Thursday, April 7, 2011

Part 2: It is time to negotiate an end to America’s War on Drugs

 Whenever you see a dysfunctional government policy or program, you should first attempt to unravel a riddle. Who benefits by the dysfunction? The more incoherent or ineffective t may seem to outsiders, the more likely it is that someone with power has so much at stake in the status quo that attempts to reform are doomed.
The 40 years “war on drugs” is one of those dysfunctional systemic approaches to a serious national problem. There is a lot of money on the table and not all of it goes into the pockets of the usual suspects. 
A United Nations report estimated global drug trade generated more than $320 billion annually. That is an amount exceeding the Gross Domestic Product of 161 of the 190 nations whose GDP is analyzed by the CIA World Factbook. There is another interesting fact about that much money. If it was all converted into crisp new $100 bills, it would weigh more than 7 million pounds. A few years ago, I heard an NPR interview with a Columbian drug lord who said the weight of the currency they received in exchange for cocaine was at first a huge logistic problem. Then they found it to present an opportunity. They used it to compromise public officials ranging from law enforcement officers to judges and air traffic controllers. Seven million pounds of 100 dollar bills go a long way.
A recent report in The Observer (found at blew the whistle on the reckless role US and international banks play in laundering this money. According to the report, when officers investigated a 2006 landing of a DC-9 jet in Mexico laden with almost 6 tons of cocaine, they found the plane had been purchased with drug profits laundered through Wachovia Bank, a part of Wells Fargo. The bank has settled claims against them for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. As a result a total of more than $378.3 billion was laundered through that one bank in a time frame which coincided with the first escalation of violence along the US-Mexico border that ignited the current drug war.

For that Wachovia received a sentence that would be the envy of anyone caught with even a small amount of drugs in his pocket. A deferred prosecution. If the bank changes its lax policies for handling drug money, they won’t be prosecuted, the sort of double standard that makes it difficult for citizens to respect the drug laws.

Of course Wachovia is far from alone among the nation’s banks. Remember 2008 and the near collapse of the international banking system? At the height of that crisis, then head of the UN office on drugs and crime, said proceeds from drugs and crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to many banks on the brink of collapse. Close your eyes and think about the implications! A banking system propped up in part by drug money means a lot of powerful people wanting to continue this so-called war.

To be continued…

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