Drugs

Selling the Drug War for $3 Billion? How the Pentagon Will Privatize an International War on Drugs

In part of a move to transfer tactics from the "war on terror" to the "war on drugs", the Pentagon is paying private security firms millions to fight the drug war internationally.

 There is an increasing perception that the war on drugs is simply unwinnable. The scandalous death toll and socioeconomic impact so far suffered in the countries implicated either as producers or as transit routes has led to such assessment.

Inadequate, inefficient combat strategies and a continuously renewed global net of corruption are part of the complex problem.

Unlike terrorists or guerrilla groups, cartels are not motivated by ideology or ideals but rather by profit goals; and of course, by the ambition of power. The cartels' multileveled chains of command, recurrent reorganization, consistent recruiting, international criminal alliances, increasing lethal force and sophistication, make it an omnipresent enemy: hard to target, and even harder to undermine if the battle is being fought with artillery alone. Yet, the United States has spent billions fighting such a foe during the last four decades, mainly, through no other strategy than the use of weaponry, and war tactics. The 'heart' of the criminal organizations -their finances- is mysteriously left untouched.

It is all engraved on the records of the very much criticized U.S. drug policy, even prior to President Richard Nixon first coining of the term "War on Drugs" in 1971. No substantial results have been achieved since then.

The Pentagon's Counter Narco-Terrorism Program Office (CNTPO) -a technically unknown entity created in 1995- just announced a $3 billion contract for U.S.-funded anti-narcotics operations around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, and now also Mexico.

The bids were open to private security firms starting Nov. 9 and the budget breakdown by category includes as much as $950 million for "operations, logistics, and minor construction," up to $975 million for training foreign forces, $875 million for "information" tasks, and $240 million for "program and programmatic support," as posted in the official announcement.

The Pentagon's and Department of Defense strategy though the CNTPO, is part of the plan for the privatization of military assistance and intelligence services, which turns to be a very profitable business, and part of the U.S. secretive move to transfer tactics from the so called "war on terror", to the "war on drugs."

According to the description given by the US federal government, the CNTPO seeks to provide a wide variety of security services, which, in Mexico's case, would include instruction for pilots and mechanics of UH-60 (Black Hawk,) Schweizer 333 or OH-58 and Bell 206 helicopters; development and delivery of curriculum, provide all personnel, equipment and materials, and conduct training for night vision helicopter pilots and crew. Other contracts would include delivery of equipment and training to exchange information on drug trafficking activity.

The Mexican government hasn't addressed thus far, the potential presence of private foreign firms teaching on how to patrol the many conflicted areas of its territory, where the drug war, has resulted in 50,000 deaths in the last five years.

But, as unknown as it is, and despite the fact of not having a physical office inside The Pentagon, the CNTPO does have some history: in 2009, this entity unsuccessfully tried to award a contract worth $1 billion to the Blackwater military services corporation. According to Wired News, Blackwater employees had been accused of corruption, theft and human rights violations through service of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The scandal led to a change of name. Blackwater is now Xe Services LLC.

Beyond the specific case of Blackwater, some military experts have expressed concern that mercenaries under the identity of private corporations could win lucrative contracts, exceeding their boundaries into a wide variety of activities, ranging from servicing criminals as a source of intelligence, to the violation of civil and human rights.

In Mexico, many analysts have the strong belief -based in supposed hard evidence- that some mercenaries already operate in the country, paid by wealthy civilians, governors or other authorities, to do the 'dirty work' of what is called a 'social clean-up' that intends to eliminate individuals or small groups of people presumably working or being forced to work for 'x' or 'y' gang or cartel. In that sense, the argument is that foreign mercenaries disguised as security service providers would just worsen the existent climate of violence and fear.

It is also import to recognize, there are some structural contradictions that are critical for this so called drug war.

As it happened in Colombia, past efforts that achieved a significant decline of drug trafficking inevitably pushing it into other latitudes; in Mexico, the combat against cartels has caused the criminal activity to move and expand to other states, and even to Central America and the Caribbean. But in this 'route' rearrange cycle, is just inevitable, that eventually, the traffickers will return to the regions where they once had their business hubs.

Derived of that situation, there are some questions to ask. Is the U.S. enforcing the right drug policy? Is Mexico congruent with pushing the drug war to the limit, being aware that a gigantic consumers' market is at the front door? What is the perspective for a long term? Are there alternatives? Should we consider all of them into the discussion? What is the cost? What is the benefit of each alternative?

Increased incarceration rates and smuggling crackdown efforts, have not diminished the number of illicit drug users in the U.S., which is conservatively over 20 million. And although drug treatment is essential to any demand reduction, is not enough. The endeavor must begin with prevention. Because of all of this, drug policy can't be isolated. Economic and healthcare policies are also drug policy. And in this case, foreign policy becomes also drug policy. Will our governments make them ever coincide? That is the ultimate question.

Meanwhile, the CNTPO will begin the disbursement of the contracts' cash in August 2012. That will be, again, $3 billion.

Aurelia Fierros is an independent, veteran journalist with more than two decades experience. She has been a reporter, script writer, producer and host for TV and Radio newscasts, as well as columnist and article writer for print media. She has participated in several political campaigns as an elections beat reporter, as communications strategy advisor and as a speech writer.