But What Can Be Done?
In order to control international drug smuggling, people have proposed or tried to do, among other things, the following:
1. Reduce Demand
Clearly, there is no easy way to control the flow of drugs into the United States. Latin Americans criticize the U.S. government’s focus on trying to control production in the countries of origin. They point out that `for there to be a diving board, there must be a swimming pool', and assert that the U.S., as the world’s biggest consumer of drugs, should first deal with the problem of consumption within its own borders. Latin Americans recognize, however, that this will not be easy. The enormous demand for drugs in the U.S., they say, is a “reflection of a valueless, materialistic society .…” (28)
There is much to support this gloomy portrayal. The high suicide, divorce, mental illness, and crime rates in the U.S., plus the fact that the average high school graduate has spent more time watching television than he or she has spent in the classroom, does not speak for a wise or healthy society. (52) With the recent exception of the `yuppies', drug use is reported as highest in socially disadvantaged minorities, and in young people who feel that the forces that shape their own lives are out of their control.
Certainly some very major changes in the U.S. social structure would be required to significantly reduce the present high demand for drugs. Warnings to the youth of America by Michael Jackson and Nancy Reagan will not suffice.
2. Eradicate Drugs at their Source
As far as trying to control drugs at their source, the economic constraints on countries with massive foreign debts makes the prospects dismal. As long as their debts are held against them, the major drug producing countries simply cannot afford to stop producing and exporting drugs. To do so would mean economic (and in many cases, political) suicide.
3. Cut Foreign Aid
Will the threats (and actions) by the U.S. government to cut off aid money to countries that do not take serious measures to eradicate drugs be effective?
Unlikely. As James Mills has pointed out to a congressional committee, the few million dollars a country will lose in foreign aid is a pittance in comparison to their export earnings from drugs. He recalls that Bolivia recently lost half of its U.S. foreign aid, or $7.2 million, because it failed to eradicate just one-tenth of its cocaine crop, as the U.S. had demanded. “And what price have they paid for that?” asks Mills. “$7.2 million is the value wholesale in Miami of 360 kilos of cocaine. That is nothing. That is not even a large load of cocaine. They have not lost anything.” (21)
Clearly, trying to control drug production by reducing foreign aid will not be very effective. It could even prove counter-productive, as it would create an even greater need for poor countries to generate dollars through illicit channels.
4. Restrict Capital Flight
Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, emphasizes that “the linkage between drugs and debts can no longer be ignored.” (30) He holds that the international banking system (together with the countries and laws which stand behind it) are accountable not only for engineering the devastating foreign debt of poor countries, but in part, for the consequent `capital flight' which worsens the debt problem and therefore the drug problem. (By capital flight he means investment by Third World businessmen, politicians, and gangsters of large amounts of money into foreign banks. Capital flight from México alone is said to be “tens of billions of dollars.") (53)
Under a New York Times byline, Obasanjo points out that “in a very real sense, capital flight from third world countries—a crucial component of their debt problem—encourages the traffic of drugs and would not be possible without the collusion of Westerners and their banks.” He adds that “up to one-third of all official and private loans to third world nations” may be ending up in foreign banks. (30)
Obasanjo recommends that Western countries take strong measures to end the flight of capital from developing countries. This, in turn, would give developing countries strong incentives to crack down on drug traffic, since much of that traffic arises from an urgent economic need to generate funds lost through capital flight. (30)
He argues that “capital flight through corruption is damaging to the countries of origin and beneficial to the countries receiving and holding the funds.” By contrast, “drug trafficking brings social and economic damage to the recipient country, while… financially benefiting the country of origin. It is in everyone’s interest to end these menacing problems, for drugs are sapping the strength of the industrialized world, while capital flight, through corruption, is similarly wounding the third world.” (30)
However, since the suffocating foreign debt of developing countries greatly increases capital flight because investors lose confidence in their countries' viability, and therefore invest abroad, something will need to be done about the debt crisis first to make the restriction of capital flight possible.
5. Enforce Laws Against Laundering of Drug Money
Capital flight, apart from aggravating the foreign debt of poor countries, and thereby instigating increased drug traffic, also facilitates the laundering of drug monies. Ronald Soble, in the Los Angeles Times, explains that “money laundering is a crucial step in narcotics trafficking. Without a series of financial institutions to move his money through, exchanging it and disguising its source, the big drug dealer is, in effect, stuck with millions in small bills.” (19)
In the U.S., banks are not supposed to accept big deposits of money from drugs, but claim that they often have no way of knowing the money’s origin. The U.S. government requires banks to report all deposits over $10,000. However, many banks—especially those on the U.S./Mexican border—make deals with selected customers not to declare big deposits. In 1985, the Treasury Department began to penalize banks for violating the Bank Secrecy Act, a federal law used to ferret out drug dealers by tracking down large amounts of cash. In August, 1985, Crocker Bank, the nation’s second largest bank, was fined $2.25 million for failure to report over 7,900 large deposits. The Crocker bank in San Ysidro, California (across the border from Tijuana) was the main offender.(19) Bank of America, the world’s largest commercial bank, was fined $4.75 million for similar violations. (54)
Who knows in how many of these countries, the CIA instigates drug running to the U.S. in order to finance its covert operations.
There is little question that steps taken to limit capital flight and to restrict the laundering of drug money could help to control drug traffic. Whether the banks will cooperate is more doubtful. The ethical stalemate which is the crux of the problem was summed up by the manager of the Bank of Coronado’s San Ysidro branch. When accused by U.S. Customs that she should have reported suspicious new accounts, the manager snapped, “This is a bank, not a church.” (19)
6. Outlaw Covert Action
Drug traffic and its related evils could be reduced if the international community and the United Nations would put strong pressure on the U.S. government to respect international law and to obey the orders of the World Court. This could require worldwide boycotts and trade blockades.
Today, Nicaragua is only one of 50 countries in which the CIA conducts covert destabilization activities. Who knows in how many of these countries, the CIA instigates drug running to the U.S. in order to finance its covert operations. The U.S. Congress has passed laws requiring the CIA to report its covert actions to congressional committees. But time and again, the CIA has been caught lying to these committees and violating congressional mandates, sometimes with secret approval from the administration. It has routinely violated the laws of the U.S. and of countries they operate in, as well as every standard of honesty, ethics, and decency. It has instigated pointless wars, plotted assassinations, and perpetuated the suffering and deaths of millions. † The Iran-Contra violations are the tip of the iceberg. Clearly, covert operations are out of congressional control.
Covert operations, entailing plots for the assassination of national leaders, suffering of multitudes, and destabilization of struggling nations, are kept secret from the voters and from most of the government. They have no place in a democracy. They have even less place in a world searching for avenues of peace, and threatened with absolute annihilation. The international world community, U.S. Congress, and as much of the North American public as can be aroused to think and act, would do well to join in the demand for the termination of covert operations.
Only when the covert operations of the CIA are stopped, or far more seriously restrained and monitored, can the United States government speak of its ‘War on Drugs’ with an honest face.
† These shocking facts are carefully documented in Gerald Garwood’s book, Covert Action: 35 Years of Deception [Grove Press, 1985] and in John Stockwell’s book, In Search of Enemies—A CIA Story [W.W. Norton & Co., 1978]. John Stockwell was the Chief of CIA Angola Task Force, until his conscience bit too hard, and he quit. A new book on the same topic, to be released this month, is The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA [W.W. Norton & Co., 1987], by Jonathan Kwitny, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal.