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The United States of America has invested vast amounts of money worth up to trillions of dollars to combat the illegal drug war. (The Macias 26). The war has not been fought yet. Many have blamed the government for using insufficient tactics to combat the threat that has become monstrous in the US. The war on illegal drugs has led to the arrest and jailing of a number of people in the US, particularly marginalized people and people of color. (Matthew 27-8). More than 25 per cent of people locked up in American jails are illegal drug-related cases. Although the US is viewed to be so aggressive in the war on illicit drugs both within and outside her borders, the numbers of citizens especially the youths who have been affected by drugs are so many. (Macias 28). In fact, the US is among the nations in the world which have been hit so hard by the effects of drugs among citizens. Many people have either died or have been maimed due to excessive use of drugs. (Macias 28). The population of drug dependents in the US has also been on the rise over years. For example, in 2015, close to 52000 deaths in the US were caused by an opiate epidemic, a clear indication showing that the US will not give up in the fight against illicit drugs until the war is over. (Macias 29). The war on drugs has led to various policies being formulated for instance the foreign policy on drugs which has redefined the US relations with other countries producing drugs, especially in the Southern America.
History of the American War on Illicit Drugs
The war on drugs both within and outside the US has been almost each President’s ambition since the 1960s. Each President on power from then has appeared to be doing something in their own style to eradicate the mystery of drugs on the American soil. President Richard Nixon started the fight on illicit drugs in 1960 where he wanted to eliminate the cultural divide which had existed in the US for decades. (Livingston 355). In the process, he christened a plan to end drugs from the US. President Richard was aiming at creating a drug-free America where the citizens could prosper. (Livingston 355). However, these wars on illicit drugs have failed terribly to meet the initially intended goals. In fact, many studies are showing that in America today, drug abuse among citizens is so high than it was before even though the government spends trillions of dollars on the fight and rehabilitation of those already affected by drugs.
From the early 1970s, till today, the subject of the war on drugs has been viewed by many Americans as a controversial matter. It is controversial because as much as some people are really supporting the noble war and would wish it be won, a majority of Americans are seeing the war as unnecessary. (Livingston 356). Those against the war on drugs have always argued that it is the rights of humans to use what they want to use, that some drugs have medicinal value and therefore people should not be barred from using and that they are dissatisfied by the high government’s allocation of money on the war on drugs. (Livingston 358). Although both the federal and the state governments have kept changing the policies on the war against illicit drugs over time, the principles of these policies have remained unchanged; to end completely illicit drugs from American soils at all costs.
Timeline of Events in the War on Drugs
As early as the 1870s, the US had started adopting laws as well as policies prohibiting the use of illicit drugs. The early policies criminalized the use of opium although they were not a section of the entire drug eradication program. (Livingston 359). It took almost a hundred years before President Richard Nixon could officially launch the war against illicit drugs in 1971. Later, President Carter promised during his campaigns to decriminalize marijuana if elected but ended up doing little when in office. (Livingston 361). During the 1980s, the First Lady Nancy Reagan also campaigned overwhelmingly against abuse of drugs. In fact, she is remembered by her “just say no” campaign in 1986.
As the war was at its peak, prices of drugs also skyrocketed. Profits made from trafficking drugs were abnormal. The international drug traffickers consequently attained immense power and influence, and they could influence their leaders through bribery to operate illegally in their home countries especially in the Latin America. By 1990s, the fight escalated to another level. Military operations started being used as a way to deal with trafficking. Drug ships were being intercepted by the US Coast Guard. Paramilitary raids on drug dens became very common. As presented by the Drug Policy Alliance, about 40000 such raids were experienced annually in the 1990s.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton provided one billion US dollars to Colombia. The money was to be used to purchase herbicides to kill the coca plant, purchase helicopters for spraying, and for training. The reason for taking this action was because the flow of cocaine into America from Colombia has increased. (Livingston 365). Despite the struggles, there are states within the US that decriminalized marijuana for medical use. The State of California started in 1996 and since then till 2012, twenty states had followed suit. This has appeared as a tug of war where the national government is fighting all forms of illicit drugs whereas the states within the nation are decriminalizing the very drugs being fought by Federal Government. (Livingston 3700). In 2009, President Barrack Obama gave a directive that stopped the Department of Justice from pursuing the users of marijuana for medical reasons. The directive is seen a loophole for non-medical users of marijuana to continue using it in the pretense of medical reasons.
International Drug Trafficking and American Foreign Policies about Illicit Drugs
Drug trafficking is not a problem of the Americas alone, but rather a problem which has hit the whole world. From reports, the trend in production of drugs both natural and synthetic drugs internationally have increased. Opium and marijuana production has been doubled whereas the coca plant production has been tripled. These are statistics which scare the world leaders and fighters of drug wars.
Currently, the US has various policies which are aimed at controlling drug use and trafficking. They are called international drug control policies. The primary goal of the policies is to reduce the inflow of illicit drugs into the US. The second goal of these policies to control, the levels of illicit drugs being cultivated, processed and supplied for consumption worldwide. The current US International Policies on Drug Trafficking Strategies have the following elements; eradication of the crops used for the production of drugs, interdiction, and enforcement of law, international cooperation, sanctions and/or economic support, and institutional development.
Eradication of the Crops
Among the policies on drug trafficking, the US has maintained for long is the reduction of cultivation and production of the illicit narcotics by eradicating them. (Fuentes 44). The US support eradication of marijuana, opium, and coca in many countries through initiation and supervision of various programs in the producing countries facilitated by US government. (Fuentes 44). The US supports the producer countries by offering technical assistance, herbicides, aircraft, and any other support to ensure the crops are eradicated completely.
Interdiction and Enforcement of Law
In this case, the US normally assists the host countries in seizing narcotic drugs before they reach American soil. (Fuentes 32). The US also penetrates and attacks the criminal ring to destabilize their economy so as to impede their efforts to ferry drugs to the various location in the world. Additionally, the US government also trains foreign anti-narcotic officers and equip them with necessary materials as a way of helping in the prevention of drugs before they reach the American borders. (Fuentes 34). Other elements of the US International Policies on Drugs which are also very pivotal in the fight against narcotics are; international cooperation, economic assistance, and institutional development.
US-South America Relations on War against Illicit Drugs
The US-funded war on drugs in South America has been so intense although the efforts have been limited by the geographical location of the nation. From the 1970s, the US government has invested trillions of dollars in the war against illicit drugs in Southern America trough trying to dismantle the drug cartels within Latin America. The aerial fumigation attempts and foreign policies on drugs Latin America was subjected to, has however been criticized as the main reason drug trafficking has shifted northwards.
In the 1980s, South America was the leading producer of coca, a plant used to produce cocaine. Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia produced 65%, 25%, and 10% respectively of the world’s coca plant. The war led to the death of over 15000 people some of who were innocent. (Lynch 48). After the big cartels had been executed, paramilitaries displaced many small-scale farmers in an attempt to control land use and drug trade routes. (Lynch 48). Between 2000 and 2010, the US’s expenditure on military and economic aid known as Plan Colombia ran to a tune of US dollars 7.3 billion. (Murphy and Davis 2). The program was successful in bringing many coca-growing areas under the US under control, although till date, Colombia is still the world’s leading producer of coca and cocaine. Another major threat of Plan Colombia is that it shifted the drug trade to Peru, Bolivia, and Central America, Mexico included.
There are new realities which are threatening the relations of US and the Southern America with regards to fighting against illicit drugs. Uruguay is the first ever Latin American nation to decriminalize the use of marijuana. (James and George 3-5). Colombia and Guatemala have also been in the limelight supporting the move by Uruguay although they do not have the capacity to implement the same policies in the respective countries. (Fuentes 348-52). The US has also been viewed to have loosened the fight because many states in the US have legalized the use of marijuana and 55% of the US citizens do not see anything wrong with using marijuana for whatever reason, either pleasure or medical.
