US & Canada

United States continues executions amid controversy

Last night, the US executed two convicted murderers – Marcus Wellons and John Winfield – within twenty minutes of each other, and a third – John Henry – is due to be killed tonight. Capital punishment is not unusual in the United States – a country that executed 39 of its citizens in 2013. However, these three cases have been controversial, as the last few months have seen several disastrous implementations of the primary execution method – lethal injections – in the US.

 

In January, after being injected, convicted killer Michael Wilson uttered his last words: “I feel my whole body burning”. Several executions later, in April, the state of Oklahoma killed Clayton Lockett – but not before he writhed and convulsed for over 40 minutes after being administered a deadly cocktail of drugs. One reason for these recent debacles is that the European Union, which is staunchly against the death penalty, now refuses to provide the drugs for executions. This is causing US states to experiment with different combinations of chemicals – something that the UK charity Reprieve described as tantamount to “using humans as guinea pigs”. Prior to Wellons’ death, his lawyers appealed against his sentence – arguing that it was a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ – as the state refused to disclose the source of the chemicals being used to kill him. However, his appeal was denied; after the lethal injection was administered, Wellons took almost 25 minutes to die in the execution chamber.

 

Further controversies have arisen regarding US capital punishment in recent years, including the relevance of offenders’ and victims’ race in determining the punishment, as well as the discovery that many people who were executed were wrongly convicted by biased juries or prosecutors. Data from the US-based Death Penalty Information Centre shows that 61% of the ‘capital convicts’ to have their convictions overturned, and be found innocent, were ethnic minorities. Wellons and Winfield, who were executed last night, and Henry – who is due to be killed tonight, are all Black – as were the two aforementioned offenders who endured painful deaths earlier this year at the hands of their state. It is worth noting that capital punishment is most prevalent in states with histories of racism; Texas executes the largest number of prisoners per year, while Oklahoma – the home of Black Wall Street before it was devastated by white American terrorism – has the highest per capita rate of executions.

 

Proponents of capital punishment in the United States often argue that it is an effective deterrent for homicide; that if the state promotes killing as a method of justice, it will somehow discourage citizens from killing. Unsurprisingly, a 2012 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the US murder rate is far higher than those of developed countries which have outlawed capital punishment. The rate of intentional homicide in the US is 4.8 per 100,000 – in stark contrast with rates of 1.6 in Canada and 1.0 in the United Kingdom, where the death penalty has been outlawed. Of course, there are numerous important factors that affect a nation’s rate of murder and violence, but – seemingly – punishing murderers with unpredictable and torturous deaths is not reducing it.

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Banks Launder Billions of Illegal Cartel Money While Snubbing Legal Marijuana Businesses

This article was published by the Huffington Post and Alternet.

In the past few weeks, violence in the western Mexican state of Michoacán has been rapidly escalating. The government’s inability to deal with the powerful cartels has led to citizens taking the law into their own hands — by forming armed vigilante groups. The bloodshed caused by this development has now led to the deployment of Mexican soldiersinto the region, which in turn has caused further civilian deaths.

The failure of both the vigilantes and the army to quell the cartel’s carnage is a direct result of the huge profits that the drug trade generates. Cartel leaders can continue hiring and arming their combatants because it’s worth the expenditure; the illegal drug trade accounts for around 8 percent of all international trade. One of the primary reasons that cartels retain their enormous power is that well-known and popular banks are supporting their finances.

Bank of America, Western Union, and JP Morgan, are among the institutions allegedly involved in the drug trade. Meanwhile, HSBC has admitted its laundering role, and evaded criminal prosecution by paying a fine of almost $2 billion. The lack of imprisonment of any bankers involved is indicative of the hypocritical nature of the drug war; an individual selling a few grams of drugs can face decades in prison, while a group of people that tacitly allow — and profit from — the trade of tons, escape incarceration.

The hypocrisy of the role that banks play in the drug trade is particularly disgraceful when considering the recent system of marijuana regulation that was introduced in Colorado. The state’s legal marijuana business has proven to be highly lucrative, with $5 million made in the first week of 2014. However, at present, marijuana businesses cannot access essential banking services. Despite liberalization of marijuana laws in Colorado and elsewhere, the plant remains illegal at the federal level; this means that banks won’t open accounts for marijuana businesses, so the majority of their transactions are cash-only. The movement of such large amounts of cash can be highly dangerous for business owners, and troublesome for both customers and tax collectors.

