NYT Covers the War on Terror Drugs with No Mention of Larger Context

This NYT article, which describes how the US has adopted the Special Forces approaches used in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the drug trade in Central America, rather bizarrely makes no mention of the larger context–growing opposition in Latin America to the War on Drugs as such. On the contrary, the NYT suggests there is consensus about drugs unlike the Cold War disagreements that existed when Oliver North built similar bases in Honduras to fight the Contras.

Narcotics cartels, transnational organized crime and gang violence are designated as threats by the United States and Central American governments, with a broader consensus than when that base was built — in an era when the region was viewed through a narrow prism of communism and anticommunism.

“The drug demand in the United States certainly exacerbates challenges placed upon our neighboring countries fighting against these organizations — and why it is so important that we partner with them in their countering efforts,” said Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, the No. 2 officer at Southern Command, which is responsible for military activities in Central and South America.

Compare that formula–US demand creates the need for us to set up Forward Operating Bases out of which our Special Forces can operate–with that offered by Guatemala’s right wing President, Otto Pérez Molina, in his calls to legalize drugs. [This is my very rough translation.]

In part, we have seen an unequal struggle [against drugs] because America is not cooperating with Central America as it should on this problem.

[The fight against drugs] is a shared responsibility that has different levels and degrees that each country must take.

The US is the largest consumer and the final destination of all the drugs passing through Central America and therefore it has the greatest responsibility.

In the last proposal made in July 2011, at a meeting in Guatemala, U.S. representatives said they would put in one dollar for every three dollars that Central Americans put in–that is 25% to 75%. That is not accepting the shared responsibility they have, but instead leaves the burden to us. Central America, rather than investing those three dollars to eliminate poverty, meet basic services, and develop our countries, spends them to combat drug trafficking, the greatest consumption of which takes place in America.

That is, Pérez argues that the US places demands on Central American nations far beyond what they should have to bear, and as a result, those countries spend all their money fighting the trafficking that feeds US demand, rather than investing in their own development. Central American leaders want the US to pay its fair share; the US wants to set up the same kind of FOBs it does in countries it is occupying.

In his push for legalization, Pérez tried to hold a Central American summit to begin discussing the idea in March. At least according to Pérez, Honduras’ President Porfirio Lobo said he would attend, though reportedly in response to US pressure, Lobo (along with two other Central American Presidents) backed out at the last minute and sent his Vice President Samuel Reyes instead. Nevertheless, Pérez’ failed efforts in March to build consensus support for legalization still led one of America’s closest allies, Colombian President and host of the Cartagena summit, Juan Manuel Santos, to call for discussion of alternatives to the current approach on the war on drugs at the Summit of the Americas.

So it’s not just that the US is building the same kind of militarized response in Central America to fight its own drug suppliers as it uses in the Middle East and Africa to fight terrorism (and also drugs). But it is doing so even as more and more Latin American leaders call for new, more rational approaches to the problem.

13 replies
  1. bsbafflesbrains says:

    Meanwhile Afghanistan had one of the largest poppy harvests in recent history. Who’s running the show over there again?

  2. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @EH: Replace poppies for coca plants and Taliban for FARC and we have the South American version of your two party see-saw. :)

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I am surprised only in that Mr. Obama still feels the need to explain why the US creates imperial outposts manned by its most highly trained operatives, skilled in martial arts, weapons and tactics, used to keep safe or take out subjects of interest, and in espionage and torture, used to identify and persuade subjects of interest.

    Mr. Obama is less credible than Mr. Rumsfeld in describing those subjects of interest as the worst of the worst. He is more like a drunken patriarch laying waste his family and fortune, telling himself it is only his enemies who threaten to lay waste his family and fortune.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I suspect one reason for Mr. Obama’s position is that, excluding the once and future global war on terror, the “war” on drugs produces the most money, weapons, and political contributions – and the greatest federalization of state, local and foreign police organizations (once the cover for American training in the use of rightwing terror against alleged leftwing terrorists). Let’s not forget a related development, the legislative authorization for and the redirection of tax dollars to private prisons. Ironically, or not, those “wars” aid the licit and illicit global arms trade (and presumably, its sister sin, the global slave trade).

