Home > civil liberties, criminal justice, foreign policy, politics > President Obama Escalates Drug War in Latin America

President Obama Escalates Drug War in Latin America

Despite claims made by then-Candidate Obama and the hopes that his election would lead to significant and lasting changes in drug policy, the opposite is true. Not only has Obama continued to aggressively prosecute the war on drugs, but his Justice Department recently threatened medical marijuana dispensaries (operating in full compliance with state law) with prosecution, while he condescendingly sneers and dismisses the prospects of legalizing marijuana – a position that carries far more support than does his presidency. And now we can add this New York Times report to the list, detailing the Obama administration’s deployement of D.E.A. commando squads to certain parts of Latin America:

The D.E.A. now has five commando-style squads it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations — including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize — that are battling drug cartels, according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials

The program — called FAST, for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team — was created during the George W. Bush administration to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan. Beginning in 2008 and continuing under President Obama, it has expanded far beyond the war zone.


The evolution of the program into a global enforcement arm reflects the United States’ growing reach in combating drug cartels and how policy makers increasingly are blurring the line between law enforcement and military activities, fusing elements of the “war on drugs” with the “war on terrorism.”

But hey, at least our Drug Czar made sure to end the use of the term ‘war on drugs.’ Anyway, as Juan Carlos Hidalgo rightly points out, some of these countries are more than happy to welcome U.S. assistance in their struggle against the drug cartels on account of their lack of “institutional capacity…to fight these powerful criminal organizations.” While the benefits of the commando program may lead to the arrest of some drug kingpins and disruptions in supply levels and routes, it seems that the potential unintended consequences significantly outweigh these possible benefits. According to University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley:

It could lead to a nationalist backlash in the countries involved…. If an American is killed, the administration and the D.E.A. could get mired in Congressional oversight hearings. Taking out kingpins could fragment the organization and lead to more violence. And it won’t permanently stop trafficking unless a country also has capable institutions, which often don’t exist in Central America.

Image via Reuters

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