Issue # 20 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

May 8, 2002

Narco News '02

"U.S. Has Lost the

War on Drugs"

The Narco News Interview:

Journalist Róger Rumrrill

Part III of a Series

By Luis A. Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

Read Part I of this Series: "Be With Them:

Bolivian Civil Society Resists War on Drugs"

Read Part II: Father Gregorio Iriarte

calls for the Legalization of Drugs

The Narco News Andean Bureau continues, now, with part III of our series on the drug war in Bolivia and, today, in neighboring Perú. Luis Gómez interviews Róger Rumrrill, the outstanding authentic journalist who blew the whistle and thus caused the cancellation of a planned U.S. military base in Perú....

Lee Ud. la Entrevista en Español

Narco News: Have the change in government or most recent strategies succeeded in reducing drug trafficking in Perú?

Róger Rumrrill: In the first place, since the transitional government of President Paniagua and now in the current Toledo government, the basic design of the anti-drug strategy, formulated and structured by Fujimori and Montesinos, has not changed. And if there is a consistent effort to make sure this policy does not change, it comes from the United States Embassy. Why does the United States defend this design? Because its function is political. What's more, in the course of the investigation of Montesinos, the United States is hiding a lot of information. An example of that is the report that the CIA gave $10 million dollars to Montesinos for undercover operations. Nobody has denied that.

Today, the production of coca has increased in recent years. The government has taken a measurement - when I speak of the government I am speaking of that of the United States, the Peruvian government has not taken any measurements - by satellite photos of the crops. But I have seen coca crops underneath trees, to hide them from the satellite lens. On the other end, one of the first impacts of Plan Colombia is that the prices have gone up in the past two years and the 95 to 96 percent of the farmers (in Perú) have now returned to growing coca in their fields. What's more, is that the satellite photos aren't as effective monitoring the eco-systems where coca grows (at 1,000 to 1,500 meters of altitude) as they are with photographing the lower regions. So, without having an exact measurement, I do believe that there is more coca growing in Perú than the U.S. government says.

In the second place, there is a process of reengineering underway: better technical means to process cocaine, more production: with the same amount of coca more drug can now be produced. The largest quantity of cocaine (400 to 500 tons, annually) is now refined on the coast, in laboratories, and up to 80 percent of the drug goes by maritime routes toward Mexico and Spain. Only 20 to 30 percent goes the Amazon route through Brazil and Africa to reach Europe. What originates in Bolivia and the Peruvian coasts goes mainly to the Mexican cartels and from there to the United States. As a consequence, the business continues to be active, with constant flow, and not only has it not been detained by the governments of Paniagua and Toledo, but, to the contrary, it has increased.

Narco News: Can you speak to us about the now-cancelled project of the U.S. military base in Perú? What would have been the goal of the United States to have a military base in the Peruvian Amazon?

Róger Rumrrill: It's no surprise. In fact, there are floating bases in the Amazon right now. Since about two years ago, the United States has a contract with the police and military forces in Peru, and has created a school to train marines in the Amazon basin to control the 10,000 kilometers of the river. They are bases that are controlled and managed by U.S. and Peruvian soldiers…

With relation to the base in Uchiza: I received a protest letter by the local authorities of this town on March 8th. Based on this communication, I investigated and they delivered me a video-cassette with film of military troops, dressed as civilians, who had come to the area three times in the past year with the intention of buying land and getting close to the population.

On April 6th, I was in Uchiza with the president of the Alternative Development Commission and Fight Against Drugs Commission of the Peruvian Congress, Juan Manuel Figueroa and Alvaro Pastor. On this day, the mayor of Uchiza, Juan Raymundo Navarro accused the U.S. Southern Command of having come there with the intention of installing a base, because they had said as much. And they told them not to worry because they came in a song of peace, that they shouldn't worry when the materials to construct it start arriving and that there will be more or less 300 troops there. That is the mayor's version of the story.

Of course, the Peruvian authorities, among them Defense Minister Carlos Loret de Mola and Secretary of State Diego García Sayán, had denied the existence of this base (and that is true, because there still was not a base, just a project to build one). But as I've already said, the accusations come with evidence and the government denies it because it is true.

For me the issue of the base is an element in a larger strategy, related to the anti-drug policy in the Andean region. It's clearly a geopolitical strategy, in which the fight against drugs is an instrument that helps mask the true goal of this low-intensity war, which is to control the natural resources of the Amazon and provide security for U.S. investments in the zone, in the hemisphere.

Narco News: Isn't it also that Plan Colombia is not designed to stop the drugs, but, rather, to control the market and sales?

Róger Rumrrill: That's one hypothesis. The Colombian State and the experts in the field say that Plan Colombia is really a counter-insurgency plan to stop the guerrillas. Now it is much more clear, after President Pastrana asked for military aid, that another hypothesis has to be at work. But what we have to understand is the the drug money, according to a United Nations estimate, now amounts to, more or less, $500 billion dollars a year, more than the external debt of all Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus, we see a flow of money that has helped to prop-up economies like that of Russia in the process of a change toward capitalism… And this money flow disappears like magic. At this moment the world economy and many national economies are at the point of collapse. In the case of the United States, it is calculated that this drug money brings $200 billion dollars there. When one reviews the U.S. budget debt, one finds that part of it is covered-up by the money from narco-trafficking… and logically, as we know that they are part of the lion, well, less than one percent of this money stays in the hands of the producing countries, five percent in other stops along the way (like banks and money changing houses), another five percent stays with the narcos and the rest stays in the consumer market where the drugs are bought.

At this moment, for example, a kilo of base paste made in Perú costs $200 dollars. This kilo makes 900 grams of cocaine hydrochloride, that costs $1,200 dollars in the market… and from there, in Chicago, it can obtain up to $700,000 dollars. There is, then, a very cynical discourse about reducing the demand and the consumption by this superpower. There must be 70 different agencies in the United States that work on the drug issue, and now, also, the Pentagon and the military apparatus. So, yes, it's about a huge business that provides work for important segments of the postmodern economy.

Narco News: Returning to Perú, what has happened with the case of the owner of the airline accused of narco-trafficking?

Róger Rumrrill: A few years ago they accused Fernando Ceballos, owner of AeroContinente, of having made his fortune with narco-money... I would say that during the 1970s and 80s, during the big increase in narco-trafficking, there wasn't a single bank that didn't launder drug money. One of the groups that would have had to benefit from those resources was Grupo Romero, owner of the largest financial company in Peru - they control 36 percent of the financial capacity of the country - the Banco de Credito. Now they have found in one of the "Vladi Videos" (secret videos made by hidden cameras of Vladimiro Montesinos when in power in Perú), a film in which Montesinos is talking with Romero who is asking for favors… The richest man in Perú seeking favors from the largest corruptor in the history of the country… This demonstrates the moral quality, the essence of the dominant classes in Perú. Linking this to the Ceballos case, there is testimony that the airplane of this man went each week to collect the dollars from the agencies of Banco de Crédito in the entire country… The Peruvian financial system has laundered money in recent years.

Narco News: There is one theory that a large part of the business of narco-trafficking would end if drugs were legalized. What is your opinion on this?

Róger Rumrrill: The war on drugs is 30 years old. The United States has lost two wars in this century: Vietnam and the War on Drugs, which it has lost definitively.

Everything began when, in the 1970s, upon the end of the Vietnam war, some 500,000 veterans returned and became the most lucrative market of drug consumers in the world… Well, I've conversed in Europe with politicians and members of Congress about why they don't just legalize the coca leaf, and they tell me that the pharmaceutical companies are opposed. And I've asked why they don't legalize the drugs and the coca leaf in the United States, and they tell me that the voters oppose it. Thus, as an alternative discourse, legalization began to be spoken of as harm reduction, which is to say, to try and neutralize the damage to the consumers, and the narco-trafficking web in general. Today the discourse over legalization and harm reduction has disappeared. There is only a discourse on eradication. The tone of the proposals has radicalized to the point in which no alternative is accepted. What happens is that the countries are hitting their heads against the wall and then sticking them into the ground like ostriches to keep from seeing the problem: Thirty years later there is more consumption and more production.

The United States doesn't dare to modify its anti-drug policies. To the contrary, it continues radicalizing its positions and this is bringing it to an absolute failure. In contrast, Ethan Nadelmann, a former investigator from Princeton University, has said that the cost of the war on drugs is higher than it would be if, tomorrow, we legalized drugs. I have never said this in an open manner, but I believe it is an issue to debate. At the same time, we must look to cultural uses and alternatives for the drugs and I'm in agreement with the more intelligent and humane policies like those of Holland and Denmark.

I think that these policies and these wars are expensive and harmful to our countries. And what the market creates, the market destroys… Meanwhile, we prepare ourselves for this new scenario, beginning to work on alternatives regarding coca, in light of themes like biodiversity and tropical resources, until the coca leaf returns to being a sacred plant connected with the Amazon's biodiversity. This process is already close to being done. We are in a cycle of global crisis, the end of paradigms. And in the United States, where I have interviewed different people (from priests to police officers to drug consumers) you have society in a structural crisis: You have two million prisoners in jail, 20 million occasional consumers of drugs, three million incurable addicts and the highest divorce rate in the world… This speaks of a profoundly sick society.

And contrary to what the politicians say, that the consumption of drugs generates violence and criminality, I think that it is the structural crisis that generates the consumption of drugs, which aggravates the situation. This will begin to lose its power in the coming years and maybe even the end of this empire will not be for economic causes, but, rather, that the United States will end up corroded from within by its own contradictions.

for more Narco News, click here

It Already Was Another Vietnam