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Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
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            by Laura Carlsen

            Since its inception, the War on Drugs has cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives. The civilians caught in the crossfire say it’s time for change.

posted Sep 16, 2011. www.yesmagazine.org
Reefer Madness video still
A still from the 1936 film, Reefer Madness.

In the 1930s, a church group commissioned a film “to strike fear in the hearts of young people tempted to smoke marijuana.” But it was not until the 1970s that Reefer Madness—billed as “the original classic that was not afraid to make up the truth” due to its grotesque portrayal of the supposed dangers of marijuana—obtained cult status.

After the scare tactics of the 1930s, U.S. marijuana policy varied depending on the political climate, even as scientific research consistently debunked extreme claims that the plant caused uncontrollable violent behavior, physical addiction, and insanity.

Then on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon launched his signature “war on drugs.” The new crackdown on illegal drug use shifted the issue from a local health and public safety problem to a series of federal agencies under the direct control of the president. President Ronald Reagan later doubled down on the drug war, ushering in an age of mass incarceration.

The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness.

The drug war model not only criminalized but also, like teh film before it, demonized illegal drug dealing and use—and the individuals involved—in moralistic and military terms. In many states, selling marijuana carried longer sentences than murder. Although the abuse of legal drugs now kills more people than illegal drugs, the architects of the drug war continues to promote the view that it is some inherent evil of the substance, rather than the way individuals and groups use it, that determines whether a drug is a threat to society or an accepted social custom.

Needle exchange photo by D.M. GillisWhy Punish Pain?
A hit of compassion could keep drugs from becoming a crime problem.

The Drug Policy Alliance has revealed that U.S. authorities arrest some 800,000 people a year
for marijuana use. Two-thirds of those incarcerated in state prisons
for drug offenses are black or Hispanic, even though consumption rates
for whites are equal. Largely because of drug laws and draconian
enforcement, the United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people, often destroying the hopes and futures of its youth. The United States spends more than $51 billion a year on the domestic war on drugs alone.

Exporting the War

The export version of the drug war has an even darker side. It makes the implicit racism of the domestic war overt. Foreign drug lords are stereotypically portrayed as the root of an evil enterprise that, in fact, takes place mostly in the United States, where street sales generate the multibillion-dollar profits of the business. Under the guise of the drug war, the U.S. government has sponsored military responses in other countries that the Constitution prohibits domestically—for good reasons.
Attention is diverted from the social roots of drug abuse and addiction at home to a foreign threat to the American way of life—a way of life that, regardless of one’s moral beliefs, has always been characterized by the widespread use of mind-altering drugs. The false war model of good vs. evil, ally vs. enemy precludes many community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective. U.S. taxpayers pay billions of dollars to fumigate foreign lands, pursue drug traffickers, and patrol borders as well as land and sea routes to intercept shipments.

None of this has worked. More than a decade and $8 billion into Plan Colombia, that Andean nation is the number-one cocaine producer in the world. Mexico has exploded into violence as the arrests and killings of cartel leaders spark turf battles that bathe whole regions in blood.

Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on
drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country.

Last month, 52 people lost their lives in an attack on a casino in Monterrey, Mexico. The news shocked Mexico since it represents yet another escalation of violence, but it’s become almost routine alongside daily drug-war deaths. For U.S. citizens, it was further proof that Mexico is under an assault by organized crime.

According to some Mexican researchers, the sudden rise in violence in Mexico correlates directly to when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown in the war on drugs by sending troops and federal police into the streets in 2006. Meanwhile, Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country and demand a change in strategy. Calderon has refused to consider alternative models.

Obama’s Drug-War Failure

This year the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report that concludes that “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
Instead, the Obama administration has added fist and firepower to the drug wars. Ignoring 40 years of policy failure, Obama has broken campaign promises to seek a more humane and effective drug policy. His administration has failed to support international harm reduction models, reversed a decision not to
go after state medical marijuana regimes voted by popular referendums,
reaffirmed marijuana’s classification as a schedule 1 controlled
substance with no medical value, and expanded drug wars in Mexico and
Central America.

The United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people.

The government reprehensibly continues to expand the failed drug war in the face of the budget crisis and drastic cutbacks in schools, healthcare, and basic social programs. A good example is the multimillion-dollar boondoggle called the “Merida Initiative.” Under this ill-conceived regional security cooperation measure, the United States sends intelligence and defense equipment and provides military and police training for Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Central American countries. This drug-war strategy has increased violence in Mexico and led to a severe deterioration in public safety, rule of law, and human rights. The resources go to Mexican security forces notorious for corruption and even complicity with organized crime.

drug war protest by Fronteras Desk

Photo by Fronteras Desk

The results of the drug war in Mexico have been nothing short of catastrophic. Since it began, nearly 50,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in drug-war-related violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, children have been orphaned and traumatized, men, and thousands have been kidnapped and still missing.

The attacks on cartels—including the killing or capture of leaders—spark turf wars that rage throughout Mexico, with the worst concentrated along the northern border. In response, some cartels have reorganized, with splinter groups frequently employing far more violent tactics than their parent organizations. Military operations have pushed the violence around the country in what experts call a “whack-a-mole” strategy that shows no signs of letting up.

The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness—government perseverance with lethal and ineffective policies. The
drug war, with its exaggerated claims and mistaken focus on confronting
drug trafficking with police and military force, has cost the United States and its targeted suppliers like Colombia and Mexico millions of dollars and thousands of lives.

In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions.

In Mexico, a peace movement has arisen against the drug war. It has opened up dialogue with the government but been met with an absolute refusal to consider other options. In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions, but politicians dismiss the issue because it’s taboo or too risky for their political aspirations.

Policymakers must come to their senses regarding the madness of the drug-war strategy. If they don’t voluntarily propose reforms, then citizens will have to force them to do so.


Laura CarlsenLaura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, and a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, where this column originally appeared.

Marijuana and Cocaine Should Be Legalized, Says Latin American Drugs Commission May 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Health, Latin America.
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Published on Thursday, May 28, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

Marijuana and cocaine for personal use should be decriminalised because the “war on drugs” has been a disaster, according to some of Latin America’s most powerful politicians and writers.

The current international policy on drugs encourages corruption and violence that is threatening democracy throughout the continent, according to the former president of Brazil, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, who is a co-president of the Latin American commission on drugs and democracy. As well as politicians, the commission includes the writers Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru, and Paulo Coelho of Brazil.

The election of Barack Obama has opened up the best opportunity for decades to address the failure of the “so-called drugs war”, Cardoso told the Guardian today on a visit to London. He said he was hopeful that the international community would acknowledge that the time had come for a “paradigm shift” in the debate on drugs. “The war on drugs has failed in spite of enormous efforts in places like Colombia – the area of coca crops is not reducing,” he said.

The current system of prohibition encouraged corruption among police officers, politicians and even judges. “It poisons the whole system, it undermines democracy,” Cardoso said. “The war on drugs is based on repression … How can people believe in democracy if the rule of law doesn’t work?” Users should be offered treatment rather than jail, he said.

“The starting point has to be the United States,” he said. “Now we have a new American administration, which is much more open-minded than before.” He said he had held talks with the US state department in the later years of the Bush administration and found that, privately, many of the officials there shared his views.

Cardoso said that the changes would have to be co-ordinated. “We need an international convention, otherwise you will have different countries doing different things,” he said. “But the climate is changing for the first time for many years. Even in the US, they recognise we are in deadlock now.” Obama had already made it clear that the idea of a “war on drugs” was not workable. The need for change is urgent, said Cardoso, because of what is happening in Latin America. “There is a very grave situation in Mexico,” he said. “More people are being killed there (through the drugs war) than in Iraq.” He said that it was easier for former presidents who were no longer in office or running for election to speak out on such a controversial issue. He added that ending the war on drugs would be not be a signal that drugs were acceptable but a recognition that current policies had failed.

“You have to show that drugs are harmful, even light drugs, like marijuana – it is better not to use drugs – but tobacco is harmful also yet its use is being reduced by education,” said Cardoso. He added that the vast quantities of money being used to enforce “repressive” policies on drugs could be put into treatment and education. Hundreds of thousands of people were being unnecessarily criminalised and sent to prison, “which are schools of crime.”

The previous UN drugs policy that aimed to eliminate all drug use by this year was ill-conceived, he said. “You can never stop drugs use,” he said, likening it to some of the failed policies in the past over HIV/Aids. “You can’t have zero drugs any more than you can have a zero sex policy but you can have a safe sex policy.” He said that Brazil’s success in halting the HIV/Aids epidemic, which meant promoting the use of condoms in a Catholic country, was an example of how people’s behaviour could be changed by education rather than repression.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Colombia’s desert war March 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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  • The Guardian, Thursday 12 March 2009
  • The aerial assault on cocaine funded by the US is wiping out everything – apart from coca plants

    The counter-drugs strategy of the United States is clearly failing. UN figures cited in the Guardian this week show that the cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, has surged in the Andes. The most dramatic rise has been in Colombia, the only country in the region that allows the use of pesticides to eradicate coca leaf – a policy promoted and funded by the US.

    I recently received a disturbing email from southern Colombia warning that the fragile Amazonian soil could “soon be turned to desert”. They were the words of a Catholic priest, so I rang a church worker whose parish lies deep in the Amazonian state of Caquetá. Military planes targeting coca farms, funded by the US, had been spraying mists of pesticides over food crops, grazing animals and even areas where children were playing, she said: locals were complaining of breathing problems and rashes; “strips of skin” have been peeling off cows, and chickens have died; and maize, yucca, plantain and cacao crops have wilted and shrivelled. “We fear there will soon be a very serious food shortage in the region,” she said. The local parish has issued an urgent appeal.

    The US has been funding the spraying campaign for more than two decades, but 70% of the world’s coca leaf is grown in Colombia. Glyphosate is the most frequently used pesticide; its biggest selling commercial formulation is Roundup, made by Monsanto. The company acknowledges that contact with glyphosate may cause mild eye or skin irritation. But independent studies have suggested a far greater range of symptoms, including facial numbness and swelling, rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, chest pains, nausea and congestion.

    In Colombia, glyphosate is mixed with other chemicals, and because the exact composition has not been made public it has been impossible to test its toxicity. One addition, a surfactant, makes the corrosive liquid stick to the surface – leaf or skin – on which it is sprayed. The pesticide is used at higher concentrations than stipulated in the US, and is sprayed from above the recommended height of 10 metres. Farm workers in the US are advised to keep clear of weedkillers, yet in Colombia aerial spraying takes place with no warning, showering humans and animals with chemicals.

    All Colombia’s neighbours – Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil – oppose the “fumigation” policy. The Andean and European parliaments have called for its suspension, as have numerous environmentalists, scientists and politicians in Colombia. But spraying has intensified since the launch in 2000 of Plan Colombia, the US-funded counter-narcotics strategy.

    It was in that year that I first went to meet coca growers in Caquetá. One woman told me a familiar story. Sara’s parents were landless, and had travelled south to set up a farm. In this remote region, with no paved roads, they found that coca was the only crop from which they could make a living.

    Sara showed me the weather-beaten wooden press she uses to grind the coca leaves. Peasants here turn the coca leaves into a paste, which is then sold on to a middleman who takes it to a jungle laboratory to refine it into cocaine.

    Sara also grows maize, yucca, sugar cane and tropical fruit, but these products don’t make much money. It would take days to transport them along rivers or dirt paths to the nearest big market. In contrast, coca paste is easy to transport and, crucially, always in demand. But the peasants here are not rich. They receive just 0.1% of the final street price of cocaine.

    The US focuses on one element of the trafficking chain, the poverty-stricken peasant. But the policy is not even effective. When their land is poisoned, peasants migrate and start growing coca again. They have no alternative. Spraying simply displaces the problem. Despite decades of spraying, coca cultivation in Colombia has grown by 500% since the 1980s, according to US state department figures. US politicians heralded a drop in cultivation after the launch of Plan Colombia, but the area of land covered by coca crops is now larger than when the plan was launched. Perhaps the clearest indication that the policy is failing is the falling price of cocaine, suggesting more, not less, of the drug is entering the US market.

    Back in Caquetá, the church worker described how pesticides have run into rivers and streams, killing fish. Locals wait days before they dare drink the water. One of the most fragile ecosystems in the world “is being poisoned”.

