Pubdate: Sun, 27 May 2007
Source: Independent on Sunday (UK)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Hugh O'Shaughnessy
Notes: Hugh O'Shaughnessy reports from La Paz, Bolivia. Hugh 
O'Shaughnessy is the author with Sue Branford of 'Chemical Warfare in 
Colombia - The Costs of Coca Fumigation'
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


America has spent billions battling the drug industry in Bolivia, 
Colombia and Peru. And the result? Production as high as ever, street 
prices at a low, and the governments of the region in open revolt.

The immensely costly "war on drugs" in Latin America is slowly 
collapsing like a Zeppelin with a puncture. The long-forecast failure 
for strategies which involve police and military in forcibly 
suppressing narcotics - first decreed by President Richard Nixon 
decades ago - is now pitifully evident in Bolivia, one of the poorest 
countries of the Western hemisphere.

The estimated $25bn (UKP13bn) that Washington has spent trying to 
control narcotics over the past 15 years in Latin America seems to 
have been wasted.

In 2005, according to UN guesses - and, amid merciless political 
spinning of what few facts there are- Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the 
main producers of cocaine, had the capacity to produce 910 metric 
tons a year. As more productive strains of coca bushes appear, 
production has been increasing. Unsurprisingly, the price of cocaine 
on US streets has tumbled, according to the White House drug tzar 
John Walters, to $135 (UKP70) a gram, a fraction of the $600 a gram 
it was fetching in 1981. The purity of cocaine has gone from 60 per 
cent in mid-2003 to more than 70 per cent last October. Like the 
conflict in Iraq, the US's other great war is now being visibly lost.

Here, indigent Bolivian President Evo Morales, once a 
poverty-stricken llama herder and itinerant trumpet player, is 
resisting pressure from the Bush government to eradicate coca bushes 
by fire and sword.

The Bolivian leader is no lover of cocaine and his policies are 
summed up in the slogan "no to drugs, no to cocaine". More than 5,000 
hectares of coca bushes were destroyed last year by growers 
voluntarily. "We did it without violating human rights", says Morales.

But he refuses to ban the consumption of coca leaves, which country 
people regard as gifts from heaven: the indigenous peoples have been 
chewing them for thousands of years as an aid to survival at 14,000 
feet in the perishingly bleak highlands of the Andes which surround this city.

Their teeth are sometimes discoloured but otherwise they have come to 
little harm. Morales has no hesitation in saying that his refusal to 
allow foreigners to dictate Bolivia's policy on what Bolivians call 
Mama Coca has been one of the secrets of his political success. "The 
sacred coca leaf meant that we poor people are in government today," 
he proclaims.

Morales' stand was backed up here earlier this month when Jean 
Ziegler, the influential former Swiss parliamentarian, now the UN 
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, announced that promoting the 
cultivation and consumption of coca "doesn't go against international 
treaties to fight drug trafficking and organised crime."

But the determination of Morales, the leader of a poor country of 
nine million people, is only a tiny part of Latin America's rejection 
of the "war on drugs". In a Venezuela enriched by high prices for its 
oil exports, President Hugo Chavez, himself a political and financial 
supporter of Morales and ally of Fidel Castro, is placing strict 
controls on his country's co-operation with the US Drug Enforcement 
Administration (DEA). The democratically elected Chavez sees the DEA 
as an arm of a government which was involved with the right-wing coup 
d'etat in 2002, which toppled him briefly.

He sees it as devoted as much to Washington's political and military 
strategies in Latin America as to the battle against narcotics. The 
plain-speaking Chavez, who has called President Bush "a devil", has 
accused the DEA of spying.

Pedro Carreno, Chavez's justice minister, has said that Venezuela 
would not allow the DEA to mount anti-drug operations on its 
territory. Chavez has also forbidden overflights by US government 
aircraft. Carreno suggested that instead of Plan Colombia, the US 
"should apply a Plan Washington, New York, or Miami, so that they fly 
over their own air space, and take care of their coast and border 
because 85 per cent of the drugs that are produced in Latin America 
go to the United States."

Now a third Latin American leader, the newly elected President Rafael 
Correa of Ecuador, has announced that his country will ignore US 
instructions in the "war on drugs". He has announced that he will no 
longer allow US forces to occupy a large base at the Pacific port of 
Manta, which was leased to them by a previous government and which 
the Pentagon says is used for aircraft monitoring cocaine shipments 
between Peru and Colombia. Many small farmers in Ecuador along the 
border with Colombia have seen their crops and livestock ruined and 
their own health affected by the spraying of poisons, such as 
glyphosate, by Colombian and US pilots in a so far vain attempt to 
destroy coca bushes in Colombia. The pesticides have drifted over the 
international border spraying Ecuadorean farms.

