Military Strategies Won't End Colombian Drug Trade

Military Strategies Won't End Colombian Drug Trade
Posted by FoM on January 08, 2001 at 06:05:12 PT
By Elias Castillo
Source: San Francisco Chronicle 
President-elect- George W. Bush should scrap the Clinton administration's disastrous plan to pour $1.3 billion into a hard-punching strategy aimed at knocking out Colombia's drug trade. The project is doomed. One former top official from the Department of Justice told me once that attempts to force a showdown between Latin American governments and drug cartels -- to stop the cultivation of marijuana, heroin or coca -- is like pouring money down a rat hole. It won't work. 
A military-based strategy is useless in the rugged jungles and mountains of Latin America. State-of-the-art weaponry and highly trained soldiers will be ineffectual. Drug cartels will shift their cocaine operations to Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela or Peru, Colombia's neighbors, who have serious socioeconomic problems of their own. Anti-drug strategists in the Pentagon and the White House fail to consider the psyche of the region's poor and the motivation of Latin America's poorly paid and badly led military forces. No amount of training or education of Colombia's military will prompt enough of them to put their lives on the line in a showdown with the powerful, ruthless and well-armed drug syndicates. Why should they? They believe that the drug problem is an American problem -- not a threat to Colombia, Mexico or Central America. Generals and other officers in Latin America don't always recognize that drug syndicates slowly undermine the authority of their governments. Unless checked, those syndicates could topple the fledgling democracies that have replaced centuries-old dictatorships and elitist attitudes, the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors of the 15th century. When Columbus discovered the New World, he unknowingly opened the portals to a flood of soldiers of fortune. Their only goal was gold -- as much as they could steal from the advanced Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations. In their greed, and backed by the Spanish crown and the Roman Catholic church, they pillaged and brutally destroyed those advanced nations, replacing them with a highly stratified society in which the conquering louts, many of whom were illiterate, were granted enormous tracts of land called haciendas. Their goal was not to bring science and education. Nor did they attempt to assimilate the best of the New World's indigenous civilizations with those of the Old World. Rather, they wanted to maintain power, enslave the Indians and keep the poor under control. Those powerful hacienda owners dictated who would govern so those at the top were not threatened in any manner. The cult of "strong man" government was born in Latin America. For nearly half a millennium throughout Latin America, the military had one major role: Protect the elite and brutally repress any attempt at democracy. Governments ignored education, except for the elite few, sensing that an educated populace could import democracy. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, also working with the elite, inculcated an attitude of fatalism among indigenous peoples and the poor. They taught that whatever happens in one's life is the will of God and must be accepted. In recent years, that church has taken an attitude of defending human rights. It is, however, too little and too late. The Pentagon and Clinton have devised a strategy that ignores that historical background. The peasant farmers, imbued with fatalism and desperate to survive in a culture where corruption is a mainstay, are not going to abandon the only hope they have of improving their miserable lives. In their minds, growing coca leaves and refining them into cocaine is not wrong. They see their government leaders as thieves and surmise that if corruption is so widespread, they will join the pack. No military action will stop Colombia's poor from growing coca. They are bankrolled by the cartels' billions; losing a cocaine processing site here and there is not disastrous. What will surely happen is that the cartels will target for kidnapping or assassination any U.S. advisers sent to Colombia. It will not be difficult, given the bribes the cartels can pay to a poorly paid soldier or police officer to look the other way. Pentagonistas ignore the fact that, in Latin America, being an enlisted soldier is considered one of the lowest jobs. Most are recruited from the poorest neighborhoods and have little education. They aren't endeared to the populace by a record of torture, of entire villages massacred and of innocent villagers arrested. The soldiers may run fast, shoot well and march well in staged drills, but they will opt for the easy way out once in the field. They may seize a suspected village, single out inhabitants and torture them for information, then kill them and their families or throw them in dungeons, even if they have done nothing. Only one isolated incident of brutality will stain America's hands with blood and turn the rest of Latin America against U.S. involvement in Colombia. Colombia needs, more than anything, an economic rebuilding and reshaping of its government similar to the Marshall Plan. The number and quality of schools and universities must be increased. While police salaries and benefits should be tripled or quadrupled to make law enforcement an attractive career for highly educated and motivated young people, police procedures must be reformed and corruption wiped out. There should be conferences by well-protected and well-paid committees made up of government officials, the country's intelligentsia and representatives from the poor. They should determine how best to wrest Colombia from its morass of narcotic-related violence. Those committees should also have sledgehammer power via a well-trained and equipped, highly paid and educated police (not military) force to wield relentless pressure against the cartels. To do otherwise and opt for an inefficient military solution will cripple U. S. efforts to stop the flood of narcotics.Elias Castillo is a writer, journalism teacher and consultant in Redwood City. Complete Title: History Shows Why Military Strategies Won't End Colombian Drug TradeSource: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Elias CastilloPublished: Monday, January 8, 2001 Copyright: 2001 San Francisco ChronicleAddress: 901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103Contact: letters sfchronicle.comWebsite: Articles:Bush Feels the Heat as Critics Lie in Wait Should Start Over in Colombia for Politicians to Catch Up and Lead 
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Comment #3 posted by JR Bob Dobbs on January 08, 2001 at 15:22:37 PT
>>The only people who are benefitting from keeping it   illegal are:   growers   suppliers   dealers  Don't forget cops, rehab clinics, corporate-run prisons, and other elements of The Machine.>> like pouring money down a rat hole. It won't work.  To which the American Prohibitionist replied, "Money down a rat hole. Say, we haven't tried that. Thanks for the tip!"
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Comment #2 posted by kathleen on January 08, 2001 at 13:02:31 PT:
the truth, and only the truth
I also believe the marijuana growers down south will only find new locations for harvesting. When they are found out about again, they will move again, maybe even returning to where they are now. We import merchandise from China, we buy cars made in China, why can't we purchase marijuana from Columbia, or Bolivia, or where ever. I think the United States Government is losing alot of money(our tax money)doing what they are doing right now.The only people benefitting from marijuana sales at this time are the ones who are supplying the street dealers with the stuff. Why should people want to make it legal?...So that suppliers would have to pay taxes, so that street dealers would have to go back to college to learn how to run a legal business, so that smokers would have to pay taxes on their purchases. The only people who are benefitting from keeping it illegal are:growerssuppliersdealersMaking it LEGAL:benefits the government:*business licences*permits*land purchases and taxes from growers*taxes from suppliers who now have legal businesses*taxes from street dealers who now have a legal business *consumers pay taxes on purchases, right.....*think of the jobs that would open up LEGALLY
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 08, 2001 at 06:52:48 PT:
La Verdad, y Solamente la Verdad.
I suppose that many Euro-centric readers will consider this an exaggeration, but they would be wrong. I feel that this is a very brief and accurate portrayal of Latin American politics in its first 500 years. We would be wise to heed the advice.
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