Pubdate: Sat, 13 Jan 2007
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2007 The New York Times Company
Author: Orlando Patterson
Note: Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, is a 
guest columnist.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Kingston, Jamaica - Preoccupation with Iraq has drawn attention from 
another unwinnable American war that has been far more destructive of 
life both at home and abroad and has caused far greater collateral 
damage in other countries, in addition to spreading contempt for 
American foreign engagements. This is the failed war on drugs.

It was Nixon who, in 1971, first declared war on drugs. As with Iraq, 
the strategy is flawed in its conception and execution, made worse by 
a refusal to change course in the face of failure. It strongly 
emphasizes eradicating the source of drugs, interdiction of traffic 
and draconian punishment for offenders. It neglects what nearly every 
expert believes -- and European experience has shown -- to be the 
only successful strategy: a demand-side emphasis on preventive 
programs and rehabilitation of addicts. The present administration's 
claims of a shift to preventive measures is belied by the budget of 
its drug control office, which allocates a 94 percent share to 
disrupting the supply, mainly through environmentally hazardous 
spraying in Latin America and the Caribbean that alienates local farmers.

The domestic results are tragic: an enormous increase in the 
incarceration of young, disproportionately minority Americans, 
resulting in the waste of human resources and the creation of a 
prison culture that converts nonviolent addicts into hardened 
criminals, without any impact on drug use. Within a year of release, 
43.5 percent of drug offenders are rearrested. Recent surveys 
indicate a steady increase in the use of illicit drugs: more than 40 
percent of Americans over 12 have used them at some point. Nearly all 
Caribbean societies are involved with narcotrafficking and, in the 
case of Jamaica, large-scale production and export of marijuana. In 
2001, illicit drug shipments in the region were worth more money than 
the top five legitimate exports combined. The results have been 
devastating. Political corruption and payment in arms threatens the 
sovereignty and stability of many states. In 1985, the chief minister 
and minister of commerce of the Turks and Caicos Islands were 
arrested in Miami and imprisoned in America for drug offenses.

Drug addiction and violent crime are now endemic in Jamaica, Puerto 
Rico and even small islands like St. Kitts. The corruption of the 
police and other security forces has reached a crisis point in 
Jamaica, where an officer can earn the equivalent of half a year's 
salary by simply looking the other way. Last year, 1,300 people were 
murdered here, in a population of only three million -- and that was 
an improvement on the previous year.

Dr. Peter Phillips, Jamaica's very competent minister of national 
security, estimates that 60 percent of the murders are drug related. 
Calling cocaine trafficking and use the "taproot" of a "web of 
criminality," he said drugs sustain a "self-perpetuating culture of 
extreme violence" extending to many areas of the society.

The drug culture is highly transnational and organized, exemplified 
by the Jamaican "posses" that terrorized America in the 1980s with 
some 4,900 murders. Traffickers increasingly operate offshore, taking 
advantage of better arms, faster boats and more efficient tracking 
equipment than those available to local security forces.

Phillips is puzzled by America's inflexible emphasis on eradication 
and interdiction and its refusal to provide help where it is most 
needed, like the rebuilding of corrupted police forces. He provided a 
telling example of the futility of current approaches. With Americans 
and Jamaicans working closely together recently, the percentage of 
transshipments of Colombian cocaine to the U.S. that went through 
Jamaica was reduced from 20 to 2. But this had no effect on the 
amount of cocaine entering America -- the traffickers simply changed 
routes -- and it increased violent crime in Jamaica. Drug dons became 
more murderous in turf wars, as there was less cocaine and money to go around.

America's unwillingness to recognize the socioeconomic context of the 
drug crisis at home and abroad, to see that being surrounded by 
failing states threatens its security, to provide aid where it is 
most effective, and to acknowledge that the root cause of this 
hemispheric disaster is not supply but its own citizens' insatiable 
demand for illicit drugs, is as incomprehensible as the quagmire in Iraq.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake