For those who oppose the federal government's disastrous war on drugs, there are many things to dislike about the Bush Administration, not the least of which is its shameless—and dangerous—use of the war on terror to prop up the failed drug war and the accompanying $18 billion dollar bureaucracy. And there is no indication that four more years of a Bush presidency will offer anything but more of the same.
But anyone who thinks a vote for John Kerry means a vote for a more liberalized approach to drug policy should think again. Candidate Kerry's choice for Homeland Security Advisor, Rand Beers, is a seasoned drug warrior who has already shown his loyalty to the well being of the drug war, no matter how many lives it destroys, or how many narco- terrorists are enriched along the way.
There are currently several drug-warriors serving in decision making posts within the Bush Department of Homeland Security; ex-DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson is now Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security. And another ex-DEA chief Robert Bonner is Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
Beers' drug warrior credentials go way back. As he put it in a 2002 deposition, "I first began to work in the counter-narcotics area in 1988 when I was on the National Security Counsel staff."
More recently, before he quit his Bush White House position as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Combating Terrorism and joined the Kerry camp, he served in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations' as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; the top cop and chief apologist for America's war on drugs in Latin America.
He is also one of the architects of "Plan Colombia," the multi-billion dollar militarization of the drug war in Colombia (which is now funded as part of the "Andean Counterdrug Initiative").
As Beers continued in his 2002 deposition, "There was a series of strategy developments dating back, in terms of my involvement, to a 1999 development of a regional strategy for the Andean region. I was involved in the development of that strategy, and I had bits and pieces to do with most of the further development from a variety of different positions."
The effects of Beers' proud achievement are worth looking at closely.
In 1996-'97, the Clinton Administration decertified Colombia as a "cooperating" nation in the drug war. To stave off trade sanctions against lawful industries and a loss of U.S. foreign aid, Colombia began U.S. backed coca-eradication efforts, including slashing and burning on the ground and aerial herbicide spraying of coca fields.
In 2000-'01, the U.S. cranked up financial aid to $1.3 billion and sent more CIA and Special Forcers "trainers" and civilian "contractors" to assist in further eradication and interdiction efforts. It has thus far been a smashing success…at destroying the livelihoods of subsistence farmers, which bizarrely enough, Beers considers a victory in the war on drugs.
In 2001, Colombian peasants claimed that the herbicides the U.S. was spraying made them sick; complaining of skin rashes and diarrhea. But Beers had his own theory as to why already poor Colombian farmers were complaining. "The individuals who are being affected by the spraying are being affected economically," he told reporters, "If the spraying is successful, it kills their incomes."
In its "Global Illicit Drug Trends, 2003" the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime credits U.S. eradication efforts with a 37 percent decline in Colombian coca cultivation between 2000 and 2002. The same report says this reduction came after a five-fold increase in Colombian coca production between 1993 and 1999.
At the same time as the 37 percent decline in Colombian coca cultivation, the UN report continues, "Combining the three source countries (Colombia, Bolivia and Peru) translates into an overall reduction of 22 percent of the area under cultivation between 1999 and 2002." In other words, a reduction of Colombian cultivation has led to increased cultivation in other areas.
In its 2003 narcotics control report on Peru, where the U.S. is also underwriting forced coca eradication, the U.S. State Department claims, "According to U.S. Embassy reporting, coca farmers received approximately $126 million from buyers for their coca leaf output in 2002. This total is only a fraction of the size of the total cocaine economy in Peru, which may equal 1.2 to 2.4 billion dollars or more annually (or 2 to 4 percent of Peru's GDP). Nearly all of the wealth derived from the cocaine economy accrues to narcotics traffickers and other criminal elements."
So while Beers was happily killing the crops (both licit and illicit) of Colombian farmers, narco-traffickers and the terrorists who feed off the drug trade continued to eat well, simply moving their operations elsewhere in response to eradication efforts.
The 2003 narcotics control report continues about Bolivia: "The successful reduction of coca cultivation in the Chapare (down 15 percent) was offset by a 26 percent increase in theYungas resulting in an overall increase of 17 percent…"
And in Peru: "Due to the potential for social unrest, forced eradication was limited to non-conflictive areas" which consisted of abandoned fields and parklands while "…the extensive presence of high-density coca cultivation in the Monzon and Apurimac/Ene river valleys remains a major concern."
In the odd world of the drug warrior, this too is considered a victory. In 2001, General Peter Pace, then Commander of the U.S. Southern Command (the U.S. military wing of the drug war) called Plan Colombia "successful" because drug producers are moving their operations elsewhere in Latin America.
We're just beginning to get a glimpse of the havoc this relocation of drug production can wreak on the civil and economic health of other Latin American countries, but Beers is ready to turn this, too, to political advantage.
In November of 2001 Beers took his "at any cost" defense of American narco-policy to a new level by attempting (and failing) to connect Colombian coca and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's largest communist terrorist group, with al Qaida.
