By Brian Saady
The President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, announced last Monday that the military would now be involved in domestic crime efforts. It was a reversal of a law akin to the U.S. law, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. (The Posse Comitatus Act was also amended by Congress during the Reagan administration as part of the war on drugs.)
This decision by Macri is deeply troubling on multiple levels. Bear in mind, he’s taking this step toward authoritarianism while thousands of Argentine protesters have recently contested his decision to accept a $50 billion loan from the IMF.
There are also glaring historical implications. Argentina was ruled for several years by a military dictatorship after a U.S.-backed coup deposed Isabela Peron in 1976. This “Dirty War” conducted by the Argentine government, in conjunction with the U.S. government, led to the death and disappearances of thousands of liberal activists. Merely expressing one’s political views was punishable by extrajudicial death during this reign of government-induced terror.
Unfortunately, Macri’s human rights record doesn’t ease concerns. After all, he took a photo op with a police officer who is now under indictment for murder. The officer shot a man in the back who had stabbed and robbed a U.S. tourist. More important, Macri appointed two Supreme Court justices who have ruled in favor of early release for hundreds of convicted war criminals. Likewise, Argentine activists have been jailed and murdered under mysterious circumstances.
As you may have guessed, Macri has used the war on drugs to justify this decision for domestic military operations. Argentina is arguably the last country listed by the average person when asked to name a South American nation harmed by drug trafficking.
However, in fairness, there is a legitimate problem of corruption and violence in Argentina associated with the illegal drug trade. In particular, the Tri-Border Region (where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay share a border) is widely known as a smugglers paradise for drugs, guns, counterfeit goods, bootleg cigarettes, money laundering, etc.
And that exact area is where Macri is in the process of developing a hub of U.S.-coordinated counternarcotics operations, along with a U.S. military base. In fact, according to the Mexican news outlet Aristegui Noticias, Macri is planning on building multiple U.S. military bases throughout the country.
The war on drugs has been described by some academics as the “Trojan Horse” of U.S. foreign policy. The reason being, the U.S. government has been able to wage an unofficial Neo-Cold War under the pretense of fighting drug cartels throughout Central and South America.
In a very high-profile challenge to U.S. hypocrisy, Bolivian President Evo Morales kicked the DEA out of his country in 2008. He cited a book, The Big White Lie, written by former DEA whistleblower Michael Levine. That book made it clear that the U.S. government gave carte blanche to some of the world’s top drug lords because they were allies of the American intelligence community.
Three years earlier, Hugo Chavez accused the DEA of spying on his administration before kicking them out of the country. If that sounds outlandish, do you remember the scandal in 2014 revealing that the NSA had recorded and archived every phone call in The Bahamas? Well, the DEA provided the backdoor for that information.
Likewise, consider the example of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. He was coincidentally extradited last month from Miami to Panama to face charges of corruption and illegal spying. WikiLeaks documents showed that Martinelli pressured the DEA, on multiple occasions, to use their wiretapping capabilities to spy on his rivals.
With that said, neither Hugo Chavez nor Evo Morales demonstrated a strong anti-narcotics template. Both countries have been plagued by drug trafficking and related corruption. Nonetheless, it’s been proven, time and again, that U.S. aid for counternarcotics comes with strings attached and far-ranging negative consequences.
Several Latin American nations can attest to the damage inflicted from militarizing the drug war. Most people think of Mexico or Colombia regarding this subject. However, El Salvador was the original model for this subtle form of surreptitious hegemony.
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As a reminder, the Salvadorian Civil War ended in 1992 with about 75,000 people killed and 1 million people forced into refugee status. Roughly 85% of the casualties were attributed to U.S.-backed government or paramilitary forces.
Hence, in the year 2000, the sight of U.S. troops conducting operations in El Salvador was an unsettling sight. In fact, their presence practically violated prior peace agreements. However, the U.S. government had a loophole; the troops were there to enforce “counternarcotics” operations.
In the following year, the U.S. Congress authorized a program known as “Plan Colombia.” It has since provided the Colombian government with over $10 billion worth of military aid, intelligence services, etc.
The stated purpose of this program is counternarcotics, but the supply of drugs has continued to ebb and flow throughout the years. In fact, cocaine production in Colombia is currently at record levels. Then again, the intent of this program can best be described as part of the Neo-Cold War to suppress the communist rebels in Colombia.
In short, this counternarcotics funding has enabled a Colombian government with an atrocious human rights record. The scandals associated with the Colombian military are too numerous to list concisely.
Notably, the Colombian government was deeply aligned with a now-defunct paramilitary group, the AUC, which was a designated terrorist group. That AUC’s successor groups continue to exist as organized crime syndicates terrorizing the country with violence and murdering social activists in high numbers.
Despite the results from Plan Colombia, Mexico followed suit in 2006 with the Merida Initiative. Over a few billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money has been squandered in this counterproductive pursuit.
Clearly, the drug war in Mexico has been a failure. The murder rate in the first half of 2018 is higher than the record level from last year and, obviously, drug-related violence is the leading driver of this crime.
Military involvement in Mexico’s law enforcement has done nothing to stabilize the country. In fact, human rights violations have increased by over 1,000% since Mexico launched its drug war.
The military has downright acted with impunity. For instance, Amnesty International released a report demonstrating that the military routinely uses violence to gain confessions and intelligence information. It’s extremely rare for reports of these abuses to be investigated and result in a conviction.
Unfortunately, it looks like this dysfunctional police state is here to stay. Last year, Mexico’s deeply corrupt Congress passed an awful “Internal Security Law,” which will provide the Mexican military with more leniency to violate Mexican citizens’ constitutional rights and less transparency from outside investigators.
To sum up, we don’t know if Macri’s decision to mobilize the military within Argentina’s borders will have the same level of negative consequences. However, we do know that the historical precedents are extremely foreboding.
Brian Saady is the author of four books, including his series,“Rackets,” on the legalization of drugs and gambling, and the decriminalization of prostitution. You can check out his podcast and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Image credit: TFTP