07/10/11 Kathryn Ledebur

Kathryn Ledebur, Director Andean Information Network + Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibiton + Editorial 2

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Guest: 
Kathryn Ledebur
Organization: 
Andean Info Network
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Transcript

Century of Lies / July 10, 2011

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DEAN BECKER: 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.

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DEAN BECKER: Indeed, a Century of Lies, I’m Dean Becker, your host. Here in just a few seconds we’re going to bring in our guest. I want to tell you a little bit about her. Her name is Kathryn Ledebur. She’s Director of the Andean Information Network. She’s a great host for Witness for Peace groups that come to Bolivia to learn about that nation, it’s economy, it’s people. And, with that, let’s just go ahead and bring her onboard. Kathryn Ledebur, hello.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Hello, thanks so much for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Kathryn, it’s so good to talk with you again. I tell people all the time about my trip to Bolivia and how astounding it was. So much information I learned and you were integral in making that happen. I want to thank you once again for that.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Well, I was so glad that you were able to come and we were so happy to have you and we’re certainly pleased when someone wants to learn about the failure of drug policy and the way it’s been implied in Bolivia.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah and that’s what really surprised me. We didn’t really circulate a lot but I didn’t see a drug problem per se. No junkies or crack heads hanging out in the streets of La Paz or anything like that. Perhaps we were in the wrong neighborhood but the cocaine problem there is a whole lot less dangerous than it is in, say, the United States, right?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Well, absolutely. Cocaine consumption rates in Bolivia are much lower. They’re one of the lowest in all of the Americas along with Ecuador and a few other countries. .4% of population have tried cocaine at sometime so, you know, there are problems. The largest problems right now are with alcoholism and with Inuits and with substances that are legal. It’s interesting that there has been so much repression in Bolivia over the past decades…quoting a shared concern about cocaine addiction and yet that hasn’t been a problem in Bolivia, a significant social problem or something that’s caused violence or unrest in Bolivian society.

DEAN BECKER: Now, the fact that , uh…coca use. ..Tell the listeners…that’s the leaf. That’s the, you know, just the leaves off the plant. The coca use is pretty widespread. Everyone I met, I think, when I was in Bolivia, from the Justice Minister to the Christian Minister to …you know, everybody had a little wad of coca in their cheek, right?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: The coca leaf really is a staple in the Bolivian diet. It also has very important religious and cultural implications. It’s a mild stimulant. Chewing a great deal of coca gives you about as much stimulation as a cup of coffee. So, to try to prohibit the coca leaf in Bolivia is like trying to take coffee away from Americans. It’s something that’s absolutely absurd, impossible. It’s something that can’t be justified although the United Nations has attempted to do so.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s jump into that because that’s some very recent news that Bolivia is stepping away from the U.N. Convention on Drugs. Tell us what that‘s about and what’s going to happen.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: The Single Convention on Drugs that was signed in 1961 and the decision was based on a very racist study carried out in the ‘50s that said that coca leaf caused poverty and starvation. Something that was completely inaccurate.

The Single Convention states that the coca leaf, a natural, legal substance in Bolivia, and (as we said before) a staple in many peoples’ diet, is as dangerous as heroin or opium or cocaine itself. It’s been misclassified. It’s something that Bolivians and other Andean people have long objected to. And, in fact, this past year, at the beginning of 2011, an amendment submitted by Bolivia came up for consideration in the U.N. asking to please allow Bolivians to chew coca leaf within their own borders. Something that, in practice, has always existed. And this was an initiative that was firmly blocked by the United States and the United States exerted a great deal of pressure on other nations to do so. And, as a result, a very reasonable petition on the part of the Bolivian government, something that is in line with the Bolivian Constitution was blocked by U.N. bureaucracy.

As a result the Bolivian government and a great bulk of Bolivian people felt strongly that Bolivia could no longer participate in a convention, in international agreement that was so inflexible, that had taken a racist stance and was in clear contradiction or violation of other U.N. Charters such as those on the rights of indigenous people. Bolivians decided to withdraw. They want to re-adhere to the Single Convention with the reservation that they do not want to prohibit coca production within their territories or coca sales or have a prohibition of coca leaf as a controlled substance.