    • Grace Livingstone’s book America’s Backyard: the US and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror is published this month

    Chesa Boudin on Colombia’s Civil War December 26, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
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    Posted on Dec 26, 2008, www.truthdig.com

    book cover
    amazon.com

    By Chesa Boudin

    In February 2007 I visited Colombia’s Chocó region as a guest of local Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that had previously suffered forcible eviction from their communal lands. The phenomenon, known as forced migration or internal displacement, is so widespread across Colombia that the country trails only Iraq and Sudan in its number of internally displaced people. The communities that hosted me in Curvarado and Cacarica had recently returned to their homes after years of abuse at the hands of illegal paramilitary organizations intent on controlling their ancestral lands. Thanks to their determined efforts and support from a local NGO, Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), my hosts had been able to obtain legal title to their communal lands, an anomaly in a country where most forcibly displaced people lack the necessary resources or connections to navigate the legal bureaucracy. Despite their title to the land these communities remained frightened about threats from armed groups, so Justicia y Paz stationed observers to help document trespassing or attacks. 

    The farmers who hosted me, and countless more farmers across Colombia, are caught in the midst of a conflict more complicated than most. Fueled by cocaine profits and U.S. military aid, it has raged for decades, pitting the government security forces and illegal paramilitary groups against various Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements. It is in this broader national context that fundamental human rights and self-determination of peoples come into constant, direct conflict with global economic growth and wealth accumulation in Colombia’s northwest Chocó region. The narrow isthmus, covered in mountainous tropical forests and dense swamplands, is increasingly the target site for potential development projects, including the completion of the Pan-American Highway, a pipeline to carry Venezuelan oil to Pacific ports, and an alternative shipping channel to the Panama Canal. In 1996, the price of land doubled following then-President Ernesto Samper’s announcement of a plan for a new inter-oceanic highway link connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. The Chocó has also attracted agriculture, timber, coal and mining interests both from Colombia and abroad. Peasants who happen to live on resource-rich territory suffer from a violent form of land speculation. In Colombia, neoliberal economic policies have gone hand in hand with militarization of a historic conflict.

    “Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia,” Gary Leech’s new book on Colombia, provides an engaging firsthand account of the country’s drug war. The book is structured around an 11-hour detention ordeal Leech underwent at the hands of the largest guerrilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in August 2006. Each of the 11 chapters in the book corresponds to one of the hours during which he was held at gunpoint on a coca farm in rural Colombia while the FARC higher-ups decided his fate. As Leech anxiously waits out his detention, he reflects back on his first trips to Latin America and his years reporting on Colombia’s drug war. The literary device succeeds; suspense and drama remain present throughout the book, and he provides an easy-to-follow background to the country’s civil strife, mostly narrated through first-person accounts. Luckily for Leech and his readers, he safely made it home to tell the tale. He writes with the raw passion and vivid energy of a wartime correspondent who regularly risks his life to cover stories ignored by major international media outlets. While most writers on Colombia only talk abstractly about policy, Leech goes into villages, speaks with people on the front lines and peels back the skin.

     

    book cover

    Beyond Bogotá

     By Garry Leech

    Beacon Press, 272 pages

    Demonstrating considerable courage and persistence, Leech managed to visit the hottest areas of Colombia’s conflict, survive shootouts and detentions, interview high-ranking leaders of the FARC and the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and visit coca farms and cocaine labs. He describes all this with compelling narrative and evocative characters, taking the reader with him on his investigative adventures. While his descriptive ability makes the reading enjoyable, it is his conclusions that leave the strongest impression.

    President Alvaro Uribe, currently in his second term, is a darling of the U.S. State Department and has funneled billions in U.S. aid into a military strategy for solving the country’s problems. Meanwhile, he implements neoliberal economic policies that exacerbate the very wealth disparities that Leech sees as the root of the ongoing violence. As governor of the province of Antioquia, Uribe was instrumental in establishing a civilian vigilante organization, CONVIVIR, that quickly became a right-wing paramilitary network fighting a vicious war against the country’s leftist guerrillas and anyone accused of sympathizing with them. Uribe’s own father was killed by the FARC in a botched kidnapping attempt, blurring the line between the political and the personal in his support for those fighting against the guerrillas. As Leech reports, the paramilitaries that grew out of Uribe’s CONVIVIR are widely believed to be responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and human rights abuses in Colombia. Like the FARC and sectors of the state military apparatus, the paramilitaries became involved in drug trafficking and use cocaine profits to fund their arms purchases and operations. The FARC taxes growers in the regions it controls, and Leech suggests that the paramilitaries and military are actively involved in the more lucrative processing and trafficking as well.

