Drugs and U.S. Foreign Policy

excerpted from the book

Imperial Alibis

by Stephen Rosskamm Shalom



Merchants of Death

Illegal narcotics are far from the only harmful substances pushed on innocent victims around the world. U.S. firms have exported to the Third World vast quantities of pesticides that have been banned for use in the United States. One government study found that 30 percent of U.S. pesticide exports were not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in this country, and one-fifth had actually had their approval canceled or suspended by the EPA. Ironically, food products grown in the Third World with the aid of these unsafe pesticides are then imported into the United States. The Food and Drug Administration estimated that some 5 percent of U.S. food imports contained illegal pesticide residues, a figure likely to underestimate the threat to U.S. consumers' health given that there were more than 170 pesticides for which the FDA didn't test. This "circle of poison"-in which harmful U.S. pesticides show up on the American dinner table-finally moved liberals in Congress to act in 1990. They tried to amend a farm bill to include a ban on the export of pesticides not approved for use in the United States. Chemical companies argued that since the FDA inspected so little of the food entering the United States, foreign farmers would simply buy the banned pesticides from manufacturers in other countries, costing U.S. jobs. The amendment did not make it into the final bill.

An even bigger trade in dangerous substances is the export of unsafe medicinal drugs to the Third World. Pharmaceutical companies, of course, try to make a profit everywhere, and they push drugs that have serious side-effects in any country they can. For example, Hoffman-La Roche marketed the sedative Versed in the United States, which (according to internal company documents) was known to be unsafe; and Upjohn, the manufacturer of the sleeping pill Halcion, has been charged with hiding evidence of the drug's dangers. But it is in the Third World, with their weaker regulatory structures, where the multinational drug companies have run rampant. Drugs that in the United States are banned or severely restricted have been pushed on poor countries by U.S. firms. The painkiller Dipyrone, for example, sometimes causes severe hemorrhaging, yet it has been advertised in Mexico for the relief of menstrual pain. In 1977 the drug was banned in the United States even for the terminally ill, yet it continued to be sold by U.S. and other firms in Malaysia and Singapore for the treatment of headache and flu. More generally, the warnings and contra-indications routinely distributed with prescription drugs in the United States are sanitized or omitted entirely when U.S. firms sell their products in the Third World.

The pharmaceutical companies claim they are doing nothing illegal. Prescription drug laws and regulations in the Third World do tend to be relatively weak, but some countries have laws requiring disclosure of drug hazards and contra-indications; the laws may not be enforced, but they are on the books and the U.S. firms are often in violation of them. Most Latin American countries now have laws allowing the sale of imported drugs only if the drugs are approved for marketing in the country of origin. But U.S. firms have gotten around this requirement by setting up plants to produce (or put the finishing touches on) the drug in some third country which has no restrictions so that this third country can be counted as the country of origin.

U.S. drug marketing has also been helped along by lavish bribery. In 1976, 22 U.S. pharmaceutical and health product companies reported making more than $30 million in what were delicately termed "questionable overseas payments." In 1977 a U.S. law made it illegal for U.S. firms to bribe foreign officials, but there is no reason to suspect that such payments have ended. In any case, it is still legal under U.S. law to bribe foreign doctors, and this is widely done. A Nigerian expert estimated that perhaps one-third of the total wholesale cost of all prescription drugs went for bribes and graft, and in other parts of Africa the situation may be even worse. A television documentary in the Philippines revealed that a multinational drug firm in that country ran seminars for doctors complete with prostitutes and pornographic films to entertain the physicians at night.

Modern medicine undoubtedly is beneficial, but each year at least one million people in the Third World die from adverse reactions to medical drugs. Some of these deaths are the inevitable result of the primitive state of our medical knowledge, but many must be attributed to the reckless marketing practices of multinational firms, practices tolerated by the U.S. government.

Another million Third World citizens-these exclusively children- are estimated to have died each year from malnutrition and diarrhea resulting from the use of infant formula. Experts agree that mother's milk is by far the healthiest food for infants, particularly in poor countries where nutritional deficits are common. Human milk is also the cheapest source of nutrients. Mothers who bottle feed are frequently forced by financial hardship to dilute the formula with water, often contaminated, with grim results. The international companies that sell infant formula don't make money when mothers breast-feed, and so they have invested heavily in encouraging Third World women to switch to formula. Among the marketing techniques favored by the companies for securing their multi-billion dollar market have been slick advertising campaigns associating bottle-feeding with modernity, free samples given out in hospitals (if the mother can be kept from breast-feeding long enough, her milk will dry up), and the use of "milk nurses," employees of the infant-formula firms disguised as health professionals.

The dominant firm in the Third World infant-formula business has been the Swiss-based Nestle company, but three U.S. corporations have also been major exporters of the product and have engaged in hard-sell marketing. An international consumer boycott of Nestle products helped to mobilize public opinion, and in May 1981 the World Health Organization voted to adopt a non-binding code restricting the promotion of infant-formula products. The code prohibited giving free samples to pregnant women, having salespeople contact mothers, and advertising infant formula to the general public (as opposed to doctors). The vote was 118-1. The lone dissenting vote was that of the United States. The State Department's Elliott Abrams explained that the U.S. government considered the code to violate First Amendment guarantees of free speech.'



The Washington Connection

Koop, however, understated U.S. hypocrisy. It is not that Washington has been consistently fighting the cocaine and heroin trade while pushing nicotine. It has in fact given support to and cooperated with the illicit drug traffickers when doing so would help other U.S. foreign policy goals, particularly its global crusade against indigenous nationalist and Left forces.

This sordid history has been meticulously documented by Alfred McCoy. In 1947 and again in 1950, the CIA provided arms and money to the Corsican syndicates who controlled the heroin trade in Marseilles. The gangsters were paid to break strikes by Communist-led unions. Washington claimed to see a threatened Communist attempt to take over the French government, but in fact the State Department was secretly reporting that Communist leaders "could no longer hold back the discontent of the rank and file" in the face of wages that were lower than during the depths of the Depression. With U.S. backing, the syndicates came to dominate Marseilles and from 1948 to 1972 they were responsible for 80 percent of the heroin entering the United States.

U.S. involvement with drug dealers was far more extensive in Southeast Asia. Beginning in 1950, remnants of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang army m Burma were organized by the CIA to conduct raids into China. These KMT units supported themselves by appropriating the opium harvest that grew in the Burmese highlands and shipping it to northern Thailand.

There it was purchased by Thai General Phao Siyanan. The KMT units remained in Burma with U.S. support until 1961 when they moved into Laos and Thailand, still in control of the opium traffic. General Phao was head of the Thai police and the CIA's most important Thai client. The CIA provided him with naval vessels, armored vehicles, aircraft, and hundreds of overt and covert advisers; in 1954 he was awarded the Legion of Merit for "exceptionally meritorious service" by the U.S. Secretary of the Army. His police force was also the largest opium trafficking syndicate in Thailand.

When the French controlled Indochina, their intelligence agencies participated in the opium trade in order to fund covert operations. When Washington replaced the French in 1954, it installed its own puppet, Ngo Dinh Diem, who for three years cracked down on the opium trade. By 1958, however, in the face of growing insurgency in southern Vietnam, the opium trade was revived by Diem's brother Nhu, head of the secret police, as a way to finance counter-insurgency operations.

In neighboring Laos, leading rightist politicians whom the United States backed against the leftist Pathet Lao and often against neutralists as well were key figures in the drug trade. In 1960, the CIA began organizing a secret army among the Hmong tribespeople which, at its peak, numbered some 30,000 guerrillas under General yang Pao. The Hmong's main cash crop was opium, so to keep its anti-communist army in business, the United States first winked at the opium trade and then in the late 1960s provided CIA aircraft-Air America-to carry the opium to market. The proceeds from the opium gave yang Pao the clout to round up from the war-weary and impoverished Hmong villagers the young boys who made up his army.