Last week, Professor Paul Hunt of Essex University, the UN Special 
Rapporteur on Health, speaking in Ecuador said: "There is credible, 
reliable evidence that the aerial spraying of glyphosate along the 
Colombia-Ecuador border damages the health of people living in 
Ecuador. There is also reliable evidence that the aerial spraying 
damages their mental health. Military helicopters sometimes accompany 
the aerial spraying and the entire experience can be terrifying, 
especially for children. "

If this continues the Ecuadoreans have threatened to shoot the 
offending aircraft down.

But it is in the Colombian capital city, Bogota, that the "war on 
drugs" is seriously falling apart. Colombia's president, Alvaro 
Uribe, is in deep political trouble as his opponents dig up unsavoury 
evidence of his past. He was for years seen as the strongest ally of 
the US and Britain in South America - he has been received several 
times at the White House and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office paid 
him a substantial bursary in 1998 for two years' study at St Antony's 
College, Oxford before he was elected president in 2002. As a model 
recruit into the "war on drugs" his country has received $5.4bn under 
the so-called Plan Colombia from Washington for drug control, more US 
foreign aid than any other country except Israel and Egypt.

Yet Colombia is estimated to be producing nearly 800 tons of cocaine 
every year and it has been an open secret for years that senior 
politicians and the armed forces are deeply mixed up in drug dealing 
and the right-wing death squads - coyly referred to as 
"paramilitaries" are also involved in the trade.

In February, Uribe had to sack his foreign minister Maria Consuelo 
Araujo because of her family connections with the death squads and 
the drug trade. Uribe is becoming something of a pariah and his 
support is falling away, even in Washington. Senator Al Gore withdrew 
from a conference on climate change in Latin America to avoid being 
photographed with him because of allegations linking Uribe and 
government members to death squads and drug dealing. Gore called the 
claims deeply troubling. In 2001, some senior politicians signed the 
so-called Pact of Ralito, which bound them to well-known drug 
smugglers with names such as Jorge 40, Don Berna, Salvatore Mancuso 
and Diego Vecino. Other accusations against Uribe include one by an 
opposition senator that death squads used farms belonging to Uribe's 
family to carry out meetings and killings in the 1990s.

Earlier this month, the Vice President, Francisco Santos announced 
that "more than 40 members of congress" could go to prison because of 
their links to drugs and death squads. More than a dozen senators, 
congressmen and political insiders have been arrested. This month, 
two police generals were sacked.

The truth is also emerging about the Colombian army, beloved of the 
US government but widely hated by many Colombians for its closeness 
to the death squads. Senator Patrick Leahy ordered a temporary freeze 
on tens of millions of dollars of US military aid after the Colombian 
army commander, General Mario Montoya, was found to be deeply 
involved with the death squads.

Leahy condemned the waste of US money in Colombia: "When Plan 
Colombia began, we were told it would cut by half the amount of 
cocaine in five years. Six years and $5bn later, it has not had any 
measurable effect on the amount of cocaine entering our country."

Big business is also caught up in drug dealing. In March, Chiquita 
Brands International, a US banana multinational, was fined $25m by 
the US Justice Department for having funded the AUC, the principal 
Colombian death squad which is closely linked to international 
drug-smuggling. The collapse of the "war on drugs" in Latin America 
is of a piece with Tony Blair's failure to control drugs in the UK by 
police action and imprisonment. Britain's drug use rates are among 
the highest in Europe and there are 327,000 problem drug users. The 
failure to stem the supply of heroin is illustrated by the fall in 
price of a gram, from UKP70 in 2000 to UKP54 in 2005. The annual 
number of drug offenders jailed more than doubled between 1994 and 
2005 and the average length of their sentences went up. The courts 
handed out nearly three times as much prison time in 2004 as they did 
10 years earlier.

Last month, an inquiry for the UK Drug Policy Commission said: "The 
research suggests that the greatest reductions in drug-related harm 
have come from investment in treatment and harm reduction. However, 
the bulk of expenditure on drug policy in the UK is still devoted to 
the enforcement of drug laws".

In Britain, as in Latin America, drugs clearly can't be controlled by 
armies and police forces.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin