Largely unnoticed over here, Bolivia’s president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, duly elected, an economic liberal and a friend of the United States, was forced out of office. He’d made some hideous mistakes (not least the use of the army against protestors – a decision that, tragically, left many dead), but originally the source of much of his difficulty was action taken against his country’s coca farmers, action taken at US insistence, action that left many unemployed. It’s a familiar story – US drug prohibition creates a lucrative market for the farmers’ coca, the profits from that market have enriched not, of course, the farmers themselves, but criminal cartels. They have also been a good source of funds for guerilla groups. The distortions, dislocation and corruption that follows would be bad enough for the chances of reform, progress and economic development in Andean countries even without the added difficulty caused by the impoverishment of so many poor peasant farmers.
Drugs prohibition has been a disaster in the US. Its extension to Latin America has been a catastrophe, a catastrophe that risks creating more of the failed states in which terrorists, it’s worth noting, can thrive. The answer to this mess, naturally, is to scrap prohibition, but in the meantime, here’s a suggestion. The US should stop pouring dollars and military resources into this Latin American extension of the fruitless and counter-productive war on drugs.
There are better uses for both elsewhere.