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Victims of U.S. “Drug War” Mount as Media Yawns

Last week, you would have been lucky to find even a small blurb in a few newspapers about but another journalist killed in post-coup Honduras — the 19th in the last two years, making Honduras by far the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist.   Indeed, Honduras is now the murder capital of the world.

It is important to note the comparative silence about the mass killing of journalists in Honduras with the mass outpouring of grief the media showed for the two Western journalists (Marie Colven & Remi Ochlik) killed in Syria recently, with the photo of Ms. Colven donning the front page of every paper in the U.S. the day after her killing.  Of course, Ms. Colven and Mr. Ochlik deserved a proper mourning, no doubt, but so did the journalists in Honduras.  Yet, the latter never received their due, and no photo of any of those Honduran journalists ever made the front page of the newspaper.

The reason for the disparate treatment of these journalists is easy to explain.  First and foremost, the two journalists killed in Syria were from developed countries of the West – the journalists of Honduras were certainly not.   In addition, the two Western journalists were killed in a country the U.S. now wishes to attack, and therefore to vilify, thus making the killing of the two journalists critical to the running media account of atrocities in Syria to justify military intervention.

In the case of Honduras, ruled now by an illegitimate coup government supported by the U.S. and a key player in the U.S.’s “drug war,” the killing of journalists is actually an inconvenient fact which, if pondered over too much, might delegitimize the U.S. role (both military and political) in that country.

It may also delegitimize the U.S. role in the rest of the region, from Colombia through Mexico – a region where the bodies count continues to grow to extra-ordinary numbers due to the so-called U.S. “drug war” which has claimed over 250,000 lives in Colombia and nearly 50,000 lives in Mexico alone over recent years.   Therefore, such murders must be ignored, or, at the very least, understated.

Meanwhile, in a related story, also quite under-reported here, an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), named Fausto Aguero, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder claiming that the DEA is falsifying its success rates in Colombia.   Thus, according to Colombia Reports, the agent, himself convicted of trafficking in weapons and drugs while serving as an employee of the DEA, wrote:

very low key subjects are accused of being drug lords or leaders of drug trafficking organizations. […] A simple messenger who is responsible for payment of telephone bills or serving coffee at a meeting, gets reported as a coordinator for all logistics in smuggling cocaine.

According to the same story, “Aguero said agents regularly falsify reports to keep funding coming to the agency and to receive promotions.”

Of course, as the media informed us last year, and then quickly forgot, the U.S. continues to engage in more egregious conduct which is actively supporting at least one side of the “drug war” in Latin America.  Thus, according to various news sources, including NPR, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, under the direction of the U.S. Attorney General, took part in a program called “Fast & Furious” in which they allowed at least 2,000 lethal weapons to be trafficked to Mexican drug cartels – ostensibly so they could follow these weapons and then apprehend the drug lords.  Apparently, however, the U.S. government quickly lost sight of these weapons, and became embarrassed when one later turned up near the body of a dead U.S. Border Patrol Agent named Brian Terry.   While this (quite correctly) elicited swift calls for hearings and the possible dismissal of Attorney General Eric Holder, the media soon lost interest in this story.

However, just so that you do not think your government is only wasting your hard-earned tax dollars on such gun-running schemes to drug lords, know that your money is being also being spent on bounties the U.S. is putting on the head of leaders of the left-wing guerrillas in Colombia (who the U.S. claims are “drug lords,” though their relationship to the drug industry is indeed quite tenuous when compared to that of the military the U.S. is funding in Colombia and the right-wing paramilitaries aligned with that military).

Thus, as we learned just last week via an announcement from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. just paid out a $2.8 million bounty for the successful killing of guerrilla leader Alfonso Cano, and is offering a $5 million bounty for the guerillas’ new leader,Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri.  Such bounties have consequences for non-combatants as we saw with the recent “false positive” scandal in Colombia in which the military there killed around 3,000 civilians, mostly young men they believed would never be missed, and then dressed them up like guerrillas in order to justify continued military aid from the United States to fight its counterinsurgency war.

That an “advanced” country such as the U.S. is paying for the murder of insurgents abroad that it disfavors (as opposed to those which it not only favors but also supports with military backing as in the cases of Syria, Libya and Iran) should bring chills down the spine of any good-hearted American.

That the U.S.’s  failed “drug war”  is leading to the killing of innocents — both those caught in the cross-fire as well as those peacefully resisting this war and the corrupt governments the U.S. is propping up to fight it — should be even more horrifying.

Finally, it should be noted that while the U.S. is engaged in a violent war in which it claims to be fighting such illicit drugs as cocaine and heroin (again, to no effect) legal prescription drugs manufactured by U.S. pharmaceutical companies are each year claiming the lives of Americans in numbers three time greater than those killed by cocaine and heroin.  No one is calling for a war against those companies to confront this problem – such a proposition would indeed be absurd.  However, it is no more absurd than the U.S.’s current “drug war” in our hemisphere.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh.
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Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

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