Tale of 2 drug wars

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SASS ROGANDO SASOT

SINCE last year, anti-Duterte forces have been celebrating the concerns expressed by top US officials regarding the killings which coincided with the Duterte administration’s aggressive campaign against the illegal drug trade and narcopolitics.

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These forces sympathized with President Barack Obama when President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at him. Shaped by a cultish anti-Duterte narrative, their egos were inflated when Samantha Power tweeted this on August 30,2016: “Alarming reports of ongoing extrajudicial killings in #Philippines; government must respect human rights & rule of law.” And much more recently, they were jubilant when on July 20, 2017, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress conducted a hearing on the alleged human rights abuses committed because of our country’s struggle against the political economy of narcotics.

Samantha Power is a former US ambassador to the United Nations. If there is anyone in the world you would like to react on what is going on in your country, she is one of them. Power, a very influential figure in US foreign policy, has advocated military intervention to topple regimes deemed to be committing crimes against humanity. For example, she urged for US military intervention in Libya, which Obama later on called the ‘worst mistake” of his presidency. Basing on Power’s proclivity for military intervention, her tweet was troubling.

Yet Power has not tweeted anything about the devastating war on drugs happening in their neighbor, Mexico. From 2007 to 2014, there were at least 160,000 victims of killings, coinciding with the war on drugs. Though this number does not indicate how many were indeed drug-related, just like the Inquirer’s “Kill List” and Rappler’s count of the number of victims of drug-related extra-judicial killings, it has been popularly tagged as casualties of Mexico’s drug war.

John Lindsay-Poland of the American Friends Service Committee noted that, despite the carnage in Mexico, “since April 2014, the US State Department has approved sale of 21 Blackhawk helicopters to the Mexican military for $790 million, to support Mexican troops engaged in counter-drug operations.”

Despite the toll in human lives of Mexico’s war on drugs, US foreign direct investment (FDI) in Mexico did not abate. From 2007 to 2013, US FDI in Mexico ranged from $85.6 billion to $101.4 billion (Congressional Research Service, April 27, 2017). In 2015, FDIs to Mexico was $2.7 billion more than in 2014; and 53 percent of this amount came from the United States (Wilson Center Mexico Institute, April 4, 2016). And in January 2015, Obama welcomed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House and promised to support Mexico’s fight against the illegal drug trade.

Several years earlier, in 2011, several Mexican human rights organizations sent a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging the prosecutor to investigate Mexican President Felipe Calderon for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The letter was accompanied by 23,000 signatures from Mexican citizens. At the time, at least 45,000 had already died (Reuters, November 26, 2011). The following month, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC Prosecutor at the time, said that the court would not do anything about it. “We don’t judge political decisions or political responsibility,” he said (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 2011).

Yet despite this, the G20 named Calderon the chair of its 2012 summit. That is why the recent hullabaloo about Duterte not being invited to attend the G20 meeting in Germany reeks of naïve valorization of that summit.

While Western governments use Duterte as their political punching bag, the presidents who oversaw Mexico’s bloodier war on drugs were almost given a free pass. While the role of drug traffickers and cartels in drug-related violence in Mexico was prominently featured in international media, their role was almost entirely ignored in the incidences of drug-related violence in the Philippines.

This is odd given that as early as 2010, the US State Department, in its annual International Narcotics Strategy Report, already acknowledged that “sophisticated foreign-based drug-trafficking operations remain the biggest challenge to Philippine law enforcement.” The report also mentioned the possibility of “illicit narcotics funds” affecting the 2010 elections.

So, given this, how can international coverage of the Philippine drug war be treated as if it is a carnage perpetrated against helpless mom-and-pop businesses? These are very powerful transnational cartels, with extensive government networks in the Philippines and abroad. As the Philippines is a crucial node in the geo-economics of the international narcotics trade, these cartels would do everything to maintain their foothold in this archipelago. And how do they do it? By any means necessary, including unleashing terror that could be blamed against the thorn in their side: Duterte.

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