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Scioli suggests military could fight drug trafficking

Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli looks over the drugs and weapons seized during a raid last year.
By Mariano Beldyk
For The Herald

It is a tactic that is common throughout the region

Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli hinted yesterday that the time has come to start discussing the use of the military against drug-trafficking in Argentina.

“At some point, we should start considering, given the characteristics that drug-trafficking is taking, the role of military forces since it is a homeland security issue”, Scioli said during a news conference.

But he refused to go further into this sensitive camp, leaving the door open to debate.

Truth is that Governor Scioli’s idea of using the Army to deal with drug-trafficking is neither his nor original but part of a broader regional logic that has long-guided the recycling of military power in Latin America over the last few decades, in the aftermath of military dictatorships.

“In the case of Argentina, this option is illegal because the 1988 National Defence Act completely bans armed forces from taking on any task regarding domestic security”, sociologist Gabriel Kessler who specializes in the field told the Herald and labelled Scioli’s initiative as “worrying” and “terrible”.

“Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are the only Latin American countries that manage to keep their distance from the on-going security’ militarization in the region that hides a lucrative market of millionaire contracts,” he added.

In his opinion, Governor Sicoli’s plan is a way of “dodging the law without breaking it”.

During the midterm campaign, the idea of empowering the Army to shoot down drug planes became a subject of debate between Buenos Aires province candidates who cited the Latin-American countries’ experience as an example.

Scioli was among those who endorsed the last-resource strategy and ended up standing on the other side of the street of national government’s figures like Kirchnerites Senator Aníbal Fernández and Justice minister Julio Alak.

Even as scholars may oppose the idea, across the region the use of the military to combat drugs is more the rule than the exception.

The Venezuelan government, a close ally of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, takes on a military strategy to battle drugs. Only last year, its military forces destroyed 108 illegal landing strips and shot down 30 alleged drug planes to November 2013 after passing a legislation for the “integral defence” of airspace.

But Caracas is not the only regime to line up behind the military option when dealing with drug-trafficking. Ecuador, under Rafael Correa’s ruling, also uses its Army for attacking illegal plantations.

The same methods are copied in Peru and Central American countries like the Dominican Republic.

“Many countries support a soft-line policy on consumers and focused all their force in the drug-trafficking business. But the fact of addressing it as ‘war’ already corrupts the whole approach”, Kessler stated.

Brazil may deal with drug addicts as patients rather than criminals but President Dilma Rousseff encourages the use of drones to patrol the Amazonia and national borders, including the one with Argentina. And it was during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first term that Congress passed a law that allows the shooting down of drug planes.

Precedent

Yet there is no bigger example of using the armed forces to fight drug trafficking than Mexico since former President Felipe Calderón decided in 2006 to deploy the Army in an all-out war against drug cartels.

The results are hair-raising: during his six-year administration, the number of violent deaths spiked dramatically, totalling 121,683 fatalities according to a report by the Statistics and Geography National Institute (INEGI).

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch registered at least 149 cases of forced disappearances.

Calderón’s successor in the presidency, PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, picked up the gauntlet and revealed through the Human Rights office that the national government owns a database with thousands of people whose location is unknown.

However, it was Colombia’s experience that first opened the door in the southern cone to this strategy under United States’ guidance and funding with its Colombia Plan.

Coincidence or not, Buenos Aires province Governor Scioli recently met with two of the politicians who are most reponsible for this stratgy — former president Álvaro Uribe and current President Juan Manuel Santos and brought back similar advice from them on how to battle drug trafficking.

@Mibeldyk

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