Editorial: The “War on Drugs” should end — so should rackets in government

The governor of Guna Yala was moving this in a specially modified smuggling car. Policia Nacional photo.

Collapsing credibility

Notice that this is one of the rare “War on Drugs” police trophy photos that has appeared in The Panama News. That lost US-led “war” is a catastrophic failure that has corrupted almost every part of Panama’s government.

Might the honest cop, the honest civil servant, take umbrage at such a statement? When she or he doesn’t know whether those in higher rank, or those working alongside at the same level of the hierarchy, are on the take?

Panama needs to follow the lead of many US states and European countries and get out of the drug war business. Not to say that the battle should not be joined against addiction and other substance abuse, but that the criminal law should only be a tangential and minor part of how we confront a serious public health problem.

Drug smuggling through Panama provoking another US invasion? By all rights it shouldn’t, given how some of the worst offenders here are remnants of Plan Colombia death squads that notwithstanding all denials once enjoyed US support. But really, to protect our status as the centerpiece of important world trade routes, shouldn’t we withdraw the constitutional protection of smugglers and turn them over to countries into which they are caught moving contraband? That probably would not satisfy this US administration, which continues long-standing policies of cloaking political interventions for other motives in anti-drug disguise.

In the USA itself the states are increasingly breaking with the federal government to reject drug law extremism. In many cases it’s for frankly economic reasons. They need the tax revenue from marijuana sales, and to cut the expenses of mass incarceration.

Like the US alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, the “War on Drugs” has created institutions on both sides. Organized crime in that time and place grew into the US incarnation of the mafia, which got into other rackets once alcohol became legal again. If the money is taken out of the drug racket, a lot of those racketeers will move into other crimes.

Some already have. President Cortizo’s appointed governor of Guna Yala, Erick Martelo, was according to police nailed moving drugs in a specially modified smuggling car. Legislative secretary Lourdes Camarena, who worked for the PRD-allied MOIRENA deputy Miguel Fanovich, was arrested for allegedly moving drugs shortly before. Neither Martelo nor Camarena are in jail at the moment — he, because only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to investigate him, she, because she is apparently pregnant.

Because criminal activity in the various branches of government is rarely punished, it’s only natural that gangsters would move onto that turf. They have.

Set aside Washington’s obsession with drugs. In Panama we need to be concerned about any sort of racketeering in public life. 


Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Bear in mind…

If I advance follow me, if I stall push me, if I retreat kill me.

Francisco Morazán

A happy childhood is poor preparation for human contacts.


It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair


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