Bolivian Marching Orders

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Although this story from the Charlotte Observer describes Bolivia as the only real success story of the U.S.-demanded coca eradiction program, that nation is seriously considering legalizing a (still highly regulated) coca growing program. Of course, Bolivia's Monroe Doctrine guardians Just Say No: The United States insists that no more coca growing can be justified.

"A pause in eradication is a pause in development," U.S. Ambassador David Greenlee has warned repeatedly in the Bolivian media. He reminds Bolivians that U.S. aid remains tied to "zero coca" in the tropical Chapare region east of Cochabamba where most coca is grown and clandestine cocaine laboratories are found.

It's U.S. international diplomacy in action, from drug eradication to the War on Iraq (where our buddies in Turkey are squeezing us for more payoffs in exchange for cooperation): pay 'em off to get what we want. Better than violence, I suppose, but perhaps better still to not insist on always getting what we want?

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  1. Look, the war on drugs is moronic and the eradication program is worse, but “buying what we want” is the sanest and most rational form of diplomacy there is. It’s worth more to the US that Bolivia not do something than it’s worth to Bolivia to do it. So we pay them more than it’s worth to them, but less than it’s worth to us. Everyone wins.

    The non-military alternative is to ask that Bolivia voluntarily fuck itself out of a lot of money in exchange for a warm handshake from us. They’ll refuse. That leaves us in the position of suffering a consequence that costs us more than $X (in the government’s view) when paying $X would stop it, which is just plain irrational.

    And if the US government (when dealing with foreign powers) _doesn’t_ always insist on getting what they want, the diplomats responsible need to be fired and replaced. Safeguarding US interests is their one and only job. πŸ™‚

  2. No. I would strongly suggest that the non-military alternative is to let Bolivia act in its own best interest, regardless of the U.S. popularity of its course of action.

    The point being, it will be cheaper for the U.S. to deal with drug problems internally–through decriminalization and the end of the war on drugs–than to persist in convincing other countries to act in America’s so-called best interest.

  3. As for Turkey, I think that’s a matter of having tipped our hand. They know what we want and are asking a high price.

    I would consider backing this war if it were countries like Turkey paying us instead of vice versa. Not because of the money itself, but because I’d be more impressed if the countries closest to Iraq were scared enough to implore us to do this, rather than it being us trying to convince the rest of the world that it’s so necessary.

  4. Yes, decriminalization is the good solution. It isn’t going to happen, so let’s look at the #2 solution: given that we’re fighting this dippy war on the drugs, what’s the cheapest and best way to do it? Paying countries to convert to non-drug economies is a good first step.

    Bolivia’s free to act in its own best interests. But it would appear that “receiving a $1.5 billion handout from the United States” is pretty high up on its list of “best interests”.

    Now if you want to suggest that we should cut off Bolivia’s $1.5 billion in development aid altogether, fine. But that’s just going to push them back into the illegal drug trade, with the accompanying sky-high rates of murder and corruption. I don’t think they’ll find that in their “best interests” either, and it certainly isn’t in ours.

  5. I kind of like the pay as you go theory. However, most of the time we’re paying them, arming them and bombing them.

    Criminalizing drug use has corrupted individuals, police departments, cities and entire countries. It’s given Uncle Sam the excuse to depose and replace leaders, lock up malcontents for LONG periods and give citizens the false impression they are being protected. It’s illogical, expensive and not in the country’s best interest.

  6. Whenever we pay other countries to do what we want, the money invariably goes to a Noriega, or a Saddam, or even a bin Laden

    Hello? We pay most of the countries in the world to do what we want, whether we’re talking grants, or loan guarantees, or rent on military bases. We’re paying for most of the world’s UN membership too, because it serves our interests for the UN to exist. Money doesn’t invariably go to a Noriega or a Saddam, or even normally go to a Noriega or a Saddam. Actually, mostly it goes to Israel. πŸ˜‰

    What you are missing, and what some others have alluded to, is that paying for foreign policy favors is not like buying a latte.

    No, it’s like more like paying for landscaping. The guy doing it might do a good job or a bad one, but the results are likely to be better than if you just called him up and said “mow my lawn”. And you can always stop paying the guy and, ah, “mow the lawn” yourself if you don’t get what you want.

    It’s bad and wrong for many of the same reasons that subsidizing businesses is bad and wrong

    No, actually, it isn’t. It’s paying for what you want instead of using a gun to get it. You say the plan is doomed to fail, which is an interesting theory with one teensy flaw, which is that it apparently IS working in Bolivia. πŸ™‚

  7. Whenever we pay other countries to do what we want, the money invariably goes to a Noriega, or a Saddam, or even a bin Laden. The government’s long-standing policy of throwing (our) money at problems is both ineffective and morally repugnant.

  8. Like the domestic consequences, the international consequences to the drug war are completely counter productive. Buying South American cooperation with U.S. foreign aid, is not an alternative to violence, nor does it inhibit the production of drugs. On the contrary, it increases the profit of drug production, thus allowing rebel forces to finance their violent opposition to our puppet regimes.

  9. The US isn’t even buying anything tangible. At best it is buying vague things like “security” and “cooperation”. Essentially the US has become security junkies, and the dealers keep raising the price.

    For years the US paid the Taliban for opuim eradication. Not only was it corrupt, it was only marginally effective (and probably because of the corruption). All that really happened is the price went up. In effect, the US merely subsidises the drug trade more than anything else.

    To cop a line from the show “Traffik”, the US is not much of a problem as long as it is fighting itself.

  10. Dan,

    What you are missing, and what some others have alluded to, is that paying for foreign policy favors is not like buying a latte. It’s bad and wrong for many of the same reasons that subsidizing businesses is bad and wrong. Coca production has continued to be the most profitable and efficient use of resources for many in Bolivia despite US aid, which provides incentives to the Bolivian government, but unless it’s handled and distributed in JUST the right way (and how likely is that?), it isn’t going to provide the right incentives for ordinary Bolivians to do something else. Legalizing coca within their borders will likely cut down on crime and corruption rather than increase it.

    Go Bolivia go!!

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