MR Original – Global War On Drugs: A Brief History

Posted on by

DEAMEDIA ROOTS — Disregarding the 1970 National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which recommended de-criminalizing marijuana usage, President Nixon opted to declare a War on Drugs.  Every U.S. President since Nixon has repeated this approach.  In order to understand our present condition, we must analyze this war’s key traits, including its history, the means by which it achieves its aims, and its beneficiaries.


The CIA and the Pentagon boast a shocking tradition of interference in Latin America, a brief summary of which includes: Bolivia 1964; Brazil 1961; Chile 1973; Costa Rica; Dominican Republic 1963; Ecuador 1960; El Salvador 1980; Grenada 1983; Guatemala 1954; Guyana 1953; Haiti 1959 and 1987; Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1980s; Mexico and Colombia 1980s-present; Panama 1989; Peru 1965; Uruguay 1969; Venezuela 2002; and Honduras 2009.  This short list doesn’t include several examples of election interference, Foreign Military Financing, or clandestine Foreign Internal Defense.  Looking at a map of Latin America, one would have great difficulty finding a nation in which the USA hasn’t interfered.

Today, the Pentagon exploits Latin America through Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).  Success in the so-called War on Drugs rests on the Pentagon’s ability to build international and interagency partnerships, according to USSOUTHCOM Commander General Fraser.  Pentagon officials also camouflage U.S. military interference in sovereign nations as the pursuit of “common interests.”  These interests include: border protection, tackling transnational organized crime, stopping “those who would undermine the stability of nations,” violent extremist organizations, narco-terrorism, “narco-syndicates,” and criminal gangs.  Sweetening the proverbial pot, Pentagon officials always tout their specialties – cyber security, airlift capacity, ISR, logistics, C4S, humanitarian assistance, and intelligence fusion – in order to induce cooperation from Latin American government elites.

Colombia is an excellent example of how the Pentagon operates in Latin America.  U.S. military officials divvy out armaments and lip service while deliberately ignoring Colombia’s appalling human rights record.  (U.S. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Obama, admits all Colombian military leaders “have received at least some American military training.”)  Omitting any mention of human rights violations, Obama’s Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declares that Colombia “is one of our closest partners in the hemisphere and an emerging regional and global leader.”  General Douglas Fraser even asserts that Colombia “can serve as a model for other regional nations.”

General Dempsey boldly alleges the Colombian people have “become fond of [the Colombian Armed Forces’] presence,” contrary to published reports.  Dempsey supports “Colombia’s strategy” against the FARC, which he describes as the “main terrorist group in the country.”  In reality, “Colombia’s strategy” is imposed from above by the Pentagon, and remains in place through the USA’s excessive Foreign Military Financing (bribery) to Colombia.  A substandard diplomat, Dempsey drags the USA’s name through the mud: “As the chief of our armed forces, I come here today to first of all say thank you, and secondly, how much we admire your courage and democratic values. I commit to continuing to be a good partner with you in this conflict.”  Even rudimentary knowledge of U.S. imperialism should cause Latin American officials to think twice before signing on to the USA’s War on Drugs.


USSOUTHCOM personnel have monitored drug trafficking across Latin America for more than twenty years.  Under this paradigm, U.S. tax dollars pay for military raids, drills, foreign internal defense operations, and counter-narcotics reconnaissance missions (including using assets in Mexico and Curacao).  In military parlance, the Pentagon merely provides “unique military platforms, personnel, systems and capabilities that support federal law enforcement agencies and foreign security forces involved in counter-narcotics missions.”  This presence is enhanced by task forces, exercises, operations, international agreements, and general training.

Task Forces include JTF-Vulcano and JITF-South. JTF-Vulcano, which is nominally under Colombian leadership, was established in December 2011 and aims to defeat the FARC.  In March 2012, Dempsey visited JTF-Vulcano with “virtually the entire Colombian defense leadership.” JITF-South is the primary instrument through which USSOUTHCOM interdicts maritime drug shipments.  Its boundaries frequently cross into areas of responsibility belonging to USNORTHCOM, USSOUTHCOM, USEUCOM, and USPACOM.  Although nominally operating out of USSOUTHCOM’s headquarters in Miami, many of JITF-South’s activities are run out of El Salvador, Panama, Soto Cano and other bases throughout Honduras.