    A corollary to all of the above is the offshore hiding of money, hundreds of billions, and the avoidance of taxes on it. That deprives old and new states alike of tax revenues needed to finance legitimate state aims. Starving legitimate state aims of money enables the corruption necessary to aid and abet much of the former. But We do it all to keep us safe.

  5. jo6pac says:

    @bsbafflesbrains: Or you could replace those cartels with Amerika own the cia drug cartel. The only reason for the buildup is the cia doesn’t like competition. They operate no differently then big business.

  6. thatvisionthing says:

    If I had a hammer…

    Maybe it’s because of my juries epiphany, but from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the War on Drugs, every story I read here this morning seems like a nail that a true jury hammer could handle, beautifully, naturally. (True as in able to hear all truth and vote their conscience, including nullifying.) It’s the difference between ring democracy, hence open reasoning, and top-down fiat, hence teh unfixable stupid.

    The War on Drugs is like the war on alcohol, Prohibition, and Prohibition made it into a Constitutional amendment even, which has a legitimacy far beyond anything that supports the War on Drugs. And that amendment lasted less than 15 years, and it fell apart from the bottom up. People found the law unjust and withdrew their consent. Juries nullified, refused to convict.

    I don’t know enough history to say how important juries were to ending Prohibition, but the larger picture of people learning and changing a nation’s direction, I think that’s something to think about. What has changed that we can’t do that anymore? Juries have changed, due process has changed, for one thing, and (like corporate personhood) not by debate and consensus and constitutional amendment, just by court say-so, so I’d say illegitimately. In Scott Horton’s article on Julian Heicklen, the man who got arrested and charged for passing out fully informed jury leaflets outside the New York courthouse, he included the anecdote of “the recent dilemma of prosecutors and judges in Montana, unable to find a pool of jurors willing to convict anyone for possession of marijuana, no matter the evidence.”

    That’s what the guys who wrote The Wire said they’d do:

    If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

    Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience.

    (See that? Conscience? That’s what the 9th circuit totally whiffed on in Yoo’s case. And if “shocks the conscience” should have been constitutionally available to Jose Padilla, shouldn’t it be available in every case? To say that it didn’t shock Yoo and his fellow conspirators’ conscience, and the court need therefore go no farther, is a farce. Seems to me that the obvious constitutional way (“…jury…jury…jury…”) to conscience test is to ask a jury to test their own consciences. But we don’t. That hammer is silent now.)

  7. prostratedragon says:


    The Times article really is a bit blatant and strident, isn’t it? I sense a slowly-dawning realization that propaganda is starting to fail all over the place and all at once.

  8. Bob Schacht says:

    @thatvisionthing: “…if ‘shocks the conscience’ should have been constitutionally available to Jose Padilla,…”

    This has always struck me as a dubious standard. Whose conscience? How can a law that subjective work, unless we are all of one mind? Besides, our “conscience” is being bombarded in the media until nothing shocks our conscience any more.
    * Last year’s TV series, “24”
    * Books by Jose Rodrigues and others, normalizing torture
    * Former presidents (Bush) and Vice-Presidents (Cheney) wrote in their books with such nonchalance about torture
    * Obama’s failure to prosecute any of the torturers.

    Bob in AZ

  9. thatvisionthing says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    This has always struck me as a dubious standard. Whose conscience? How can a law that subjective work, unless we are all of one mind?

    Hi Bob,

    When you ask how “shocks the conscience” can work unless we’re all of the same mind, I’d love to be able to answer this perfectly, but I’ve got a sky full of clouds and an ocean full of drops of water, and finding the right one… I don’t quite know where to begin.

    Are you suggesting that the current way, with disabled juries, is better? Are you suggesting that the Padilla verdict is just and was justly arrived at? I’ll disagree with that if you give me some specifics.