Through the mid-'60s, most of the opium grown in Southeast Asia was consumed locally. But with the huge build-up of U.S. forces in Vietnam, shrewd entrepreneurs realized the extraordinary market provided by these soldiers from the wealthy United States. Heroin laboratories sprang up in Burma and Laos, many of them in areas controlled by paramilitary groups at one time or another supported by the CIA. Hmong army commander General yang Pao was reported by the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics to be operating a heroin lab at Long Tien, the CIA's headquarters for covert operations in Laos. By 1971, some 10 to 15 percent of GI's were using high purity heroin. In South Vietnam the heroin traffic was controlled by three groups associated with the key political figures in the country: the air force, especially its transport wing, under Vice-President Nguyen Cao Ky; the civil bureaucracy under Premier Tran Thien Khiem; and the army, navy, and National Assembly which answered to President Nguyen Van Thieu. Both Thieu and Ky financed their 1971 election campaigns from the drug trade. Thieu won the election and by 1973 the South Vietnamese army was responsible for distributing heroin to U.S. troops.' Primed by the GI market, Southeast Asia became the leading source for the world's illicit opium.

U.S. officials knew what their allies were doing and covered up for them. In an internal report the CLA's inspector general explained how the agency got involved in the drug trade: "The war has clearly been our overriding priority in Southeast Asia, and all other issues have taken second place in the scheme of things."

A decade later Washington repeated its policy of complicity with drug traffickers, this time in Southwest Asia. Even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Carter administration had been providing covert assistance to Afghan guerrilla groups battling the pro-Moscow central government. U.S. aid grew rapidly after Soviet troops entered the country at the end of 1979 and the aid was concentrated on those mujaheddin units recommended by Pakistani intelligence. Washington's favored recipient became Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who headed a guerrilla force that had been created by the Pakistani military to invade Afghanistan in 1975. Hekmatyar himself had earlier organized a fundamentalist group in Afghanistan whose activities included throwing vials of acid into the faces of female Afghani students who refused to wear veils; in Pakistan he had been associated with a fundamentalist and quasi-fascist political party. Hekmatyar was brutal and corrupt, terrorizing refugees to support him. He also used his U.S.-supplied arms to become Afghanistan's number one heroin trafficker. By the mid-1980s, Afghanistan was the largest single exporter of opium in the world and the source for half of the heroin consumed in the United States. In 1988, there were 100 to 200 heroin refineries in the single Pakistani district bordering Afghanistan.

A White House drug adviser recalled warning in 1979 that "we were going into Afghanistan to support the opium growers in their rebellion against the Soviets. Shouldn't we try to avoid what we had done in Laos?" He was ignored. In 1983, an official of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) returned from a fact-finding trip to Southwest Asia reporting, "You can say the rebels make their money off the sale of opium. " He added "There's no doubt about it. The rebels kept their cause going through the sale of opium. The reaction of the Reagan administration to this revelation was to continue supporting the drug dealers, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The New York Times reported in 1988 that "The Reagan administration has done little to press the guerrillas to curb the drug trade, according to senior State Department and intelligence analysts."

"We re not going to let a little thing like drugs get in the way of the political situation," said an administration official who follows Afghanistan closely, emphasizing that narcotics are relatively a minor issue in the context of policy toward the Afghan guerrillas.



Also during the 1980s, Washington was working with other drug traffickers closer to home, in this case as a way to facilitate the war of the U.S.-created and controlled Contras against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Contra war was one of the few foreign policy issues during the Reagan years to which the Democrats occasionally offered some resistance, and Senator John Kerry's subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations did more digging into the unsavory alliances surrounding U.S. Nicaragua policy than was usual for the Congress. On the basis of extensive testimony and documentary evidence, the subcommittee reported:

"... it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug-trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter."


The Subcommittee found that the Contra drug links included:

Involvement in narcotics trafficking by individuals associated with the Contra movement.

Participation of narcotics traffickers in Contra supply operations through business relationships with Contra organizations.

Provision of assistance to the Contras by narcotics traffickers, including cash, weapons, planes, pilots, air supply services and other materials, on a voluntary basis by the traffickers.

Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by Federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies.