The Pentagon and U.S. government agencies extend their reach through various exercises and operations:

Fused Response—the “largest bilateral exercise of its kind in the Western hemisphere”—includes aspects of field training, command post instruction, communications work, staff planning, and reconnaissance drills.  It is designed to enhance nations’ ability to “work together in any circumstance [my emphasis].”  PANAMAX involves 17 nations and advertises itself as training to “protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal,” despite focusing mostly on counter-narcotics procedures.  Tradewinds is “conducted in the Caribbean region and focuses on countering drug, arms and human trafficking.”  CRUZEX works on “broad applications across many spectrums of conflict” and trains with military counterparts “so that we can integrate seamlessly during future operations as part of a larger coalition.”  Unitas stresses countries “operate and train together in scenario-based environments, which include theater security operations, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotic operations, live-fire exercises, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”

Martillo is a multinational, interagency drug-interdiction operation run by JITF-South, and focuses on both coasts of the Central American isthmus.  Its aim is to “use persistent surveillance to force traffickers to move their shipping routes into international waters.”  Its other goal is to “deny transnational criminal organizations the ability to move narcotics, precursor chemicals for explosives, bulk cash and weapons along Central American shipping routes.”  (For propaganda pictures of Operation Martillo, see here.)  Through these task forces, exercises, and operations, the Pentagon retains the right to VBSS (Visit, Board, Search, and Seize) any private property traveling in USSOUTCOM’s area of responsibility.  Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that the Pentagon enjoys full hegemony, both directly and indirectly, throughout Latin America.

Executive and legislative programs and international agreements till the international soil for Pentagon expansion.  Existing on various jurisdictional and hierarchical planes, these programs include, but are not limited to: Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI), the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), Plan Colombia, the Merida Initiative, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the U.S. – Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation, the U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, the U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI).  Some of these programs, like ATPDEA, aim to provide economic alternatives to cocaine production, but misuse their power through scorched-earth policies, which eradicate all crops in the Pentagon’s crosshairs.  Moreover, blanket use of defoliants and pesticides affect the livelihood of indigenous farming communities.  Other programs, like Merida, shower more than a billion dollars across Mexico and Central America with no tangible results.  All of these programs waste time, lives, treasury, and agriculture.

The Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC) and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), are two training institutions providing the Pentagon with leverage over, and connections to, Latin American militaries.  DLIELC, which is located primarily at Lackland AFB, Texas, trains foreign military personnel in American English.  WHINSEC, which is complicit in flooding Latin America with numerous atrocities, claims to provide “professional education and training for civilian, military and law enforcement students from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere.”  Tellingly, WHINSEC’s link to its page on “Democracy, Ethics and Human Rights” cannot be found.  (For an official U.S. Army video about WHINSEC, see here.  For the reality of WHINSEC, see here.)

These schools, the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, bilateral exchange programs, and various senior-level forums allow the Pentagon to network with young Latin American officers.  Through these connections, the Pentagon can dictate policy, manipulate foreign militaries, sustain the War on Drugs, facilitate CIA coups d’état, and generally undermine democracy.  The Pentagon also uses these connections in order to marginalize any institutions offering a counter-vision to the USA’s regional military and economic hegemony, like the Central American Integration System and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).

With the hemisphere covered, the Pentagon has turned its attention on the “homeland,” formerly known as the United States of America (270).  The Pentagon’s arsenal, which was once reserved for warzones abroad, is now deployed at home against the War on Drugs.  Noting the “effectiveness” of weapons platforms and special operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, an Assistant Defense Secretary remarked these systems and units can be applied to “protect our borders as well.”  The Pentagon recently sent more air assets to the USA’s Southwest border, describing its support to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as giving them “more flexibility against an adaptive adversary.”  For the record, CBP has grown to about 21,500 personnel in recent months along the border.  The Pentagon, which already provides ISR platforms to the U.S.-Mexico border, also intends to “ramp up” this support throughout 2012.  Based on this evidence, the Posse Comitatus Act is being turned into gossamer.