Beers gave a sworn deposition in a lawsuit filed by Ecuadorian subsistence farmers in U.S. Federal Court against DynCorp—a private contractor carrying out aerial eradication in Colombia. (Arias, et al. vs. DynCorp , et al.)
The Ecuadorians claimed that herbicide sprayed over Colombia had drifted across the border and damaged both their health and crops. Beers argued that the case shouldn't go to trial because the fumigation program is vital both to the national security of the U.S. and the war on terror in Colombia, claiming "It is believed that FARC terrorists have received training in Al Qaida terrorist camps in Afghanistan."
The FARC—accurately listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department—have become wealthy and powerful off the Colombian drug trade through protection rackets for coca growers and traffickers, the production and distribution of narcotics and control of local coca base markets. Beers' theory seemed to be that starving coca growers also cuts off funding for the FARC.
In a later supplemental declaration, Beers recanted the claim of FARC terrorists training in Afghanistan, "I wish to strike this sentence. At the time of my declaration, based on information available to me, I believed this statement to be true and correct. Based upon information made available to me subsequent to the filing of the declaration, I no longer believe this statement to be true and correct."
Exactly what "information" Beers had available at the time of his false statements is a source of some mystery. "There doesn't seem to be any evidence of FARC going to Afghanistan to train," a U.S. intelligence official told UPI. "We have never briefed anyone on that and frankly, I doubt anyone has ever alleged that in a briefing to the State Department or anyone else." According to a veteran congressional staffer: "My first reaction was that Rand must have misspoke… But when I saw it was a proffer signed under oath, I couldn't believe he would do that. I have no idea why he would say that." The "starve an Andean peasant to save an American cokehead" policy Beers defends has done nothing to protect the national security of the U.S., but rather is creating new political instability and terrorist alliances that can only serve to help along narco-terrorism in the Andean Ridge. In Peru, the communist terrorist group Shining Path, mostly crushed by Peru during brutal civil war in the 1990's is reportedly making a comeback. Beers himself, while still serving in the State Department told a 2002 Senate, "In 2001 the Shining Path had a slight resurgence in areas like the Huallaga and Apurimac Valleys, where cocaine is cultivated and processed, indicating the remnants of the group are probably financing operations with drug profits form security and taxation services." A February 8, 2002 Stratfor intelligence brief reported that, thanks to an expanding alliance with Colombian drug traffickers and the FARC, "Shining Path is trying to re-build its numbers and weaponry by working in the heroin trade. Peru is poised to become one of the world's heroin producers.
According to the 2002 State Department narcotics control report, "There have been multiple reports of border crossings by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) into Peru. In 2002 there was the first report of gunfire being exchanged between FARC forces and the Peruvian National Police.
The 2002 report continues, "Organized coca growers (cocaleros) in Peru staged a number of large protests during 2002, which intimidated the GOP into signing agreements to temporarily suspend coca eradication in certain regions, as well as to include cocalero representatives in discussions on revising Peru's counternarcotics law." It also describes a new Peruvian political movement, Llapanchicc, formed in the Apurimac River Valley cocoa growing region to defend indigenous farmers against forced eradication policies.
U.S. drug policy has managed to create the first Peruvian indigenous political movement with the defense of coca growing as its central plank.
Bolivia, which over the past decade vigorously eradicated coca with over $1 billion in support from the U.S., was considered the lone Latin American success story by American drug warriors.
Until 2002, that is, when the drug war changed the political face of Bolivia and Evo Morales, a Fidel Castro clone and the candidate from the Movement Towards Socialism (SAM) garnered 22 percent of the popular vote in the Presidential race with the backing of Bolivian coca growers, only 4 percent shy of the winner.
In 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned and fled to the U.S. amidst violent protest. While the civil unrest that led to his leaving was partly due to income taxes and a natural gas export plan, it was also partly due to what columnist Robert Novak called, "The backlash to U.S.-sponsored coca eradication in Bolivia…"
In any event, what is undisputed is that coca cultivation is back on the rise in Bolivia, growing almost as quickly as anti-U.S. sentiment towards forced eradication policies. (Cultivation is up 17 percent in 2002 according to the 2003 State Dept. narcotics control report.)
If policy makers were tasked with making a plan to ensure widespread instability, corruption, lawlessness and a steady flow of illegal wealth for narco-terrorists, they would be hard pressed to come up with a policy more successful than that already in place in Latin America.
That American drug-warriors are already in place in the new Homeland Security department should be worrisome enough. After all, American style liberty and the bill of rights are generally viewed as pesky impediments to the drug war mission, and counter-terrorism as secondary to the well being of the bureaucracy.
But that the presidential challenger intends to place at the top of the Homeland Security bureaucracy a key architect and defender of a failed, cruel, destructive war on some of the poorest people on this planet is especially depressing. Those trying to decide who to vote for based on what the next four years of drug policy may bring will find themselves in much the same position as a Colombian subsistence farmer—somewhere between a rock and a hard place.