The U.S. government is committed to squashing the drug wars that are devastating parts of Latin America — by expanding them:

“In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade. U.S. Army troops, Air Force pilots and Navy ships outfitted with Coast Guard counternarcotics teams are routinely deployed to chase, track and capture drug smugglers.

The sophistication and violence of the traffickers is so great that the U.S. military is training not only law enforcement agents in Latin American nations, but their militaries as well, building a network of expensive hardware, radar, airplanes, ships, runways and refueling stations to stem the tide of illegal drugs from South America to the U.S.

According to State Department and Pentagon officials, ‘stopping drug-trafficking organizations has become a matter of national security because they spread corruption, undermine fledgling democracies and can potentially finance terrorists.’ “

There’s plenty of money to be made on both sides of the drug-war equation. On the one hand, you have the narcotraffickers raking in an estimated $320 billion a year from the trade of illicit drugs. On the other side of the coin, the military-industrial complex in the United States is after the billions more in defense contracts geared toward counternarcotics.

As the AP reports:

“The U.S. authorized the sale of a record $2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011, four times the authorized sales 10 years ago, according to the latest State Department reports.

Over the same decade, defense contracts jumped from $119 million to $629 million, supporting everything from Kevlar helmets for the Mexican army to airport runways in Aruba, according to federal contract data.

Last year $830 million, almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region, went toward countering narcotics, up 30 percent in the past decade.”

Perhaps no other country exemplifies this trend better than my maternal homeland, Honduras.

The Pentagon spends about $90 million a year maintaining Joint Task Force Bravo, a 600-member unit stationed at Soto Cano Air Base near Comayagua — and whose presence is a violation of the Honduran constitution.

Again, from the AP:

“Last year, the U.S. Defense Department spent a record $67.4 million on military contracts in Honduras, triple the 2002 defense contracts there well above the $45.6 million spent in neighboring Guatemala in 2012. …Further, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could provide details explaining a 2011 $1.3 billion authorization for exports of military electronics to Honduras – although that would amount to almost half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere.”

Honduran counternarcotics forces ride in U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and are trained by the Green Berets. And while U.S. forces are prohibited from firing their weapons except in self-defense, Drug Enforcement Agency agents were involved in a few incidents last year that resulted in the shooting of Honduran men and women.

With billions of dollars in defense contracts at stake, it’s safe to say there are some people here at home who have a vested interest in seeing the drug war continue on indefinitely.

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