Prohibitionists make themselves useful to governments by enabling drug geopolitics to influence weaker governments and cultures on behalf of more aggressive and dominating groups.
Illustrating the tactic, human rights activist John Lindsey-Poland, author of Plan Colombia, U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism, reveals the drug war in Colombia to be a scam, a vehicle linking its legitimacy to countering drug trafficking. Its purpose is to support US and international corporate interests operating in Colombia. It uses DEA personnel, taxpayer funding, and US materials to achieve its goal, while drug enforcement is made a sideshow:
The Andean Initiative announced by President George H. W. Bush in August 1989 was followed quickly by a $65 million emergency delivery of equipment that included tens of thousands of weapons, warheads, and mortars, part of $127 million in U.S. nominally counterdrug assistance to Colombia that year. Although the military openly acknowledged that its missions were not focused on counterdrug operations, which were carried out by police, more than three-quarters of the package went to the military. [Kindle 873]
As the 1990s progressed, debate heated up among policy makers about the purposes of the U.S. role in Colombia. Official policy dictated that U.S. activities were restricted to fighting the production and trafficking of narcotics, particularly cocaine, and were not to cross the line into counterinsurgency. Some leaders saw the drug war as better terrain on which to establish the legitimacy of a U.S. role than fighting guerrillas, which politically had gone poorly in both Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Central America. This official line met with increased resistance from counterinsurgency hawks, especially military officers, both U.S. and Colombian. [Kindle 948]
“We need to find a mechanism,” former ambassador Morris Busby told Congress in 1997, “which will permit us to express our extreme displeasure with the political leadership of a country such as Colombia … but at the same time permit us to go forward with assistance to gentlemen like Generals [Harold] Bedoya [army commander] and Serrano [police chief].” [Kindle 958]
Such an outlook did not require proving that the United States had ulterior motives to fight a drug war. Instead, it measured the negative impact of escalating war, as well as the results of counternarcotics operations, which were ineffective by any meaningful measure (such as the ease of buying and street price of narcotics and the relative efficacy of treatment). [Kindle 983]
The indigenous people of Colombia were targeted as guerrillas or supporters of FARC by corrupt military and paramilitary units eager to produce an abundant body-count favored by military leaders. Meeting the quotas was rewarded with cash bonuses and holiday perks. Between 1990 and 2010 US funded and trained soldiers occasionally raided remote villages using machetes to slaughter its inhabitants, men, women and children, scenes vividly described by the author who interviewed witnesses. The innocent victims were dismissed as “false positives.”
The 1997 Leahy Amendment, the 2011 to 2017 updated Foreign Assistance Acts, and an impressive worldwide human rights public relations campaign directed at Colombia curtailed the attacks and led to the arrests of 4000 Colombian military personnel.
Partial justice for Colombians is not why some US politicians claim Plan Colombia is successful. Drug interdiction was a failure. Coca growers continued production by relocating into larger territories and reducing the size of their plots to escape aerial detection. The success was measured in developing and testing policies and strategies for intervening in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, or Afghanistan to combat communists, insurgents, socialists, journalists, witnesses, critics, and any others deemed threatening to business interests. Colombia has since become the US training center for foreign military operatives in the tradition of the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Prohibited drugs filled their traditional roles as scapegoats and a means of foreign and domestic social exploitation.