Pubdate: Mon, 09 Mar 2009
Source: Daily Gleaner (CN NK)
Copyright: 2009 Brunswick News Inc.
Author: Gwynne Dyer
Note: Gwynne Dyer is a London-based, Newfoundland-born independent
journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His new
book, Climate Wars, was published recently in Canada by Random House.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


One should not speak ill of the dead, but it's hard to resist the
suspicion that the murder of the army chief of staff on March 1 and
of the president on March 2 in the small West African country of
Guinea-Bissau were linked to the drug trade in Africa's first "narco

On March 1, a powerful bomb blew up the military headquarters in
Bissau, the capital, killing Gen. Batista Tagme Na Waie, chief of
Guinea-Bissau's military.

The blast also severely wounded five other senior officers.

Less than 24 hours later, gunfire and rocket explosions were heard
near the presidential palace, and shortly afterwards it was reported
that President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira had also been killed.

The army didn't even deny responsibility.

"President Vieira was killed by the army as he tried to flee his
house which was being attacked by a group of soldiers close to the
chief of staff Tagme Na Waie, early this morning," said spokesman
Zamora Induta. "The country will start up now. This man had blocked
any momentum in this small country."

But it is unlikely that the quarrel was really about how best to run the

The shoot-out had been coming for some time. Last November President
Vieira narrowly survived a machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade
attack on his residence by "renegade" soldiers. The 400-strong
militia he then created to protect himself from the army was accused
of shooting at General Tagme Na Waie in January, and the army forced
Vieira to disband it.

After that, Vieira knew he was a dead man walking, and the bomb that
killed Tagme Na Waie was probably an attempt to get his retaliation
in first. But this was not simply another in the long line of coups
and counter-coups that has characterized Guinea-Bissau's history
since it got its independence from Portugal in  1974.

Guinea-Bissau's politics were rough even when the stakes were very
small: control of a poverty-stricken country of one and a half
million people whose principal export was cashew nuts.

Vieira himself first came to power in a coup in 1980, lost it in a
military mutiny in 1999, and subsequently went into exile as the
country was ravaged by civil war.

Then he regained power in an election in 2005 after the previous
president was overthrown by the army.

The stakes have got a lot bigger now, because the country has become
the main transit point for Colombian cartels smuggling cocaine into

More than half of Guinea-Bissau's territory is a maze of offshore
islands, and the tiny navy lacks the strength to patrol them.

There is not even a prison in the country, nor do the police own a

The money the Colombians can splash around is irresistible to many in
the government and the army, and an internal struggle to monopolize
that money was the inevitable result.

Mostly the struggle has been invisible, but occasionally it came out
into plain sight, as when an aircraft suspected of carrying cocaine
was prevented from taking off last July by the judicial police, which
are under the president's control.

For five days army troops prevented the police from boarding the

When they finally let them on, there was no cocaine there any more,
but sniffer dogs went crazy when they were brought aboard. Justice
Minister Carmelita Pires subsequently received a number of death threats.

In another incident, in April, two soldiers were arrested in a
vehicle carrying 635 kg of cocaine - but they were soon released from
detention, and have yet to stand trial.

Maybe the late President Vieira died because he was waging a gallant
campaign against the drug lords who are taking over the country, but
it is at least as likely that he was just involved in a struggle with
the army over the proceeds.

In any case, the army has won, and the country's status as Africa's
premier narco state is assured.

Six months ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called
on the Security Council to impose sanctions against those involved in
Guinea-Bissau's drug trade.

However, nothing has been done - nor would sanctions deter officials
in a desperately poor country who have been dazzled by the prospect
of great wealth.

If even the Mexican state, a hundred times as big and a thousand
times as rich, faces defeat at the hands of the drug gangs, what hope
is there for Guinea-Bissau?

So what is to be done? What should have been done decades ago: end
the stupid "war on drugs," which destroys not only thousands of lives
but the integrity of entire countries. Legalise the drugs, sell them
under government license to those who want to buy them, and deprive
the illegal drug industry of the cash-flow that makes it so powerful.

The war is lost anyway. Nobody who wants the drugs in any western
country has any difficulty in getting them, and the supply is so
large and reliable that the prices have actually dropped over the

Moreover, the whole war against narcotics (and other "recreational"
drugs like marijuana, amphetamines and psychotropic drugs) is utterly

Other drugs that cause far more devastation, like alcohol and
tobacco, remain legal simply because they are used by far more people
in the West.

Alternatively, we could make them illegal too, and lose some even
bigger wars.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based, Newfoundland-born independent
journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His new
book, Climate Wars, was published recently in Canada by Random House.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin