We Have the Worst of Both Worlds

We Have the Worst of Both Worlds
Posted by FoM on September 22, 2000 at 13:09:22 PT
By Boris Johnson, The Ottawa Citizen
Source: Ottawa Citizen
Colombia suffers 32,000 casualties a year fighting a war created by the West's appetite for drugs. Boris Johnson talks to the Colombian ambassador about the problem. "It is like that," says His Excellency Victor Ricardo, the Colombian ambassador to England. He gestures with an elegantly flannelled arm at a plant on top of the television in my office. "Only larger." I gaze at the plant, which looks particularly droopy and unthreatening, and try to imagine the amazing properties of its Latin American lookalike. 
The ambassador has done us the honour of dropping in for tea, and we are of course discussing the coca plant, the key ingredient of a $350-billion global industry. They pick it, mash it, boil it and then somehow turn it into a white powder which disappears at a prodigious rate up the noses of the western world. Burst into the lavatories of one of those trendy clubs in London, England, I am told, and you will find any number of New Labour PR types inhaling Colombia's No. 1 export; and when they found poor Paula Yates earlier this week, the chances are, alas, that there was a little piece of Colombia somewhere in the room. Yes, says the ambassador, a "high percentage" of the cocaine in Britain probably originated in his country. The Americans say that 90 per cent of their cocaine consumption -- and much of their heroin -- comes from Colombia, and once again they are going ape. In a plan that has been likened to the Vietnam War, U.S. President Bill Clinton has decided to stamp out the source of so much misery by eradicating the crop itself. At a cost of $1.3 billion to the American taxpayer, he is sending 60 Black Hawk helicopter gunships, 300 troops, and innumerable spies and Drug Enforcement Agency officials to this proud and independent country. Yet more American money -- about $900 million -- is to be poured into the fight against the left-wing guerrillas who control the coca production. Fifteen more spray planes will be supplied by Uncle Sam to squirt the countryside with a Monsanto-made defoliant called Glyphosate -- a particularly nasty substance that destroys all vegetation, be it coca, coffee or bananas. Between 1992 and 1998, the Americans funded the destruction of 140,000 hectares of crops -- and guess what? Production of coca has tripled. "It is stupid," says Mr. Ricardo, a jovial man of not much more than 40, who has been ambassador to Argentina, high commissioner for Peace, and governor of the province of Cundinamarca. This seems oddly frank from a man whose government has been quite content to mainline American money. But then I guess he would not have come to tea if he was entirely happy with U.S. policy. His first objection is that the defoliant causes side-effects -- he rubs imaginary blisters on his arm. Calves are born hairless. Chickens die after eating sprayed areas. "No matter how much you spray, the production doubles in five years. There are 300,000 campesinos involved, and when they see that their fields are being sprayed they move into the forest, and they destroy the forest." The big cartels -- Cali, Medellin -- may be on the wane, but the war is bloodier than ever: between left-wing guerrillas who protect the drug-growing peasants, and right-wing paramilitaries who retaliate with Arkanesque ferocity and who are the proxies and, in a sense, the hirelings of America. "We have the worst of both worlds," says Mr. Ricardo. "We have 32,000 dead per year in the fight against drugs, and we will keep seeing more deaths if there is not a new approach. We accept that Colombia has a problem with the production and trade in illicit drugs, but we demand that the entire picture is analyzed. There is a demand, and that demand is not in Colombia. We haven't seen any progress in the debate on demand." Of course, the ambassador would like help -- generous help -- in steering the poor of Colombia away from coca production. He deplores the $1.2 billion wasted by his own government in fighting the drug trade when, so he claims, this money could be given over to helping the campesinos. He speaks of flowers or palm oil or exotic fruit or even oxygen quotas, as possible cash-generating alternatives to coca. But when he talks about the "problem of demand," he can only mean one thing: that the West is being dishonest and hypocritical in blitzing the jungle and plantations of Colombia with a latter-day Agent Orange. Because the problem lies not in this modest shrublet, but in the moral weaklings of the West who take drugs, and the muddle of western governments who wage a "war on drugs" rather than on the akrasia of their own citizens. Coca is by far the most lucrative crop produced by Colombia, but the Colombians can't tax it, and the Colombian state derives no benefit from its production. We are led irresistibly to the case for legalization. "That is not our problem," says Mr. Ricardo. "We have to take a lot of care because the position we take could be seen as benefiting the people in the drugs business. "But speaking personally," he says, "what is banned is clearly more valuable, and without prohibition there wouldn't be a business. We used to have a lot of marijuana in Colombia, and once they legalized consumption in 11 states of the U.S., the problem was gone." If the United States, and the West generally, legalized cocaine and other coca-derived drugs, would that end the war in his country? "Politically, no; but it would greatly diminish the violence." Of course, we have our drug-related tragedies in the West. But this man's country is losing 32,000 a year to a drug-related conflict. Who suffers more? He well may be wrong about liberalization: however strong one's love of individual liberty, there is something comforting about a ban on what is so obviously destructive. And yet one has a strong feeling that this is a case that deserves to be heard, and that it is up to us western hypocrites to respond. Has he taken cocaine himself, I ask. "I've never had any chance," he beams. "I've seen more coke outside Colombia than inside." Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)Author: Boris JohnsonPublished: September 22, 2000Copyright: 2000 The Ottawa CitizenContact: letters Address: 1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4Fax: 613-596-8522Website: Article:Colombians Urge Drug Legalization Articles - Colombia:
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #2 posted by PanamaJack on November 09, 2000 at 10:11:27 PT:
Colombians held hostage by drug cartels
Let me get this straight. Thousands of Colombians are migrating to Florida fleeing from guerrillas funded by drug money from the US drug users, and still somebody argues against spending $1.3 billion in dollars from the largest drug-consumer country to help Colombians. What idiot could oppose this fair idea?
A War Colombia Must Not Lose
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by EdC on September 23, 2000 at 10:11:45 PT:
Let me get this straight. Tylenol kills more people than cocaine, yet we are throwing $1.3 billion taxpayer dollars down the cocaine rathole. What idiot came up with this idea?
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: