Those most affected by drugs and drug policies — from urban youth to coca farmers — usually find themselves sidelined in the debate over drug policy.
In a virtually unnoticed exchange on February 3, Congressman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) called the CIA to task for its incredibly ham-fisted handling of an April 20, 2001 incident in Peru. In collaboration with a CIA aircrew working as part of a joint program to interdict drug trafficking, the Peruvian air force shot down a plane carrying an American missionary family, killing two. In an angry tone, the Republican congressman denounced the CIA’s response, released the actual film of the incident, and triggered an official statement from the agency — conveniently left off the CIA website to attract as little attention as possible.
Mexico faces two serious challenges: the deepest economic slowdown in Latin America and an explosion of drug-related violence. To the extent that these crises are getting any attention at all in the United States, the views are widely divergent.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of the author’s testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on February 4.
When Bolivian President Evo Morales recently made his first visit ever to Washington, he gave a rousing speech before hundreds at American University, addressed the Organization of American States (OAS), and met with leaders of both political parties on Capitol Hill. Strikingly absent from his itinerary, however, was any interaction with the Bush administration.
Standing in the student section of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium during football season always felt like witnessing a war unfold before your eyes. First the band would enter, marching in military-like formation and literally drumming up support from the crowd, while the cheerleaders would start up the most boastfully imposing chant in all of college sports: "We Are…Penn State." Then our four-star general, Coach Joe Paterno would run on the field flanked by his army of All-American linebackers and various other defensive backs, ends, and tackles because offense was always second to a strong defense in JoePa’s book. Even as a student, during perhaps the bleakest years of an otherwise dominating half-century of college football, I knew Pennsylvania State University was just as likely to be called "Linebacker U" as Penn State.
Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai recently came out swinging at the West again, this time on the topic of opium eradication. Responding to the latest UN report showing an opium production increase of 17% in 2007, Karzai accused the international community of failing to implement a coherent counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan.
Opium production has indeed skyrocketed to record levels. Now nearly the world’s sole producer of the crop, Afghanistan puts more opium on the market than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined. The Afghan government has certainly failed to contain this problem. But Karzai is also right: the international community has been part of the problem.
President Richard Nixon invented the phrase “war on drugs” and used it in a political context similar in many ways to today’s. Bogged down in an unwinnable war abroad, with a growing deficit and rising inflation, Nixon declared illegal drugs “public enemy number one” on June 17, 1971.
Nixon took office promising to crack down on crime. Due to the characteristics of the problem and the division of powers that placed crime-fighting largely in the hands of state and local governments, he soon realized the difficulties of showing concrete results through a federal program. So Nixon devised a major, executive-led counternarcotics offensive to increase presidential powers and galvanize support from conservatives for his presidency and re-election.
In April, the Democratic-controlled Congress froze $55.2 million in military assistance earmarked for Colombia. At issue were linkages between the Andean nation’s military and a paramilitary group on the State Department’s terrorist list. The administration response has largely been to marshal the troops and espouse the benefits of Plan Colombia, the vehicle that delivers U.S. assistance to Colombia.
The current war on drugs is not working, is expensive (about $20 billion per year), promotes human rights violations at home and abroad, and disproportionately targets the poor at both ends of the drug pipeline—peasant growers in the Andes and small-time, inner-city users and sellers in the United States.