The role of the United States in this Contra link to narco-traffickers remains murky, but there is no doubt that U.S. officials knew about it, winked at it, and helped to cover it up. Oliver North's notebook and memos from North's assistant, Robert Owen, contain references to the drug connection. When the General Accounting Office decided to look into the issue of drugs and foreign policy, the White House ordered the CIA and the Defense and State Departments not to cooperate. Attorney General Ed Meese told the U.S. Attorney in Miami to suspend his inquiry into drug trafficking in Central America. And the indictment against a major drug smuggler, Michael Palmer, was dropped as "not being in the interest of the United States."

The Honduran military was a major U.S. ally in its war against Nicaragua. "Without the support of the Honduran military, there would have been no such thing as the Contras," acknowledged a former high-ranking U.S. diplomat. The Contras used Honduras as their northern base and worked with Honduran death squads set up by Argentine and CIA advisers. The Honduran military was also a key participant in the narcotics trade, and the country became a significant transshipment point for drugs headed to the United States. The response of Washington to Honduras's growing role in the drug trade was to close down the DEA station in Tegucigalpa in 1983, just two years after it opened, ensuring that no evidence could be produced linking the military to narco-trafficking. In 1986, Honduran General Jose Bueso-Rosa was arrested in the United States by the FBI in a plot to assassinate the Honduran president in order to facilitate drug trafficking. The Justice Department called the plot "the most significant case of narco-terrorism yet discovered." Key administration officials, however, privately urged that Bueso-Rosa receive a lenient sentence because, as a deputy assistant secretary of state later explained, "He has been a friend to the U.S....involved in helping us with the Contras."

On the southern front of the anti-Sandinista war, a key figure was John Hull, an American rancher who owned property on the Nicaraguan border and who was paid $10,000 a month by the Contra command at the direction of Oliver North. Five different witnesses told Kerry's subcommittee that Hull was involved in drug trafficking, and the Costa Rican government has been trying, despite U.S. obstructionism, to investigate Hull's activities

Gen. Paul F. Gorman, former head of U.S. Southern Command acknowledged that "if you want to go into the subversion business, collect intelligence and move arms," you have to deal with drug traffickers. One of the "transport" firms that the United States hired to get supplies to the Contras was an outfit that Customs had earlier reported had been set up by narcotics traffickers linked to Ramon Matta Ballesteros, a major drug figure among whose other credits was involvement in the killing of a DEA agent in Mexico. Only after the situation was revealed in the New York Times did Washington try to bring Matta to justice. The Kerry subcommittee identified four companies owned and operated by narcotics traffickers who were hired by the State Department to supply the Contras. "In each case, prior to the time that the State Department entered into contracts with the company, federal law enforcement had received information that the individuals controlling these companies were involved in narcotics."

The subcommittee reported that although there was "substantial evidence of drug smuggling

drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of individual Contras, Contra suppliers, Contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with the Contras, and Contra supporters throughout the region," it "did not find that the Contra leaders personally were involved in drug trafficking." This conclusion, however, represents a considerable sanitizing of the actual evidence gathered by the subcommittee. As Kerry himself put it in a closed session statement, later released: "It is clear that there is a networking of drug trafficking through the contras, and it goes right up to Calero, Mario Calero, Adolpho Calero, Enrique Bermudez. And we have people who will so testify and who have. " And, presumably, the evidence would have been even stronger had higher-ups not called off a government sting operation against Bermudez, the Contra commander.


High in the Andes

The standard U.S. view portrays Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia as nations terrorized by powerful drug-trafficking cartels, often working in alliance with left-wing guerrillas. According to this view, the hard-pressed Andean governments may need U.S. support in order to protect their populations and prevail against the narco-terrorists. This standard view is almost totally incorrect.

The real problem facing the people of these countries is grueling poverty caused by the astounding greed of local elites and the grim workings of the international economic system, maintained by equally greedy elites in the industrialized nations.

In Bolivia in the first half of the 1980s, gross national product declined 2.3 percent per year, official unemployment went from 5.7 percent to 20 percent, and inflation stood at 10,000 percent in 1985. The world price of tin declined 57 percent between 1980 and 1988; over the five-year period 1983-87, Bolivian exports shrank 38 percent. The government closed most state-owned tin mines, throwing thousands of miners out of work.' More than one out of every six Bolivian children die before their fifth birthday.'

