Costa Rica and Drug War Escalation

The Costa Rican government recently agreed to allow up to 46 United States warships and 7,000 Marines into Costa Rican waters. The official reason for this massive projection of power is to combat drug trafficking.

Calling United States drug policy “The War on Drugs” was never an exaggeration. From its beginning, the policy was carried out through the increasing militarization of American police forces. The US government supports the Mexican government’s escalation of the drug war, which has led to an explosion of violence in Mexico that is gradually spilling over into the United States. And now 46 warships and 7,000 Marines are likely to enter the fight in Central America.

But the war was never waged against drugs themselves. Drugs are inanimate objects that don’t fight back. It’s more like a War over Drugs than a War on Drugs.

Like any government policy, including any government war, the purpose of the War over Drugs is to expand the power of the faction making the policy. Politicians want to decide which substances people may use and which substances are forbidden. Or at least cut deals with drug businesses that can fund or enforce government power using the profits of their trade. The fact that politicians can get away with regulating the contents of our bloodstreams shows how far the hand of power reaches into daily life.

But the laws of politicians cannot override the laws of economics. If certain substances are in sufficient demand, somebody will find a way to supply them. Unfortunately, prohibition makes trade secretive and violent. No system yet exists to ensure the quality of illegal drugs besides word of mouth. And the more combative a trade becomes, the more necessary it is for a successful business to excel at combat.

Like any war, the War over Drugs is fought against people, and people are killed. Allegations of selling items the government does not approve of are served with paramilitary police raids. The consequences for police officers who kill people during these home invasions are almost always minimal or non-existent. Violence between rival drug gangs and governments vying for control have left thousands dead in Mexico.

But the drug war’s casualties are not limited to combat. Cancer patients who are not permitted to use marijuana, including those who will never be aware of the substance’s positive effects due to government-supported propaganda, may die much sooner and more painfully than they otherwise would. More drug war damage is found in the neighborhoods that have been destroyed by government action including drug combat, and in the prisons where thousands of people who have harmed nobody must waste their infinite potential trying to survive inside a government cage.

Like any government program, the War over Drugs causes problems that government will attempt to solve using more power-grabs and more infringements on liberty. Politicians want political power, and they often respond to challenges to their power by cracking down harder. Additional weapons of authority will be created to expand their power, and they will find other uses for these weapons.

Who knows what missions the United States invasion force will eventually undertake in Costa Rica? As instruments of United States government power, they will be ordered to do whatever the dominant faction of government power thinks is in their interests.

Repeated government interventions are unsustainable in the long run. Every attempt to forcibly impede peaceable individual choices will result in resistance, market distortions, deprivation, and violence. The system can only grow so much before it can no longer be supported. But in the short run, government policies can be undermined by making them politically unfeasible. And in the long run, the ideas of liberty need to replace authoritarianism.

[This article draws on reports from Democracy Now, Lat/Am Daily and the Guatemala Times]

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