Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Two dead pregnant women, and the war on drugs

I meant to do a post last week, when the the New York Times carried a story saying the U.S. was taking the war on drugs into Honduras. DEA agents are operating out of three small remote bases, using U.S. helicopters and other equipment, and working with Honduran police.

"This new offensive, emerging just as the United States military winds down its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is moving to confront emerging threats, also showcases the nation’s new way of war: small-footprint missions with limited numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces that take the lead in security operations, and narrowly defined goals, whether aimed at insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups that threaten American interests," the NYT enthused.
What got my attention was this sentence."The effort draws on hard lessons learned from a decade of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, where troops were moved from giant bases to outposts scattered across remote, hostile areas so they could face off against insurgents."
Come on. Iraq is a mess. Nothing lasting has been accomplished in Afghanistan, at a cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
Jon Lee Anderson did a fine piece in The New Yorker on the reality of the anti-drug effort in Afghanistan. U.S. contractors, hired to do the work, made money, but not much else positive happened. 
Why would it? If people want something, suppliers will provide it. That's the lesson of prohibition.
The New York Times report went on about the safeguards and rules of engagement in Honduras. 
But on Friday, days later, El Tiempo reported, four "humble and honest citizens" were killed when DEA agents and Honduran police in a helicopter opened fire on a boat on the Patuca River in northeastern Honduras. They were after narcotraficantes, but apparently got the wrong boat. Two men, and their pregnant partners, were killed. Four other people were wounded.
Area residents, El Tiempo reported, set fire to four houses because they blamed local authorities for the deaths.
The local mayor, Lucio Baquedano, was not happy. "These operations were performed irresponsibly because it assumes that the people involved are specialists who will act against drug traffickers and not against healthy people."
Not a great translation. But the point is clear. 
There is increasing support in Latin America for legalizing the drug business. The U.S. isn't doing anything meaningful to reduce or manage demand, the argument goes. 
Why should Honduras and other countries engage in an expensive and futile battle against narco traffickers, and deal with the crime and corruption that comes with the drug trade?
There is real money to be made in supplying Americans and Canadians with cocaine, in a country where people are poor. People can be expected to seize the opportunity, whatever the risks, and to fight, and kill, each other for the chance to escape poverty.
Bringing the war on drugs - with real armies - to Honduras means more deaths and, at best, that the cocaine route moves on to some other country.


Ed Seedhouse said...

"Why would it? If people want something, suppliers will provide it. That's the lesson of prohibition."

And anyone who says he believes in "capitalism" should know it. The drug trade is a fine example of "Laissez-faire" capitalism at work but those who pretend to be the defenders of such are busy trying to stamp it out.

If the Republicans win in November I predict we will see a doubling down on this futile and pointless "war".

They seem to think that they way to deal with things they don't like is to declare "war" on it. I am waiting for someone to declare "war" on stupidity, but I am not holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

If the Us was serious about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan they would have bought the crop wholesale.

Then there's this --

Anonymous said...

One thing you'll never ever see, in any security detail, at any swank soiree of diplomats and politicians, in this country or any other, is a drug-sniffing dog. Gee, I wonder why.

Raymond Graham

Anonymous said...

1. Buy the drugs the poppy farmers in Afghanistan have to sell; they won't need the Taliban then and
2. Process it here and give it to addicts like any other prescription.

Two HUGE problems solved. No more drug wars, room for once in the prisons, it's amazing to think about it.