Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti
“It’s shameful: we are now officially a nation of narco-traffickers,” said a member of the opposition to Evo Morales, in reference to the announced withdrawal of Bolivia from the United Nations’ Convention on Narcotic Drugs. He didn’t see the loose ends of history, nor admit that in the U.S., the republicans continue to use the criminalization of coca leaf as a pretext for militarization.
The protocol that includes coca leaf among the narcotics was approved based on a report that had not a bit of science but a lot of politics. It was a criminalization made by whites that affected only the indigenous peoples of Peru and Bolivia. The report was produced by people who went to the mentioned Andean countries in 1950, at a time when both were governed by the Right. The broad social groups that it affected were not consulted, given that, at least in Bolivia, the indigenous people were integrated into civil society under conditions of servitude. They were not well represented politically –far less, defended–, and therefore did not make decisions.
The ridiculous report was based on interviews of non-indigenous people who did not chew coca leaf. They rejected the latter, not only because the prohibition would not affect them, but also because they did not know the subject matter at hand. It was, accordingly, a unilateral report, racist and dishonest, that demonized coca leaf as much as the indigenous people who chew it; so obviously biased that the international community decided to interpret it with caution in the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs of 1961.
Eight years later, Richard Nixon reaches the White House. Among his policies, he imposes the right-wing dictatorships on Latin America, declares a worldwide war on drugs in a speech to Congress on July 14, 1969, and launches formally his “War on Drugs” in January 1971. He imposes the latter on the international community, and, the following year, on May 25, 1972, the United Nations begins to implement the criminalization of coca leaf, amending the convention of 1961 so as to include the leaf among the prohibited drugs and setting a period of 25 years for the prohibition to take effect.
Nixon’s plan had the apparent objective of solving abroad the domestic U.S. drug problem, but it carried the hidden intention of intervening politically and militarily in the countries involved. The dictatorship of Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez in Bolivia, begun on August 21, 1971, obediently applied Nixon’s policies; the “war on drugs” was no more than a farce, as the US covered up and protected the notorious right-wing narco-traffickers with the political goal of financing its dictatorships, which counted among their mandates the extermination of the Left. In his book “The Great White Lie,” former DEA agent Michael Levine describes in detail the hypocrisy and falsity of that pretended war on drugs.
After the democratic opening in Latin America, supported by the Democrat Jimmy Carter, he was unfortunately succeeded by Ronald Reagan, another Republican who continued Nixon’s “anticommunist” campaign and the falsehood of the war on drugs. During the 80s and the 90s, the Washington Consensus imposed neoliberalism on Latin America, and, while transnational corporations plundered Bolivia, the war on drugs was reduced to a show of repressing growers in front of the cameras while covering up the true narco-traffickers. The escalation of repression was justified based on the approaching end of the 25-year period to make effective the total prohibition of coca leaf. Washington already had imposed Law 1008 on Bolivia, criminalizing surplus leaf production, but in 2001 the period expired as well for chewing the leaf.
From that abuse and falsehood arose the peaceful resistance of the indigenous coca growers and the political career of Evo Morales, who as an anti-imperialist president ended the diplomatic relationship of submission to Washington’s will, changed the Constitution of his country, and included in it the defense of the indigenous farmer and of the coca leaf they had always chewed.
The subjection to the Single Convention on Narcotics became automatically unconstitutional, and Morales’ government began a campaign in defense of the acullicu (the chewing of the leaf). The community of nations supported him, although some countries waited cautiously the decision of the United States. There was expectation, because in the White House was President Barack Obama, from the same Democratic Party as Jimmy Carter, which represents the center-left and defends the interests of the people. The silence was prolonged, and finally the Department of State decided to veto Bolivia’s motion, which leads the undecided to follow suit, making a total of 18 countries out of 192 vetoing the motion.
In Washington, a last effort was made to persuade the Obama administration to withdraw its objection. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Andean Information Network (AIN) wrote a letter clearly explaining to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the injustice of the said convention. A total of 19 representative organizations adhered to the letter, as well persons interested and knowledgeable in the matter, listed on 12 pages attached to the letter. The answer was silence and Bolivia’s petition was defeated.
Without a doubt, the Obama administration is finding it very hard to change the foreign policy of the United States beyond its superficial aspects. The obstacle is the power of the Republican pack of hounds that gained space in the mid-term elections and that has expressed its intention to treat “narco-trafficking” as a matter of national security, expanding the “success” of Plan Colombia, which means the proliferation of United States military bases in the Southern Cone.
Ironically, as evidence that not everyone in the United States is imperialist, the same day that the media published Bolivia’s decision to withdraw from the convention, in order to adhere again the following year, but objecting to the criminalization of coca leaf, the New York Times published “Call off the global drug war,” written by former president Jimmy Carter, which lists the logical reasons to end the war against drugs. Bolivia has done the right thing to adapt its struggle against drugs to its new Constitution. The Obama administration still faces the challenge of applying President Carter’s logic and coherence to its own war against drugs, over the power of the Republican pack of hounds that insists on militarizing the planet. It’s a matter of commons sense, which is not so common within Republican ideology.