<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Ecuador: On the Road to Legalization

Part III of a Series


By Luis A. Gómez - reporting from Ecuador

November 23, 2002

“As a social movement we are going to push a public debate, at the widest level, about legalization.”

- Fernando Buendía, Secretary of International Relations, Pachakutik Party

In the heart of the alliance that backs the candidacy of Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, there are sixteen work-groups that, involving about 1,000 people, are in daily discussion about the changes ahead for the Plan of Government that will be presented in mid-December by the next President of Ecuador. It’s an initiative for dialogue that seeks to incorporate the proposals of Civil Society in the widest possible manner.

Once again, the Pachakutik movement, with its solid network of organizations and leaders, is a key player in this work. Narco News spoke with Fernando Buendía about this theme, that of course includes major problems for the Ecuadorian people, such as the U.S. military base in Manta, the civil war in neighboring Colombia, narco-trafficking and drug policy…

Buendía is a member of the Executive Committee of the Pachakutic party, in charge of International Relations. He’s a sociologist with good, solid manners, around 40 years old. His vast knowledge of the Ecuadorian reality, as well as the international problems, makes him the authoritative voice about the steps that this organization will take inside of the new government, and, at the same time, as a social movement in this country.

Narco News: Regarding the issue of the Manta airbase, used by the United States army for drug interdiction activities, can you explain to us the movement’s position or tell us something about the discussion in the work-groups about this matter?

Fernando Buendía: I would say that there are two positions at work, but we have to distinguish between them. That of the social movement, which acts as a plaintiff, which questions, which inquires. And the other, that of the governing party, in which one has a series of agreements, institutional commitments, and represents a country. Specifically, on the theme of the Manta airbase, the social movements, particularly Pachakutik as its political arm, has, from the beginning, called upon Congress not to sign the agreement for this base. We questioned the behavior of Heinz Mehler (the current foreign minister of Ecuador) who in that moment represented the International Relations Commission and drew up an agreement that bypassed Congress in the signing of this treaty, making it enough to simply file a report claiming that the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty already authorized the granting of the base at Manta to the U.S. Army for drug interdiction.

The way this was done was corrupted and imperfect. Later, from the position that the current government has before the eventuality that Lucio Gutiérrez will arrive at the Presidency of the Republic, they made it even more complicated for him to say, “there’s no agreement and so get out of here,” and it then formalized the agreement… and publicly committed to it, using the pretext of control of drug trafficking… But it has also said that it will not accept any kind of activity there that surpasses the limits of the agreement… Now, to me, it seems that the issue of the base at Manta is coming to a crossroads, for the way in which the United States government and Congress has liberated resources it had channeled toward Plan Colombia now towards the Civil War in Colombia…They’re now preparing the Manta base to undertake actions that evidently exceed the specific action of drug interdiction.

Narco News: What are you referring to?

Fernando Buendía: The Manta base has been developing its infrastructure. For example, the asphalt covering for the landing strip was augmented by 25 centimeters, and the runway has been extended to the length of one and a half kilometers. Thus, you have an airfield that can only be justified for landing the entire galaxy… that is to say, the largest airplane on earth, that transports heavy military equipment, trucks, conventional weapons, anti-tank missiles, etcetera.

Narco News: We are thus speaking about the base being used as a platform for conventional warfare in Colombia…

Fernando Buendía: That base is on a beach. On the other side, it’s a port to the sea. The base is beginning to be used as a storage space for U.S. Navy ships. There’s already been a lawsuit and the (Defense) Minister Bunda went to Congress to confront the lawsuit by two legislators over the entrance of 43 ships to rest in that port and refuel…

Narco News: That is not necessarily for interdiction activities, those boats could be going toward other tasks…

Fernando Buendía: Or they are interdiction related but, due to their volume, it’s already not merely about aerial interdiction as the treaty allows. Thus, what is at stake is something greater. Some of us feel this beach could be used for maneuvers by the Southern Command, that is already disallowed from doing it in Panama and doesn’t have anyplace in the south Pacific region to do it. The Manta base could become the substitute. And even the Ecuadorian Army has complained about this… Some of the colonels who rose up on January 21, 2000, have publicly stated that Ecuador, in exchange for this concession, has not received any reciprocity, but that, also, the use of the Manta base hangs Ecuador in the middle of the Colombian conflict. Because if the base is going to have a greater role in the air operations in the Colombian Civil War, this creates a pressure on the Colombian insurgent movements to extend themselves inside of our country.