This is a process…you know no one’s ever withdrawn from the Single Convention before. It’s a fascinating process. They will re-adhere within a month and then their reservation will come under consideration. It is unclear whether they will be allowed to remain as a signatory of the Single Convention or what the impact of having Bolivia be outside the Single Convention will be.

To a certain extent this is Bolivia calling the international community’s bluff. It’s pushing the envelope and challenging some of the premises and the drug war failed premises such as an archaic, outdated, unjustified prohibition of a natural substance.

So, I think it will be fascinating to see what the results will be. You know, there may be harsh consequences for Bolivia but since the Single Convention has no real enforcement mechanism, it could be something that has relatively little impact and may lead other nations to challenge international decisions that are clearly discriminatory.

DEAN BECKER: Once again we’re speaking with Kathryn Ledebur. She’s director of the Andean Information Network. She’s also a great host for Witness for Peace when folks visit in Bolivia.

Now, the thought that…In Bolivia when I was there, now 5/6 years ago, I guess it was. There was coca candy available. There was soft drink production in the works. I think that’s now in place and functioning. And other foods and edibles that were making use of the coca plant. That’s still ongoing, they’re just trying to legitimize that through the U.N.’s eyes?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Well, it’s certainly something that’s ongoing here. The Single Convention prohibits any product made from coca to be exported by a country that’s a signatory or to be imported by any other signatory country. By withdrawing from the Convention and placing with reservation, Bolivia would then gain the ability to legally export these products. These are products…they now have two coca industrialization plants. This is something that’s gone very slowly mainly because of the restrictions of the Single Convention.

But, I think it could be fascinating. It really depends on entrepreneurial capacity of some Bolivians. If you think about it, coca is a natural appetite suppressant with no negative side effects, this could sell like hot cakes in the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Kathryn, when we were in Bolivia, I mean, it was a really…I’m not going to say frantic, but, it was a very busy trip we had down there. We got to tour one of the military bases and I wanted to ask you…I’ve had this thought that they say the drug barons in Mexico or Columbia or whatever operate by the notion of the “silver or the lead” – Plata o Plomo. And, I think that the U.S. through its stranglehold in the U.N. and elsewhere around the world kind of does a similar thing. Where, let’s use Bolivia for an example, their military helps to thwart the drug trade or they’re denied economic support from the United States. Your thought there.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: It’s interesting as something else that Bolivia has challenged is the precepts that you had to cooperate with U.S. policy and decisions, you had to follow U.S. guidelines or you would lose all your funding. And, you know, any effort or cocaine reduction policy would fall apart. And, it’s fascinating because although for many years the U.S. imposed and funded a very violent, forced eradication program for the coca plant using the Bolivian military that led to a very high number of human rights violations. You know the Morales administration opted for a policy of negotiated coca action initiation with the communities in many regions and leaving a little bit of coca for traditional use, for the family’s existence. They subsequently also expelled the U. S. Ambassador and expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the world did not end, the sky did not fall and nor did the U.S. pull out.

Although the U.S. has decertified Bolivia as part of its yearly certification system for the past three years, they’ve continued to send funds because the balance has shifted. No longer is Bolivia fearfully accepting U.S. impositions for money that is much needed, it’s more the U.S. is sending money trying to keep its feet in the door so they can have some influence in Bolivia. U.S. funding has gone down but the Bolivian government has made a conscience choice to do what they call “nationalize the drug war.”

For a significant portion of their budget they pay more than the United States does in anti-drug efforts. That’s something that doesn’t happen in Columbia, doesn’t happen in Peru, certainly doesn’t happen in Mexico. That way they are able to make their own policy decisions about how anti-drug efforts go. So here’s another example that the disobeying the U.S. doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world. Less U.S. money means less U.S. influence. And that has been a good thing for Bolivia.

DEAN BECKER: I hear you, I do. Alright, once again, we’re speaking with Kathyrn Ledebur. Now, Kathryn, when we were down there you and your wonderful husband, Godo, took us to three major cities…I’m trying to remember. It was Cochabamba, La Paz and what was the first one?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Santa Cruz?

DEAN BECKER: Santa Cruz, yes indeed. Now Santa Cruz looked to me like it had the trappings of maybe drug money, I don’t know…there was a whole lot of building going on there and not too many people moving in. Not sure, not throwing any stones, but Cochabamba seemed more like a working man’s town. And, we toured the prison there and that’s something I want to bring up. That’s something that, to me, almost revolting, to be honest. I was invited back into one of the little half-rooms, way down, inside the building. I was so claustrophobic I almost puked. The fact of the matter is, how many people living in that prison? Do you know?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Everybody in prison is extremely overcrowded. Still, after some reforms to drug legislation, over 90% of the prisoners in Bolivian jails are in jail on drug charges. The great majority of them are in prison for many, many years on low-level offences. There’s a very hard-line drug law which was originally written by the United States and passed under great pressure which sets mandatory-minimums at excessively high sentences for people who are moving a small amount of drugs, processing a small amount of drugs – people who are doing this out of economic necessity and what was an already crumbling prison infrastructure has deteriorated further.

You have to understand that at this point and time prisoners only receive 90 cents a day for food. That’s something that comes several months late and they have to buy their own cells. They have to make their own living in order to feed themselves, often they live in jail with spouses and still live (although the government trying to change this) hundreds of children still live in prison with their parents because there is no social service framework that’s able to take care of these kids.

This is, you know, one of the very visible, very harsh effects of the drug war. Something that has had absolutely no effect on breaking up drug trafficking rings but it’s been the cyclical imprisonment of low-income people who have engaged in low-level of the drug trade mostly to feed their families. Yet is something that the Morales administration hasn’t been able address effectively and you need to understand that about every year or so a protest for the prisoners who sew their lips shut, who crucify themselves by detaining themselves or tying themselves to crosses for several days to try to gain attention to this very, very dire situation. And, so far, in spite of government promises, there’s been no change in this.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, Kathryn, that’s…that’s sad. Is it still the situation where you’re traveling on a bus and you’ve got too many rolls of toilet paper or steel wool, that’s considered drug paraphernalia and they arrest you?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: That is still the case. There’s a control on anything that can be used as a drug precursor. That can be anything from chlorine, kerosene, toilet paper, gasoline in very large quantities. In the beginning this was a source of gross human rights violations in the drug war. Whole busses would be detained overnight based on the suspicion of drugs. The human rights abuses have been reduced but there is still a strict control of precursors. For example, in Cochabamba if you go to the supermarket you have to fill out a form to buy a liter of chlorine bleach.

DEAN BECKER: A liter…

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Of course I don’t think people producing great quantities of cocaine are getting their bleach at the supermarket…just a hunch I have.

(both chuckle)

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, we have a similar thing here where you want to buy cold pills. In some states you have to sign for them. And, you know, people buying the pseudoephedrine to make methamphetamine. But…it’s just hysteria, needless hysteria if you ask me.

Once again, we’re speaking with Kathryn Ledebur. She’s director of the Andean Information Network. Now, you’re in the U.S. now but I’m hoping that we can continue our discussions when you are back in Bolivia. I want to make sure to get a phone number on how to do that.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Certainly. I would love to do that.

DEAN BECKER: I’m taking a little break here. I want to send out a thought here to all the folks, you know who you are, who know about the Sad House, the Mad House because we’re going to do some shows about that here soon. I want you to contact me dean@drugtruth.net. We’ll set up an interview. I want to tell that story to the world. I want them to know how I got this attitude and it started many, many years ago.