    Leech explains how, after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military aid to Colombia under the heading “Plan Colombia” rapidly shifted from anti-drug trafficking to combating “narco-terrorism.” The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the national paramilitary organization AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) appeared on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. While Leech is quick to condemn all of the armed groups in the conflict, much of his criticism is reserved for U.S. policy in the region. “There was also plenty of anti-American sentiment in Colombia, particularly in the rural regions targeted by Plan Colombia’s fumigations [of illegal coca crops]. Again, this anger wasn’t rooted in a hatred for U.S. freedoms; it resulted from U.S. government policies that destroyed the livelihoods of Colombian peasants without offering them any viable alternatives.” “Beyond Bogotá” gives voice to people whose opinions and perspectives are rarely included in mainstream media reports. 

    Leech investigates a peasant massacre and finds that “U.S. military aid was being used as much to wage a war of terror as to fight a war against terror. At best, it appeared to be funding a selective war on terror—one that targeted civilians seen as suspected leftist terrorists, yet supported a military responsible for perpetrating state terrorism and maintaining close ties to right-wing terrorists.”

    Moreover, according to Leech, the U.S.-led aerial fumigations of coca crops throughout Colombia have backfired; there is now a “super herbicide-resistant strain” of coca that is capable of yielding four times as many leaves from the same acreage. Thus, “although the U.S. and Colombian governments claimed that Plan Colombia was working because the fumigations were reducing the number of acres under cultivation … in reality coca production had remained relatively stable.” Meanwhile, Leech tells us, “Not only do coca farmers earn the least amount of profit among all those engaged in the production, trafficking, and sale of cocaine, but they are also the most vulnerable link in the chain because of their poverty and lack of mobility. Even with the widespread cultivation of coca, 85 percent of rural Colombians live in poverty. And at the close of the twentieth century, those poor farmers became the principal target in the U.S. war on drugs.”

    President Uribe, a willing partner in the war on drugs, has succeeded in improving Colombia’s image in the international business community and increasing urban security. Yet the government presence in many rural areas is limited to military incursions without meaningful investment in development or economic and social infrastructure. Leech shows us the divide between rural and urban Colombia, narrating multiple political perspectives throughout. In one scene that takes place over a three-hour period, he interacts with pro-FARC rural peasants, then with nonaligned, pro-peace small-town residents, and finally with right-wing pro-Uribe urbanites. 

    book cover

    Beyond Bogotá

     

    By Garry Leech

    Beacon Press, 272 pages

    Buy the book

    Leech clearly knows Colombia intimately, and this makes the book. One area where “Beyond Bogotá” falls short, however, is that it lacks regional context. Colombia is just one country in a fascinating and rapidly changing region. In many ways Colombia is an outlier among its neighbors: While Colombia is still a close ally of the U.S. and an adherent to the Washington Consensus, Andean neighbors Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for example, have elected left-wing, anti-neoliberal, populist presidents, including Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales. Uribe appears to represent the old guard of Latin American governments, while Chavez’s 1999 election was the vanguard of a wave of progressive democratic victories across the region. This regional context has shaped U.S. aid to Colombia, as well as Uribe’s domestic policies, but is largely absent from the book. Also missing are recommendations for how Colombia might find its way out of its quagmire, or how the international community can help it do so.

    Latin America is a rapidly changing region, and perhaps no country illustrates this better than Colombia. Writers focusing on current events there inevitably face the pitfall that nothing remains current for long. While this book is one of the most recent, most up to date on Colombia available today, crucial developments occurred after “Beyond Bogotá” went to press. Several of the key FARC leaders Leech writes about or interviewed for this book, including Simón Trinidad, Raúl Reyes and Manuel Marulanda, are no longer on the field of battle: Trinidad was caught and extradited to the U.S., where he is currently in prison; Reyes was killed by the Colombian military; and Marulanda died of natural causes. Moreover, the FARC’s most valuable hostages, among them one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and several American civilian contractors, were rescued last summer in a daring raid coordinated by the Colombian military. What implications these developments have for the FARC’s viability as a national rebel army remain to be seen. For those interested, as I am, in Leech’s ongoing analysis of these issues and future developments in Colombia, it should be noted that he is the editor of a regularly updated Web site called Colombia Journal [under construction as this review is published].

