiative.
Brownfield’s presentation followed the also scarcely-reported March 7 release of the annual State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which noted: “As of October 2011, Mexico was on track to surpass 13,000 drug-related murders for the year, a 20-percent rise over the 11,583 committed in 2010.” The U.S. Attorney General estimates that 64,000 of the 94,000 weapons recovered in Mexico since the Merida Initiative began were traced from origins in the United States, according to the report.
The report admitted that transnational criminal organizations “are increasingly turning to traditional criminal activities such as kidnapping, extortion, trafficking-in-persons, and domestic retail drug sales.”
As the stepped-up war in Mexico forced a spread of organized crime activities to El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries, Brownfield sought an additional $85 million in Fiscal Year 2012, plus $60 million for fiscal 2013, to bolster the Central America Regional Security Initiative.
Formerly the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Brownfield asked for a U.S. $18-million reduction from an unstated 2012 budget, in turn representing a U.S.$62-million reduction from an also unstated 2011 budget for Plan Colombia’s successor, the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative, noting not that Colombian elites export cocaine, but that their country is “an exporter of regional security, adding, “best practices learned over decades in Colombia have informed our overall hemispheric strategy.”
But, according to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, “Colombia remains one of the world‘s largest producers and exporters of cocaine, as well as a source country for heroin and marijuana.” The U.S. Justice Department says that 95.5 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States originates in Colombia.
Brownfield asked for U.S. $21 million for the 3-year-old Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, noting his office spent $48 million for programs and equipment in the first two years and expects to commit an additional $30 million before this year is out.
At the other end of the tug of war, recent demands for narcotics decriminalization by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina marked the first time current heads of state opposed the drug war.
The progressive candidate in Mexico’s July 1 Presidential election is campaigning on a platform opposed to the drug war. “It’s demonstrated that with the militarization, with the prisons, with the more severe laws or with a heavy hand, more violence does not resolve violence,” candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador said while stumping in Durango state earlier this year.
Legalization proponents in Mexico held a mass meeting in the capital’s central square last month and The Citizen’s Movement for Marijuana Decriminalization scheduled musical festivals in Mexico City for April 15 and 20.
A Rasmussen Poll released on March 30, showed continuation of an upward trend in U.S. voter support for legalization, with 47% in favor, 42% opposed and 10% undecided.
Even evangelist Pat Robertson endorsed the November 2012 Colorado and Washington state marijuana legalization ballot measures, prompting Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann to comment, “The drug policy reform movement is gaining significant ground.”
Their comments on consecutive occasions – like those of the anti-war factions — fell mostly on dead microphones in the upper echelons of the U.S. media section, and they remain to be reconsidered in the Obama campaign for the November Presidential reelection. As Nadelmann noted, “Despite this momentum, the war on drugs rages on. Most U.S. policymakers remain firmly entrenched in the drug war mentality.”
Indeed the ruckus seems to have inspired the Obama Administration to undertake damage control, not only with Brownfield’s supplications to Congress, but also with the recent drug-war hawking in Mexico by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
To end the senseless bleeding of human and monetary resources, activists and media outlets on both sides of the U.S. border must step up efforts.
It’s high time for constituents in the United States to join with those in Mexico and with other concerned citizens of Latin America in a full-scale, cross-border movement to demand peace on drugs.
Only then might this high-priced debacle become a matter of serious and consistent media coverage for informed decision-making.
Talli Nauman is a longtime Americas Program collaborator and columnist, and a founder and co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness, an independent media project initiated in 1994 with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.