Bolivian president Evo Morales says that exports to the U.S. have decreased 8% due to Bolivia’s decertification under The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). However, Morales expects that agreements with Venezuela, along with demand from Arab countries, will make up for the loss. (Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been strengthening his ties with Bolivia and Venezuela.)
Supposedly, the U.S. government frowns on the increasing influence of Chavez in Latin America. Supposedly, the U.S. government is worried about Iranian power around the world. Supposedly, the Obama administration is trying to turn over a new leaf with Latin America. So why would the U.S. government do something that alienates Latin American countries and sends them into the warm embrace of the very people they are trying to isolate?
It’s inexplicable, at least to any rational person, but U.S. drug policy has never been rational.
The United States is the leading consumer of cocaine. Rather than dealing with U.S. addiction and its related problems, our policy has been to go after the “source.” Now it takes many ingredients to make cocaine – sulfuric acid, kerosene, lime, sodium carbonate – but we have focused on going after the coca leaf.
Going after coca leaves may seem to make some sense, as the coca leaf is where the alkaloids that make you high are found. But coca is a bush grown by subsistence farmers, campesinos, who often have no other viable cash crop. And the coca leaf is an integral part of Andean culture and has been since at least 1800 B.C.
Unfortunately for Andeans and their traditions, a German chemist named Friedrich Gaedcke isolated the alkaloids in coca leaves. Andean coca growers were everyone’s best friend when coca was used in legal products like Coca Cola and cocaine laced wine. But once a handful of U.S. drug warriors decided that cocaine had to be stopped, we expected Andean people to turn their backs on thousands of years of culture and to just give up an integral part of their economy.
As the drug war ratcheted up, Andean people in Bolivia and elsewhere suffered the consequences. Bolivia was pressured to eradicate coca crops using herbicides and fungicides that damaged food crops, contaminated water sources, and made people sick. Human rights abuses escalated as pressure was put on Bolivia to militarize their anti-drug efforts and to impose increasingly draconian penalties on people involved in the coca and cocaine trades.
In addition to interdiction and eradication, drug warriors from the U.S. promoted crop substitution programs. Loans were provided to farmers to grow crops other than coca and special trade deals were arranged to help open up U.S. markets to legal Andean goods. The ATPDEA was part of that effort.
All of our efforts to stop drugs at the “source” have been an abysmal failure. Substitute crops were no replacement for coca bushes which need little care and bring in far more money. The only things U.S. imposed drug policies were effective at was alienating Andean people. Nobody knows that better than Evo Morales, former head of the Chapare coca growers union.
Morales has taken the position that Bolivia should say no to cocaine, but yes to coca. His refusal to acquiesce to all U.S. demands when it comes to drug policy has contributed to a testy relationship with the U.S. and to Bolivia’s continued decertification.
Now the decertification doesn’t really matter much. It effects only a small amount of trade. And the U.S. officials know damned well that, even if Morales did everything they want, it wouldn’t do anything to resolve the drug problem in the United States. So it makes absolutely no sense that we would take action to piss off Bolivians (and their allies) and drive a further wedge between the U.S. and other countries of the Americas.
But sense and drug policy don’t seem to go together in the United States.