The Andean Connection: Tracking the Drug War’s Coca Leaves and Failed Policies

(Credit: Flickr/whertha)

by Benjamin Dangl

This article first appeared in The Indypendent.

Cocaine, the drug fueling the trade that’s left thousands dead in Mexico and Central America since 2007 and which 1.4 million Americans are addicted to, originates with two species of the coca plant grown in the South American Andes. Ninety percent of the U.S. market for cocaine is fed by Colombia, with the rest largely provided by Peru and Bolivia.

An estimated 310 to 350 tons of refined cocaine were trafficked out of Colombia last year, enough to make a rail of nose candy that would encircle the earth twice. Along with exporting cocaine northward, Colombia has become a laboratory for failed drug war policies that are finding their way to Central America and Mexico.

In July 2000 President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia (see note following article for more information) into law, initiating the anti-drug-producing and trafficking operation that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.3 billion to date. U.S. military bases have been established in Colombia under the plan, as have extensive air patrols, pesticide spraying and surveillance. Because of the violence, some 2.5 million Colombians have been displaced.

“The lessons of Colombia are being ignored in many ways. You’ll have mainstream analysts saying Colombia is the model to win the drug war. If Colombia is winning then what are the Colombians trafficking?” drug war expert Sanho Tree, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., told The Indypendent.

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The Assault on Ali Farzat

Here I am on PRI’s The World discussing the assault on Ali Farzat this morning.

And here‘s Foreign Policy’s comment on the assault plus a gallery of Farzat’s cartoons.

On the radio I said that the Syrian regime isn’t trying to be popular at present. Escalating its attacks on Syrian cities in Ramadan, increasing the gunfire at the dawn prayer and at the break of fast: these are not moves calculated to win popularity. Likewise, when regime torturers force the detained to pray to a picture of the dictator, and to repeat ‘There is no god but Bashaar’, they are not seeking approval. It’s much more basic than that. The message is: We can do whatever the hell we like. We can outrage you as much as we choose. We can shock you with our barbarity and then shock you again, because we are unimaginably strong.

But they aren’t strong. They are very weak indeed, as we will all soon – insha’allah – discover.

Art is Greater than Filth

Ali Farzat, the Arab world’s greatest cartoonist – in fact one of the very best and bravest creative voices in the Arab world – was bundled into a van by Syrian regime filth last night. Some hours later he was found bleeding at the side of the airport road. First reports suggest that his hands have been broken.

I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureacracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘reistance regime’ will note this well.

I discovered Ali Ferzat when I lived in Damascus in the late 1990s. His work was published in state newspapers. He seemed to be one of the rare few – poet Muhammad al-Maghut and actor Yasser al-Azmeh were others – who were permitted to transgress the state’s taboos. When Bashaar inherited power in 2000, Ali was granted permission to start up his own satirical newspaper, ad-Domari (‘the Lamplighter’). A couple of years later the initiative fizzled out under the pressure of mounting censorship and intimidation. The episode was symptomatic of the deceptions of Bashaar’s early years.

A few months ago the body of Ibrahim al-Qashoush, a native of Hama who wrote a popular anti-regime song, was found in the Orontes river. Ibrahim’s vocal chords had been ripped from his throat. Now the shabeeha regime has broken Ali’s hands. But it won’t break the creativity or the will of the Syrian people.

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Staying in Afghanistan

by Ross Eventon

A US soldier keeps watch at the site of an explosion in Logar Province south of Kabul Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Reports that the US is determined to maintain a presence in Afghanistan will surprise no one except 99% of foreign policy analysts.  Responding to the announcement that the US is in negotiations to maintain a presence until 2024, Mahdi Hassan, senior editor at the New Statesman, writes “the US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure” because “the presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented.”

Regardless, Obama escalated the conflict on coming to office.  Citing research that outlines the primary goal of suicide terrorism is to end foreign military occupations, Hassan asks, “Why does an intelligent politician such as Barack Obama have such difficulty understanding this?”

The Afghan and Iraq invasions were launched on the expectation they would increase the terrorist threat to domestic populations, as they duly did.   It is a remarkable example of extreme naivety or intellectual subservience that claims the US is concerned with reducing terror not be met with widespread ridicule.

As Julien Mercille, a lecturer at University College Dublin, points out in the journal Critical Asian Studies, the War on Drugs is equally vacuous.

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Political Fear

Sasha Lilley of the highly erudite Against the Grain interviews Corey Robin, author of the brilliant Fear: The History of A Political Idea. Also check out Robin’s superb essay on Hannah Arendt, and his commentary on Barack Obama’s recent capitulation on the debt deal.

Fear dominates our society. Fear of crime, fear of the poor, fear of foreign terrorists, to which we might add fear of our government and fear of our bosses. For some liberal thinkers, fear serves a purpose. It’s supposed to pull us all together so we can find some kind of social solidarity in an atomized, alienated world. Corey Robin discusses the problems with that notion and talks about the places where fear truly lurks in our society.

Why Is the Military Spending Millions on Christian Contractors Bent on Evangelizing US Soldiers?

Chris Rodda writes at AlterNet:

When the average American thinks of military spending on religion, they probably think only of the money spent on chaplains and chapels. And, yes, the Department of Defense (DoD) does spend a hell of a lot of money on these basic religious accommodations to provide our troops with the opportunity to exercise their religion while serving our country. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the DoD’s funding of religion. Also paid for with taxpayer dollars are a plethora of events, programs, and schemes that violate not only the Constitution, but, in many cases, the regulations on federal government contractors, specifically the regulation prohibiting federal government contractors receiving over $10,000 in contracts a year from discriminating based on religion in their hiring practices.

About a year ago, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) began an investigation into just how much money the DoD spends on promoting religion to military personnel and their families. What prompted this interest in DoD spending on religion was finding out what the DoD was spending on certain individual events and programs, such as the $125 million spent on the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and its controversial “Spiritual Fitness” test, a mandatory test that must be taken by all soldiers. The Army insists that this test is not religious, but the countless complaints from soldiers who have failed this “fitness” test tell a different story. The experience of one group of soldiers who weren’t “spiritual” enough for the Army can be read here. But the term “Spiritual Fitness is not limited to this one test. The military began using this term to describe a variety of initiatives and events towards the end of 2006, and this `code phrase’ for promoting religion was heavily in use by all branches of the military by 2007.

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