US military expands its drug war in Latin America

The crew members aboard the USS Underwood could see through their night goggles what was happening on the fleeing go-fast boat: Someone was dumping bales.
Associated Press
Feb 4, 2013


When the Navy guided-missile frigate later dropped anchor in Panamanian waters on that sunny August morning, Ensign Clarissa Carpio, a 23-year-old from San Francisco, climbed into the inflatable dinghy with four unarmed sailors and two Coast Guard officers like herself, carrying light submachine guns. It was her first deployment, but Carpio was ready for combat.

Fighting drug traffickers was precisely what she'd trained for.

In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade.  U.S. Army troops, Air Force pilots and Navy ships outfitted with Coast Guard counter-narcotics teams are routinely deployed to chase, track and capture drug smugglers.

The sophistication and violence of the traffickers is so great that the U.S. military is training not only law enforcement agents in Latin American nations, but their militaries as well, building a network of expensive hardware, radar, airplanes, ships, runways and refueling stations to stem the tide of illegal drugs from South America to the U.S.

According to State and Pentagon officials, stopping drug-trafficking organizations has become a matter of national security because they spread corruption, undermine fledgling democracies and can potentially finance terrorists.

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, pointing to dramatic declines in violence and cocaine production in Colombia, says the strategy works.

"The results are historic and have tremendous implications, not just for the United States and the Western Hemisphere, but for the world," he said at a conference on drug policy last year.

The Associated Press examined U.S. arms export authorizations, defense contracts, military aid, and exercises in the region, tracking a drug war strategy that began in Colombia, moved to Mexico and is now finding fresh focus in Central America, where brutal cartels mark an enemy motivated not by ideology but by cash.

The U.S. authorized the sale of a record $2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011, four times the authorized sales 10 years ago, according to the latest State Department reports.

Over the same decade, defense contracts jumped from $119 million to $629 million, supporting everything from Kevlar helmets for the Mexican army to building airport runways in Aruba, according to federal contract data.

Last year $830 million, almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region, went toward countering narcotics, up 30 percent in the past decade.

Many in the military and other law enforcement agencies — the DEA, ICE, FBI — applaud the U.S. strategy, but critics say militarizing the drug war in a region fraught with tender democracies and long-corrupt institutions can stir political instability while barely touching what the U.N. estimates is a $320 billion global illicit drug market.

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who chaired the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere for the past four years, says the U.S.-supported crackdown on Mexican cartels only left them "stronger and more violent." He intends to reintroduce a proposal for a Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission to evaluate antinarcotics efforts.

"Billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean," he said. "In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between."



OhioFreebyrd's picture

Kinda hard to stop drug trafficking when you are involved in it yourself. Our government is a big joke, full of lies and corruption.


WAY too much money being made selling the "tools of the trade" to the govt. It’s a feedback loop.

Taxpayer funded bureaucratic thinking: When something is not working - spend more!


"WAY too much money being made selling the "tools of the trade" to the govt. It's a feedback loop."

The CIA helps bring the drugs into the country.


Why go that far, just take care of the problem in Mexico and save gas money for us taxpayers!!


Secure the border first.


The "War on Terror" is almost universally supported, futile or not, with a will to win at any cost, and to question it impunes one's loyalty as an American.

On the other hand, despite widespread support, there's also significant opposition to the "War on Drugs." It's criticized as unwise, unjustified, and futile, even though it's arguable no less winnable than the War on Terror.

Addictive drugs kill more Americans that terrorism does. And illegal drugs probably cost the economy far more, and absolutely does if you take out the military costs.

So why the contradiction, and why the suboptimal imbalance in resource expenditure?

Of course, it's partly because we like to blame victims, and it's easier to do so with drugs than with terror.

But it's also because it's a lot harder to get make money being a terrorist than selling illegal drugs. There are fewer people making money fighting illegal drug than there are people trafficking in then, or using then, inconvenienced by issues of supply, quality and price - there's a significant faction that Does Not Want a reduction in illegal drug trade.

So it's simple economics. Traffickers and users have an interest in convincing others that the War on Drugs is a bad idea. That agenda is facilitated by the propensity of Americans to blame victims whenever poossible, and to be selfishly more concerned about threats they delude themselves into thinking they personally can control, than those others fail to evade.

So at the end of the day, opposition to the War on Drugs is driven by traffickers, users, and their dupes.


LOL. Trying to ban addiction? Good luck with that.


Exactly! Only idiots truly feel that they can do something this ignorant. They clearly do not understand that an addiction, like alcoholism, is very much a disease. It falls under the same part of the brain control center as that does. One has no more control over it, than the person who imbibes too much and cannot stop. Drugs are a controlling problem just like alcohol is for some. But some uneducated people don't seem to understand that. They think it is just so easy to simply say "stop" and that is it. Yeah, like that's going to work. LOL

BW1's picture

"So it's simple economics. Traffickers and users have an interest in convincing others that the War on Drugs is a bad idea. "

No, their interests are in the other direction. Drug prohibition makes them rich. If drugs were legalized (as they should be - exactly who owns your body, you, or the government?) then the price would plummet, and they'd have to compete with the likes of RJR Reynolds, Johnson&Johnson, Bayer, etc. Prohibition makes their business profitable.

I suggest you read up on the history of Alcohol Prohibition, which brought about the birth of organized crime in America.


At least there's a new "war" to waste taxpayer money on after we are out of Afghanistan.

Maybe we can suffer some "blowback" from South America like we get in the Middle East for our mindless meddling in another country's affairs.

Prohibition didn't work in the 20's and 30's and it isn't working now.

If it grows out of the ground, it's a gift from God (Genesis 1:12) and we shouldn't be legislating against it.


AMEN I think Colorado and Washington State kind of figured that one out.


If there is a demand, the demand will be met. I don't care if it's capitalistic, socialistic, tyranny, feudalism, authoritarian, fascist, communism, anarchistic, religion based or any other thing. One can't stop addiction.

Our gov't is addicted to money, control, and power.


Absolutely well said, right on.


Legalize marijuanna.