    As I was finishing reading “Beyond Bogotá”, I received an e-mail from Justicia y Paz, detailing threats and kidnappings of its members working in the communities in Curvarado. A series of anonymous phone calls had preceded the kidnapping of a human rights worker based in one of the formerly displaced communities I visited in 2007. Throughout Colombia, paramilitary groups are engaged in ongoing assaults on poor communities living on resource-rich land. U.S. military aid continues unabated, even as the Colombian military is complicit with these illegal attacks or simply looks the other way. This book is an excellent way to familiarize oneself with a multifaceted conflict that sadly shows no sign of letting up soon.

    Chesa Boudin is the author of “Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America,” forthcoming from Scribner. He studied forced migration and public policy in Latin America at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and is currently enrolled in the Yale Law School.

    Evo Morales: DEA Complicit in Bolivia Drug Trade December 12, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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    Written by World War 4 Report   
    Thursday, 11 December 2008
    Source: World War 4 Report
    Bolivian President Evo Morales, defending his decision to expel the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said the agency was actually involved in the drug traffic, and “did not respect the police, or even the [Bolivian] armed forces.” Announcing that the staff from the US agency has three months to leave the country, he added: “The worst thing is, it did not fight drug trafficking; it encouraged it.” He said he had “quite a bit of evidence” backing up his charges. Morales said that after a 1986 operation in Huanchaca National Park, it was determined that the largest cocaine processing plant “was under DEA protection.” He also accused the agency of spying on and even killing cocaleros and other opponents of US policies.

    Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana presented a series of documents and press clips at a news conference, which he described as “objective data” that had influenced Morales’ decision to suspend DEA activities. Quintana said Morales was ready to present the evidence to incoming US president Barack Obama “to prove the illegality, abuse and arrogance of the DEA in Bolivia.” Throughout the 1990s, the DEA in Bolivia “bribed police officers, violated human rights, covered up murders, destroyed bridges and roads,” Quintana said. (AFP, Dec. 11)

    Bolivia Social Defense Vice Minister Felipe Caceres said the DEA had been operating in Bolivia without an official agreement. He said the DEA acted as it pleased for over 30 years, because no Bolivian administration dared to make the US to sign an agreement. He said a secret DEA office in Cochabamba had been discovered, which the agency had never reported to the Bolivian government. He said the office, uncovered over the weekend, had been recently abandoned, with only furniture left behind in disorder. An adjacent gym used by the agents had been stripped of its equipment. (Prensa Latina, Dec. 8)

    A View from the South: Amy Goodman on Bolivia’s Morales November 25, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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    Posted on Nov 19, 2008

    By Amy Goodman

     

    Evo Morales knows about “change you can believe in.” He also knows what happens when a powerful elite is forced to make changes it doesn’t want.

     

    Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. He was inaugurated in January 2006. Against tremendous internal opposition, he nationalized Bolivia’s natural-gas fields, transforming the country’s economic stability and, interestingly, enriching the very elite that originally criticized the move.

     

    Yet last September, the backlash came to a peak. In an interview in New York this week, Morales told me: “The opposition, the right-wing parties … decided to do a violent coup. … They couldn’t do it.”

     

    In response, presidents from South American nations met in Chile for an emergency summit, led by the two women presidents, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina. The group issued a statement condemning the violence and supporting Morales.

     

    Morales continued in our interview: “The reason why I’m here in the U.S.: I want to express my respect to the international community, because everybody condemned the coup against democracy to the rule of law—everybody but the U.S., but the ambassador of the U.S. It’s incredible.”

     

    After the attempted coup, Morales ejected U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, declaring, “He is conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.” Morales went on: “He used to call me the Andean bin Laden. And the coca growers, he used to call them Taliban. … Permanently, from the State Department of the U.S., I have been accused of being a drug trafficker and a terrorist. And even now that I’m president, that continues on the part of the embassy. I know it does not come from the American people.”