The militarized Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement’s Campaign against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) is a solid example of domestic militarization, and is just one droplet in the War on Drugs’ excess.  A phenomenal waste of taxpayer dollars, CAMP thrives on bureaucratic inefficiency as it tackles California’s marijuana crops.  More than 110 agencies have participated in CAMP, which is “the largest law enforcement task force in the United States.”  Contrary to the acclaim on CAMP’s website, such rabid inefficiency should never invoke a sense of accomplishment.  Littered with disheartening statistics, CAMP’s website states that the “1,675,681 plants seized with an estimated street value of more than $6.7 billion” had surpassed the previous record by 540,989 plants.  When considered realistically, removing this amount of marijuana from the market has not impacted the plant’s supply or consumption.  All of CAMP’s efforts were for naught; all of the taxpayer dollars that contributed to CAMP’s “successes” were wasted, and the U.S. taxpayer continues to get bamboozled.  Whether home or abroad, the Pentagon has successfully created an aperture, known as the Global War on Drugs, through which to jam military hegemony and from which U.S. corporate interests profit.


Just like the War on Terror, the military-industrial complex fuels the War on Drugs.

Panetta couches the sale of war materiel to Colombia as “the United States [standing] in solidarity with Colombia and its campaign [against the narco-terrorist group FARC]… We will continue to provide training, equipment and assistance that Colombia has requested in order to defeat this common enemy.”  It’s a clever gambit: impose a war upon a Colombia – through USA’s insatiable drug demand, Capitol Hill’s flawed policy response, and the Pentagon’s insatiable military expansion – then require that Colombia purchases war materiel from USA’s domestic armaments industry.

As a minute example, Panetta confirmed on his trip to Colombia that the U.S. “is prepared to facilitate the sale of 10 helicopters, five U.S. Army Black Hawks and five commercial helicopters, to help Colombia’s efforts against the FARC.”  Insisting on keeping USA’s “industrial base” afloat, Pentagon officials continually mention “technology transfers” as one of the “common interests” uniting Latin America and USA.  Unfortunately for Brazil, Colombia, Peru, et alii, the phrase “technology transfer” simply means “buy from us.”  Ominously, General Dempsey articulated that drones (remotely piloted vehicles) are part of these transfers.  Panetta and Brazilian Defense Minister Amorim discussed expanding two-way trade into areas of advanced defense technology.  Panetta’s candor illustrates the military-industrial complex’s power: “We continue to look for ways to improve the technology we share with Brazil so hopefully Brazil can provide jobs and opportunities for its people as we provide jobs and opportunities for ours.”  In sum, help USA’s war machine, por favor.

More than seven U.S. weapons manufacturers toured Brazil prior to Pentagon officials’ April visit this year.  Tellingly, the Pentagon has submitted Boeing’s Super Hornet (F/A 18-E/F) to the Brazilian Air Force’s F-X2 fighter competition.  Panetta explicates: “This offer is about much more than providing Brazil with the best fighter available…  With the Super Hornet, Brazil’s defense and aviation industries would be able to transform their partnerships with U.S. companies, and they would have the best opportunity to plug into worldwide markets.”  Of course, General Dempsey boasts, “I went in hoping that we wouldn’t get bogged down in a single weapons system or on technology transfer and we didn’t.”

Entrenched U.S. corporate interests (e.g. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, GEO Group, CCA, MTC) also fuel the War on Drugs.  They lobby daily for strict drug laws to keep their profits robust.  Pharmaceutical companies favor the status quo, since they’re unable to profit from the marijuana plant whose naturally occurring cannabinoids are difficult to synthesize or patent.  Weapons manufacturers favor the status quo, since they profit excessively from producing aircraft, weaponry, and ammunition with which to “fight” the drug war.  Finally, private prison industries favor the status quo in order to fill their occupancy quotas and keep their jails filled.


Having analyzed this War’s history, appendages, and beneficiaries, we realize that the War on Drugs and the War on Terror are virtually indistinguishable. Examples abound:

Both the War on Drugs and the War on Terror escalated under President Obama’s direction. Upon ascension to office, the Obama administration increased USA’s military and espionage interference in Latin America, Southwest Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.  The administration also altered the names of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs.  The War on Terror became Overseas Contingency Operations, while the administration simply stopped using the phrase War on Drugs.  When pressed on the seemingly ineffective nature of counter-narcotics efforts, Obama’s advisers indicate that it’s too soon to judge the results.  The U.S. public was fed the same excuses about the Afghanistan troop “surge.”  In Afghanistan, U.S. Forces assert that Afghans are leading the fight.  In Central America, U.S. Forces assert that the respective host nation military is leading the fight.