Narco News: The United States has turned the Ecuador Army into involuntary allies in the Colombian conflict…

Fernando Buendía: Exactly. The military has denounced this fact and stated its discomfort over it. And it has also said that for the U.S. government to keep its aircraft carriers involved with the Manta base, flanked by escort boats, at high sea, the number of troops and the cost could become more than five billion dollars a year… In exchange for having granted a base that could cost them that much, we have not received anything. All we’ve received is the threat that we become a target for the Colombian insurgents.

Narco News: On the issue of drug trafficking, what is being discussed in the work-groups and inside of the Pachakutik? What is your position now that you very well may be part of the new government?

Fernando Buendía: We have to dismantle two policies. The first is related to the control of narco-trafficking: it doesn’t only have to do with control through the government security agencies, but, rather, with demanding control. That is to say, “we all play the same game.” And this is also in relation to the U.S. government policy, that doesn’t do enough inside its own country. We don’t understand how nearly $100 billion dollars, as they say, from the hot money of drugs, stays in the United States, it enters its financial system and nobody admits to knowing anything. Even more, if there is a country that controls the tax evasions of every citizen, it is the United States. Thus, there’s at least one dark matter here, that is also dark for the fact that in spite of that control, so many tons of drugs enter that country so often.

But there’s an important thing about this issue, related with a deeper reflection on the drug issue. Drugs are a substitute. They’re provoking more problems that create a need for this substitute. From where does this propensity come from if not the weakness of the social fabric? When family, friendship, and couple relationships, and the social networks, become weak, when the individual is out of luck because of a society that is individualist, distorted and destructive to this fabric… When values are lost, when even the will to live is lost, it’s understandable how the population can seek a substitute.

Thus, the real issue is that society (in the United States) is sick, and in its illness it seeks to substitute the lack of values with drugs.

You can’t combat the symptoms, such as trafficking. Even less so when those symptoms in South America and other countries are death, the increase in violence, the destruction of families and homes. You can’t continue this situation by avoiding the harm to the health of U.S. society, that is already ill for its sense of alienation… by punishing the Latin American people, who have to live terrorized by the threat of the violence that controlling narco-trafficking brings.

This issue has been extensively discussed inside Colombia. A columnist for the Colombian daily El Tiempo, that is not at all a newspaper of the Left, already said that it is necessary to raise the issue of legalization of the sale of drugs. Milton Friedman has said this, and he’s not of the Left either, in a letter to the U.S. drug czar published in a newspaper: “From the bowels of Christ, I beseech thee, decriminalize drugs.” This is the root of the issue… In the commission we are working from the point of view of a social movement, and with these kinds of thoughts, but also from the perspective of governing and the confluence of responsibilities that this implies. The commitment to control drugs evidently will be done through the security programs, but also there will be pressure for reciprocity on the part of other countries… And on the other hand, in seeking to deepen this debate, to arrive at the causes of drug consumption and narco-trafficking…

Narco News: Let me see if I understand. As a government, you are thinking about debating the issue of legalization?

Fernando Buendía: From the government, we will maintain two fronts: to control and to demand control by others. But as a social movement, in this dual role that I xplained, we are going to push a public debate at the widest level…

Narco News: About legalization?

Fernando Buendía: Yes.

As you can see, kind readers, there’s not much else to explain. Fernando Buendía has said it clearly: The Pluri-national Pachakutik-New Country Movement is, in its role as the glue that holds together the social movements in Ecuador, is already proposing the wide (and positive) discussion of drug legalization. “We are very advanced in this,” he said, although he also has many other issues, like the corruption of the National Police, the repressive agency that is the most involved with narco-trafficking in this country, on his mind… But legalization has already been placed on the national table for discussion…

In all cases, there are a few more things to know about the social, natural and economic effects of narco-trafficking in Ecuador. We’ll report them, no doubt, in the next parts of this series… Stay with us in this country that is constructing, step by step, a new and true democracy in our América.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America