08/21/19 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies

This week on Century of Lies, part two of our conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, plus a report on the Colombian peace process.

Audio file



SEPTEMBER 21, 2019

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.

DOUG McVEY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of drugwarfacts.org.

Today we are gonna start off with Part Two of my conversation with Sanho Tree. Sanho is the Director of The Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. There was actually a hearing at the Irish Parliament that a Committee of the Iractis held on the situation in Columbia, the peace process there. A couple of trade union representatives (high officials), came in to talk and one of the messages that stood out most is that Columbia is the most dangerous place in the world right now to be a union organizer.

SANHO TREE: Yeah. It’s another common thread –being an environmental defender these days to protect the environment – it used to be that Brazil was the most dangerous place, right? It still is incredibly dangerous, President Bolsonar is fascist and is basically declaring war on indigenous peoples and is vowing to open up the Amazon and will basically bulldoze it. He only sees commercial development as being the only reasonable thing to do with the Amazon and of course, those are the lungs of the earth, incredibly sensitive and vital environmental areas are gonna be deforested now. Just this month the Philippines actually surpassed Brazil as being the most dangerous place to be an environmental defender, so large agra-businesses are taking over land and the people who are protesting are the ones being targeted now. It’s no coincidence these are all right-wing governments and you’ve got a lot of social defenders being targeted. They need our help and our solidarity right now.

DOUG MCVEY: God, and of course, people can find out more by following you and there’s also the Washington office on Latin America and The Latin American Working Group. There are a few good organizations – some trade union groups that are also – I think Human Rights Watch has some good things happening. The NGOs are active, that’s’ the good part. The NGOs are the targets now.

SANHO TREE: The NGOs are active; the government isn’t very active. We don’t really have a foreign policy in the State Department, we have Trump’s tantrums and a lot of people just hunkering down trying not to get noticed, or do anything really. It’s just madness in Washington these days. You used to have these formal mechanisms of policy formation and you have inter-agency coordination, and you work out the bugs, and you cross your T’s and dot your I’s, and look at all the different interactions and how its gonna ripple effect. None of that these days. It’s whatever the President wants and they can overturn policy that took years to develop and turn it over in an afternoon with a tweet. It’s extremely demoralizing for people in government who are actually trying to do good things – they are just basically trying to survive at this point. The pettiness with which this White House will reach down in to the bureaucracy and punish people it views as disloyal to the President is frightening, in fact the JAG – the military prosecutors who prosecuted the NAVY Seal for war crimes in Afghanistan a few months ago, Trump has ordered that they not get the commendations. So they are being punished for actually prosecuting a NAVY Seal who committed war crimes. Just think about that. They did their jobs and for that Trump is punishing them.

DOUG MCVEY: Well that’s a good segway to get back to the United States. We’ve seen how bad things can get in the Philippines and we’re watching the civil war that is supposed to be ending – not ending

So let’s get back to the U.S. Now of course we’ve had a kinder, gentler drug war these past few years. The opioid overdose crisis has resulted in more people understanding that getting Naloxone in to the hands of not just first responders but also friends and family and people who use opioids themselves is a smart thing to do and that’s been happening. We’ve had people pushing the idea – people fighting hard for the idea of supervised injection facilities and safe consumption facilities around the country. More and more talking openly about the need for those, so that’s a good thing.


DOUG MCVEY: Yeah, it is --


DOUG MCVEY: --and we had a Drug Czar candidate the first one, Tom Moreno, the former Representative from Pennsylvania whose bright idea it was to convert prisons and jails in to inpatient treatment facilities. The guards just wouldn’t have badges and that’s pretty much the only change and you know, as bad as that was you at least knew that there was still a kinder, gentler – the democrats and the liberals would – and I was talking to you before this, one of the candidates, Andrew Yang, I was looking through his drug policy platform and one thing that stood out was mandatory 3-day stays in a facility for all overdose victims so that they can be convinced to go in to treatment.


DOUG MCVEY: Because the one thing that’s certainly gonna get you to go in for medical care when you’ve had an overdose is the notion that you’re going to be locked away – but it won’t be called a jail. They’ll convert it.


DOUG MCVEY: Yeah. They won’t have badges. That’s how you can tell. This is just – and there is that, but we seem to have changed because we have an effective treatment for opioid use disorder because we have the protocols and know how to use methadone, we know how to use buprenorphine and they are actually pretty successful and we’re talking more and more about the need for heroin assisted treatment because we need to go there—


DOUG MCVEY: We’re just so different than the meth fear – the meth hysteria from a few years back, a decade or so back or the crack hysteria from the 80s. So much different, but they’re also different drugs. There’s stimulants and we don’t have substitution treatment. We don’t have the maintenance treatment because even though there’s research showing that it works – Dextramphetamine – John Grabowsky down in Texas, brilliant guy. Anyway, even though there is some research showing it works for some reason, we won’t do it. Of course now we’re seeing more meth in the state of Oregon and various other places. We’re seeing a return of meth, we’re hearing about more cocaine out there and I am gonna say it until it actually happens, which unfortunately won’t be too much longer; there are chemists out there working on what is called Caphanones and those are stimulants. They are going to make some that have the up – the rush of the methamphetamine with the sort of smooth appeal of the cocaine. It’ll be a designer drug, it’ll be scary powerful and people will die. Anyway.

SANHO TREE: (UNINTELLIGABLE). Side effects and consequences, yeah. We don’t know about these things. This is precisely –

DOUG MCVEY: So what do you think about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of America, my friend?

SANHO TREE: This is precisely why I am glad they haven’t debated drug policy in the Presidential Debate’s yet. When you have two dozen candidates and each one gets sixty seconds it’s very difficult to talk about complex policy proposals. Later on when you narrow down the number of candidates and you might get 3-4 minutes, then maybe you can have a slightly more substantive session. You really get the amount of time necessary to really flush out these alternatives. For instance, they can talk about methadone and Bupanorphine, but they’re not gonna talk about Safe Supply Movement – #SafeSupply, check it out. What they are doing in British Columbia for instance, where doctors can prescribe Hydromorphone or Dilaudid to people with opioid use disorders, so that they’re not forced to go out into the street and play Fentanyl roulette. That’s like a no brainer to me. We know how to prevent people from dying from unintentional Fentanyl overdose and we’re not doing it. It sends the wrong moral message I guess, to keep people alive. That is the implication, right? If you’re a politician who doesn’t support it that at some level – and you know its gonna lead to more deaths, then you’ve got to think that the wages of sin ought to be death and that will somehow send the right message, which is the old standby rational for a lot of this stuff.

If it’s your child or someone that you love who overdoses at a festival or something because you didn’t have pill-checking, drug testing. If you oppose these basic kinds of basic harm reduction measures than I think as a politician you are basically supporting a randomized death penalty – that someone else’s loved one should pay the price and that somehow that’s gonna send a message to the rest of the world to not do this? It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked and they are just killing people for no good reason.

DOUG MCVEY: Throw us a ray of sunshine. Jesus. This is depressing.

SANHO TREE: (LAUGHTER). I am an optimist. As a former historian, my heroes are the people who worked in the civil rights movement in the 40s and 50s. Less so the 60s. My heroes were the suffragettes working a century ago in the turn of the 1900s. Back when people thought the odds were so stacked against you that you’ll never see these kinds of changes in your lifetime, and yet, within a generation – within a dozen years people have seen tremendous change. It is possible – so we mustn’t lose sight of that. Hell, we went through alcohol prohibition and then repealed –


SANHO TREE: --all within one generation. In hindsight, the only thing that’s inevitable is change itself and sometimes it’s even for the better.

DOUG MCVEY: As a great man once said, “Perspective – use it, or lose it”. Right?


DOUG MCVEY: Again, we are speaking with Sanho Tree, he is the Director of the Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a military historian and a writer and a researcher and a brilliant – brilliant person who is so involved in so many things. We must make sure that people know where to follow you on social media so give them that stuff.

SANHO TREE: My Twitter handle is: @sanhotree, or you can go to my website at: www.ips-dc.org.

DOUG MCVEY: And there you go. Actually there’s a lot of stuff at the IPS website that go well beyond drug policy and they’ve been talking about drug policy for a very long time. Liberals thought that this is an issue they wouldn’t touch but they knew there were some conservatives who would talk about marijuana and maybe some other stuff. You know Buckley was out there doing his thing, and the conservatives thought this was an issue they didn’t want to touch but they knew there were some liberals out there who were talking this kind of stuff, but it was hard to find. I don’t know maybe it’s because it seems so counterintuitive. The conservative support is something that people know about more. We just think of the Democrats as being scared and spineless and running away, and the fact that IPS, which is very, very proudly progressive – more on the left. Would it be fair to call it a left?


DOUG MCVEY: Okay. Thank you. Left is still right and right is still wrong.


DOUG MCVEY: The fact that an institution like IPS has been involved in that for some years I think is terrific. I wish more people realized that. Like I say, its – credit where it’s due.

SANHO TREE: Thank you. We’ve been around 54 years now. It’s been quite a ride. If you haven’t been involved in politics yet, this is the time to do it. If you’re angry that they haven’t impeached Trump and your local member or congress has not supported impeachment yet – ask yourself, have you contacted them? Have you called them? Have you written them? They’re not mind readers and if you haven’t contacted them then perhaps you are part of the problem as well. There are a lot of us thinking similar things out there in the world but we are all atomized unless we start acting together, and only then can we actually produce some change.

DOUG MCVEY: And with that – Sanho, thank you so much for all of your time. Thank you so much for your time and for all that you do. God bless you.

SANHO TREE: My pleasure.

DOUG MCVEY: That was my conversation with Sanho Tree, Director of The Drug Policy Project at The Institute for Policy studies. They are a think-tank based in Washington, D.C.

NIXON: America’s Public Enemy #1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive. I have asked the congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive.

DOUG MCVEY: You’re listening to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of drugwarfacts.org.

Now the top of that interview I mentioned a discussion that had been held at the Iractus at the Irish Parliament on the Columbian peace process with a joint committee on foreign affairs and trade and defense. We are gonna hear now from the conclusion of that discussion.

We’re gonna hear Senator Paul Gavin, he’s a labor party member of the Irish Senate – the Shanderan. Then we’ll hear from Mariella Cohan, she is Senior International Officer with the Trades Union Congress.

SEN. PAUL GAVIN: Thanks indeed and thanks for allowing me, I am a guest here this morning as well. I want to pay tribute to Justice for Columbia. I was fortunate enough to be part of their most recent delegation. I want to pay particular tribute to the Force Trade Union because it’s so significant with the support that your union is giving to this civil society organization. They really are punching at a very high level because one of the most significant things from our visit was the fact that the Columbian government felt to need to meet with us at the end of the week and I thought that was very significant and in its own way, very positive. I want to share just very briefly if I may, Chair, a couple of the quotes because we did meet a whole range of people from trade unions, socially (UNINTELLIGIBLE) elitists. A very week, actually, because it is such a beautiful country but the level of oppression there is quite shocking, frankly.