The Pentagon trains Afghan army and police forces, and also trains Mexican soldiers and federal police.  Pentagon officials also frame their Wars on Drugs and Terror as a “responsibility” that USA has to the rest of the world.  In both Afghanistan and Mexico, corruption is always cited as the main obstacle to “success.”

According to Pentagon officials, the porous Colombia-Venezuela border makes it a prime shipping point for cocaine and “terror group” activities.  Similarly, the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often cited as teeming with terrorist activity and narcotic trading.  Officials view borders, not policy, as the problem.  

In confronting Drugs and Terror, policymakers consistently fail to see each “war” within their wider contexts.  The War of Drugs is implemented through attempting to crush the supply of drugs.  The War on Terror is implemented through attempting to kill the terrorists.  In both cases, the Pentagon and D.C. policymakers never examine internal issues; the War on Drugs never examines domestic drug policies, while the War on Terror never examines imperial foreign policies.

Pentagon officials are unable to envision the War on Drugs and the War on Terror without reference to conventional numerical metrics.  For example, they aim to cut the FARC’s numbers in half by 2014 and they applaud sending 10,000 more troops to help JTF-Vulcano.  In the same mindset, the Pentagon attempted “surges” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials also use numbers to laud the “progress” they’ve made.  For example, they boast about drug seizures, without acknowledging that confiscating drugs doesn’t impair the overall drug flow.  Likewise, killing terrorists, insurgents, civilians, and children doesn’t stop terrorism.

U.S. agencies are complicit in arming the all sides in the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.  U.S. officials have run illegal arms and smuggled weaponry to drug cartels.  (After this information was disclosed, the U.S. government conveniently reaffirmed its commitment to combatting arms trafficking, and repeated this commitment often over the next six months.)  In the War on Terror, USA has funded various terrorist organizations.  Today, the MEK is a fan-favorite among U.S. policymakers.

Even U.S. personnel cross over from the War on Terror to the War on Drugs.  The Commander in charge of U.S. military operations in Central America was once in charge of U.S. military operations in Baghdad.  According to General Dempsey, the Pentagon is sending “brigade commanders who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan” to Colombia, because “the challenges they face are not unlike the challenges we’ve faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  DEA’s FAST (Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Team) honed its militancy against the poppy industry in Afghanistan and is now pursuing cocaine distributors in Central America.  The U.S. ambassador to Mexico even has extensive experience working in Afghanistan.

Failed tactics and strategies from War on Terror are now being used in the War on Drugs.  These include emphasis on becoming a network, recycling a “clear, hold and build” mindset, and weaponizing healthcare.

General Stanley McChrystal, the former 4-star in charge of ISAF, was a proponent of molding USA’s forces into a flexible network in order to defeat the Taliban’s fluid network.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated this thinking at the Global Counterterrorism Forum in September 2011 when she stated: “We can build an international counterterrorism network that is as nimble and adaptive as our adversaries.” Dempsey later reaffirmed this concept when addressing Duke University in January 2012.  In March, Dempsey applied this GWOT concept to the War on Drugs: “If you are going to beat a network, you’ve got to have a network.”  In grafting the War on Drugs onto the Pentagon’s European area of operations, the director of EUCOM’s Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center explained: “In order for us – the United States and international community – to have the best chance of disrupting and dismantling illicit trafficking, we, too, have to be a network of networks.”  William F. Wechsler, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, agrees: “A network of adversaries requires a network to defeat it.”

“Clear, hold and build” – in which NATO forces “clear” insurgents out of localities, and “hold” population centers in order to “build” civilian institutions – is the Pentagon’s favored strategy in Afghanistan.  Although it hasn’t provided any fruit in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is now applying it to the War on Drugs by introducing these procedures in Colombia.  General Dempsey appreciates “what we called in Iraq clear, hold, build,” and boasted about it  when speaking in Brazil and Miami.  (Dempsey doesn’t consider that these tactics never achieved anything beyond “fragile and reversible” results in Afghanistan.)  Furthermore, U.S. bases in Central America are now patterned after U.S.  Forward Operating Bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. military compounds in northern Mexico have been modeled after U.S. “fusion intelligence centers” in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon also uses healthcare as a weapon in its counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Colombia. USA has a long history of using Civil Affairs (CA) programs in Afghanistan.  To the U.S. military, Civil Affairs essentially means performing good deeds for local populations in order to “leverage” this goodwill during imminent military operations.  In Afghanistan, CA often takes the form of medical clinics.  Similarly, the Colombian military has incorporated “civil affairs” into most operations.  In the words of the American Forces Press Service, health care is “a big draw.”  In fact, one of JTF-Vulcano’s first orders of business was to set up a healthcare program in Tibu, Colombia.  In Honduras, USSOUTHCOM also uses medicine as a tool to win hearts and minds.  In 2011, USSOUTHCOM conducted 56 medical exercises in 13 countries, which is a testament to its widespread implementation.  If U.S. military elites actually cared for the health and safety of native populations, they would end the War on Drugs and use deep pockets to provide state-of-the-art clinics for all of the War’s victims.  But they don’t.  Instead, they use healthcare as a weapon, all in an attempt to lure the locals’ “hearts and minds.”

