During the last 20 years, about 850,000 people in Colombia lost their lives, largely as a result of organized crime and the armed conflict. This high human toll could have been avoided if proper remedial policies were put in place. But unfortunately this is not the case.
In Mexico, the drug war has killed close to 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006. The so-called “war on drugs” is now spreading into much of Latin America, where pseudo-civil wars are waged to sustain this illicit drug enterprise that yields between $18 billion and $39 billion a year. In Colombia alone the illegal drug trade is worth between $3 billion and $6 billion.
Now multiple state agencies in these countries are both legally and illegally tying into this web alongside the United States—the ultimate champion of this war. A New York Times article over the weekend pointed to one very problematic aspect of this political economy—the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in laundering money on behalf of narco-traffickers. Meanwhile, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has allowed traffickers to smuggle weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes that it would catch bigger fish. However, as a result it has lost track of hundred weapons that have in turn killed U.S. agents. This is not what I would call “smart” policy.
These agencies additionally keep the proceeds of the money laundering and weapons trafficking businesses, opening the door to mismanagement and corruption. With these policies, the DEA and the ATF are increasingly tied to a war that that is killing hundreds of thousands of people in Latin America and elsewhere, while completely eroding the key prerequisites for good governance.
For more from Nazih Richani's blog, Colombian Cuadernos, visit nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos, or see the NACLA Report July/August 2009, "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia."