Immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Pentagon got a bit freaked out. People were talking about a “peace dividend,” by which they meant that Americans now had the opportunity to significantly reduce military spending now that the 45-year-old Cold War had ended.
In a bit of desperation, the Pentagon proceeded to explain why the enormous and ever-growing military part of America’s governmental structure should nonetheless continue, notwithstanding the sudden and unexpected end of the Cold War. Among the justifications given was the drug war. The military, we were told, could be an important force in winning the war on drugs.
That was almost 15 years ago, and we’re now hearing a repeat of that refrain, most recently in an article in Army Times by Gen. John F. Kelly, who serves as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.
Let’s begin with an important point: The American people have prohibited the U.S. military from waging the war on drugs here in the United States. Americans don’t want the military to be enforcing drug laws here at home. It’s not compatible with the principles of a free society.
So, the obvious question arises: Given that it’s a bad thing to have the U.S. military waging the drug war here in the United States, why is it waging the drug war in Latin America? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?
Kelly argues that the U.S. military is working with Latin American officials to combat drug gangs and drug lords.
That is obviously one ludicrous argument. It is drug laws themselves that give rise to the drug gangs and cartels. Such laws put out of business reputable firms who are selling drugs to consumers. What’s left is a black market, one where business is done by unsavory, violent people who will stop at nothing to achieve bigger market share.
The more that drug laws are enforced, the worse the problem becomes. Harsher enforcement drives prices upwards, which means higher profits, which means more incentive to expand market share with more violence.
So, no matter how well-intended military people like Kelly are — and let’s assume he means well — his intentions are quite irrelevant. What matters are the actual results of his policies and practices. The U.S. military’s waging of the war on drugs in Latin America has brought about more death and destruction to that part of the world.
Kelly says that the problem is exorbitant demand for the drugs in the United States. In other words, the fault for all the death and destruction in Latin America (and the United States) lies with Americans who choose to consume drugs. If they would just give up their desire for drugs, Kelly implies, Latin America would turn into a nice, peaceful, harmonious part of the world.
Well, that ain’t gonna happen. People have been taking drugs as long as drugs have been around. And they are going to continue to do so, no matter how harsh and severe the drug-war crackdowns become. And we’ve learned that just putting drug users away into jail for large portions of their lives doesn’t accomplish anything but more misery and ruination of lives. The same goes for every other harsh and severe measure U.S. officials have adopted for the past several decades as part of their drug-war campaign.
Thus, the only real choice is: Should the consumption, possession, sale, and distribution of drugs remain criminalized or should drug laws be repealed? If they remain criminalized, the drug-war violence will continue and U.S. military intervention will only makes it worse. If they are decriminalized, the drug gangs and drug cartels disappear and are replaced by reputable drug firms.
There is another factor at work here, independent of the drug war, that Kelly also gets wrong. He suggests that the U.S. military works to bring free, prosperous, democratic, and free societies to Latin America.
That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows that the U.S. military has long been of the most ardent proponents of brutal dictatorships in Latin America, so long as they are pro-U.S. The U.S. government has long supported tyrannical regimes whose military forces engage in torture, rape, and assassination. Many of these brutes have been educated at the Pentagon’s infamous School of the Americas. Moreover, the U.S. government has been notorious for ousting democratically elected regimes in countries where the citizenry have elected presidents or legislatures that aren’t firmly in the pro-U.S. ambit, which has produced a cycle of violence entailing oppression and tyranny against people who are resisting oppression and tyranny.
Consider Guatemala, a society that continues to be extremely violent some 50 years after the CIA ousted the democratically elected president of the country, thereby throwing the country into a horrible civil war that lasted decades and whose effects are still felt throughout Guatemalan society. Who did U.S. officials install into power after their coup? Not surprisingly, a Guatemalan general, who proceeded to fortify his power over the citizenry with extreme military brutality.
Or Chile, another country where the Pentagon and the CIA helped engineer the ouster of the democratically elected president of the country and installed a brutal military general in his stead, whose forces proceeded to arrest, incarcerate, torture, rape, and kill thousands of innocent people, all in partnership with the Pentagon and the CIA.
Or Nicaragua, where U.S. officials armed the Contras with weaponry from Iran, in direct contravention of U.S. law, simply because the Nicaraguan people, like those in Guatemala and Chile, had elected a socialist who was independent of the U.S. Empire. That war killed countless Nicaraguans.
Or Cuba, a country whose government has never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Nonetheless, Cuba has been the target of a brutal embargo, invasion, terrorism, and assassination attempts, all at the hands of the U.S. military and the CIA.
Honduras? As long as the regime is pro-U.S., the U.S. government funnels U.S. taxpayer money and weaponry into the regime’s coffers, knowing that the regime is going to use the aid to fortify its dictatorial power over the citizenry.
And that, in fact, has been the trade that has long been made between the U.S. government and Latin American regimes. The trade is this: If you’re pro-U.S., we will help maintain you in power by training your military forces and giving you money and armaments, which will enable you to maintain your oppressive and tyrannical hold on power over your citizenry. But if you’re not with us, then we will do what is necessary to oust you from power, including through money given to your opponents, assassination, invasion, or other regime-change operation, and replace you with a pro-U.S. stooge who will do our bidding and receive our money, training, and weaponry.
Gen. Kelly is flat wrong. His drug war in Latin America is a miserable, deadly, and destructive failure, just as is the entire history of U.S. interventionism in Latin America. It’s time to bring it to a close. It’s time to give Latin Americans a chance to live normal lives. The only way to do that is by ending the drug war, closing all U.S. military bases in Latin America, bringing all U.S. troops and CIA agents home and discharging them, and ending U.S. interventionism.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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