05/13/08 - Sanho Tree

Sanho Tree reports on situation in Colombia, Phil Smith reports on situation in Mexico + Drug War Facts with Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies
Download: Audio icon COL_051308.mp3


Century of Lies, May 13, 2008

The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

Dean Becker: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Today we’ll here a report from Phil Smith about his recent trip to Mexico. We’ll hear the Drug War Facts from Doug McVay. But first up let’s tune into an interview I did with Sanho Tree about the situation in Colombia, Central and South America.

I’m sick of the nay-sayers, those who say the Drug Truth Network programs are biased. I’ve asked the heads and the spokesman of every agency I can think of, the CIA, DEA, FBI, Justice Department, Border Patrol, Customs--lots of others to come on our shows to clarify when and how this drug war will succeed. They have always and absolutely refused to participate.

That’s why I’m so glad to call upon excellent spokesmen like Sanho Tree, he’s a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and he’s visited Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico and other Central and South American countries numerous times and I’m proud to welcome him to our show.

Hello, Sanho.

Sanho Tree: Hi, Dean.

Dean Becker: Sanho, what’s your most recent travels?

Sanho Tree: Well, I was down in Colombia last Summer in the border regions with Ecuador, where that recent attack took place.

Dean Becker: Right, and I keep seeing more and more horrific headlines in the Washington Post, the New York Times, probably every paper across America about the violence that’s flaring in Mexico and about the situation in Colombia where the authorities, the officials have been caught with their pants down in bed with the traffickers and the paramilitary. Tell us your perceptions.

Sanho Tree: Yeah, I mean it’s really quite shocking when you consider that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is being debated in Washington and there’s very little mention of all this other stuff that’s going on in Colombia.

It’s the most dangerous country in the world to be a labor union organizer, more of them were assassinated in Colombia last year than all the other countries in the world put together. The Bush Administration and the Colombian government are both arguing that they need to pass this free trade agreement because that will help farmers grow other crops besides coca and poppy.

But that’s actually quite misleading because the people who are growing these illicit crops are the farmers who live in the very remote areas of Colombia. They don’t have access to roads and infrastructure for export crops. And so that’s why they’re growing these illicit crops.

Now, who’s going to benefit from this free trade agreement? It’s people who have obtained the best farms. The farms that are near highways and roads and other export infrastructure. Those are largely owned by the Colombian elite and also by drug traffickers, both paramilitaries and narco-traffickers have committed land grabs over the past few decades so they’ve committed massacres, forcing peasant farmers and indigenous peoples off of these lands and they converted them into cattle grazing lands, cotton production, African palm for bio-fuels to fill our gas tanks now.

So there’s all these reasons and incentives for these groups, many of them illegal, to try to seize these lands and money launder. So they take the drug profits, they invest that into land and they come out with legal exports so they can continue to profit off of that. And until you sort out who legitimately owns these lands that’s going to be benefitting from this free trade agreement, we are helping drug traffickers launder their money. Let’s be very clear about that.

This is not helping small peasant farmers in these very remote areas. There’s--a Colombian paramilitary leader just got sentenced to, I think, more than five decades for participating in massacres, the military’s constantly being implicated, a Colombian general just got sentenced because he was complicit in an army massacre of Colombian counter-narcotics police. They were actually working for the drug lords so they assassinated the counter-narcotics police.

Dean Becker: Well, then there’s also, I’ve heard, is it the brother or brother-in-law of President Uribe was also under investigation?

Sanho Tree: Yeah, his cousin, Mario Uribe who’s a confidante of his. He tried to seek asylum in the Costa Rican embassy and they said ‘No way.’ He was being, is being investigated for ties to Colombian paramilitary death squads.

Dean Becker: And I’ve also heard that perhaps even dozens of members of the Colombian congress are, at least, implicated if not convicted.

Sanho Tree: Yes. Dozens are already in jail, others are under investigation right now and they’re almost overwhelmingly members of President Uribe’s party or his allied supporters.

Dean Becker: You know, I talk--the end of one of my shows I say it’s possible the drug lords run both sides of this equation. It’s starting to look more and more like I’ve nailed it. What do you think?

Sanho Tree: Well, yeah, I mean there’s--what’s been going on for over a year now in Colombia called the ‘para-politics’ scandal, that is to say the right wing paramilitary death squads, the AUC, who are supposedly in a demobilization process but they’re remobilizing under new names now--they’ve been working in cahoots with the Colombian military and Colombian government for many years, sometimes it’s closer relationships, sometimes it’s more distant, but the fact is they have this convenient relationship with each other and it’s reached all levels of Colombian society.

So the scandal is about very high-level politicians working with these death squads and helping them, whether it’s killing their opponents or drug trafficking.

Dean Becker: We had a scandal here in Texas, just a couple of days ago it was reported that the guards and the warden were thrown out of a nearby prison for smuggling drugs and tobacco into the prisoners and it’s just another example of the corruption that’s inherent in this drug war. I mean it’s in Colombia, it’s in Mexico where they’re dying by the thousands now, where they’re killing police chiefs--what’s the upside to this drug war?

Sanho Tree: (laughter) It’s a good jobs program for drug warriors. Back in 1998 the House of Representatives voted on and passed overwhelmingly the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act which was an election year bit of, you know, silly season.

I think the target date was several years ago, they were supposed to have eliminated drugs from the western hemisphere. Right? So if we can’t even keep drugs out of our own prisons where we supposedly have total control, how on earth are we going to make it disappear from South America, much less the rest of the world?

Dean Becker: Many people are condemning these Latin American leaders, calling them ‘communist’ and ‘socialist’ and off track from the democratic path. What’s your thoughts?

Sanho Tree: It’s extremely unfortunate and it’s an attempt by Washington to try to tar all those governments with Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric. And it is true that Chavez does shoot from the lip and has a very big mouth, but he does not speak for these other governments and, in fact, there’s a fair amount of resentment in a lot of the societies that ‘Who is this guy claiming to speak on our behalf?’

Particularly in countries that are majority indigenous populations. And so, I, myself, have mixed feelings about Chavez and Venezuela. On the one hand some of his policies are OK and long overdue. On the other hand there’s some really troubling tendencies on his part.

Dean Becker: I really enjoyed my time with you in Bolivia. We were with Witness For Peace and we got to tour the major towns of Bolivia but there’s a situation going on in the Santa Cruz area. Talk of secession. What’s your thoughts about that?

Sanho Tree: There’s a lot of sentiment in that department, that province, which is about a quarter of the population of Bolivia. It’s a very large province. They want autonomy. They want to pull away from the central government and this initiative that was held, this referendum that was held last Sunday, was basically sponsored by the elite of Santa Cruz, several families actually who are wanting to hold onto their privileges.

They hate President Evo Morales. There’s a lot of racism involved in this particular referendum. And you have a lot of elite, you know, light skinned Bolivians saying ‘I’m not going to take any orders from that damned Indian’ referring to President Morales.

There’s a story in the New York Times today about American land owners fighting the land reforms in Bolivia and one of the Americans says ‘Evo Morales hasn’t even completed high school,’ speaking very contemptuously of him.

And yet, what he’s doing is basically going to effect a very, very, very tiny minority of the people in Santa Cruz, the most elite, the most elite of people who have vast land holdings that aren’t being used, so it’s idle land and they’re holding onto it for no particular reason, that was probably obtained through, shall we say, less than savory means over the past five centuries.

There’s a lot of historical accounting to be done here and they feel very threatened by that and they’re afraid of losing their privileges. So that’s the sentiment. When you and I were there the most popular screen saver on cell phones in Santa Cruz was a picture of Evo Morales with a bullet through his head.

That’s the sentiment in that region. And the other thing they want to keep, apart from their large land holdings, is the revenues from the natural gas that’s there. There’s an enormous deposit of natural gas and President Morales wants to use it for the benefit of the entire country and the local elites want to keep it for themselves. Or more of it for themselves.

Dean Becker: There’s talk about the need for U.S. involvement, you know, down in South and Central America, that somehow we’ve got to keep them in line. And there was even more talk in that regard recently when some border raiders went into Ecuador to kill some Colombian paramilitaries...

Sanho Tree: Guerillas, actually.

Dean Becker: Guerillas, OK.

Sanho Tree: This is about a little over a month ago now, where the Colombian military went across the border and attacked a rebel camp in Ecuador. Now, these camps should not be there. It’s wrong for one country to host rebels attacking a neighboring country.

But the jungles are incredibly dense down there and it’s very difficult to track down where these guerillas are, whether it’s on the Colombian side of the river or the Ecuadorian side of the river, and it’s important to keep in mind that the Colombian government has had more than four decades and billions of dollars in U.S. aid and some of the best intelligence we can provide them and they still haven’t been able to track down and eradicate the guerillas in their own sovereign territory.

So they’re saying that Ecuador should have spotted them right away and ejected them and that’s simply not happening. It’s a huge, huge land mass down there and the jungles are extremely thick and it’s very difficult to detect anything down there.

Dean Becker: I think it was you that informed me that the amount of land necessary to grow all the coca the world could ever need, only needs to be a plot about the size of the city of Houston. Is that right?

Sanho Tree: Yeah. Basically, if you take the State Department’s peak estimate for coca cultivation which is about 2001, about 220,000 hectares or about 849 square miles--that’s all the coca needed to supply the world for traditional use by indigenous peoples, for processing into cocaine for use in medicine, for Coca Cola, for--plus the illegal cocaine that’s seized and destroyed--all that can be grown in 849 square miles.

What that means is, if you take the square root of 849, all of that coca can be grown on a square plot of land 29 miles on each side. Now, in South America alone there’s more than two and a half million acres of land suitable for growing coca. And so what we’ve seen recently is evidence of coca plantations being set up in Brazil now. So this is migrating all over the region.

And it’s our, we’ve been playing ‘whack-a-mole’ with coca cultivation so we smack really hard on southern Colombian this time and it spread to all the different regions of Colombia as well as the neighboring countries as well as the new countries, like Brazil now. So the Amazon basin is likely the growing area for future expansion.

Dean Becker: Well, and that’s what I saw in a recent story that, because of our efforts, our spraying of millions of gallons of Round-Up we have moved some of these peasants off their land but we push them into more remote sections of the Amazon or even onto national parks. And yet, as I understand it, there’s more coca than ever before, more cocaine than ever before.

Sanho Tree: Exactly. The way our policy makers approach this problem is from the wrong end of the telescope, if you will. Places like Colombia and Afghanistan do not have drug problems so much as they have human problems.

You have this excess population that can’t support itself. There’s no viable legal economy that will support them and so they’re driven out of desperation to feed their families and growing illicit crops means they’re going to be able to get a lot more money for their crops than growing potatoes and pineapples which they can’t transport anyway because they don’t have vehicles, they don’t have roads, they can’t get access to markets.

So growing illicit crops makes good economic sense. It’s a ‘no-brainer’ for them. And we can spray and eradicate and lock these people up all we want but if, at the end of the day, if we don’t figure out what should these people do once we get rid of their illicit crops--how are they supposed to sustain themselves and their families--and no government official has been able to answer that question for me.

It’s not their problem, they say, it’s some other department’s, some other agency’s problem, and so they’ll continue to grow because they have no choice but to grow these crops.

Dean Becker: All right. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Sanho Tree, a Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Sanho, share your website with the listeners.

Sanho Tree: Sure. It’s www.IPS-DC.Org.

(DTN promo) This is Gustavo de Greiff, former Attorney General of Colombia, talking about the drug problem to the Drug Truth Network.

Doug McVay: The London newspaper The Independent reported this week that the French Environment Minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, is introducing a measure to require alcoholic drink outlets and bars which stay open until two in the morning to install breathalyzers. Bar patrons would have to use the device before leaving in order to assess their level of drunkenness.

The announcement came at the end of a weekend which saw 19 people die on French roads. It is believed that at least six of the deaths involved alcohol. According to the Independent, the breathalyzer rule has already been tested in 350 bars and clubs in western France. Minister Borloo hopes to extend the program across the entire country by the end of summer.

The Minister also endorsed the broader use of breath alcohol ignition interlocks. These are devices wired into a car's electrical system. Before a car will start, the driver has to blow into the breathalyzer. If the blood alcohol concentration is found to be over some preset number, often between point oh two (.02) and point oh four (.04), the car won't start.

To prevent possible cheating, these devices require a breath sample from the driver at random times after the engine has started. Failure is noted electronically, and sets off an alarm which only shuts down when the engine is turned off. Critics complain that the devices don't work as well as advertised.

In fact, a study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles did find that after interlocks were ordered to be installed in vehicles belonging to first-time drunk driving offenders, the devices were not effective in reducing DUI convictions or incidents. The study also found that offenders with a lock installed had a higher risk of crashing, possibly because they were distracted by having to perform a breath test while driving.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org.

[MPP promo]

Host: Welcome to the National Drug Abuse Quiz. Today’s question: which drug has never caused a fatal overdose? Caffeine, marijuana, or Tylenol?



Susan: Tylenol!

Host: No.



Frank: Caffeine?

Host: Wrong. Marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose.


Surprised? Find out what else the government is hiding. Visit the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation and JoinMPP.Org or call 1-877-JOIN-MPP.

Dean Becker: Regular listeners to the Drug Truth Network are perhaps most familiar with our guest from his timely Corrupt Cop stories but he also reports to us when he travels around the world investigating the subject of drug prohibition. And he’s just returned from Mexico on a fact finding mission. I’d like to welcome Mr. Phil Smith.

Phil Smith: Thank you, Dean.

Dean Becker: Phil, tell us about your trip. How long were you down there? What did you set out to do? What were you able to accomplish?

Phil Smith: Well, I was in Mexico for a little under three weeks. I spent a week in Mexico City meeting with people who are involved with some legislation, there’s a marijuana decriminalization bill that’s in congress.

There’s also a freshly introduced medical marijuana bill in congress. So I met with the congresswoman who is pushing those bills and some of her supporters. Then I spent a week in Sinaloa, that’s a state in the northwestern part of Mexico. Probably most people know it best for being the home of Mazatlan, the big resort on the Pacific coast, but I didn’t go to Mazatlan.

I went to the state capitol, Culiacan, for a couple of reasons. I had hoped to be able to go up into some of the marijuana or opium producing areas in the mountains above Culiacan. That didn’t happen. The people who would have helped me do that declined to help me do that. They said it was too scary, too dangerous. So I didn’t get to go and talk to the farmers.

The other reason I went to Culiacan, however, was to attend a conference, a forum put on by an local alternative news-weekly called Ríodoce. And it was a forum about drug prohibition, Plan Mérida which is the proposed U.S. $1.4 billion aid package to the Mexican government to help them fight the cartels. And the conference also dealt with alternatives to prohibition including decriminalization.

And it had some high powered people there. Ethan Nadleman from the Drug Policy Alliance showed up for that as did Carlos Montemayor, one of Mexico’s leading intellectuals, also a bunch of other experts on various aspects of the drug trade were there. So that was a very interesting conference that I wrote about for the Drug War Chronicle.

Last Wednesday, that was the day the conference got over, about 6:30 in the evening, at about the same time the conference got over, there was a major outbreak of narco-violence on the streets of the capitol city there. It was provoked when a joint army and federal preventive police patrol attempted to raid a house belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel.

That unleashed a series of gun battles throughout the evening that night that left four cops dead and two cartel members. It also sparked renewed fighting in the city on Friday, two days later, a week ago, in which more police were killed, more cartel members were killed.

It was really quite wild. You had things like 15 vehicle convoys of cartel gunmen cruising the streets of the city looking for cops to shoot. You had the cartels putting up banners warning the army that this was their territory. It was their franchise in Culiacan. And basically daring the army to come after them.

Dean Becker: Well, it sounds to me like this mayhem that followed the conference was probably exemplary of exactly what the conference attendees and speakers were trying to prevent, right?

Phil Smith: Absolutely. It was a very poignant punctuation to the end of the conference, as if the cartel members and the soldiers were making the point of the conference attendees.

Dean Becker: We have the stories about the Mexican police chief killed in a brazen attack, as it said, in Mexico city. That’s like the fourth one in the last ten days or something.

Phil Smith: Well, last weekend when I was there they had two high-ranking federal police officers killed on the streets of Mexico City. The police tried to say they were both the result of robbery attempts but no one’s buying that. They appeared to have been assassinations, probably from the Sinaloa Cartel.

Dean Becker: And it just goes on and on. Tell us more about your travels.

Phil Smith: Well, it wasn’t always hardcore violent stuff like that. After Sinaloa I returned to Mexico City where I attended the Global Marijuana Day event at the Alameda Central in the historic center of the city on last Saturday and there were several thousand people there, just like there are in cities across the world on that day, demanding legalization of marijuana, flagrantly violating the law as police officers stood by and watched.

In a way, this trip was a disappointment. I had hoped to be able to get into the drug producing areas in either the State of Guerrero or the State of Sinaloa--you know that I have been able to do that in places like Afghanistan or Bolivia or Peru but Mexico’s too tense. Which, I suppose, would give you some indication of what it’s actually like there. If it’s scarier than Afghanistan...(laugher)

Dean Becker: (laughter) Well, that’s so true. Now...

Phil Smith: I’ve got to say, Dean, that this violence is really flaring. It’s the direct result of the push by Mexican President Calderone to go after the cartels.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Just backfiring.

Phil Smith: Well, you know, they’ve been doing this for twenty years and it’s the same thing every time. They’ll be a period of quiet while the government pretty much ignores the drug trade. And then, for various reasons, whether it’s pressure from the U.S. or pressure from some political party or faction in Mexico, they decide to go after the cartels.

And what happens every time is there a spasm of violence, they may manage to knock off some cartel leaders but all that does is lead to renewed violence as people fight to take over the franchise. And that’s what’s going on here only at a larger scale than in the past, because Calderone has now sent out about 30,000 troops.

And you’ve got Mexican army troops walking the streets of just about every major border town in Mexico. You’ve got the cartels pissed off and not afraid of tangling with the Mexican army or the Mexican police and the death toll so far this year is at more than 1,100.

That’s a faster pace than last year when 2,000 people died in the prohibition-related violence, and that’s really what we should be calling it because that’s what it is. It’s not drug-related, it’s prohibition-related.

I like to say that Mexico is paying the price for America’s war on the drugs that we love to hate, or is it the drugs we hate to love, I’m not sure which it is. But we have an insatiable appetite for them. Mexico, those Mexican organizations supply the demand and Mexico pays the price for our drug war.

Dean Becker: Indeed. This is starting to parallel in many, many ways the situation that developed in Colombia back under the Escobar days. I hear they’re acquiring more weapons, I hear they’re getting bazookas and rockets and anti-aircraft guns. It’s going to get even more serious, I think.

Phil Smith: Well, there’s occasionally a Mexican military helicopter to get shot down over Guerrero or Michoacán. Every once in a while that happens. These guys are using rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

And they’re loaded with guns. You know, they’ve got lots of money and all they got to do is go across the border into, down to Brownsville or someplace like that and go to gun shows and start loading up. With heavier weapons, we don’t know where those are coming from but there have been some scandals involving Central American military selling weapons to drug traffickers in Mexico.

In either case, it’s probably U.S. weapons that these traffickers are arming themselves with. Whether it’s civilian weapons from the gun shows or whether it’s military equipment that has been given to Central American militaries and then sold off by corrupt members of those militaries.

Dean Becker: Well, Phil, I’m not expecting you to have the answer but--what the hell are we going to do?

Phil Smith: Well, what President Bush and most likely the U.S. Congress is going to do is give Mexico a whole bunch of money so that they can crank up their drug war. Now, I don’t think that’s a very smart policy.

Realistically, what we need to do is end the drug war, legalize the drug trade, regulate it, tax it. Even in a best case scenario, if we did all of that we’re still going to have the problem of these criminal gangs in Mexico.

But at least if the drug trade were legalized that would remove a major source of income for these folks and, presumably, weaken them in the medium and long run. But we’re a long way from that ever happening.

So in the short term all I can foresee is more drugs coming out of Mexico into the U.S. just like always, more people being killed in Mexico, more pressure on Mexican law enforcement, an increased involvement of the Mexican military with all the problems that carries with it--I mean soldiers are soldiers, they are not police officers, they’re not trained to do civilian law enforcement, they have bad habits of shooting and killing people.

There have been several incidents of that in Sinaloa State in the past year. The more the military’s involved the more of that we’re going to see.

It’s a pretty grim prognosis. I’m sorry.

Dean Becker: No, you’re absolutely right and the absurdity of it all, in my opinion, is that the U.S. expects that somehow we’re going to prevent every Mexican, every Colombian from wanting to play ‘Who Wants to be a Billionaire?’

Phil Smith: That’s right. You know, Dean, they’ve been going after the cartels for years, they occasionally knock off the leadership and every time they knock off a leader there’s ten guys who want to take his place.

I work for an organization called the Drug Reform Coordination Network, also known as StopTheDrugWar.Org. I write the Drug War Chronicle for this organization. It’s available online at www.StopTheDrugWar.Org. I’ve also been blogging about my trip to Mexico so you can read up some more if you’re interested. I invite everyone to check it out.

Dean Becker: You’ve got some pictures on there too, right?

Phil Smith: That’s right.

Dean Becker: Well, Phil, once again I appreciate your work and your courage for going down there sticking in your nose out like you did.

Phil Smith: Hey, it’s my job. And I like it.

Dean Becker: Well, my hat’s off to both Phil Smith and Sanho Tree for daring to tour these very dangerous and violent nations in search of the truth about the drug war.

And, as always, I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, in fact no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Do your part to help end this madness.

Visit our website, EndProhibition.Org.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net