Alright, Kathryn, we got a few minutes left here and I want to kind of turn it over to you. Since I was down there you’ve probably hosted several other trips from Witness for Peace?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: There have been several Witness for Peace delegations. I’ve given a talk to some. I don’t know what their plans are in the future. It depends very much on people’s interest in Bolivia and a willingness to travel. I think it’s a fascinating place to go. It’s interesting because there’s not a great deal of drug war related violence. It’s a place that’s very accessible, that is easy to learn about and understand. I would encourage people to try to make an effort. It’s very interesting. Bolivia is a test case for the drug war because of the situations in countries like Columbia (with the FARC and paramilitaries) and Peru which is in the middle. So, you know, an anti-insurgent type things get very, very confused and Bolivia where there are no groups like that…you just have, you know, the security forces, the Bolivian people and a negative impact of U.S.-imposed policy that still lingers is abundantly clear.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, it is. As I recall, to me it was just great beauty everywhere we went, endless vistas and rivers and greenery, very lush country, isn’t it?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Yes, it depends on the time of the year. You were there during the rainy season. The dry season, things dry out but, you know, certainly in the coca producing zones, semi-tropical zones that we visited, it’s lush, beautiful vegetation all year round.

DEAN BECKER: While we were there, as I said, we went to so many great places on this trip. We actually got to visit a coca field, eh cato, wasn‘t it?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Yes.

DEAN BECKER: That’s the acreage or the size of the plot.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Yes, a cato is the amount of coca, it’s about one-third of a U.S. football field, 1600 square meters and that is, in coca growing areas, the amount that each family is allowed to grow. The idea is to ration the coca leaf so all the families that are established growers can have some income but that no one gets their unfair share. It’s also an effort to keep the price of coca high so the families growing a little bit of coca can earn enough to send their kids to school, to buy school supplies, put shoes on everybody’s feet. And, I think it’s a fascinating policy initiative and an alternative to a repressive policy that deserves some attention.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, you know, Kathryn, there was a lady we met…wife if the farmer of the cato we visited. I think her name was Vadelia, if I remember right.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Petalia..

DEAN BECKER: Petalia, thank you. And, you know, by U.S. standards she seemed very poverty stricken but I guess the amount of monies they get from their coca harvest does enable them to put shoes on their kid’s feet and probably enable them to send them to school, right?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: It’s hard. You’ve seen it. There’s a misconception that coca growers are reaping huge profits. And, you know, really the price of the coca that goes to legal market is only slightly lower than the price that goes to the illegal market. So, we’re talking about coca growers who are eeking out a subsistence income and, yeah, we’re talking about a very harsh life-style but the ability to live and to cover the basics.

A cota of coca, if you pro-rate the four harvests over about 12-months maybe give about each family 90-120 dollars a month income. But in the period of forced eradication, the military could come in and wipe out an entire family’s crop and you would have no money and it was a tremendous problem.

DEAN BECKER: We got about a minute left. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Nation Network. Kathryn, when we were down there I bought a half-pound coca for about five bucks, it served about ten of us for about 10 days. I figured out that it cost about one and one-half cents a day and, as you told me, that’s a gringo price. It’s just not that expensive for the native peoples.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Well, it’s not that expensive and certainly veteran coca chewers chew a great deal more than the average tourist but still it’s something that really has a lot of nutritious qualities, calcium…other minerals. It’s something that’s so focal to their diet, it provides energy and such a key, inextricable part of Bolivian culture that attempts to restrict its use as a leaf and international efforts to block it are misguided and, frankly, spiteful.

DEAN BECKER: OK, five seconds…a website?

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: http://ain-bolivia.org/

DEAN BECKER: Kathryn Ledebur, thank you so much.

KATHYRN LEDEBUR: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure .

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TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I recently watched the President during his Twitter press conference and decided that I can agree with him on some things and I offer this report to see if he would agree with us on some things.

He said that we’re still using the same models for space travel that we used with the Apollo program 30 years ago. The President said that NASA human space track program has been stuck flying circles around earth for decades. He said let’s start stretching the boundaries so that we are not doing the same thing over and over again.

