War on Drugs

War on Drugs and Human Rights

Wars and internal unrest in various countries often go hand in hand with drug traffic. For instance, in the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, the US-backed Afghan guerrillas financed their operations by dealing drugs, just as did later the liberation armies of Kosovo and Macedonia. In addition, arms-trade and drug trafficking are more often than not practiced by the very same entrepreneurs.

Ever since the English-Chinese opium conflict, wars have been fought over economic power. In the said conflict, England, or the West, equaled international drug dealers who wanted to continue the lucrative business of shipping opium from India to China, whereas China wanted to put an end to a commerce that was ruining her economy and turning her citizens into drug addicts.

The United States’ War on Drugs

Already in 1925, the US government was advocating the eradication of coca, opium poppy, and hemp. The war on drugs started in earnest in 1968, during the Nixon administration, when an official campaign to eradicate natural drug crops in Mexico got under way. The same type of ’war’ continued in Thailand in the 1970’s. In 1989, the US announced its Andean Initiative (aimed mainly at Peru), which meant $220 million annual spending in order to do away with the cultivation and production of cocaine. In 1995, the US National Security Council recommended eradication of illicit crops as the most important strategy in order to cut down drug abuse. Subsequently, the congress granted $246 million for the eradication of coca crops in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.

The US is hypocritically waging its war on drugs while simultaneously benefiting from them. The innermost objective of the US policy, far from the supposed war on drugs, is to further its own interests by achieving and maintaining a strong military presence in the area. Some scholars are of the opinion that with the end of the Cold War, the US had to somehow justify its military presence in Latin America, and the war on drugs is an ideal excuse to serve that purpose. In carrying out the said policy, the US has the European Union’s consent.

The two-faced US policy has reached a point where negotiations have given way to a more hard-line approach. The new president of Colombia, despite his close ties to the Medellin drug cartel (the Medellin cartel, based in the city of the same name, used be one of the biggest operators in Colombian drug traffic), was guaranteed full US support after declaring that he will not negotiate in any way with the rebels, thus refusing to seek other than military solution to the Colombian civil war that has already dragged on for decades. The present situation in Colombia is basically the following: drug crops are being poisoned with toxic herbicides -despite promises of more ”environmentally-friendly” ways of eradication- by the US-backed (and -trained) soldiers, who, along with right-wing paramilitary groups, terrorize the country-side as they see fit, while at the same time the drug-lords are living happy and care-free in their mansions.

With a new official resolution passed in 2002, the US war on drugs has been openly extended into a war against the left-wing guerrilla groups. Thus the US has officially picked sides in the Colombian civil war, implicating guerillas as responsible for protecting the cultivation of coca. Whereas FARC most likely finances its war effort by drug trafficking, the right-wing paramilitary groups, factions in the Colombian army and police force, not to mention civil servants and government officials, are at least equally involved in the same line of business. Therefore what probably worries the US more, are the possible attacks the guerrillas might launch against industrial targets, namely the oil industry. Thus the real reason for the massive support to the Colombian government is to protect the US economic interests, not to combat drugs.

The US war on drugs in its current form is futile, for as long as there is demand, there will be production and traffic. For instance, when the cultivation of coca decreased in Peru and Bolivia during the initial phase of the drug war, it simultaneously increased in Colombia. Because of the drug war, cultivation is forced to move deeper into the thus far unspoiled jungle, consequently resulting in more environmental damage.

The drug war has resulted in more human rights violations, an increase in the number of refugees, has helped forge alliances between farmers and guerrillas, and strengthened undemocratic regimes. In 2001, the Human Rights Watch implicated seven graduates of the notorious School of the Americas*) as being in charge of the paramilitary groups mainly responsible for the kidnappings, murder, and torture taking place in Colombia. These paramilitary groups are closely connected to the army and the police force. Nevertheless, secretary of state Colin Powell gave Colombia credit for a supposed improvement on the human rights’ front, thus undermining and discrediting the work of various human rights organizations.

One thing that may easily go unnoticed in the polemic over drugs is the indigenous people’s right to preserve their traditions. For instance, the United Nations have guaranteed Peru and Bolivia the legal right to cultivate coca for traditional purposes. The traditional Andean consumption of coca means chewing its leafs, a practice which does not have any harmful effects, and is in no way comparable to the use of actual cocaine. The Andean culture is based on dualism, and coca can be seen in this context, too: for the indigenous peoples of the Andes coca is a holy plant, but the downside to this holy plant is the drug which can be derived from it, cocaine, something that brings along with it all sorts of problems, namely the destruction of the environment, thus making it increasingly difficult to maintain the traditional way of life.

The poor people of the Andes are widely exploited in drug traffic. Farmers are either lured or coerced to take up the cultivation of drugs, and the same goes for couriers, or mules, who are needed to transport the final product. These people get a very small share of the final retail price of the product, although they are the ones taking the biggest risks, in addition to suffering from the severe damage inflicted on their environment.

*) US training facility where policemen from Latin American countries are taught how to get rid of subversive elements by using torture etc.