(NaturalNews) The U.S. "War on Drugs" is despised by almost everyone except for those who benefit from it (the DEA, prison corporations, paramilitary contractors, etc.). In South America, the War on Drugs is especially disliked for many good reasons, but to understand those reasons, you first have to grasp the importance of the coca plant and its history throughout South America.
The coca plant is a cultural treasure of South America. Used in both indigenous medicine and cultural rituals, coca is a plant with an abundance of healing and nutritional qualities. As a significant portion of the South American population (in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, etc.) lives at high elevation, use of the coca plant for enhanced stamina and endurance has played a vital role throughout the history of the South American people.
Many North Americans think that coca has only one use: To be refined into a potent narcotic known as cocaine, but in fact this is not an indigenous use of the plant -- that is an abuse of the gifts this plant has to offer. The isolation, extraction and potency magnification of the original plant alkaloids to the point of toxicity is not the way this plant has been traditionally used throughout South American history.
Coca tea is very much a part of the culture, and it's coca tea that will keep you alive and conscious when you're scaling a mountain at 14,000 feet and feel like you're going to lose consciousness. I've been on numerous hikes through Ecuador and Peru that would have been impossible without the medicinal support of locally grown coca tea.
Coca tea is much like green tea: It's made from whole plant leaves, it has a green taste, and it's highly medicinal. Unlike cocaine, coca tea isn't addictive and is perfectly safe to consume. As a medicinal tea, it's also perfectly legal virtually everywhere in the Americas except for the United States -- a country with a bizarre fascination for throwing people in prison for smoking, drinking or just carrying unrefined herbs plucked right from the earth.
The prohibition of the use of the coca leaf except for medical or scientific purposes was established by the United Nations in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The coca leaf is listed on Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention together with cocaine and heroin. The Convention determined that "The Parties shall so far as possible enforce the uprooting of all coca bushes which grow wild. They shall destroy the coca bushes if illegally cultivated" (Article 26), and that, "Coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention" (Article 49, 2.e).
This is much the same way that the Spanish conquistadors systematically wiped out the planting and harvesting of quinoa, outlawing it and arresting or killing anyone caught planting it. Western European imperialists have always pursued efforts to destroy the native plants used by Central and South American cultures.
Dropping chemicals on family farms
As is typical of U.S. interventionist policies, the United States has spent many hundreds of millions of dollars (and many years) financing aerial drug raids against coca farms located in Colombia. This involves the spraying of highly toxic chemicals directly onto family farms, homes and even small children who happen to be present at the time of the spraying. Although much of this spraying is "officially" limited only to farms in Colombia, borders have been crossed and a significant portion of the poison has landed on family farms in Northern Ecuador (http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=1988).
This obviously makes people angry. Imagine waking up one morning to find a large aircraft spraying cancer-causing chemicals all over your farm where you and your family are growing a perfectly legal crop of coca tea to be sold in the local markets. In one swoop, your crops are destroyed, your land is poisoned, and your health is compromised. Your children may grow up with cancer from inhaling the chemicals, and your farmland will never be free of the toxins unleashed from the U.S. aircraft flying above. This is the reality faced by thousands of families in Ecuador and Colombia who are merely trying to survive as farmers. (http://www.tni.org/detail_page.phtml?page=dr...)
Anti-drug support operations have been conducted by U.S. military personnel operating out of a military base in Northern Ecuador called Manta Air Base. For many years, the U.S. had leased this military base from Ecuador, but when the lease recently came up for renewal, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa wisely decided not to renew the lease. U.S. military personnel finally evacuated the base only yesterday, in fact (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-09/19...). This has effectively limited the forward base location for the U.S. military, so it negotiated a deal with Colombia to use Colombian air bases to continue similar operations.
Colombia's granting of such permission to the U.S. earned the country widespread criticism from other South American nations (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content...). U.S. interventionism is widely despised throughout the region, and any country that allows the U.S. military to use its bases for supporting air raids on regional farmers is seen as giving in to the demands of the United States of America -- a nation with a long and dark history of meddling in South American affairs, usually with disastrous results.
The U.S., of course, insists it has the right to use any weapon in the "war on drugs." They're protecting the American people, after all, right? Not exactly: The majority of Americans are also against the war on drugs -- a bureaucratic police state policy that wastes billions of dollars a year in a failed effort to disrupt the supply of recreational drugs (which the American people continue to demand). It is the American demand for such drugs that drives the processing and importation of cocaine, not the existence of coca farms in Colombia (or elsewhere). By destroying a limited number of such farms, the U.S. war on drugs merely drives up the price of cocaine from other sources, encouraging more people to enter the business in the hopes of cashing in.
These actions also earn the USA a terrible reputation among the people in Ecuador and Colombia who see themselves as victims of a rogue imperialist nation that's trying to blame South American nations for problems that are really rooted in North American culture. The drug problem in the USA, for example, is rooted in the culture of America, not in merely the available supply of specific plants from Colombia. Even if you eradicate all the coca plants in one nation, you're still left with a street drug problem back in the states, and those customers will find another source of drugs from a different source.
Maybe it's time the USA stopped trying to blame its drug problem on other countries and started taking responsibility for its own issues by, for example, ending the senseless prosecution of people over harmless drugs like coca tea or small quantities of marijuana. Regulating and taxing the milder recreational drugs would be a far better way to manage recreational drug use than merely arresting and imprisoning anyone found to be engaging in recreational drug use. (Besides, the U.S. can no longer afford its oversized prison system anyway...)
USA's Drug War out of South America
As an American citizen living in South America, I would like to see the USA end its wasteful drug war efforts in Colombia and other nations. Its paramilitary presence in South America only causes tensions to rise, and the USA has accomplished very little in the region that could be called positive or constructive. From the poisoning of the Amazon rainforest by U.S. oil giants to the influx of pharmaceuticals and American junk foods, the impact of the USA in South America has been extremely destructive.
And that doesn't even count the impact of economic imperialism and the handling of World Bank loans, for example. Read the outstanding book, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" to get a shocking look at the truth behind the economic imperialism that has taken place between in Central and South America over the last few decades.
Even now, the fact that the United States continues to create (print) billions of dollars in fiat currency is causing the value of the dollar to drop, resulting in increasing economic hardship for the Ecuadorian people who must now buy bread and other food staples with increasingly-worthless dollars (Ecuador is on the U.S. dollar). The more the United States inflates its own currency, the worse the economic impact on not just the American people, but the Ecuadorian people as well.
(Note: This is why I am publicly predicting Ecuador will shift to a different currency within five years.)
Ecuadorian President Correa was right to end the USA's lease at the Manta Air Base. The U.S. would be far better off if it paid more attention to the source of its drug problems at home and stopped trying to interfere with the activities of developing nations that it neither respects nor truly understands.
There are many positive economic exchanges between Ecuador and the United States, of course. Ecuador is a top source for bananas and chocolate, among other exports, and it imports many items from the United States as well. But the U.S. "war on drugs" is a dark stain on the relationship between these two countries, and as long as the United States continues to bully South American nations into helping it fight this fabricated war, it will be looked upon with scorn by many people throughout the region.
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