Peru too faces desperate conditions. In the mid-1980s, its economic crisis surpassed the Great Depression of the 1930s; according to the World Bank, "The overwhelming majority of Peruvians are markedly worse off than in 1970." Under the country's new president, Alberto Fujimori, Peru has adopted unhindered free market policies (despite his campaign promises to the contrary) in order to reintegrate itself into the world capitalist system. The result of "Fuji-shock," the New York Times reported, has been "increased unemployment and poverty," with estimates of the number of Peruvians living in extreme poverty nearly doubling in three years. Fully 80 percent of the workforce is either unemployed or underemployed. Gross national product fell 20 percent in a single year. One quarter of the country's population live in urban slums. Schoolteachers' children are not eating three meals a day any more, tuberculosis is up, and cholera-a characteristic disease of poverty-claimed 2,540 lives last year. In the highlands, peasants have a standard of living "closer to that of sub-Saharan Africa than coastal Peru."

A guerrilla army, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), today controls an estimated 40 percent of the country. Sendero is a Maoist organization, highly authoritarian and extremely ruthless-it has killed hundreds of leftists, and regularly executes homosexuals-but is considered by many Peruvians the country's only salvation.' One-sixth of Peruvians are willing to admit to pollsters that conditions in their country justify subversion.'

The government's response has been to wage a counter-insurgency campaign of incredible brutality. Peru topped the list of "disappearances" reported to the United Nations four out of the last five years.' 57 In April 1991, the Organization of American States identified 86 documented cases of human rights abuses by the military in South America; 50 of them took place in Peru.' And the victims of military terror are rarely guerrillas, but rather community activists and the civilian population more generally, which is routinely subjected to bombing, strafing, murder, and rape, thus generating more recruits for Sendero.' The military exercised absolute authority in emergency zones covering two-thirds of the country; no member of the armed forces has yet been punished for a human rights violation. The Fujimori government sharply increased the authority of the military, while denouncing human rights organizations as "the legal arm of the subversives."' And the Bush administration recently declared that Peru had improved its human rights record enough to justify the release of millions of dollars of military aid, despite the fact that human rights groups insisted the situation remained as bad as ever.

In April 1992, Fujimori dissolved the Congress and suspended the constitution. He claimed that his assumption of absolute power was necessary in order to fight Sendero and corruption. In fact, however, the coup has played right into Sendero's strategy. Democratic niceties had never restrained the armed forces in their counter-insurgency campaign, and the main target of the military crackdown seems to be legal opposition groups.' As for corruption, Fujimori's own family has recently been implicated in a scheme to misappropriate charitable donations,' and one of the president's closest aides is thought to be tied to drug traffickers.'

Colombia has one of most skewed income distributions in Latin America, with 40 percent of the population living in absolute poverty. Two factions of the elite fought a bloody civil war from 1948 to 1958 in which several hundred thousand people (mostly not members of the elite) were killed; the agreement ending the fighting provided for the two factions to alternate turns at the presidency, thus continuing the historic exclusion of the mass of the population from power.' Over the years, opposition groups developed, some of them waging guerrilla war and others trying to pursue legal means of struggle. The repression has been monstrous, and concentrated most viciously against the legal Left. More than 100 right-wing death squads exist, many of whose members are active or retired military and police personnel. Military collaboration with these death squads may not be centrally coordinated, but the national government has not made much effort to curtail the terror. In March 1990, for example, the Interior Minister charged that the legal left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) was the "political arm" of a guerrilla group; the UP's presidential candidate warned that this was a death sentence for his party's leaders and sure enough he himself was murdered a few days later. More than 1,000 UP activists were killed between 1985 and 1990 And these were not the only victims: from 1981-86 some 3,500 journalists, students, trade unionists, and opposition party members were assassinated, and from 1986-90 8,000 members of the legal Left were killed.' The right-wing paramilitary groups that cooperate with the military also have ties to the drug cartels.'

