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August 31, 2007 - The Signal (CA)

OpEd: Drugs -- The War No One Wants To Win

By Willy E. Gutman, veteran journalist on assignment in Central America since 1991. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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The U.S. boasts the world's largest and fastest growing prison population. More than 60 percent of inmates -- their ranks have doubled in the last decade -- are serving time for drug-related crimes, which now account for better than one-third of all felonies.

Substance abuse in 2007 has reached calamitous dimensions. Narcotrafficking now generates $500 billion a year in revenues. Recognized as the single major cause of violent crime, drug addiction accounts for rising health costs exceeding $100 billion annually. It is also contributing to an alarming rise in absenteeism, vehicular accidents, and premature deaths.

Smuggled in hollowed concrete posts, frozen broccoli packs, sacks of coffee and crates brimming with exotic woods and aromatic spices, enough drugs reach the streets of America to keep an estimated five million addicts bombed out of their heads for two months straight. If the new lords of terror and high finance have their way, the richest and most drug-dependent nation on earth may never awaken from its psychedelic stupor.

Juggling deals that exceed the combined assets of Boeing, Texaco, and Pepsi, funding political campaigns and controlling vast communications networks, the "narcocracy's" race for quick, ill-gotten profits is fast changing the world's political landscape and further eroding the resolve and ability of nations to fight back.

Despite high-profile busts that helped net several drug kingpins and large quantities of contraband, there appears to be no real political will to bring the drug war to a victorious end. Powerful economic and geostrategic interests get in the way.

When it comes to fighting drugs with words, the U.S. is the undisputed champion of double talk. To help Nicaragua's Contras, the CIA and Col. Oliver North not only covered the tracks of their drug-running proteges, they also laid the drug pipeline from Colombia to the U.S. The Kerry Commission later disclosed that Florida's Homestead Air Force Base had been used as a transit point in the shipment of large quantities of marijuana.

In 1996, Richard Horn, a DEA agent, filed suit against top former State Deptment and CIA officers based in Burma (Myanmar), contending that they acted to thwart his antidrug mission. Horn, it turned out, was lied to, surveilled, and kicked out of Burma -- not by the Burmese traffickers he was trying to nab but by U.S. officials who thought his zealous antidrug campaign interefered with their diplomatic objectives.

It is not the first time that priorities of American agencies abroad have been at loggerheads. Reckless support for a ragtag band of hard-core Islamic Afghan fighters, it will be remembered, also justified any means.

After all, at the time the Soviet Union was still our arch-enemy. So the CIA secretly funneled weapons to the Afghan rebels through the intermediary of Pakistan's military. On their return trips, supply trucks were brimming with opium which was promptly processed into heroin in 200 "flying kitchens" -- clandestine labs hastily erected along the Pakistani-Afghan border. The CIA reportedly knew but looked the other way.

Nor are the major international financial institutions particularly vigilant about drug money laundering. Developing countries are ruinously in debt. Those that produce narcotics (or serve as willing conduits) use narcodollars to pay off creditors who don't care where the money comes from.

Recent congressional reports, whose findings are described as "disappointing and disconcerting," assert that the organization behind the flow of narcotics in the U.S. is chiefly an operation run by governments hostile to the U.S. and by various terrorist networks. Owing its marriage of convenience to international terrorism, narcotrafficking has now reached catastrophic proportions.

Partners in crime have merged, with terrorists providing protection to traffickers and traffickers financing terrorist activities. Their bond is so absolute as to render them indistinguishable and earn them the redoubtable moniker -- narcoterrorists. Their shared objective is to bring down political and social order.

That the prime objective of narcotrafficking is political is perhaps the most disturbing revelation contained in various congressional reports. Yes, profit is a major motivation. Money is the plasma of the cartels, necessary for the operation and growth of the vast black market. It subsidizes their vast armies and ensures the silence, if not active complicity, of the nations that shelter them. With illicit profits, politicians, judges, police and journalists are regularly bought -- or "neutralized" by hired goons.

But money is not the essential reason for the trafficking. The ultimate objective, Interpol agents in Central America have told this writer, is to destroy the social fabric of western societies.

The U.S. likes its wars. The "War on Poverty," a mythical crusade that has fattened the coffers of countless "relief" organizations, has done nothing to reduce the staggering level of indigence worldwide. The "War on Terrorism," which unwisely inspired the calamitous invasion of Iraq, has now cost the U.S. one trillion dollars.

Whereas "the War on Drugs," commodities that claim thousands of victims annually and destroy the fabric of society, has raised a paltry $35 billion.

It is this writer's conviction that the government is expending too much effort on [blocking] supply and not enough on [curbing] demand. People must be stopped from wanting drugs. Granted, this is a lofty, perhaps quixotic quest in a world where greed, deception, the mathematics of death, and the politics of silence prevail. The alternative is bleaker yet.

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