Editorial: Lessons Not Learned 11/2/01

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 11/2/01

Any crisis carries with it the opportunity for learning, and America's recent straights are no exception. Unresolved, long-term conflicts can blow up and bite us. Violence around the globe threatens us here. It is painful to be the victim or the target. These are all lessons that can, if we so choose, be used to inform our foreign and domestic policies and improve our empathy for the suffering of others.

Early signs are that our government has no intention of applying those lessons to drug policy. While California's bridges stand under possible threat, US DEA agents based there have closed the Los Angeles medical marijuana cooperative, denying 960 patients their access to safe and affordable supplies of medicine and exposing them to illness and harm. So much for empathy for the suffering of others. Or for priorities.

While in the Middle East our government exerts unprecedented pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to stop the fighting and return to the peace negotiations, in Bolivia our government has instead forbidden that government from working out its conflict with the poor coca growers peacefully. The latest outbreak of civil unrest in the Chapare coca-growing region has escalated over the last several weeks, only the latest chapter in a long-running political and economic dispute that has claimed the lives of 30 campesinos and wounded hundreds throughout the last few years. US diplomatic officials directly warned the Bolivian government that aid would be lost if they negotiated with the coca growers, even so much as to honor the government's own legal but violated past agreements. So much for resolving conflicts.

In Colombia, US officials are calling for a "war on terrorism" against organizations engaging in political violence. There's somewhat more of a case there -- Colombia suffers thousands of political murders each year, and our government has at least branded groups from both the left-wing and right-wing political persuasions with the terrorist appellation. Whether Colombia's problems should be thought of as terrorism or civil war or something else entirely is a valid question. There is no question that many different parties have engaged in condemnable acts against innocent people.

Our government has largely failed, however, to acknowledge the extent to which the right-wing paramilitary organizations -- by far the most active killers in Colombia and the ones most closely resembling terrorists in the true sense -- have been tacitly supported by Colombia's armed forces. This may or may not mean that parties in government condone death squad violence, but it certainly means that they have not moved aggressively to stop it. Human rights restrictions placed on US aid to the Colombian military have not been adequate to prevent our tax dollars from subsidizing political violence, and the administration wants to dispense with even those measures. So much for punishing governments that harbor terrorists.

And another lesson not learned. Back in the early 1990s, the previous Bush administration pushed Colombia into an aggressive program of extradition of drug traffickers to the US. These were terrible, violent people who deserved to be punished. But they were very powerful -- particularly the infamous Pablo Escobar -- and they fought back. Escobar's organization carried out assassinations against literally hundreds of government officials -- judges, candidates, you name it -- a campaign of true narco-terrorism that no people should have to ever experience.

If America can require Israel to negotiate with an organization that for decades vowed to bring about the nation's destruction, then we can at a minimum allow Bolivia to negotiate with its own people. And if Israelis and Palestinians can still come back to the negotiating table after all that has happened between them, surely Colombia's peace process has a chance too, and should be supported, not squashed by a drug war imposed from the outside.

Bolivia's government vs. peasant conflict might not ever reach to American soil, but that ominous specter is not so implausible with respect to Colombia, where the fighting and the money behind it are enormous and where the US role is far more apparent. Our leaders, however, seem determined to repeat the mistakes of the recent past. Will we let them?

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Issue #209, 11/2/01 Editorial: Lessons Not Learned | Medical Marijuana Armageddon: Feds Declare War on California Buyers Clubs | Drug War Prisoner Given Solitary Confinement for Terror War Thought Crime | British Police Ask for Ecstasy Penalties to be Reduced as Drug War Collapse Continues | Colombia: Ambassador Patterson and Senator Graham Play the Terrorism Card | Border Smuggling Resumes After Temporary Post-September 11th Lull | New Jersey Amnesty International Chapter Puts US Drug Policy on International Human Rights Group's Agenda | Arkansas Drug Reformers on the Move -- Poll Shows Support for Medical Marijuana | Chapare, Bolivia: Increased Militarization Heightens Tensions in Coca-Growing Region | Stop the Presses: Casual Drug Users Have, Keep Jobs, Study Finds | Alerts: HEA Drug Provision, Drug Czar Nomination, DEA Hemp Ban, Ecstasy Bill, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana | The Reformer's Calendar

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