Earlier this week, several Colorado legislators made a bipartisan appeal to the federal government, requesting clear guidelines for marijuana businesses’ regulation within the banking sector. Banks have avoided allowing these new companies to open accounts, ironically, for the fear of being penalized, or implicated as launderers. Essentially, the current banking system implicitly tolerates the handling of violent cartels’ illegal assets, but blocks the legal and legitimate business of the Coloradan marijuana industry.

The role that banks have played in the global drug trade has been partly responsible for widespread carnage and countless civilian deaths, particularly in Mexico. Now, as legal marijuana industries begin to emerge, and the war on drugs seems to slowly decelerate, the banking sector has an opportunity to redeem itself in this respect. Banks cannot undo the wrongs of the past, but they can create a fairer future for regulated trade within this expanding and legal new industry, and without supporting lawlessness.Image

Mexico vs. Marijuana

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The bodies of cartel gunmen beside their vehicle after a shootout with Mexican soldiers (Source: http://defenseinvestigators.com/blog/2011/the-cartels-behind-mexicos-drug-war/)

Mexico is, arguably, the nation worst affected by the war on drugs. Since the country’s intensification of aggressive prohibitionism in 2006, more than 70,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, although the true figure is unknown. Such criminality has become so prevalent that it barely makes headlines, and the cartels exacting this violence are targeting all levels of Mexican society; ordinary civilians, journalists, police, soldiers and numerous public officials. Staggeringly, in the past seven years, at least 30 Mexican mayors have been murdered for daring to stand up to trafficking groups, including 15 in 2010 alone.

Mexican cooperation with US-sponsored counter-narcotic schemes, most notably the 2008 Mérida Initiative, has led to a further militarization of the drug war, yet little success. A 2010 report suggests that illegal narcotic transactions with the United States continue to boom; earning Mexican cartels around $40billion every year. The incredible wealth of these organizations is the primary reason that Mexican forces struggle to decrease trafficking or subdue the violence. Additionally, government corruption is a significant repercussion of the traffickers’ power; a 2012 exposé by political science professor Stephen Morris refers to the indictment or prosecution of Mexican “prison officials, military and police commanders, governors […], district attorneys, mayors and city officials, and hundreds of military police” for tacit involvement in the drug trade.

To reduce violence and corruption, it is vital for the state to act efficiently in reducing the income of cartels by targeting one of their main cash crops: marijuana. There are no verifiable statistics of how much marijuana trafficking contributes to Mexican cartels’ overall earnings, as estimates vary wildly – from 25–60%. However, it is undeniable that significant profits are made from the production and trafficking of the flowering plant. If marijuana were to be legalized, regulated and taxed, the trade could be taken over by either the state or legitimate private businesses. Legalization would be financially devastating for traffickers, and could potentially raise sufficient tax revenue for the government to suppress the vicious aspects of cartel activity that are destabilizing the state. Of course, as opponents argue, cartels may continue to fund their operations by selling marijuana through a legal system, but the legitimizing of the trade would vastly offset the associated violence and corruption.

This is not revolutionary thinking; Mexico has been ravaged by prohibitionism for decades, and critics have long-called for a reform of marijuana policy. However, the past year has seen significant international momentum growing against marijuana prohibition – from the passing of legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, to the on-going success of a legalization bill in the Uruguayan congress. Perhaps most importantly, senior Mexican political figures are now beginning to embrace the idea of legalization, and are publicly declaring so.

Earlier this month, a representative of the Mexico City council announced that the legalization of cultivation and usage was being considered – albeit being restricted to the capital city. Although well-intentioned, this measure may be insufficient even if implemented, as only nationwide legalization could be efficient in removing the trade from the hands of organized criminals. Meanwhile, former president Vicente Fox has placed himself firmly behind the anti-prohibitionist cause; comparing the illegality of marijuana to bans upon abortion and equal marriage – he declared “these arbitrarily imposed prohibitions have ended. And they ended because they don’t work”. Inversely, current president Enrique Peña Nieto has opposed such a change, citing the debunked myth of marijuana being a “gateway drug”.

Mexico’s proximity to the United States – the world leader in illegal drug consumption – has caused its citizens to face some of the deadliest consequences of militarized prohibitionism. As states across the USA reform their marijuana policy, it is essential for Mexico to keep up with their northern neighbor, and to end their war on marijuana before it claims more casualties.

