Thousands of Years of Tradition Inhibiting the Drug War

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

So arrogant U.S. and UN forces are telling indigenous Latin Americans that they’ll simply have to do away with the tradition:

The latest affront, they say, is a recommendation this month from the UN’s drug enforcement watchdog, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), that Bolivia and Peru criminalize the practice of chewing coca and drinking its tea. The move has provoked widespread anger and street protests in the two countries, especially among the majority indigenous populations. For them, coca has been a cultural cornerstone for 3,000 years, as much a part of daily life as coffee in the U.S. (La Paz is home to perhaps the world’s only coca museum.) From the countryside to swanky urban hotels, it is chewed or brewed to stave off hunger or exhaustion or to ease the often debilitating effects of high-altitude life in the Andes. It is also “used by healers and in ceremonial offerings to the gods,” says Ana Maria Chavez, a coca seller in La Paz, who refers to her product as “the sacred leaf.” Pope John Paul II even drank coca tea on a 1988 visit to Bolivia. It is, says Chavez, “part of who we are.”

The problem is, it’s also considered the building block of broken lives in the rest of the world, where cocaine consumption and addiction remain rampant in developed regions like North America and Europe.

Bolivia’s holding its ground:

Even as the INCB was issuing its report, the Bolivian government was reaffirming its desire to increase Bolivia’s legal coca crop limit from 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) to 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres). The Bush Administration has warned that the latter move would put Bolivia in violation of its international agreements — it is “not consistent with Bolivia’s obligations,” said the State Department — and risk tens of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.

So get them hooked on aid, then threaten to pull it unless they bend to our will, and adopt our foolish approach to intoxicating substances, which is to ban (almost all of) them.

The sad thing is, our scorched earth drug policy in Latin America is a big reason why the entire continent hates us, and has turned to electing hostile political leaders like Chavez and Morales. Who can blame them? We send armed agents down there to march through their backyards, poison their fields with industrial-strength herbicides, and foment dangerous black markets and fund organized crime syndicates, all because our government can’t bear the thought its own citizens getting high. And of course, anyone who wants to can get high, anyway.

The tragedy is that poor countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru then lump all U.S. policy in with our shameful coca eradication efforts. So they reject free trade, privatization, and other liberal reforms, too. Which keeps them poor.

The amount of widespread destruction effected by the drug war is really mind-boggling.

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16 Responses to “Thousands of Years of Tradition Inhibiting the Drug War”

  1. #1 |  Stephen | 

    American-supported, UN-adopted anti-drug legislation is one of the reasons why the Netherlands’ drug policy is so schizophrenic. Even in Russia (hardly a hotbed of tolerance), legislators have admitted that their anti-drug laws were not enacted for domestic reasons, but rather at the behest of international anti-drug warriors.

  2. #2 |  Dale | 

    There’s nothing wrong with coca as such. Coca tea is a mild stimulant, better for you than regular tea or coffee because it doesn’t have caffeine. If people want to take a big batch of coca leaves and reduce it into highly potent drug, that’s their problem. Coca needs to be legalized along with marijuana.

  3. #3 |  Mike Schneider | 

    > The sad thing is, our scorched earth drug policy in Latin America
    > is a big reason why the entire continent hates us, and has turned
    > to electing hostile political leaders like Chavez and Morales. Who
    > can blame them?

    Cause-effect fallacy.

    Latin American has been electing screwball Marxist twits for a whole century completely independent of any appreciation for US policies in terms beyond envy.

    The magazine you write for even reviewed a book concerning this phenomenon awhile back:

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/27774.html

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    U.S. foreign policy has nothing to do with it. They hate us for our freedom. Thankfully, our government is working tirelessly to eliminate that source of antagonism.

  5. #5 |  JJH2 | 

    In point of fact, the Reason.com book review that Mike Schneider cites does not support his claim that:

    “Latin American has been electing screwball Marxist twits for a whole century completely independent of any appreciation for US policies in terms beyond envy.”

    In fact, while the review indicates the book is critical of the “dependency theory” of economic relations, it expressly highlights what a significant factor US military adventurism in the region has been for the course of South American domestic regimes:

    “Dependency theorists make much of Washington’s military interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean during the past half-century”

    Of course, it’s not JUST “dependency theorists” that make hay of the fact, because the injustice of American military adventurism abroad is not just (or even primarily) fodder for economic theories. It may be that dependency theorists are WRONG about the motivations behind US interventions — but of course, accepting that as true DOESN’T mean that American military intervention IS NOT one of the major reasons that South Americans dislike the US government. I don’t have to accept any particular economic theory behind the foreign intervention in my country to despise the fact of the intervention itself.

    Additionally, it’s worth noting that the property claims asserted by US companies in South America during the early to mid-20th centuries were most likely illegitimate, and predicated on prior collusion with outrageously corrupt regimes and politicos, themselves the more or less direct beneficiaries of the previous colonial regimes.

  6. #6 |  John Rice | 

    Mike–
    You claim “Latin American has been electing screwball Marxist twits for a whole century completely independent of any appreciation for US policies in terms beyond envy.”

    They should appreciate what policies–the Monroe Doctrine? Manifest Destiny? How we treat our own indigenous peoples?

    Your view of history and Latin American leaders would be hilarious if not so dangerous in perpetuating myopic myths.

    Latinos reject our control of them for self-control. They reject our fascism for socialism. They reject privatization of resources for corporate benefit, in favor of their own national benefit.

    And every one of their leaders in debates/speeches makes our leader look like the amoral idiot he truly is–the latest in a long bi-partisan line of USA leaders who have tried their best to subjugate/dominate everything to the South.

    They hate us because of the constant screwing they get about every time one of our leaders looks around and notices they’re still there and mostly free. Or when they decide to nationalize and take control of their own sovereign lands from corporate powers –Arbenz being one of the first to be brought down by our CIA.

    The following is a partial list of nations where US military “interventions” have taken place in Latin America: Argentina
    Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. Many of those nations we have attacked multiple times to change their leaders. And that doesn’t include the non-military ‘interventions’ we have instigated.

    What’s not to love about that, Mike? I mean, doesn’t everyone love an empire, or just those enjoying the benefits?

  7. #7 |  André Kenji | 

    And that´s not considering that almost all major criminal organizations in Latin America makes their money from drug trade. As a Brazilian all I can say is thank you.

  8. #8 |  CK | 

    “The Politics of Heroin in SouthEast Asia.” 1970’s
    “The Politics of Cocaine in South America.” As yet unwritten but only because sequels are never as funny as the original.
    And isn’t it about time we realized that the old model of free trade is not applicable in a world where capital and labour can freely flow to whichever region has the greatest absolute advantage?
    I do believe that the coca fields are in privatized hands in Bolivia.
    What other neo-con reforms would it benefit the people of South America to emulate?

  9. #9 |  witless chum | 

    Andre brings up the most important antidrug point to me.

    Even if teh drugs is bad for and will fry your brain until it’s only fit for a McMuffin, our current drug policy makes other (mostly browner) people pay the price for our love of the cocaine. Even if drugs are the worst scourge of hell, we in the U.S. ought to pay the consequences, not everyone between us and the Andes.

  10. #10 |  Thomas Jackson | 

    Ah imagine those evil Westerners who did away with human sacrifice and suttee. Well we can all rejoice in the concept that paradise is only a toke away. Now can we bring back time honored traditions like slavery, child labor, and human sacrifice that those awful Westerners forced the locals to give up!

  11. #11 |  Randy Bean | 

    Thomas Jackson, nice non sequitor. Bravo!

  12. #12 |  matt | 

    Dysfunctional government in Central & South America has been a tradition ever since the independence movements of the early 19th Century. Oligarchs hold the real power throughout the region, and corruption is endemic. The narcotics trade fits perfectly with this milieu. The combination of money and power only exacerbates the underlying problems of society. Anti Americanism is a long honored tradition that has little to do with the narcotics trade.

    Narcotraficantes are working to destabilize governments throughout the Americas, including our own. In addition one cannot rationally condone the manufacture of poison on the grounds that someone else is using it. If coca is an essential to life in those countries, that’s fine. But not here. The social, medical, and societal tolls are far too steep.

  13. #13 |  jim | 

    The failure of Latin America to prosper is primarily due to poor economic policy. Of course, the leaders will blame foreigners (ie America), but that’s just to duck responsibility. Most Latin American countries have over-regulated economies with weak property rights. Rule of law is weak, corruption is rampant, and the government controls too much of the economy. These are all poor policy choices which they could change tomorrow, but choose not to. It’s partly due to corrupt elites, but an ignorant public that supports failed left-wing Marxist economics is also a major cause.

  14. #14 |  Mcaristotle | 

    They can always turn down the aid if they think tradition means that much to them. They aren’t entitled to it y’know.

  15. #15 |  NikFromNYC | 

    “U.S. foreign policy has nothing to do with it. They hate us for our freedom. Thankfully, our government is working tirelessly to eliminate that source of antagonism.”

    Prohibition is freedom. War is peace. Pain is pleasure.

  16. #16 |  Of Interest « Thoughts on Freedom | 

    [...] More casualties in the War on [...]

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