Is the Drug War in Latin America Just an Excuse to Provide Contracts for U.S. Companies?

Monday, February 04, 2013
(graphic: ThoughtPolicy)

Just as the drug war in the U.S. has been linked to the profitability of the private prison and weapons industries, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week provides support for the proposition that the drug war in Latin America is little more than an excuse to provide lucrative contracts to U.S. companies in the weapons and military supply industries. According to the report, between 2008 and 2011 the government spent $97 million on the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the official name for the U.S. drug war being waged in Central America.


This year’s budget for CARSI is $26.2 million, with another $47.5 million going to Cairbbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).


Most of the drug war money is spent on equipment made by U.S. companies, including aircraft, patrol boats, night-vision goggles, body armor, radios, weapons, and X-ray equipment for scanning cargo containers. CARSI also funds counter-drug units comprised of FBI and DEA agents working with local police. More exotic projects have included development of “fingerprint and biometric capabilities” in Central America, implementation of a gun-tracing system called eTrace, and building wiretapping facilities for use against Central America’s citizens.


What have the American people gotten for their $97 million expenditure on the Central American drug war, the purpose of which is to stem the flow of drugs into the U.S.? Judging by the current state of drug use in the U.S., nothing.


About 60 percent of the cocaine that enters the U.S. does so via Central America, traveling two main coastal routes on the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the region. As Rear Adm. Charles D. Michel, commander of U.S. anti-drug task forces in Central America recently told InfoSurHoy, U.S. efforts have succeeded only in forcing traffickers to switch routes, and “We have not achieved [interdiction] on both sides of the isthmus.”


Perhaps more damning is the fact that the flow of drugs has not slowed, the rate at which Americans use drugs has not declined, and the price of drugs has not fallen. If interdiction efforts like CARSI were having an appreciable effect, economics tells us that it would be apparent in the rising price of narcotics: restricting supply should raise price, but that has not happened. In fact, most illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine and marijuana, have fallen in price over the long term, indicating that supply is keeping up with demand.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Here’s What Your $97 Million Drug War in Central America Actually Bought (by Robert Beckhusen, Wired)

America’s Drug Was in Latin America Expanding (by Martha Mendoza, Associated Press)

Status of Funding for the Central America Regional Security Initiative (by Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., GAO) (pdf)

State Dept. Outsourcing $10 Billion Air War against Drugs (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

We Spend $20 Billion a Year to Fight Illegal Drugs, Yet Cocaine Is Cheaper than It Was 30 Years Ago (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

The Trillion-Dollar Drug War: Was It Really Worth It? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Malcolm Kyle 5 years ago
Prohibition has finally run its course: Our prisons are full, our economy is in ruins, the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans have been destroyed or severely disrupted. What was once a shining beacon of liberty and prosperity has become a toxic, repressive, smoldering heap of hypocrisy and a gross affront to fundamental human decency. Accordingly, it is now the duty of every last one of us to insure that the people who are responsible for this shameful situation are not simply left in peace to enjoy the wealth and status that their despicable actions have, until now, afforded them. Former and present Prohibitionists must not be allowed to remain untainted and untouched from the unconscionable acts that they have viciously committed on their fellow citizens. They have provided us with neither safe communities nor safe streets. We will provide them with neither a safe haven to enjoy their ill-gotten gains nor the liberty to repeat such a similar atrocity. If you're a bottom-dwelling, prohibitionist parasite who's career has entailed subjecting the rest of us to off-the-scale corruption and lawlessness, then maybe you should consider moving to somewhere that won't extradite you to a future national or international drug-war tribunal for your crimes against humanity. Prohibition has evolved local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, helping them control vast swaths of territory while gifting them with significant social and military resources. Those responsible for the shameful policy of prohibition shall not go unpunished!
yarply 5 years ago
Surely the question is just a rhetorical one.

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