The economic crisis in the Andean nations has been exacerbated by a staggering foreign debt owed to U.S. and other banks, and by an increasingly inhospitable market for their exports in the industrialized world. The United States, for example, placed non-tariff barriers on about a quarter of its commodity imports in the mid-'60s, but on more than half of them by the mid-'80s.' In 1989 Washington scuttled an international agreement on coffee prices, causing significant harm to the Colombian economy. According to a UN report: "The decline of prices for commodities like sugar (by 64 percent), coffee (30 percent), cotton (32 percent) and wheat (17 percent) between 1980 and 1988 motivated farmers to turn to cash crops like the coca bush and the opium poppy to avoid economic ruin.") In Peru and Bolivia in particular, many poor peasants have been forced to turn to coca cultivation in order to survive. There is simply no crop as profitable. The campesinos, however, earn very little from their coca growing; the great bulk of the profits go to the major drug-trafficking organizations.

In Bolivia, the traffickers come from the rural elite.' In 1980 in the "cocaine coup"-the 189th coup in Bolivia's history-the country's leading drug kingpin took over the government. Although the Carter administration refused to recognize the new government and cut almost all aid,' a key DEA agent believes that the CLA supported the coup and thwarted an undercover operation against the drug lord. A witness told Kerry's subcommittee of funneling money on behalf of Argentine military intelligence to support the coup, with CIA knowledge. In March 1991, the head of the country's anti-drug police resigned amid charges of drug trafficking; he had been appointed to his post despite having served in the cabinet during the cocaine coup regime.'

In Peru, major government officials have been involved in the drug trade. When the military was sent into the coca-growing Upper Huallaga Valley region to fight guerrillas in 1984, drug traffickers experienced what one observer called a "golden age," with individual military officers making bonanza profits.' Today, officers bribe their superiors to get assigned to the lucrative coca areas

Most of the Andean drug trade, however, has been dominated by Colombian traffickers, particularly associated with two cartels, one based in Medellin and the other in Cali. The Medellin cartel was formed in 1981 when leftist guerrillas kidnapped the sister of a major drug lord; Medellin traffickers banded together to form right-wing death squads to terrorize the Left. In 1983, the Colombian Attorney General asserted that 59 active military personnel were members of these assassination teams. But the Medellin cartel fought the government too, killing many judges and politicians, and the government responded with intermittent crackdowns. Ultimately, the government and the cartel called a truce, with the drug lords accepting prison, built to their own specifications and from which they could continue their drug operations. The Cali cartel, however, has come to control 75 percent of the cocaine trade. These traffickers do not target the state and are far better integrated into the Colombian elite than were those from Medellin and as such the government is disinclined to interfere with them. The Cali cartel is particularly thought to have the support of those sections of the military who collaborate with far-right paramilitary groups in killing leftists.

Some Colombian guerrilla groups operate in coca-growing regions, taxing and at times even managing coca cultivation and processing of their own; occasionally guerrillas and traffickers opportunistically cooperate; but generally those who control the cocaine refining-the most profitable part of the drug trade-are the cartel lords who have acquired a great deal of rural property and behave like other rich landlords, that is, they try to smash the Left. As one mainstream expert put it, relations between Colombian guerrillas and traffickers "have involved far more bloodshed than cooperation."

In Peru, Shining Path is the dominant political force in the coca-growing Upper Huallaga Valley. U. S. officials claim the guerrillas are in partnership with the drug traffickers, but in fact they are allied to the peasant coca-growers, helping them get a better price for their crop, and protecting them from the lawless violence of the traffickers and the government. Sendero thus plays a role with respect to the drug trade similar to the legal trade unions in Bolivia that represent the coca-growers, while it is the military and government officials who are linked to the traffickers. Shining Path makes money from the drug trade by taxing the peasants, but if the guerrillas were making the $100 million a year that some U.S. analysts have claimed, they would probably have far more expensive weaponry.

A few years ago, CIA director William Casey ordered a study of the links between drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas. The study concluded that there were no significant links. Casey then ordered a second study which found that the two groups "fed at the same trough," that is, they sometimes operated in the same areas, and sometimes shared landing strips. Less compromised experts have summarized the evidence this way: "Although there are linkages between the cocaine industry and revolutionary organizations, these linkages do not add up to an alliance. Indeed, cocaine traffickers and guerrillas have usually been competitors and sometimes mortal enemies."'

Uncle Sam to the Rescue

The U.S. government has taken a number of approaches to dealing with Andean drug trafficking, all based on the premise that the U.S. drug problem can be solved abroad.

First, it has pressured Latin American countries to undertake-or more typically, to allow the United States to undertake-aerial spraying to eradicate the coca crop. Since the coca plant is so hardy, highly toxic herbicides must be used, with consequent danger to the environment and humans. The head of the Agriculture Department's Narcotics Laboratory quit in protest over the government's reckless attitude toward ecological hazards, and Eli Lilly and Dow Chemical-no friends of the earth-refused to supply the U.S. government with their herbicides unless they were held blameless for any environmental damage. (Washington said no.) But in any event, spraying cannot overcome the economic realities; less than 1 percent of coca land is eradicated annually and far more new acreage comes under coca cultivation each year than is sprayed.'

What little eradication has taken place has largely been counter-productive. In Bolivia, rather than discouraging peasant growers, eradication has operated like farm price supports that stabilize prices by keeping marginal land out of use. Worse, Peruvian peasants whose livelihood is destroyed by eradication campaigns become eager recruits for Shining Path.' The Peruvian military is well aware of this problem, but some U.S. policy-makers seem oblivious to the consequences. As one State Department official put it: "If you are saying that coca farmers won't be able to make a living after spraying, that's right. That is the point of the exercise.

A second U.S. approach to the South American drug problem has been trying to promote crop substitution. This approach, however, is doomed to failure. For starters, the United States is not really interested in creating economic competitors. For example, when U.S. foreign aid officials tried to foster Bolivian soybean exports as an alternative to coca, the U.S. Department of Agriculture objected that this would compete with U.S. products, and the idea was dropped. But in any case the scale of U.S. aid is woefully inadequate: as one Latin American scholar asked, "How could a crop-substitution investment of $5.3 million per annum conquer an economy that brings Peru some $2 billion each year? Without government solvency, crop substitution has no chance of success; likewise, highly unequal land distribution patterns make it suicidal for peasants to give up the lucrative coca plant. The United States provides Peruvian peasants with loans to encourage crop substitution, but the interest rates are over 100 percent because of Peru's economic crisis; the only crop that brings in enough money to pay back such loans is coca; so peasants use the money to plant coca. Those farmers who do plant alternative crops clear additional jungle lands to expand coca production as well. An international agricultural expert who works on promoting alternative crops in Peru summed up the dilemma: "We could spend $1 billion to turn around the Upper Huallaga, and then two years later there would be a new Upper Huallaga somewhere else." In February 1992, Bush told Latin American leaders that they would have to deal with the drug problem without any new U.S. funds to create alternatives to the drug trade.

The third U.S. approach to the drug problem-and the one increasingly being emphasized-is the military approach. This involves training, funding, and arming the Andean armed forces and police, with some direct participation by U.S. personnel. Starting in 1985, armed DEA agents were operating in the Upper Huallaga Valley of Peru. The following year, 160 U.S. soldiers played a supporting role in Operation Blast Furnace, a large-scale anti-drug raid in Bolivia; the U.S. troops stayed for four months, and when they pulled out, army trainers remained behind. As the State Department boasted in 1988, "U.S. border patrol agents, U.S. military trainers and DEA personnel in the [coca-growing] regions are providing constant supervision over Bolivian interdiction operations." In 1989, U.S. Marines were secretly authorized to train Peruvian Marines, and Green Berets began providing instruction to Peruvian police. By January 1992, some 200 U.S. military personnel were stationed in South America on anti-drug missions, and the United States was providing $150 million in counter-narcotics military aid.

The Andean governments have very little interest in pursuing the war on drugs. Their own links to the traffickers, their fear of pushing peasants into the arms of guerrillas, and the dependence of their economies-especially in Bolivia and Peru-on the drug trade make them reluctant participants in the U.S. crusade.

But in Peru and Colombia the governments are willing to accept U.S. military aid because this can be used-and is used-against guerrillas. In Colombia, military officials told U.S. congressional staff investigators that more than 95 percent of their 1990 anti-drug aid would support a major counter-insurgency operation in an area not involved in narcotics trafficking. Rural communities are subjected to aerial bombing by the Colombian armed forces, using planes provided by U.S. military aid. As human rights analyst Coletta Youngers has remarked, U. S. military aid which is supposed to protect Colombia's democracy from narco-terrorism is in fact "facilitating one of the most brutal counter-insurgency campaigns in Latin America." The General Accounting Office reported that U.S. oversight was unable to tell whether anti-drug aid was being used against drugs or primarily against insurgents and to abuse human rights. The point, however, has become moot, as the Bush administration has decided-at least in the case of Peru-to explicitly support both the anti-drug and the anti-guerrilla wars on the grounds that the two problems are "inextricably bound together.'' In fact, the opposite is the case: the drug war alienates the peasantry and augments the ranks of Shining Path. And the strategy of providing more aid to the Peruvian military strengthens the forces of the status quo that are the greatest obstacle to the social, economic, and political reforms that are prerequisites for ending the insurgency.

The U.S. military has failed miserably in combating drug trafficking in the Andes. In the 1986 Operation Blast Furnace in Bolivia a grand total of one person was arrested, a teenage boy; as soon as U.S. forces pulled out, the traffickers returned and business resumed as before. Not only has the drug war been unable to suppress the cocaine trade in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, but Colombian cartels are now branching out into heroin, and trafficking is spreading to Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Surinam, Chile, and elsewhere. In 1989 the Bush administration announced as its goal a reduction of 15 percent in cocaine availability by the fall of 1991; but cocaine production in South America increased 28 percent in 1990 and another 8 percent in 1991.

The U.S. military has been equally unsuccessful in stopping the flow of drugs at the U.S. border. Although the Pentagon budget for counter-narcotics operations jumped from zero before fiscal year 1989 to more than a billion dollars in 1991, the Defense Department's efforts "have not had a significant impact on the national goal of reducing drug supplies," in the words of the General Accounting Office. The failure has not been due to Pentagon incompetence (though the proposal to have National Guard members dress up as cactuses so they could sneak up on smugglers left something to be desired). The Rand Corporation, the GAO, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the Inter-American Commission on Drug Policy all agree that the economics of drug smuggling guarantee that even a more effective interdiction effort would have negligible impact on the availability of cocaine in the United States.

Why then does the U.S. government pursue this futile drug war? It does so because the drug war serves a functional role for many important sectors in U.S. society

For the Pentagon, counter-narcotics operations provide a rationale for continued bloated budgets. "It's their new meal ticket now that the commies are not their big threat," a congressional staffer told Newsweek. The war on drugs, commented a New York Times correspondent, is "one of the few growth areas the Pentagon has left." Some years ago the military-afraid of getting stuck in a quagmire-had resisted taking on an anti-drug mission, but, as one general confessed, "With peace breaking out all over, it might give us something to do. Particularly for the Panama based U.S. Southern Command, the Latin American drug war was "the only war we've got."

Drug wars also are functional for those who want to legitimate U.S. interventionism in the Third World. Army Colonel John Waghelstein, former chief of U.S. military advisers in El Salvador, has written that fighting the combination of leftist guerrillas and narco-terrorists would allow the United States to "regain the high moral ground" lost to religious and academic groups who oppose U.S. intervention in Latin America.

For the Bush administration, fighting drug wars represents a way to appear to be dealing with a problem that is wracking American society- without having to admit the ugly truth, that drug abuse is not forced on the United States from the outside, but is the result of lives made desperate by the poverty, the unemployment, and the alienation of American society.

The war on drugs cannot be won in the Upper Huallaga Valley or on the Mexican border. It cannot be won in the urban centers of the United States by jailing or shooting those most victimized by U.S. capitalism. It can be won only when our national priority becomes the rebuilding of our cities, our schools, our hospitals, and the very lives of our people.

Imperial Alibis