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Guatemala: The Human Rights Nightmare That Is the US Drug War | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on June 9, 2021

Guatemala was a struggling Third World nation striving to overcome decades of genocide and civil strife. Unfortunately, it was also increasingly victimized by chemical warfare. To blight any suspected marijuana or poppy plants, the US government was dousing broad swaths of Guatemala with toxins to preemptively destroy anything growing below. The year before I visited, a group of Guatemalan beekeepers sued the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), claiming that the spraying had destroyed half of their industry. Herbicides had contaminated local drinking water and many residents had required hospitalization after exposure to the chemicals.

https://mises.org/wire/guatemala-human-rights-nightmare-us-drug-war

James Bovard

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala earlier this week to bestow millions of dollars in new foreign aid on that government. The Biden administration is pretending that giving more US tax dollars to Central American governments will miraculously reduce the surge of illegal immigrants that Biden’s appointees are welcoming in Arizona, Texas, and elsewhere. The purpose of Harris’s trip and the new handouts is not to solve that problem but simply to make the Biden administration appear to give a damn about the issue.

In her official statements during the visit, Harris included no admission of how the US drug war has been a pox on Guatemala. Her silence was no surprise considering Joe Biden’s nearly half century of fanaticism for that pointless crusade.

I learned about the wreckage of US drug policies when I visited Guatemala in 1992. I had been writing articles bashing drug prohibition for almost a decade at that point. But before that trip, I had only vague notions of the ravages being inflicted on hapless foreigners.

I went to Guatemala to give a couple speeches on the follies of protectionist trade policy, spurred by the publication the previous year of my book The Fair Trade Fraud (St. Martin’s Press). I was hosted by the president of Francisco Marroquín University, Manuel Ayau, a genial yet fearless fighter for free markets. I didn’t realize until I arrived that Ayau had recently been the presidential candidate of the “party of organized violence” and was on several left-wing “death lists.” Guatemala had shortages of almost everything except political assassinations. Ayau, a compact dynamo, was hepped up because he’d just gotten a laser sighting attachment for his Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry caliber .44 Magnum. As his chauffeur-bodyguard drove us around the capital city, Ayau trained that red dot on all sorts of targets. I was happy I was sitting behind him.

Guatemala was a struggling Third World nation striving to overcome decades of genocide and civil strife. Unfortunately, it was also increasingly victimized by chemical warfare. To blight any suspected marijuana or poppy plants, the US government was dousing broad swaths of Guatemala with toxins to preemptively destroy anything growing below. The year before I visited, a group of Guatemalan beekeepers sued the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), claiming that the spraying had destroyed half of their industry. Herbicides had contaminated local drinking water and many residents had required hospitalization after exposure to the chemicals. A Guatemalan human rights commission asserted that the spraying had destroyed so many farmers’ corn and bean crops that serious food shortages could result.

US policymakers presumed that the solution was to further militarize the drug war. After farmers began shooting at the planes, the US government sent in Black Hawk helicopter gunships to accompany the crop dusters and suppress peasant revolts. I called the US embassy to ask about the controversy and was told that the complaints came from “illiterate Indians” and were nothing but “drug war disinformation.”

Outside of Guatemala City, I met farmers and small businessmen and pumped them for information on the US drug war. A manager of a large farm in central Guatemala told me that many of his shipments of yucca cane to Europe were rejected because they arrived in Rotterdam and were rotting as a result of DEA’s drug spraying. Another farmer bewailed how his harvests exported to the United States were routinely destroyed during Customs Service searches for illicit drugs (he never received compensation even though no drugs were found). A Guatemalan banker told me that the DEA was involved in shooting down or forcing crash landings of small planes suspected of carrying drugs. A prominent Guatemalan politician told me, “If you criticize the Drug Enforcement Agency, you might lose your visa” and be banned from visiting the US. Guatemalans were outraged when the US ambassador revoked the visa of a Guatemalan judge who refused to vigorously prosecute an alleged drug smuggler.

After I returned to Washington, I hounded drug policy activists, human rights groups, and environmentalists to learn more about the US drug war run amok south of the border. A Peace Corps volunteer who had spent eighteen months working with Guatemalan farmers told me that the pilots were spraying much more toxic concentrations than the US embassy admitted. No wonder crops were dying.

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Author:

James Bovard

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including 2012’s Public Policy Hooligan, and 2006’s Attention Deficit Democracy. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, and many other publications.

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