Good old time religion

America's war on drugs in South America is just as unsuccessful as its current war on terror. David Shanks reviews Chemical Warfare in ColombiaThis well-researched little book packs a powerful punch at the notion that the “war on drugs” is other than a nonsense. It argues the daftness of concentrating money and attention on the minor, though clearly unpleasant, effects of narcotics on perhaps five per cent of mankind while ignoring the really major threats presented by alcohol and tobacco to the health of a much greater proportion the people of the planet.
EU governments are waking up to the fact that the “war on drugs”, which includes futile military campaigns against narcotics growers, is a will o' the wisp, the authors remind us. International impatience is growing with the campaigns of violence muscularly pushed by the Japanese and US governments, a was which is being spectacularly lost in such centres of narcotics production as Afghanistan and Colombia.
Forlornly still Tokyo and Washington are going to any lengths – including the falsification of the minutes of international conferences – to prevent rational consideration of the “harm reduction” strategies in UN forums and elsewhere which might call into doubt the strategy of violence.  Meanwhile the fags and booze merchants who constantly seek new ways of selling their products to young consumers throughout the world are treated with kid gloves and allowed to laugh their way to their banks.
From the Latin America Bureau in London, “Chemical Warfare in Colombia: the Costs of Coca Fumigation”, by Hugh O'Shaughnessy and Sue Branford, two well-known writers on Latin America, provides a chilling account of the damage done to people and the environment in South America's most violent society as President Bush and his Colombian pawns put their armies into the field against the Colombian peasantry and the environment. They record the growing thought being given, though not in the US Pentagon, to developing alternatives to coca growing that do not involve “zero tolerance”.
They also reveal how behind the “war on drugs” is the urgent desire of the Pentagon to extend its military power in the Western Hemisphere which was gravely damaged by its forced evacuation from the Panama Canal Zone in 1999.
“Policies which from a strictly counter-narcotics perspective may appear misguided may in fact be considered partially successful from the Pentagon's viewpoint,” they say. “With the collapse of communism the Pentagon ran the risk of not having any justification for its heavy involvement in Latin America. The “war on drugs” emerged in the nick of time to provide it with a new pretext…The tale was given a new twist by 9/11.”
Although the “war on terror” has not so far meant further pretext to interfere in Latin America “this seems certain to change in the future”. The authors point to the left-wing government in Venezuela, the fifth largest oil exporter in the world, and a country with a worrying independence of mind under President Hugo Chavez.  
O'Shaughnessy and Branford are to be congratulated on producing a clear-sighted account in English of a war that many have wanted to keep secret but which South Americans have known about for years.
LAB, with backing from Trócaire and Christian Aid, have published a fine new contribution to an increasingly important global debate. To those of us stimulated by Harold Pinter's recent Nobel lecture excoriating US foreign policy and recalling 1980s Central America this little work will be like that old time religion.