Pubdate: Sun, 08 Dec 2013
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, GA)
Copyright: 2013 Ledger-Enquirer
Author: Teo Ballve
Note: Teo Ballve, who lives in Colombia and is a fellow of the Social 
Science Research Council, wrote this for Progressive Media Project:


Twenty years ago this month, U.S. authorities helped bring down 
Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, but Washington's global war on 
drugs has not let up. In fact, it has become costlier, bloodier, more 
widespread and futile.

Escobar died in a hail of bullets on Dec. 2, 1993, fleeing from 
police on a rooftop in his native city of Medellin. It took a 
3,000-strong elite force of Colombian police -- supported by U.S. 
intelligence agencies and $73 million in aid that year alone -- to 
bring down the drug baron.

Today, the war on drugs costs U.S. taxpayers more than $51 billion a 
year. Colombia itself has received more than $10 billion in military 
assistance from Washington since Escobar's death.

But U.S. authorities have almost nothing to show for it. In fact, a 
major study published by a British medical journal this fall showed 
that illegal drugs have actually become cheaper and more potent over 
the last 20 years.

Like any lucrative industry, the drug trade exhibits Hydra-like 
resiliency: Cut off one head and two more sprout in its place. After 
Escobar's demise, for instance, Colombia's cocaine business 
fragmented into micro-cartels controlled by armed militias, giving 
Mexican cartels a stronger foothold in the global supply chain. 
Although Colombia and Peru are the world's top producers of cocaine, 
it's the Mexican cartels that move the product into the United States.

And the drug business is expanding geographically -- in part, due to 
the supposed success of anti-drug efforts. So, business is not just 
booming; it's moving. Analysts call it the balloon effect: Squeeze 
the trade in one place and it simply bulges up elsewhere.

With Caribbean maritime routes heavily patrolled by the Pentagon, the 
cartels have made Central America their main transshipment point. One 
reflection of the shift is that Honduras is now home to the murder 
capital of the world -- a title once held by Escobar's hometown of Medellin.

Today's violence is unprecedented, even when compared to the 
bloodiest days of the Medellin cartel. Since 2006, drug-related 
violence has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people in Mexico 
alone. And the murder rate in Guatemala is now higher than it was 
during the country's 36-year civil war, which was a globally 
recognized genocide.

Desperate for an end to the carnage, Latin American leaders have 
increasingly clamored for a paradigm shift in drug policy. At the 
U.N. General Assembly in September, for example, they made a 
collective call for drug control to be handled internationally as a 
public health issue with a focus on human rights and harm reduction.

But Washington has stubbornly defended the status quo, which will 
only ensure that we will be endlessly battling the Pablo Escobars of the future.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom