Saturday, December 04, 2004

Drug War "Victories" 

Usually when I write about drug war victories, I am talking about victories against the war on drugs, not the "victories" of the war on drugs.

Today, we have more news on one of the latter.

Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela was the leader of the Cali cartel in Colombia. The man is a murderer and deplorable person. The only reason I'm a little perturbed he's facing trial here in the U.S. is that it's not for murder.

But of course, he didn't get to where he was without setting up a substantial infrastructure for the trafficking of cocaine. For example, the crimes he was extradited for occurred while he was in prison:
"In 1999, ICE agents received initial information that the Cali Cartel was continuing its drug and money laundering activities from within Colombian prisons," the U.S. agency said.
Money corrupts, even (especially?) here in America. And the Orejuela's aren't just rich by Colombian standards - they're really, really rich.

That infrastructure for trafficking, whatever the DEA thinks, is still largely there. And I assure you that someone just as horrible as Orejuela and his brother has stepped into the power vacuum and it is business as usual down in Colombia. That's assuming, of course, that the Orejuelas are unable to run their empire from prisons here and in Columbia - hardly a good assumption to be making considering the power men in their postion wield. Either way, cocaine, because of massively inflated profit margins created by prohibition here in the U.S. and abroad (often largely the result of U.S. diplomacy), is making more horrible people really, really rich.

And Orejuela knows the score:
"Colombia needs economic assistance from the United States and the U.S. government needs to showcase results in the fight against drug trafficking," he told Semana magazine. "My brother and I have a symbolic value in this context."
I have to say I don't like agreeing with this man, but he's right. This this all show. The United States government spends (are you ready for this?) about $20 billion dollars a year on the drug war, the vast majority of that going to law enforcement and interdiction, not treatment and education (which may be a good thing since the ONDCP feels the need to lie in its ads).

How do we spend your taxpayer money in Columbia? Primarily in two ways. Military assistance to the government for use against traffickers (and anyone else they don't like - there's frighteningly little oversight when it comes to who your money kills). And "coca eradication" - spraying of suspected coca fields with poison - thanks to the skewing of the market created by U.S. prohibition of drugs, the only viable cash crop for the majority of Columbia's poor farmers, a situation mirrored in Afghanistan's fabled poppy fields.

I have to get back to studying, but my point is this. It's not bad that guys like Orejuela are behind bars - that's good. But it doesn't do anything in the long run. We have to tackle this problem from the demand side, not the supply side. And we need to do something to cut the profts available for drug traffickers. As long as people are getting fabulously wealthy from this business, someone will be doing it - be it the Orejuelas or their inevitable replacements.

I'll be posting much more on the broader subject of the drug war periodically in the future. Law school has taken me out of the debate temporarily - but I'll be back.

(Edited so I can procrastinate more)


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