What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Demand - A New "Drug War"

I spent three years in the 90's in charge of counternarcotics policy and programs at the State Department for South America, overseeing the principal source countries for cocaine. This assignment followed two overseas assignments that prepared me well for the job: three years in Bolivia, where a good deal of the raw coca leaf is cultivated, along with Peru and Colombia; and eight years in Brazil, a leading cocaine transit and consumption country, where cocaine had created a enormous market and fed a growing organized crime and gang culture in the poor shantytowns (favelas), many of which overhang the wealthiest beachfront boroughs along Rio's beaches.

During my time in Bolivia and at State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), we made some progress in beating back illicit coca production through eradication, interdicting semi-processed cocaine base and finished cocaine and working with democratic governments. Today, however, it appears as if the source countries, especially Bolivia where an anti-American President Evo Morales, has not only kicked out the US ambassador but also the DEA, are out of control and Brazil is becoming further overwhelmed by crime groups, engaged in activities from drug trafficking to kidnapping. Brazil's mayors have frequently called upon the military to assault drug gangs in the favelas. I just saw the popular Brazilian movie, Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite), which characterizes well the problems of heavily armed socially deviant traffickers, corrupt police and the incorruptible, idealistic special police unit, the Elite Squad, which, however, uses the worst methods of torture and summary justice to confront the traffickers. It is a lose, lose situation. I also know from friends and family in Brazil that things seem to be getting worse in confronting the crime problem there.

At the same time, the situation in neighboring Mexico is also becoming critical. Narcotics trafficking is one of the most devastating phenomena of modern day globalization. It has always been a national security concern, but today's situation is destabilizing two large blocs of countries in the Western Hemisphere the US-Mexico and Brazil-the Andeans-Paraguay.

Driving this national security threat has always been the fact that cocaine is consumed by Americans, Brazilians and Europeans. The late ultra-conservative Chicago School economist Milton Friedman shocked many of his admirers by coming out in favor of drug legalization. Friedman understood that the cocaine and other drug problems where a simple matter of supply and demand. Indeed, US official policy has always recognized that both supply and demand reduction of drugs is required, but it must be argued that not enough has been done to reduce demand in this country through public educational and health programs for youth as well as through legal and justice reform.

When asked last month about demand reduction, INL Assistant Secretary Johnson said that the US spent $1.4 billion on demand reduction and treatment. First of all, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the problem and to lump both educational programs and treatment programs together is not helpful. Certainly, successful treatment reduces demand, but we need to stop youth from ever engaging in high risk, anti-social behavior of using hard drugs. We also need to look carefully at legal reforms. It is ridiculous to outlaw marijuana and hashish. These are not addictive drugs, any more that alcohol or cigarette smoking, and have medicinal purposes. Going after such drugs simply displaces resources from cocaine and heroin, which cannot and should not be legalized. However, spending a lot of resources to chase traffickers, particularly street peddlers, and to incarcerate them for long periods of time is simply a failure. What we should be doing with police resources is to protect communities that voluntarily organize to resist drug trafficking organizations in their own communities. Plus, we should be encouraging communities to do so through vigorous civil society programs.

Until we can reduce demand, take economic incentives away from drug gangs and trafficking networks, the hills of Rio and the Mexican border are likely to continue to teem with traffickers and be alive with the sound not of music but of automatic weapons. A major international conference should be called to deal with the growing threat with a focus on its origins in consumption among the wealthy. The upcoming Summit of The Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April would be a good oportunity for US, Brazilian, Mexican and other chiefs of state from this hemisphere to seek a new, more effective approach to drugs. This should be a topic of conversation when President Obama is visited by Brazilian President Lula next week.

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