How the US Helps Escalate Latin America's Deadly Drug War

 For the last decade - ever since George W. Bush's stated intent to focus on Latin America in foreign affairs was undone by a certain series of hijackings - Central and South American countries have generally been moving to the left, and away from a Washington that hasn't been very interested in them.

The conspicuous exception has been Colombia, where a long-standing guerrilla war and the politics of the War on Drugs have made its far right government the region's only reliable ally of Washington. (And of Israel, but that's another post.) When a newly elected leftist government in Ecuador refused to renew the lease of the huge Manta military base in 2009, it was to Colombia that the US military ran. That was made possible in large part because a populace wanting a respite from the violence of drug cartels supported a government willing to crack down, even if it meant supporting the people responsible for the region's worst human rights record.

Mexico has also been ruled by the conservative PAN party since the controversial election of 2006, when Felipe Calderon became president with a huge assist from the Bush administration. But Calderon would not have been close enough to steal the election in the first place without the issue of the growth of the Mexican drug cartels, and since then, an American-backed effort to crack down on them has resulted in epic levels of violence, especially in northern border states.

The drug cartels blossomed in Mexico after their competitors were pressured in Colombia. Now, the free market is shifting again, and it looks like America's insatiable appetite for drugs is about to produce another reactionary government in Latin America.

In election results Sunday Gen. Otto Perez Molina, a key player in Guatemala's genocidal violence of the 1980s, won going away with 37 percent of the vote in a 12-person field. He will face the second-place finisher, Manuel Baldizon, in a November runoff for the Guatemalan presidency. Perez Molina's campaign logo is an iron fist.

Why would a country scarred with, proportionately, one of the worst genocides of a genocide-friendly 20th Century, elect one of the perpetrators to lead it? Because Mexican drug cartels, responding to pressure from the American-supported Mexican Army, have moved across the border into northern Guatemala, and voters are scared:


Voters waiting to cast ballots from the capital to the countryside over the weekend said they were motivated mostly by the fear of violent crime, which has become epidemic, with a murder rate yielding as many or more deaths per day than during the war....

“It’s like Colombia in 2001 and 2002 when insecurity and crime and violence were the dominant reality of daily life,” said Cynthia Arnson, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. “People want order.”

They want order badly enough that they are willing to empower people whose experience is in indiscriminate killing. Thus, we have the irony. Washington has generally been lukewarm at best to the left-leaning governments that have, compared to their own past and to the global economy, ushered in a period of relative prosperity in Latin America. But the exceptions are the countries most plagued by criminal activity that is a direct result of the black market created by the American War on Drugs (and, in the case of Mexico and Guatemala, particularly the prohibition of marijuana, a staggeringly lucrative industry).

The Drug War has been a spectacular failure in the US; billions of dollars have been squandered, usage rates are at best unaffected, millions of nonviolent drug users have been arrested over the years, and teens can now buy pot more easily than alcohol or tobacco. But the violence of our drug-dependent justice system is nothing compared to the much more lethal violence unleashed in Mexico, and now in Guatemala, as a result of our policy obsession. And that policy obsession is, by happy coincidence, producing the only governments in Latin America that mirror the region's past oligarchal kowtowing to Washington.

Guatemalans are desperate enough to knowingly elect a war criminal, in large part because of our actions in this country, and most Americans neither notice nor care.


Booman Tribune / By Geov Parrish

Posted at September 13, 2011, 5:39am

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