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Was Katrina's fury fueled by the drug war?
Eric E. Sterling

The savage destruction wreaked by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, following the four major hurricanes that smashed Florida last year, alerts us to the important changes in normal natural events being caused by global warming. What does this have to do with the “war on drugs?” Read on.

There has been an “economic tsunami” created by these storms: fuel scarcity and rising prices; higher prices and scarcity of construction supplies; destruction of courthouses, law offices, factories, warehouses, hospitals, and port facilities; blocked export of America’s harvests and manufactures; stopped production of petrochemicals and plastics; blocked imports and processing of coffee; the accommodation and care of hundreds of thousands of homeless, displaced persons.

These storms will likely cost the federal government $200 or $300 billion in higher taxes and debt. These storms will cost insurers (and their customers in higher premiums) $50 - 100 billion in underwriting losses. These storms will cost other businesses perhaps $200 billion in various losses.

These storms are a wake-up call that global warming is not trivial, remote or cheap. Scientists have talked about global warming since 1969, but now that we see the results of global warming, politicians and business leaders can no longer deny its presence or its impact.

A study released in September 2005 by NASA and Duke University shows again that deforestation affects the global climate.

One of the most important “cooling” systems for the planet has been the vast forest of the Amazon watershed spreading over Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Suriname . As this forest is substantially cut, global warming will intensify, and more mega- storms are likely.

According to the U.S. State Department,
“About 2.3 million hectares (5.68 million acres) of rainforest have been destroyed over the last 20 years in the Amazon basin due to the cultivation of coca, the crop used to make cocaine. This figure amounts to about one-quarter of all the deforestation that occurred in the area during the 20th century, said Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

“Briefing reporters on January 28, 2002, Beers said the evidence shows that an ‘enormous amount of cutting’ is occurring ‘for no other purpose than illegal drugs.’"

Why is there a surge in cutting forests for new coca fields? For over a decade, the U.S. State Department has operated a fleet of aircraft in Colombia, now more than eighty airplanes and helicopters, that has been spraying suspect coca and opium fields with powerful herbicides. Since 1996, the U.S. has paid to spray 622,813 hectares (1,538,348 acres) of suspect drug fields in Colombia. In addition, the U.S. has supported the eradication of an additional 155,620 hectares (384,381 acres) in Peru and Bolivia. You can read the U.S. State Department report here.

Tens of thousands of other farmers, who were not growing coca, have had to cut new fields for their food crops to replace their fields destroyed by the anti-coca fumigation when it misses its targets. The spraying is so inaccurate that in a demonstration of its supposed accuracy in December 2001, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), and the U.S. Ambassador and their delegation were doused with the herbicide.

But there are other important factors that flow from the war on drugs that lead other peasants to cut fields for their crops. The decades-long civil war in Colombia has been financed, on both sides, by illegal cocaine sales. The civil war is prolonged by the profits to both the FARC and the AUC from illegal cocaine sales. The ruthless violence of the civil war has displaced hundreds of thousands of internal refugees. Many of the refugees have fled to previously uninhabited forests, cutting the forests for fields.

The policy is a failure. The supply of cocaine to the U.S. has been so plentiful, the average purity of cocaine sold in American cities has remained very high, and the average street price for cocaine and crack has stayed very low. Yet coca remains the most valuable crop that can be grown in South America, and the cocaine the most valuable export. If the U.S. destroys the fields, of course the coca growers will cut new ones.

If U.S. policy were not a prohibition policy, the cultivation of coca would be regulated and controlled, it would not be financing a civil war, and this type of forest cutting would almost totally stop. The continued cutting of forests is the inevitable response of coca growers to American policy, and the logical response of peasants forced to flee the civil war in Colombia

When you think about the costs to your business from Hurricane Katrina (or Hurricanes Rita, Ivan, etc.), consider that for a decade your tax dollars spent almost $5 billion fighting the war on drugs in South America and helping to make the problem worse.

If we want to begin the minimize the number and intensity of hurricanes in the coming decades, we must remedy the causes that contribute to global warming that are in our power to control. Who would have thought that one of those causes is America’s war on drugs?