Editorials: War; and Votes

President Varela reviews troops ready to make war on drugs or whatever. Photo by the Presidencia.

Varela goes to war, again

In 1989 Panama was invaded, so it was said, because a dictator was complicit in drugs being run through Panama. But post-invasion Panama rather immediately had the same drug trafficking problems.

Drug production and smuggling go through shifts in routes and consumer preferences. When the routes shift back through Panama in a big way, young men and boys without hope — and less frequently desperate women — fight to the death to get in on the fleeting fortunes to be had by drug trafficking. Prison populations swell, police budgets are increased, the “War on Drugs” gets militarized. Sometimes the foreign military advisers sent to us are themselves messed up on drugs. Often the biggest drug offenders of all are in law enforcement. This has been going on throughout the hemisphere since Richard Nixon began Operation Intercept in 1969.

Now, nearly a half-century later, President Juan Carlos Varela assures us in a report to the nation that drug production in neighboring countries has doubled of late, but that 70 percent of the narcotics coming through Panama are seized. The scion of Panama’s most prominent liquor distilling fortune cites mass arrests of gang members as progress and vows to dedicate more resources to the fight against addictive drugs.

The reality is that social problems in the United States have led to a terrible spike in drug addiction there. The growth sectors there are opiates and opioids, and there is also a rise in methamphetamine and other stimulants. Government by a snobbish faction of the rich who believe in throwaway people, plus the success of the private prisons lobby, do not help matters up there.

In any case, Varela is throwing out numbers that he can’t possibly verify. We don’t know what percentage of drug shipments are intercepted because by and large the cargoes that do get through are unknown to the government. The president would have not a reliable record of what is not seized.

Panamanian independence would be threatened by US retaliation for an independent stand. But our independence is already compromised by the “War on Drugs.” Isn’t it time that we developed our own approach to the health problem of addiction, and work primarily with our Latin American neighbors to address our international responsibility to suppress smuggling?

Varela’s claims are, quite frankly, ridiculous. So are the orders coming down from the United States, where addiction is a growth market after all these decades of mass incarceration and military action. We should seek new and more effective policies.


US vote suppression

Donald Trump has hired a purveyor of alt-right racist theories to purportedly root out vote fraud. Trump claims that this was massive last year, particularly with millions of immigrants who were not even in the country legally, let alone citizens eligible to vote, casting ballots for Democrats. It’s a flat-out lie.

So what’s in the works is a national strip of Democratic-leaning voters from the poll lists in all the states, a disenfranchisement particularly aimed at racial minorities and the poor. As most Americans who live abroad and vote from abroad go Democratic, the purge is surely going to be aimed at overseas voters as well.

The governors and secretaries of state of about half the states are refusing to cooperate with Trump in this criminal endeavor. But their resistance will not withstand the assault without public support. Surely the defense of voting rights must include the massive registration and voting of American citizens living abroad.


Bear in mind…


Experience has humbled me enough to let me know the specific limitations of reason.
Mohandas K. Gandhi


The reward for conformity is everyone likes you but yourself.
Rita Mae Brown


People’s corruption is born of the indulgence of the courts and of impunity for crimes.
Simón Bolívar


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