A distant war tied to one at home 

The people of Colombia want peace. Last week, 10 million people across the war-torn nation took to the streets to call for an end to violence in that country's 35-year-old civil war, the cry of "No mas!" echoing in the streets of Bogota, Medellin and Cali. The clock is running out. Leftist guerrillas control 40 percent of the countryside, right-wing death squads and paramilitary units attack and kill civilians by the thousands, the economy is in shambles with millions out of work, and peace talks are stalled.

Is this just another regional conflict, tearing apart just another poor, foreign population, far removed from the comfortable lives of most Americans? It would be, except for one salient detail: Colombia supplies about 80 percent of the world's cocaine, and we, here, consume most of it. So Colombia's civil war is inextricably intertwined with our own "War on Drugs." And the more our elected officials assure us that this will not become another Vietnam, or even another El Salvador, the more slippery the slope becomes.

Indeed, the American response is distressingly familiar. First, pump more and more money into the coffers of our chosen "good guys" ("our" side, the Colombian military, has one of the worst human-rights records in the hemisphere, while the rebels, the "bad" guys," countenance kidnapping and the protection of drug traffickers); then send advisors to train the "democratically-elected" government forces; then sell it to the American people as a noble cause in the fight against narcotics; and then ... ? Well, we've been down this road before, haven't we? So regardless of how many citizens of Colombia want a negotiated end to the war, it's increasingly unlikely that we're going to let them have it.

And it doesn't seem to matter to America's drug warriors that sending Blackhawk helicopters to police the coca fields, much less ground troops, will do nothing, either to stem the supply of coca production or reduce the demand for cocaine here at home. Poor peasants will choose survival over policy. And the voracious appetite for controlled substances in the U.S. will continue to fuel the market economy of drug production and trafficking. Yet our government's stated aim of ridding the world of its cache of contraband admits to no other rational solution for complex problems, other than sending in the Marines and destroying the village in order to save it.

There is really only one answer to this seemingly intractable conundrum ... one that resonates with American ingenuity and strict adherence to capitalist philosophy ... one that will keep America's youth out of harm's way, as well as prevent Colombia from falling victim to a Vietnam-like conflagration ... one that will not further wreck its spoiled economy, nor cost us billions in arms and lost lives. Since cocaine is the linchpin of our interest and involvement in this sorry affair, let's take a page from the lesson-book of one of America's most successful business icons, John D. Rockefeller. Let's corner the market on cocaine, just as he did on oil. That's right. Let's buy it all!

Imagine, instead of spending tens of billions in a losing war that will further devastate an already devastated country, for a billion or two we could purchase every coca plant and processed coca product. If they plant more, we just buy more. At some point, since we're the only buyer, the prices will stabilize and be more in line with the other crops we keep telling the peasants to plant. The economic incentive to just plant coca will lessen, since it's the black market that drives prices up.

At one blow, we can protect the livelihoods of innocent farmers and civilians, shatter the violent culture of drug trafficking, undercut the support that the leftist rebels have built in the countryside, assist the forces of democracy and nonviolence, and give the warring parties in Colombia a chance to negotiate their differences. Throw in a few billion more in economic aid and we've gotten out cheaply ... without firing a shot.

Then, we can figure out what to do with all that cocaine in a tranquil, reasonable fashion. Compassionate forces might suggest we take it to the States, package it under FDA supervision, tax it and control it (like we do alcohol), and sell it to responsible adults with all the necessary health warnings and restrictions on abuse. But even if we don't follow that path, the worst we can do is simply dump it in the open sea. What're a few stoned dolphins when we've just exercised America's economic might and brilliant diplomacy in the cause of world peace and temperance?

I truly hope our leaders will explore this reasonable solution to our present troubles. After all, there is nothing that money can't buy, and what's a few billion between friends? No more tooting, no more shooting. Or, as they simply chanted in Colombia: NO MAS!


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