     

    Morales has now given the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration three months to leave the country, and announced at the United Nations Monday that the DEA will not be allowed back. Morales was a “cocalero,” a coca grower. Coca is central to Bolivian indigenous culture and the local economy. As Roger Burbach, director of the Center for the Study of the Americas, writes, “Morales advocated ‘Coca Yes, Cocaine No,’ and called for an end to violent U.S.-sponsored coca eradication raids, and for the right of Bolivian peasants to grow coca for domestic consumption, medicinal uses and even for export as an herb in tea and other products.”

     

    Morales aims to preserve the Bolivian heritage of coca growing, while eliminating the scourge of drug trafficking. He says the U.S. uses the war on drugs as a cover to destabilize his country: “If they really fought against drug trafficking, it would be very different.” He said the South American leaders are finally organizing amongst themselves: “We are actually setting up a national intelligence in collaboration with our neighbors Argentina, Chile, Brazil. And that way, the fight against drug trafficking is going to be more effective, but it’s going to be something that has a political element in it. If we don’t permit the DEA to come back, that doesn’t mean we’ll break relationships with the U.S.”

     

    The resurgent democracies in Latin America are hoping for better relations with an Obama administration. On the election of the first African-American U.S. president, the first indigenous president of Bolivia told me, “Maybe we can complement each other to look for equality among people, people who are here on Mother Earth.” After we spoke, Morales headed off to Washington to visit the Lincoln Memorial and to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “I want to honor my brothers, the movement, the Afro-American movement. I have the obligation to honor the people who preceded us, the ones who fought for the respect of human rights and rights in general.”

     

    Thousands are gathering outside Fort Benning, Ga., this weekend for the annual mass protest and civil disobedience against the U.S. School of the Americas (now called WHINSEC), a military training facility that is alleged to have trained hundreds of Latin American soldiers who have gone home to commit human-rights violations. The wounds of U.S. intervention in Latin America are still raw. President-elect Obama has an opportunity to reach out and grab the extended olive branch being offered by President Morales.

    Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

    Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She has been awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and will receive the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

    © 2008 Amy Goodman

     

    Bolivia Puts DEA on Hold November 2, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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    Posted on Nov 1, 2008, www.truthdig.com
    Morales
    AP photo / Juan Karita

    Bolivian President Evo Morales on Saturday made another move to signal his administration’s displeasure with the United States, announcing that he is “indefinitely” halting all activities of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency within his country.

    Bolivia halts US anti-drugs work

    File photograph of Bolivian President Evo Morales
    Mr Morales is a former coca farmer

    President Evo Morales has announced he is suspending “indefinitely” the operations of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Bolivia.

    Mr Morales accused the agency of having encouraged anti-government protests in the country in September.

    He did not say whether its staff would be asked to leave the country, as coca- growers have been pressing him to do.

    Bolivia’s first indigenous president once served as the leader of the country’s union of coca-growers.

    Relations between Bolivia and the US have been strained since Evo Morales won presidential elections in January 2006.

    Coca is the raw material used in the production of cocaine and is widely grown in Bolivia.

    The country is a major producer of cocaine, but millions of Bolivians poorest people also chew coca leaves as part of their daily routine. Many believe the leaf offers health benefits.

    ‘Defending Bolivia’

    “From today all the activities of the US DEA are suspended indefinitely,” the Bolivian leader said in the coca-growing region of Chimore, in the central province of Chapare.

    A man fills bags with coca leaves at the coca market in La Paz, Bolivia
    Coca is widely used by Bolivian Indians

    “Personnel from the DEA supported activities of the unsuccessful coup d’etat in Bolivia,” he added, referring to the unrest in September which left 19 people dead.

    “We have the obligation to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the Bolivian people.”

    US officials have denied any wrongdoing.

    In recent months, a string of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and agencies increased tensions between both countries, the BBC’s Andres Schipani reports from Bolivia.

    Bolivia’s government expelled the US international development agency and the US ambassador to La Paz.

    Washington retaliated by expelling its Bolivian counterpart, while last month President George W Bush himself put the Andean country on an anti-narcotics blacklist that cuts trade preferences.

    Making his announcement, Mr Morales also declared that his government had eradicated more than 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) of illegally planted coca.

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