The President did not dismiss the low-earth orbits but put that responsibility on the shoulders of private enterprise. Let the private sectors handle routine tasks of sending vehicles into low gravity, he said.

Mr. President, I cannot agree with you more but why don’t you go one step more and apply this same logic to the failed public policy called the drug war?

Instead of supporting the same old strategy that does not work, let’s try something new and innovative. You say space travel should stop flying circles around earth. Well, the drug policy has been stuck doing the same tired thing for 40 years as well.

You say let’s not dismiss low-earth orbit but put that responsibility on the shoulders of private enterprise. Yes, I agree and let’s legalize, regulate and control harmful drugs and put the regulation into control and the power of states and private enterprise.

You see, Mr. President, we’re not so far apart on thinking logically, you just have to open your mind to an alternative to the policy of your predecessors that you now support.

The Drug Czars, past and present, are hitting the air waves to muscle support for their failed efforts. They say that progress has been made in the Drug War. I strongly disagree that any significant or lasting progress has been made and only incremental changes in the supply base which will have zero-lasting effect.

Progress in one area is quickly offset by setbacks in other areas. Less drugs in Columbia only means more in Peru, Ecuador and now some African countries. The Guardian newspaper from England reports that more than 750 tons of cocaine are shipped annually from the Andies, a multi-billion pound industry which now forces peasants off land, trigger gang wars in perverted state institution.

A new tracking route between South America and West Africa is growing so quickly that an intense latitude corridor connecting the continents has been dubbed “interstate 10”. Yes, the DEA is opening new offices in Africa.

The world is recognizing, indicated by the recent government report on drugs, that this policy has failed and new approach must be begun.

Mr. President, stop the drug war now. Help us fix this failed public policy. Let’s implement a system of regulation and control as well as education and treatment. Let’s get non-violent people out of jail and into a job paying their fair share of the tax burden. Let’s work for a better future for ourselves and for our children.

Stay safe. This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.copssaylegalizedrugs.com signing off.

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DEAN BECKER: This week, more stories of Mexican kingpins crushed, scores of innocents slaughtered, tons and tons of drugs discovered, OD's by the dozen and ignorant kids dying,

I'm outraged!

I'm astonished!

I can't believe this is happening!

No, really I'm almost bored, except the continuing horror prevents that.

How many times, years, decades and now a century, how many times, will we be "surprised" by these stories of barbarism and corruption?

The drug war has no connection with reality.  It’s a fairy tale, from long ago put forward by zealots and bigots to accrue power and money from ignorant farmers and store clerks.

Summary: "Adult humans in these United States are too ignorant to decide what they should put into their own bodies, therefore henceforward they must purchase a prescription from their doctor proving their infirmity before they can procure their pills from a pharmacist." Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914

Franklin, Jefferson and crew would have picked up their muskets and gone to war again over this abomination, and yet "modern" Americans are so soft and scared and ever ready to give big brother a big wet kiss for his promises of "protection".

Now comes those ignorant drug war addicts whose proclivities towards alcohol, pills and potions frightens them so bad that they want to lock up generations of our children so they can better protect themselves... from themselves.

Pure frigging madness!

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DEAN BECKER: This drug war is, indeed, madness. I think more and more people are beginning to realize that. Developing the courage to say so take a little gumption, takes a little education, takes a little information. But, it’s out there waiting on you. You feel it, you know it. It’s time to act, it’s time to do, it’s time to create a better life for ourselves and our children. And one of the ways we do that is by ending this madness of drug prohibition.

I want to thank Kathryn Ledebur for joining us on Century of Lies. I want to thank Terry for his report as well. And I want to thank you for listening. I know, if you’ve been long-time listeners you know the truth. If I could give you the courage, if I could loan it to you, I would. But, the point of it is you’ve got to act. I can do this all my life but it won’t achieve my stated goal.

And, as always, I remind you that there is no justification for this drug war. It has no basis in reality. Visit our website, endprohibition.org. Prohibido istac evilesco!

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org