    When I had the jury epiphany — and I call it that because there was that moment of light when suddenly the story made sense, the model worked, the thing fell together, and it sticks with me to this day — I set to wondering about the assumptions behind the Constitution. Now that I had a thread to pull. And there is that thing about there being no angels amongst us — if there were, we’d have angels to govern us or we wouldn’t need to be governed because we were angels. Madison said it. Jefferson said it. You have to doubt everyone, or trust everyone alike, because all men are created equal and no one of us is an angel. Did we despair that garbage could beget only garbage, and then go looking for angels? No, it was tremendously liberating. Bruce Fein called it the thrill of self-governance. I’m ok, you’re ok, we’re all in this together and we can deal with reality just as we are. Truth is self-evident. We know it when we see it. The more eyes and hands on the elephant, the better we see and know it. I think the assumption the Constitution is based on, and what makes conscience so important to self-governance, is that inherently, naturally, pre-governmentally people are ok, even if we’re not angels. That we all come with moral compasses and act reasonably, and that self-interest is inextricably linked to group interest. Seek happiness, everyone! We succeed by cooperating and caring beyond ourselves, contributing together and depending on each other, not by killing to the last man. That we need to know and help each other. That if we do know each other, we will want to help each other. It’s an ecology, so carts and horses, meh, chickens and eggs, ah. People are born with consciences but the entities they construct, governments and corporations, are not. That was what the revolution was about, opening governance up to the wisdom of all the people. It wasn’t just that the King and the British East India Company were stupid and unjust, it was that we saw a better way.

    If you look at the Yoo case. Sheesh. What’s that doughnut hole for him, 2001-2003? 9/11 to… what happened in 2004? What comes to my mind is Abu Ghraib. Now there you got shocks the conscience. You saw it, you knew it. Times everyone in the world. Everybody saw it. Everybody knew it. But the way the courts are set up now, justice and remedy weren’t found in the courts. And that’s the fail. And that’s the tell. Is our governments learning? No they’re not. They can’t anymore. They’re just as stupid as a king and a corporation now. Because that’s how they see themselves now, divine, separate and above the people, above the law. But once courts were the place we sat and leveled and reasoned together. To my mind the most perfect American trial was John Peter Zenger’s.

    I saw the Errol Morris documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, about Abu Ghraib. Recommended. Didn’t think much of the poster. (If it was me, I think I’d have put a giant portrait of Rumsfeld. Or Cheney. Or Bush. Who knows yet? Emptywheel’s still pulling that thread.) But the title — the photos of Abu Ghraib showed American standard operating procedure. The crazy crap was going on already when the “bad apples” came, and it was their job to keep doing it, and they did their job. Some of the photos showed their own improvisation, but really, the policy was set and the orders were given and the “bad apples” were carrying them out. For the movie, Morris had an Army investigator go through the photos and analyze them. And he’d give his opinion on what he saw, whether it was a criminal act or standard operating procedure, thump, rubber stamp across the photo. Lynndie England pointing to the naked hooded masturbating man? “CRIMINAL ACT.” The naked human pyramid? “CRIMINAL ACT.” The most iconic photo of them all, the hooded prisoner standing on a box with electric wires attached to his hands? “STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE.”

    So take something like that, that to this day shocks the conscience of everyone in the world but that our government can’t legally recognize as a crime? Come on. The system has failed. We are that stupid and unjust now. And you are never going to find a conscience and things are never going to get better by looking for angels in government.

  10. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: I’d like to add a radio segment. Craig Murray was interviewed on Radio Litopia recently (April 9 show). This part is about what makes otherwise decent people do preposterous, indecent things — how moral compasses fail when they’re compartmentalized off from reality and conscience:

    (long excerpt, I’m including it all because I transcribed it and there is no other transcript posted that I’m aware of)


    37:12 (Host) Peter Cox: This is all actually terribly depressing stuff, in fact, isn’t it Craig, because you think about it, we’re doing the wrong thing. We’re doing the wrong thing morally. We’re doing the wrong thing politically. We’re doing the wrong thing in every way possible. And we’re getting dodgy information as well. I mean, there’s no good can come of it. People must feel very demoralized inside the diplomatic service, most people, don’t they? When they’re – you know, when they are clearly asked to believe that black is white and white is black for no other reason than it’s politically expedient to do so?

