Sunday, April 29, 2007

The War on Drugs Deconstructed

by Michael Deliz

While American soccer moms run away from the mere mention of the "evil" plant, coca is a revered and widely used home remedy for the indigenous peoples of the Andean region of Latin America. The difference in perspective is more than mere cultural variation, it is perhaps the longest lasting psychological effect of the Cold War upon the American people and its government.

The War on Drugs was of course never meant as an actual war on drugs but as an excuse to intervene in Latin America against leftist/communist organizations. This pseudo-proxy war of the Cold War allowed the U.S. almost naked support for paramilitary forces throughout the Andes and Central America, during the 1980s and 1990s. This was of course founded upon the shaky premise that leftist groups were being financed by the drug trade, that however was a false premise and merely an invented justification, as most rebel groups were founded and operated significantly in the 50s and 60s before there was a market for cocaine in 1980's America. In fact, Coca production in Colombia was rare until the early 1990s.

Even if the premise were true we would have found large stashes of cash during counterintelligence raids into rebel facilities. There would be testimony from captured rebels about drug operations tying the cocaine sales pipeline all the way to the rebels. But it doesn't exist. Instead it seems as though all the money and military might has done nothing to even slow the flow of narcotics into the U.S. How can this be? How can there be no measurable effect from a program that cost the US $45 billion in 1995 and grew to $143 billion in just three years? In fact if you look at this graph:

Essentially we can draw two clear conclusions from this graph; 1)major interventions have only a temporary effect and only on the retail price 2)Despite the program's intensification over the years the wholesale price has only dropped, widening the profit margin, while maintaining retail prices relatively flat over time.

The importance of the wholesale price cannot be overstated. The fact that the wholesale price drops means that not only has there been a slight over-supply year after year but also that efficiency in the system has increased at a natural pace. This is completely incongruous with the fact that this year the U.S. spent billions to supposedly stop all this. No government can be so consistently inept.

In fact in 2006 Marijuana became the biggest cash crop of the U.S. taking in $35 billion per year, and South American coca produced its largest harvest in 2005. All while the retail price has remained constant and predictable, while the wholesale price has decreased. In fact marijuana which is the most targeted of drugs in the U.S. has seen a ten-fold increase in its domestic harvest. This is still impossible to reconcile even if we take the roll over effect into account.

This roll over effect is the result of the spraying in one area leading farmers to roll over their crops to another field to replace production. Even if this effect is true that there is a kind of "moving target" here. The actual trend of the wholesale price would however suggest that more farms are created and at a faster pace than farms are destroyed, which is logistically impossible. Mass production transfers from field to field would actually create great peaks in the wholesale price, and the price would therefore increase over time. The data doesn't show this.

The total effect upon drug production in fact seems to be much less a "war" than a measured attempt at stabilization of an industry, which could not be more effective than if conducted by the industry itself.

Essentially the economic history seems to suggest a type of collusion among the parties involved, rather than an attempt at eradication. The fact that the three largest initiatives shown on the graph precede a U.S. Presidential election is not a coincidence.

The collusion is mapped in this way.
During the height of the cultural revolution in the late 50s and 60s, drug use became a visible middle class activity especially among the youth. Drug use was therefore blamed publicly for the apparent rebelliousness of the coming of age generation, which was highly critical of government activity (ie: Civil Rights, Vietnam, Watergate, etc...). Accusing the drugs rather than crediting the fact that an intelligent middle class had finally become established in White-America. This latter fact was a result of increased public school enrollment and college attendance among the non-wealthy in the post WWII years. The American public, first taught to blame drugs is then taught drug use is a threat to their standard of living and must therefore fight it. This public perspective promotes into political office individuals who not only promise a get tough approach but perhaps also grew up believing in an apocalyptic version of future society where drug use could become mainstream.

These politicians must promise results against this possible future. And therefore progressively pass harsher legislation against drug use but more significantly approve funding for the cause. As payoff, they get to look like they are seriously attacking the problem, and always claiming to have done a better job than their predecessor.

Funding for the war on drugs is largely spent domestically where the citizens can view the results first hand, through local law enforcement. Out of over 143 billion dollars spent per year less than a billion is spent in the eradication of drugs at the source of production. At the Federal level military efforts are however part of the solution. The end result is of course a sort of trade off.

American military and financial aid is granted upon the ruling elite of Latin America, which puts it to use to suppress political dissent. This ruling elite is propped up by the aid which helps to also secure the well being of the ruling classes over the majority poor lower class. Where the target of the American public is the drugs themselves, the target of the Latin American ruling classes is the poor alone.

This aid, both military and financial, then became necessary to maintain the rich in charge and superior to the poor, a symbiotic dependency system was created. While American politicians could claim reelection, Latin American elites could continue their exploitation of the masses and disruption of indigenous attempts to organize, all financed by the American government. Meanwhile the drug trade continues uninterrupted.

Relevant Media Sources:
NarcoNews - Coca Growers Shake the Andes Once Again
Living in Peru - Civil unrest breaks out between Peru's coca farmers and police
Associated Press - Peru Congress grants president power to fight drugs, terrorism by decree
Sun-Sentinel Report - Bolivian coca crop holds steady

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