FRONT LINE DRUG WARRIOR CALLS FOR PEACE
I have served on the front lines of the war on drugs. As a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, I served as an intelligence officer with Joint Task Force 6 which provides training support to drug law enforcement agencies. From October 1996 to April 1999, I worked in New York, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico with various federal, state and local law enforcement groups in the war on drugs. After my military tour of duty, I've concluded we must replace the war on drugs with a realistic drug control plan.
This conclusion is reinforced by my work as a Spanish teacher in Roxbury,Massachusetts--a low-income, drug-riddled section of Boston--where I saw drug abuse among our kids and witnessed the deleterious effects of our domestic drug war.
Our national drug war leaders say their goal is a "drug-free America." But three decades of the drug war have proven that goal is unrealistic, and our strategy must be replaced. Pursuing an unrealistic goal has resulted in insufficient funding for effective programs like making treatment available on request, and providing after school programs for our children--while we waste tax dollars on ineffective, expensive and dangerous programs like the massive imprisonment of drug users and the exorbitant military aid package to Colombia. Today we have more prisoners per capita than any other country and Colombia receives more U.S. military aid than any other country in Latin America.
The current administration's plans to move even deeper into the Colombian quagmire have caused me speak out. Last year, I received a Navy Achievement medal for my military service in the drug war. However, last month I returned this medal to President Clinton to protest his proposed $1.6 billion special appropriation that, under the guise of fighting drugs, will dramatically escalate U.S. military involvement in Colombia's civil war.
Increased U.S. military aid to Colombia will not only expand the civil war there; it will also derail the Colombian peace process. Colombians are exhausted and dispirited after over forty years of civil strife. In recent months Colombians by the tens of thousands have taken to the streets, in huge national marches calling for peace. Representatives of the insurgents and government negotiators have just returned from a watershed 25-day tour of Western European social democracies where they explored peace.
The U.S. aid package, heavily tilted towards the military will undermine the peace process by escalating the war. More than 80% of the funds destined for Colombia will be spent on helicopters and other militarized approaches to fighting a problem that is fundamentally political and economic in nature. Moreover, the Colombian military is profoundly ineffective and tied to right-wing paramilitary forces identified as human rights abusers and drug traffickers. Accordingly, the U.S. aid package is a recipe for more lawlessness and military failure on the battlefield. With this down payment, we are about to be drawn more deeply into Colombia's forty-year-old civil war.
Truly, the best way to help Colombia is to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in the U.S., not to send that country more military hardware. Instead, I propose a "Plan U.S.A" to provide treatment, on request, for our hard core drug addict population, that now exceeds five million persons. The RAND corporation has found that treatment is 10 times more cost effective than interdiction in reducing the use of cocaine. Plan U.S.A would also discourage drug use by adolescents by providing full funding of after school programs and mentor programs. In addition, Plan U.S.A would move to reintegrate nearly 500,000 prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug charges back to their families and our communities, where they can work, pay taxes, and care for their children.
With focused goals--fewer deaths from drugs, less adolescent drug use, less disease and less crime from drug abuse--we can create a strategy of control. We can achieve a safer and healthier America that is no longer at war with itself. These are not utopian platitudes, but realistic, achievable goals. Indeed, other countries are more successfully controlling drug abuse through public health approaches. Thirty years ago President Nixon declared the "war on drugs." But today more illegal drugs, at cheaper prices and higher purity, are flooding into our country. Everyone knows we are not winning the drug war--and the real reason is that the strategy itself is wrong. It is time to admit failure and end the war on drugs. A first step should be for Congress to say no to the emergency supplemental Colombian military aid package. Instead, take that $1.6 billion and invest it to support the peace plan in Colombia and to provide treatment and prevention programs here at home. America also desperately needs peace for our families and our communities.
IGNORING LESSONS OF DRUG WARS PAST
In rushing to approve a $1.7 billion Colombian military aid package, Congress is ignoring drug enforcement history which shows this approach will actually make America's drug problem worse. There has not been an eradication or interdiction program in the past 35 years that has reduced the supply of illegal drugs. Indeed such efforts actually increase drug supplies by spurring new source countries, new trafficking routes and new drugs.
Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey recognizes that winning the war in Colombia is improbable and is already making excuses. Recently he said that lack of AWAC air support makes success in Colombia unlikely. Not only does this allow the drug czar to point blame for failure at DoD, it greases the skids for more direct involvement of our military in the Colombian civil war. The quagmire many fear is becoming more likely.
Since 1980 the federal government has spent over $250 billion on the drug war. Why do advocates of the Colombian escalation think that this $1.7 billion appropriation will succeed? Are these last few billion going to be more effective then the first $250 billion?
We should learn the lessons of drug wars past and seek effective alternatives. For less then the cost of international drug efforts we could have treatment on request so addicts who want to stop can do so. The RAND Corporation has concluded that treatment is 10 times more effective than interdiction. We could also institute effective prevention programs for American youth. After school programs would do more to stop adolescent drug use then the drug war. The U.S. spends $600 million on after school programs; the Children's Defense Fund recommends $2.5 billion.
These two programs would take away current consumers and reduce the number of new consumers. If we want to undermine Colombian drug cartels, we should take care of our problems at home.
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