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Senate report: The Latin American war on drugs has ‘largely failed’

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, June 10, 2011 10:40 EDT
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A U.S. Senate subcommittee report this week called into question efforts to curb drug exports from Latin America, suggesting that billions in tax dollars had been wasted in no-bid contracts with no oversight on how the money was being spent or whether efforts were succeeding.

The report comes just a week after a panel of formerly high-ranking officials — including the former presidents of Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, along with a former U.N. Secretary General, a former U.S. Secretary of State, the prime minister of Greece and the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights — called for the drug war to shift its focus from enforcement and interdiction to medical treatment and harm-reduction policies.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government’s use of contractors, have largely failed,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, said in a media advisory. “Without adequate oversight and management we are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we’re getting in return.”

McCaskill’s report also comes after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found last month that the U.S. government has no centralized archive of contracts relating to the drug war and doesn’t conduct studies to ensure those expenditures are appropriate or successful.

The McCaskill report indicates that U.S. taxpayers have shelled out over $3 billion for work and equipment related to the drug war in Latin America from 2005-2009, and most of that money went to private contractors.

McCaskill launched the inquiry after looking into counternarcotics efforts underway in Afghanistan. However, neither the Department of Defense nor the State Dept. were able to provide adequate documentation on their contracts and in many cases could not even identify firms that were given millions in tax dollars.

Five major defense contractors recieved the bulk of drug war contract spending: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, DynCorp, ARINC and ITT. Out of all the firms, DynCorp benefitted most, winning $1.1 billion.

Most of that sum can be attributed to spending on aircraft, largely centered in Colombia. The U.S. and Colombian governments have been working together on counter-narcotics issues in recent years, with U.S. troops stationed on Colombian military installations allegedly to operate drone aircraft. U.S. law enforcement also utilizes aircraft to spray herbicides on Latin American countries in hopes of eradicating cocaine and marijuana crops, despite protests from native populations who say the chemicals taint their water supplies.

Other strange contracts noted in the report include an Alaskan company that was paid $37 million to provide meals in Bolivia, and $2.1 million that went to “miscellaneous foreign contractors” in Bolivia for the purchase of pick-up trucks. The Defense Department provided no additional information on the trucks, what they are used for or who they were purchased from.

The report also noted that many of the contracts were awarded on a no-bid basis, and officials at the Department of Defense admitted their record-keeping process was “inconsistent” and “error prone,” with staff often overwhelmed by the sheer number of outgoing contracts.

The Obama administration told reporters that they believed the report to be inaccurate, insisting that U.S.-led efforts are succeeding in curbing drug exports from Latin America.

The full report was available online. (PDF)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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