Both the so-called War on Drugs and the War on Terror involve hyping amorphous, unsubstantiated threats.  Pentagon officials claim that Latin American trafficking organizations “are using 21st century technologies to commit their crimes.”  We heard the same allegations about the criminality of pre-occupation Iraq.  Both terrorists and narco-terrorists, according to the official narrative, exercise “command and control” over significant territory, adapt quickly, and are an “asymmetric” threat.  Both entities are “syndicated,” which means that they will “ally themselves” with any organization that “suits their needs at the time.”  Remember when Saddam was “allied” with al-Qaeda?  In Dempsey’s words, “they’re networked, they are decentralized and they are syndicated.”  Vice Admiral Kernan, second in command at USSOUTHCOM, warns of “insidious” parallels between terrorists and translational criminal organizations.  General Dempsey recognizes “the threat that transnational organized crime presents, not just because of what they transport to our shores, but what they could also transport — terrorists and weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”  Other officials present USA’s presence in Latin America as a “quest to halt proliferation and prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into enemy hands.”  Drawing on a sordid history, unimpeded expansion, and backed by the military-industrial complex, the War on Drugs increasingly resembles the War on Terror.

Written by Christian Sorensen for Media Roots [Please see the upcoming MR Original article Global War On Drugs: Status Quo]                                                        Additional labour by Messina


Photo by Robbie Martin

2 thoughts on “MR Original – Global War On Drugs: A Brief History

  1. Excellent article, well researched. Some other “Industries” promoting the “Status Quo” are, The Oil lobby, any Aviation Historian will tell you, that: The use of the first Synthetic Oil, (made from Hemp seed), allowed the US air supremacy in WWII.

    The Paper Industry, One acre of trees yields as much paper as one acre of Hemp. Except it take twenty years, to regrow trees, and only one year for Hemp,

    The Cotton Industry. Hemp is softer, more durable, and uses less chemicals to manufacture.

    Plastic can also me made from Hemp. This plastic is also Biodegradable.

    Corn Lobby, Hemp makes better Bio Fuels, at less cost. Requiring almost no Fertilizers, pesticides, or Herbicides…

  2. VERY powerful article. This is a critical, and possibly the most effective, issue that can wake up even those most passionate about remaining clueless!! Nice work!!!

Leave a Reply


  • Media Roots Radio: Interview with Kelly Jones on Custody Wars & the Bizarre Transformation of Alex Jones
  • Paul Jay and Abby Martin on Trump’s Cabinet, Election Fraud & Fake News Hysteria
  • Cuba: Revolution, Sabotage & Un-Normal Relations
  • Inside Palestine’s Refugee Camps

  • Who Newsies the Newsmen? A Sober Look At “Fake News”
  • Final Thoughts from Danny Schechter
  • Rewriting the Vietnam War
  • The Official Rwanda Story Unravels
  • ‘Black on Black’ Violence: The Ultimate Red-Herring
  • Understanding Nelson Mandela’s Complex Legacy Honors Him the Most
  • Clinton 2016: Endless War Guaranteed
  • The Climate Change “Debate” and Marketization of Nature: Everyone Loses
  • BP: Scandal, Lies and Another Massive Oil Spill Cover-Up
  • Walmart’s Predatory Profit Model: Low Prices With a Heavy Cost
  • How Non-Violent Activists Can Land on the Drone King’s Kill List
  • War on Terror Comes Home to Roost: The Security State’s Plans to Crush Activism
  • How the American Dream Died
  • Wheel of Misfortune: Whitewashing Israel’s Terror Campaign
  • An “Efficient” Assault: US-Israeli War Crimes in Gaza