Many Latin American countries today are opposing the liberalization of drug laws, despite other key countries like Bolivia and Uruguay relenting and loosening the laws on drugs. The debate about drug trafficking in the Latin America is broadening whereas reviewers think that the influence of US’s policies in the Latin America is declining. (Livingston 378). It is becoming evident that newer approaches should be sought as American countries are debating on possible alternatives to war staged by the US on drugs. The first step is putting in place the US foreign policy on drugs which states the war on drugs is a shared responsibility and which needs a cumulative approach both by the US and the affected region. (Livingston 379). Some countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay have declined the US aid, coupled with compromised certification of drugs and willingness to resist pressure from the US, is a clear indication that the relations between the US and the Latin American countries have been compromised and the US can no longer dictate implementation of policies on these countries like was the case in the 1970s and 80s.
Another country to the south which has had long relations with the US regarding fight against drugs is Mexico. In the year 2006, the US and Mexico launched a crackdown on the drug cartels and organizations thereby escalating the levels of conflicts on these illegal businesses. (Foley 4). The consequences of these conflicts, however, are that tens of thousands of people in drug-related cases were killed. The US has invested both financially and intelligence in Mexico as an effort to combat the menace. (Foley 4-5). The primary goal of these wars has been to suppress the flow of illicit drugs into the US. Analysts have found discrepancies in the moves by the US and have termed the efforts fruitless. (Foley 5). They have therefore suggested that there should be new approaches to addressing the issue of drug trafficking within the Latin American countries.
Strategies for the Future
As much as there have been considerable investments by governments of the US and the rest of the Latin America to fight illicit drugs, there is still a high inflow of narcotics into the US. (Gomez 354). Anti-narcotic policies and initiatives have not yet yielded the expected results and therefore much still need to be done by all the governments, apparently, change of tactics on how this menace is addressed. (Gomez 355). Leaders in all the counties remain optimistic that success will once be achieved on the war. There have been several bilateral agreements between the US and the rest of the Latin American countries concerning war on narcotics and it is expected that these agreements will yield positive results. (Gomez 358). However, there is still a big threat emanating from the countries which have refused to criminalize certain drugs and are resisting pressures from the US to enact laws which criminalize production and processing of illicit drugs example are Bolivia and Guatemala.
It is clear from reports and studies that despite all the efforts being applied by the US to end the problem of drug abuse, there are several impediments which are countering the efforts. It is prudent to say therefore that the US should resort to other means of addressing the problem of drug trafficking both within its borders and the outside world. It is arguable that there is no point of US fighting production of marijuana in other nations yet there are several states within its jurisdiction which have legalized the herb for medical purposes. It is pointless to use marijuana for medical purposes if there are alternative drugs which can be used in place of marijuana. The approaches to fighting these drugs need to be revised if the war is to be won soon.
Foley, J. Bowen. Mexico: Unprecedented Cooperation at Sea. U.S. Department of State Press Release, 2012, pp. 4-6
Fuentes, Guidetti. Valor Scorned: The Disarming of Highway Drug Interdiction in America. Unpublished Paper, 2000, pp.32-6.
Fuentes, Kelly. Drug Supply and Demand: The Dynamics of the American Drug Market and some Aspects of Colombian and Mexican Drug Trafficking. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 15(4), 2009, pp. 344-55
Gomez, Cespedes. The Federal Law Enforcement Agencies: An Obstacle in the Fight against Organized Crime in Mexico. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 15(4), 2010, pp. 356-9.
James, Finckenauer., and George, L. Ward. Mexico and the United States: Neighbors Confront Drug Trafficking. National Institute of Justice, 2007, pp. 1-9
Livingston, Grace. Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy, and War. Rutgets University Press, 2004, pp. 377-89.
Lynch, Tuomy. War No More: The Folly and Futility of Drug Prohibition. National Review, 53(2), 2001, pp 47-8.
Macias, Steven. Remarks at Opening of U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 2000, pp. 25-33.
Murphy, Philip., and Davis, L. Liston. Improving Anti-drug Budgeting. RAND Publication, 2005, pp. 2.
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