Andean Trade: Drug War or Class War?

Daniel Denvir Oct 14, 2008

U.S. drug policy, of course, has never had much to do with protecting Americans’ health. The so-called Drug War has always been more effective at criminalizing youth of color, feeding a politics of fear and advancing wrongheaded U.S. foreign policy objectives. But Bush’s recent decision to deny trade preferences to Bolivia is a pretty crude use of drug policy as a foreign policy stick and is just so goddamned transparent.

Bush has used his executive authority to discontinue Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) preferences to Bolivia. But the House extended ATPDEA preferences to Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador anyways, all four countries covered by the program. Bush’s order would override the House vote, but requires  that the United States Trade Representative to hold hearings and accept public comments on the decision before implementation. The hearing will take place on October 23rd.

The Bolivian government has said that it is “not afraid” of US intimidation.

Since 1991, the ATPDEA has allowed the duty free import of many goods from Andean countries certified as doing their part in the “war” against drugs. In Bolivia, ATPDEA has been a major help for a number of industries.

Bush’s order comes in the wake of Bolivia’s September 11th expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, alleging embassy support for a not-so-democracy friendly opposition. Venezuela followed suit, expelling the US ambassador from Caracas in solidarity.

U.S. business lobbies also jumped into the fray, led by the Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied (as lobbyists are wont to do) to deny ATPDEA preferences to Bolivia and Ecuador. The Chamber of Commerce and like minded entities  protested the “expropriations” carried out by the Bolivian and Ecuadorian governments–despite the fact that these actions were (as far as I know) compensated or a constitutional response to illegal activities, which the Reuters failed to mention.

Funny how US big business, in a time of conflict between wealthy right wing elites and the governments of Bolivia and Ecuador, has taken up a hobby interest in international drug policy. Huh.

The vote to extend ATPDEA preferences for Ecuador was also a blow to Chevron, which was hoping that the U.S. would use the preferences to force the Ecuadorian government to intervene in the Amazon Defense Front’s multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the oil giant. It looks like the trial, where Chevron-Texaco is accused of causing widespread ecological damage and health problems, will run its course.

In a prelude to this situation, the Bush Administration on September 17th designated Venezuela and Bolivia as countries that had “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to obligations under international counternarcotic agreements.” Washington, of course, denied that this action was in any way related to Bolivia and Venezuela’s decision to expel the U.S. ambassador. According to the AP, “designations can result in significant cuts in U.S. aid but Bush spared both Bolivia and Venezuela from such penalties, citing a national interest waiver.” Yet Bush doesn’t want to spare ATPDEA.

The U.S. also played hardball politics with the Peace Corp, withdrawing 113 people for “security” reasons, enraging many volunteers.

But I doubt the government will act against Ecuador. First because Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, is not planning on being nearly as friendly to popular demands for redistributionist justice as the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia have been. He has actually been pretty friendly to mining companies, which has not endeared him to social and indigenous movements. Second, there seems to be some internal debate in the U.S. foreign policy establishment about the effectiveness of with-us-or-against-us style attacks against nonconformist Latin American governments. After all, it was the US support for the short lived 2002 coup against Chavez that cemented his commitment to “21st Century Socialism.”

In other trade news, it has been announced that the EU may negotiate bilateral free trade deals with Colombia and Peru without Ecuador and Bolivia. The four members of the Andean Community (CAN) were previously negotiating an agreement as a block. But Ecuador and Bolivia have been critical of EU demands for financial deregulation and intellectual property protection. Peru and Colombia have also come into conflict with Ecuador and Bolivia over their pending bilateral trade agreements with the United States.

When the White House starts to talk about drugs and trade in the Andes, I recommend a healthy dose of incredulity.

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