May 27, 2005

Drugs, Guns & Politics

By Martin Leatherman & Newsdesk.org staff

Terrorism, political instability and the drug trade have been forged into a single problem, as narcotics take a leading economic role in nations already suffering from violence and poverty.

According to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, Iraq is becoming a major transit country for drugs originating in Afghanistan and entering Jordan en route to Asia and Europe.

The president of the U.N. board, Hamid Ghodse, said the situation in Iraq resembles other post-conflict nations, where the aftermath of war or other disasters leaves border security weakened.

Similar cases include Colombia, Bolivia and Afghanistan.

According to Agence France Presse, the political obstacles to Afghanistan’s war on drugs are huge.

Warlords, police chiefs, Afghan officials and ordinary citizens all benefit from the opium trade, making enforcement difficult.

Afghanistan is the sixth poorest country in the world and opium production accounts for around 60 percent of economic growth, according the U.S. Department of State.

For the 2.3 million farmers involved in the trade, opium is nine times more profitable than rice or wheat, offering a rare opportunity to afford basic services such as health care and schooling.

While these drugs are unlikely to reach U.S. markets, they’re a destabilizing force that funds terrorism in other countries, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which fears that Afghanistan could turn into a full-blown “narcostate,” relying almost solely on the illicit drug trade for its economy.

Colombia is the most visible of such nations, and U.S. military and financial aid is actively directed against both terrorism and the drug trade.

Since 1999, the United States has provided Colombia with $2.5 billion in aid to fight the cocaine trade, and has supplied helicopters and other aircraft to spray coca fields.

Critics say the plan did more harm than good, since most of the money was allocated for military use and does little for farmers without any other income, according to the Harvard Political Review.

Another, sometimes controversial, concern is that the herbicides sprayed on coca crops affects other plants as well, and contaminates water supplies, food and people with toxic chemicals.

Plan Colombia is ending this year, but in an April 27 news conference in Bogota, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States will provide $600 million this year to combat terrorism and drug trafficking there.

In Bolivia, peasant and indigenous coca growers are coalescing into a powerful political bloc with a strong socialist bent. Strikes are common, as are clashes between coca farmers and government forces, and have led to the downfall of recent presidents.

Those same types of clashes have occurred in Peru, according to the BBC and the U.N.

The U.N. is convinced that the only way to eliminate the drug trade there is to eliminate poverty.

As part of free-market negotiations between the European Union and several South American nations, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez-Araque said that the agricultural subsidies of the most powerful nations drive peasant farmers in developing nations to drug cultivation.

Peru made a similar point when it called on the United States to author a “free trade deal that will pull Peruvian agriculture out of poverty,” according to Reuters.

William F. Buckley, editor of the flagship conservative magazine the National Review, argues that the war on drugs has been lost, and that more people are hurt by trying to prevent drug use than through use itself.

The Senlis Council proposed a solution in March, when it suggested the Afghan opium crop be diverted into the legal medical market.

According to the Paris-based think tank, the pharmaceutical market often overprices opiates due to small supplies.

If Afghan farmers were allowed to sell, the group reasons, then poorer nations could afford to use drugs such as morphine in hospitals.

The National Libertarian Party in the United States advocates ending drug prohibition altogether, arguing that the underworld created by the drug trade facilitates violence and draws resources away from enforcement against violent crimes.

According to a research paper issued by the Ludwig von Mises Institute (PDF | HTML), this opinion is shared by former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, economist Milton Friedman, among other conservative figures.

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“Iraq emerging as a transit country for drugs, INCB president says”
INCB press release, May 12, 2005

“Fight against opium moving at a snail’s pace”
Agence France Presse, May, 25 2005

“Opium production threatens Afghanistan’s future, officials say”
U.S. Department of State, March 22, 2005

“United States policy towards narco-terrorism in Afghanistan”
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, February 12, 2004

“Failed Plan Columbia”
Harvard Political Review, December 7, 2003

“Pesticide used in Colombian war on drugs ‘not harmful'”
SciDecNet, May 3, 2005

“Plan Colombia: Herbicide spraying killing food crops, pastures”
Associated Press, January 23, 2001

“Anti-drug herbicide to be sprayed again in nature reserves”
Inter Press Service, May 20, 2005

“United States remains committed to aiding Columbia, Rice says”
Relief Web International, April 28, 2005

Peru coca growers march on Lima
BBC, May 4, 2004

Cocaine the focus of E.U.-Latin American trade talks
Press Association (U.K.) May 27, 2005

“Bolivia — A talent for upheaval”
Newsdesk.org, March 18, 2005

“Peru says needs U.S. trade deal to combat coca”
Reuters, May 5, 2005

“Feasibility study on opium licensing in Afghanistan for production of morphine and other essential medicines”
Senlis Council Drug Policy Advisory Forum, March 9, 2005

“Highlights and summary of the Libertarian Party’s solution to America’s crime problem”
National Libertarian Party

“Prohibition vs. legalization: Do economists reach a conclusion on drug policy?”
View as: PDF | HTML
Ludwig von Mises Institute, November 2002

“Interview with the Godfather / William F. Buckley, Jr., on drugs, universities, and the future”
Yale Free Press, March 2001

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