One of the human rights defenders said to me directly, “we’re witnessing a genocide of social trade union leaders and human rights defenders”, and that is a shocking statement to hear. Perhaps a service statement was Ada Avella, who is a Member of Parliament for the Patrific Union Priority. She’s like myself, a lifelong trade unionist. She said, “There aren’t so many trade unionists killed lately, but then there aren’t so many of us left”. What an absolutely shocking statement to make. I was disturbed by what Mariella told us in terms of the new restrictions on visiting the transition zones because we visited Tierra Grata in the northeast of Columbia in the La Paz District. We could see firsthand that the potential is here to deliver something significantly economically in terms of independence but it just isn’t happening for lack of support and it was disturbing when we raised it with the government in that meeting at the end of the week. Effectively we were met with denial and I found that disappointing. The other thing is I was supposed to speak with an Irish Republican – I didn’t hear the language of a peace process from the government ministers and I found that particularly disturbing. We were firsthand witnesses and yet we were told that we were effectively – the word ‘lies’ was used a number of times and I just didn’t hear that language that we would expect from a peace process and indeed what we would hear from our own peace process despite the challenges from time to time. Perhaps the most moving part of the mission was to visit Cahbio, a town in north Corka because what we saw there in a community setting was pictures on the wall of local community leaders who had been murdered in the last couple of years – young men. Many of the members of the Fenswa Grove Agricultural Trade Union – and it I have to say, I won’t name the Irish company – but this community setting was surrounded by property owned by an Irish company and they said to us that the Power Ministries were using the land to come out in the dark to attack and kill the people and as an Irishman, I found that particularly disturbing.

We had a very positive meeting with Allison Milson and one of the things she did commit to do was to go and visit that mine and if I may be so bold as to suggest that a further activist committee might be just to write to the Ambassador to ask her about that visit – has it taken place and what are her reviews on it because as my colleague Shaun said – and by the way, Shaun sends his apologies – he had to go to Parliament. We as a country should not be importing “blood” coal. I did note that in a recent response to Tom Ishter, it indicated he would have a further look at this and I really hope he does because it’s very much not in keeping with a lot of the very good work and fairness that’s been done by Ireland.

I want to just finish by asking a couple of questions. The first is, you mentioned the local elections in October and that was a big topic when we were over there. How can these elections be free and fair – or how free and fair are they likely to be given that we met people and you have mentioned it yourself, telling us that they’ve been threatened. Their lives are being threatened. Very hard to run an election when people’s lives are being threatened and again, as a number of people have said it just struck me that there’s a vacuum where the defense of leaders should be. There’s a gaping vacuum, and again, I have to say particularly the representatives at the Justice Department and the police. There just seems to be a denial and yet the facts are there – the facts are in in terms of that.

That leads on to the second question and it’s a difficult question and perhaps I am asking for an opinion but in terms of the (UNINTELLIGBLE) members being killed by right wing public para-militaries. These para-militaries are writing with impunity that’s very clear. The question I want to ask is, are they also acting in collusion with the state?

I think that is it, Chair, I just want to thank Justice for Columbia for giving me the opportunity to go out there. I really do hope that our Irish government really does speak with a strong, loud voice and I would acknowledge the work of Ed McGilmore’s role, by the way, in relation to this issue because I have to say, just on a personal human level I found it deeply shocking to meet people as relatives of killed and this is – the number of deaths are increasing. The number of deaths have been increasing since the Peace Process was signed. Very hard to keep the Peace Process going when one side are being slaughtered. Thank you.


CHAIR: Thanks, Mariella.

MARIELLA COHAN: On the delegations I would just add to that it should be in fact FOR status for supporting the peace monitor delegations. One feature of the delegations is they are meeting everyone, you know? I would recognize the government for having engaged with those delegations at the Embassy in London and the Minister’s meeting at the highest level. That’s been incredibly valued that there has been that engagement and I think it gives credibility to the delegation that they are meeting with everyone. The HEP, The UN, The institutions, the parties and in terms of the environment and I think there are concerns around the extractive industries and the impact that is having on the environment – you heard about the mine and licenses be given respecting the indigenous land in Afro Columbian land that’s constitutionally provided for the respect for those lands. There are campaigns around fracking as well and obviously the concern around the possible fumigation of crops with Glyphosate, which is incredibly toxic. So there are concerns around the environment.

On the elections – I think obviously having international observers would be incredibly important but one of the concerns sometimes is the observers come just a day before and the problem in Columbia isn’t just about the day of the election. It’s about what happens before the election. It’s about the violence and intimidation that comes in the build up to an election and as I said, the MOE, and in our consent through their report, The Electoral Observer Mission, they released a report at the end of May saying that since last October, five mayoral candidates and two aspiring councilmembers were amongst the 75 registered political assassinations and that 37 political activists had survived assassination attempts. I think the elections come in a context of what has happened before and I think there needs to be attention put on that issue and maybe some monitoring at this stage, obviously, for the FARC – it’s the first time they’ll be participating in our collections and they’ll be quite exposed so that’s going to be very difficult. I am not sure, I think the EU has sent observations before in elections previously so it would be important to see what kind of monitoring can take place and obviously the UN mission has a mandate for the political (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to verify the political reincorporation at the FARC so they will be monitoring this situation as well.

In terms of the collusion I would say all the different killings of the members of the FARC obviously vary and in some cases it has been directly the Army – like the case of DeMarc Torres I mentioned – other cases. It’s been BLN, paramilitary groups may be linked to dissidence as well so it’s very complex and it does depend on the region as well. Some of them would be clearly politically motivated, others would be not sure what the reasons would be. I think the importance is about where there has been the state involvement for those to be brought to justice. I think the whole (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of paramilitaries – in the peace agreement there is a special investigative unit that is supposed to be set up to dismantle and investigate the paramilitaries. There was a hug back and forth with the formal attorney general over this unit because the whole point of the unit was to be completely autonomous and it had to then be created under the attorney general’s office because of his opposition to it and it would be important to support that unit to have its autonomy to actually investigate and dismantle that paramilitary groups and also to look at the political – there was supposed to be kind of a pact – a political pact across the country in terms of taking violence out of politics. In terms of changing the hate and the HOP has a role there in terms of the reconciliation as well. One key feature of the agreement is that it’s comprehensive and it’s interlinked and if you start chipping away and taking bits other bits don’t work, so you have to implement it as a whole. If FARC members don’t have legal guarantees than why would they offer the truth? So there’s all these kind of questions that need to be – the government needs to see the agreement as a whole.

Just to reiterate what Kevin said in terms of hosting both parties, we think any opportunity for signatories to the agreement to be recognized as such and to give their views would be really valuable.


CHAIR: I just noticed when I was over there that President Dukais is on record as supporting Nacasio Martinez to be the new head of the Army. This is a man accused of serious human rights abuses. Again, it’s a very disturbing message to be sending I just wonder if you have any views on that.

MARIELLA COHAN: Yeah, there have been concerns. There was a New York Times report in May that highlighted that there was a return to the combat kind of a pressure on soldiers to report wins in combat and that obviously in the past those incentives under the Reedly Administration have led to the execution scandal where thousands of civilians were murdered by soldiers and presented as if they were guerillas killed in combat and received promotions and bonuses and rewards, so there was a big scandal around this piece.

I understand the Minister of Defense took back some of those orders and reformed some of them but there are still some there that are concerning. This particular General had been implicated in some of those crimes so there was a lot of concern that he was being promoted and actually the opposition parties tried to block that in the congress. It is very concerning and the whole kind of doctrine within the military of the internal enemy and the enemy of the state is something that was discussed a lot. During the piece it talks about having to change the culture and the Army becoming protective of the people.

DOUG MCVEY: That was a portion of a debate before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in Trade and Defense of the Irish Parliament, the ARACTUS. You heard Senator Paul Gavin, he’s a Labor Party Member of the Irish Senate, and Mariella Cohen, and she’s a Senior International Officer with the Trades Union Congress. They were discussing the Columbian Peace Process.

Well that’s it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies, we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network – on the web at DrugTruth.net. I have been your host, Doug McVey, Editor of DrugWarFacts.org

Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network homepage at DrugTruth.net. The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook, too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter I am: @dougmcvey, and of course also @drugpolicyfacts. We’ll be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVey saying so long.