    37:43 Craig Murray: I asked a friend of mine who was involved very closely and at a senior level with Iraq in the leadup to the Iraq war, who is someone who definitely knew there were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and yet was having to work in an environment where he was pretending there were Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And I said to him, “How do you do it? How do you reconcile it with yourself?” He said, “It’s like playing a video game. You know, when you go into work, it’s like if you’re playing one of these football major games. While you’re in the game, you are the manager of Chelsea for the, you know, two hours you play or whatever. When you leave, you’re not. You go about your daily life.” And so when he walks into the Foreign Office, there are Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. That’s just the fantasy world you move into and that’s the game you are playing at the time. When you go home, you switch off, and of course in real life you know there are not.

    The trouble is, of course, that people actually died. You know, hundreds of thousands of people are dead. You have millions of people have had relatives die. Hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned. Children have had their limbs blown off. People have been raped and mutilated as a result of these fantasy games. So, you know, it’s one thing to somehow rationalize it that way, to psychologically isolate it from yourself, but can you really remove yourself from the results of what you are doing? You know, there’s a moral void there.

    39:14 (Host) Dave Bartram: It’s not new, though, is it? I mean, isn’t it a kind of cultural inertia that, it’s kind of a leftover of, you know, a sense of imperialism that we must be right, and that we must be in control, and we must be this. You know, these things have gone on for many, many years, so – we expect people should act differently now, because they’re a kind of – there’s this more awareness of broader issues, but the inertia, you know, in those sorts of circles has got to be enormous, hasn’t it?

    39:44 Craig Murray: I think there’s definitely an amount of truth in that. Interestingly, the book I’m researching at the moment on Alexander Burnes, there’s this fascinating episode in which he is conveying five large cart horses up the Indus as a present for Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and actually the gift of the cart horses is a kind of Trojan wooden horse idea, because they chose that gift so they could say it had to go by river, in order that they could sound the river and survey the river in order to work out how well you could move troops up and down it in order to invade the countries to which we were giving presents. And that was a deliberate plot, and there are archives in which they set out that this is the plot, this is the pretense, and we will survey secretly, and these are – And then when the local rulers try to refuse, the British get terribly upset and expostulate and say, “How dare they impugn our honor, these perfidious Indians! Why won’t they let us come?!” And it’s quite extraordinary. And there’s no hint in the letters, because the letters saying “These terrible perfidious Indians won’t let us come up their river” are written by exactly the same people who wrote the letters saying “We’re going to secretly survey while we’re pretending to bring gifts,” with no apparent sense of their own hypocrisy. That’s the extraordinary thing about it. Absolutely no sign. When they said “these terrible, unloyal, useless local natives are not allowing us up the river and they’re impugning our honor,” they obviously really did feel like that, despite the fact that actually their honor deserved to be impugned because it was a trick. And that absolutely fascinated me, in that, as I say, we saw exactly the same thing with Iraq and it still goes on hundreds of years later. And the trouble is, of course, saying it’s always happened or, you know, there’s always been bad doesn’t really help. One would have hoped we would have been improving.

    41:44 Dave Bartram: I would hope too, but if you just look at, you know, the current government is a good example where, you know, ideological expedience and kind of cultural inertia overrides concerns about the welfare of individuals. You know, I think it was, it might have been Terry Pratchett who wrote something along the lines of “Never trust a man who claims to be acting for a higher purpose, because that means, you know, you’re basically saying, “I will accept this damage to achieve this.” You know, it’s a means and ends argument, isn’t it? I mean, if someone says, “There is a greater good, there is a greater purpose to this,” that blinds people. Something I’ve learned, well, fairly recently, how profoundly well a perfectly rational, sensible individual can hold two totally, or more than two totally opposing ideas in their head at the same time without any concerns at all.

  11. orionATL says:


    thank you so much.

    though brief, this is a tremendously interesting and insightful quote.

    i love how history treats politicians/political leaders – almost invariably as people doing something close to their worst instead of their best, hoist on their own hypocrisy and deceit.

    i’ve often wondered and commented here in the past why political advertisements don’t use analogous stories from history

    to tell a current story instead of employing the dead, turgid prose that is the prevailing standard – a rhetoric that absolutely invites potential supporters to turn the candidate off, and tune the candidate out

    due to the ad’s vacuous, stilted, implicitly pleading, rhetoric.

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