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Commentary

Back from the Dead—With U.S. Help


     
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One day, a major study will have to be written on the perverse pleasure U.S. administrations take in fostering Latin American demagoguery. It could cite as an example Evo Morales—the leftist, Jurassic, U.S.-bashing coca grower who almost won the Bolivian presidency. He is the meticulous creation of the American government.

In 1998, the United States “urged” Bolivia to put into practice the “Dignity Plan” in the Chapare region. The Bolivian military uprooted thousands of acres of coca plantations. By last year, coca leaf was reduced from close to 100,000 acres to 7,000 acres (another 24,000 acres are legally grown in other parts of the country). Tens of thousands of families lost their livelihood overnight, unable to sell for a profit the pineapples and bananas with which they attempted to replace coca bushes worth $400 million. The result was revolt—violent clashes with the police, some people killed, others injured.

The Bolivian government sent a U.S. government-paid and trained expeditionary force of veteran soldiers. As could be expected, this force now stands accused of atrocious human rights violations. Is it any wonder that Morales, the son of Andean shepherds, almost made it to the presidency by defending the right to grow coca leaves and denouncing Yankee bullies?

What can the United States show in return? The supply of cocaine into the American market has not diminished—official reports show street prices are the same.

The consequences of this policy go beyond a coca-growing demagogue in Bolivian politics and the U.S. government’s failure to curb the cocaine supply.

The cause of free markets in Latin America is now in question, in part because the United States kept promising, and did not deliver on time and without heavy conditions, access to U.S. markets for Andean products.

The U.S. government’s actions, particularly domestic agricultural subsidies that total $50 billion—or 21 percent of the farming industry’s income—so seriously contradict promises of free trade that many in Bolivia are now lashing out against the very idea of free trade. While we are at it, they reason, why not start questioning the whole reform process of the 1990s that converted state companies into privatized monopolies?

This kind of rhetoric, bundling together the gratuitous havoc caused by anti-drug policies and the inability of U.S.-backed policies to reduce poverty, is what has turned Morales into a formidable political force. Blind to it all, Washington is simply denouncing the radicals its policies have created—and pumping more money into the bottomless pit.

The situation is not much different in Colombia and Peru. Plan Colombia was hailed at the end of the decade as a panacea against drug traffickers and Marxist guerrillas, a combination that was devastating a country with many natural resources and the most entrepreneurial business class in South America.

Under the $1.3 billion program, U.S. advisers trained Colombian troops and provided money for Black Hawk helicopters and other equipment.

Thousands of acres of coca leaves were sprayed from the air between 1999 and 2001. Between one-quarter and one-third of a total of 400,000 acres of coca plantations were eradicated. The result? Coca plantations moved to Peru; the supply did not diminish. After a while, coca bushes started springing back up in Colombia. Now they are growing in Bolivia again; 95 percent of bushes being eradicated now were recently planted.

So Congress and the Bush administration concluded that the failure of Plan Colombia was all a problem of degree—and a new $900 million package was approved to carry on the same policy.

The only reason there is no Evo Morales yet in Colombia is that terrorist organizations have so shocked the population that voters opted for a man who embodies the tough message of resolution against that onslaught—Alvaro Uribe.

The case of Peru is just as telling. Deciding that the hard-line policies of Alberto Fujimori and his dark prince, Vladimiro Montesinos, were the right way to combat terrorism and drugs, Washington accepted that the rule of law, freedom of the press and other minutiae could be sidestepped. More than $110 million from U.S. taxpayers poured in. For a while, incentives given to peasants for crop substitution reduced coca growing by 60 percent.

But those plantations, of course, ended up in Colombia. A few years later, with Peru deep in recession, its dictatorship’s grip slackening and U.S. forces helping drive plantations from Colombia, coca returned in style. Now, Washington has tripled the amount of money devoted to coca eradication in Peru.

Peasants there are ripping out coffee plants, cacao trees and other crops, and replacing them with coca, which is three times as profitable. With the Marxist Shining Path making a comeback, drug lords now pay the terrorists for protection, and with that same money the terrorists buy their food from peasants.

As in Bolivia, anti-U.S. sentiment is growing in Peru—and those of us who want good relations between the United States and Latin America, as well as policies that expand freedom, are having a very tough time. There is, of course, no guarantee that if U.S. policy changed, these reinvigorated Latin American leftists who have seemingly come back from the dead would return to their graves. But current U.S. policies are clearly encouraging a most unpleasant phenomenon of political necrophilia.


Alvaro Vargas Llosa is Senior Fellow of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. His Independent Institute books include Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, Lessons From the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, and Liberty for Latin America.


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