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The discovery of 120 tons of marijuana by the Mexican army – worth an estimated $180 million to cartels (Source: http://www.demotix.com/news/757925/massive-marijuana-plantation-discovered-mexico-san-quintin)

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The Injustice of the US Justice Department

The United States has, by far, the largest incarceration rate in the world – with nearly 25% of the world’s inmate population, despite having only 5% of the world’s total population. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, over 500,000 of these prisoners – in both federal and state penitentiaries – are non-violent drug offenders. Alongside the human cost of this repressive imprisonment policy, a considerable financial burden exists; imprisoning an individual in a minimum-security facility for one year costs $21,000, therefore, approximately $10billion is spent incarcerating non-violent drug offenders annually. One of the primary causes of this systemic incarceration, that has predominantly targeted Black and Hispanic individuals, has been the existence of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Prison-population-in-the-World

Mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offences has existed in varying degrees in the US for over half a century, and has targeted both dealers and users of illegal narcotics. This unjust practice essentially twists the arm of judges, disallowing them from making rational decisions on individual cases. The case for reform was put forward in a Senate hearing last week, and was a particularly noteworthy development as it garnered bipartisan support. Republican Senator Rand Paul insisted that “each case should be judged on its own merits […and that] mandatory minimums prevent this from happening”, while Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy labeled the sentencing program as “a great mistake” that is “costly [and] unfair”.

The Senate hearing was followed, on Thursday 19th September, by a groundbreaking declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder. Essentially, the announcement outlined an intention to halt mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offences, except in certain extreme cases – such as those involving the use of a weapon or selling to minors.

The devastation that mandatory minimum sentencing has caused is unmistakable, and one man who knows that all too well is Anthony Papa. Papa is the manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as being a respected author, a revered artist and a doting father. He is also a convicted felon, who received a sentence of 15 years to life for a first-time, non-violent drug offence. In the early 1980s, Papa was offered $500 by an acquaintance to deliver an envelope to a mysterious recipient just outside of New York City. Unbeknownst to Papa, his acquaintance was a police informant, the envelope contained cocaine, and the recipient was part of a law enforcement ‘sting’ operation. Due to the strict mandatory minimum sentencing laws in New York – enacted by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1973 – the judge in Papa’s trial had little flexibility in the sentencing, despite the controversial and unethical circumstances of his arrest and indictment.

The movement towards a fairer justice system has grown considerably with the Attorney General’s announcement, and hopefully means that cases such as that of Anthony Papa will not reoccur. However, it is also important for the end of mandatory minimums to be applied retroactively – so that individuals currently serving inordinately long sentences for non-violent drug crimes can receive a more rational trial and sentence. It is hypocritical for representatives of both political parties, as well as the Department of Justice, to claim to be resolving the injustices of mandatory minimums while allowing countless harmless Americans to rot in jail. As Martin Luther King wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Most Americans Live in a State Where the Federal Marijuana Law Does Not Apply

 
The nationwide illegality of marijuana was established under the 43-year-old Controlled Substances Act, which classifies the plant as a Schedule I drug, alongside dangerous substances such as heroin. However, beginning with decriminalization in Oregon in 1973, state legislatures have gradually taken it upon themselves to oppose this federal encroachment upon personal freedoms.
 
On August 1, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill to allow for medical marijuana in his state. This resulted in a subtle but important change. The number of Americans living in a state with fully-criminalized marijuana fell – for the first time since prohibition began – to below 50 percent of the national population. 
 
In other words, the federal law that criminalizes marijuana possession outright has been, theoretically, overridden by state legislatures in the majority of the USA. 27 states (and Washington, D.C.) have liberalized their law books, resulting in approximately 170 million Americans living in a state where marijuana possession has been legalized, decriminalized, or made medicinally available.
 
Additionally, a nationwide survey from March of this year found that 52 percent of Americans support legalization, and 45 percent oppose it. 
 
On August 29, the Department of Justice issued a directive to the 22 states with medicinal marijuana, as well as Colorado and Washington – where the plant is recreationally available. The federal government will no longer interfere with their state marijuana laws, as long as a number of stipulations are adhered to – such as preventing distribution to minors. 
 
This was a momentous change in the national drug policy, and perhaps occurred because of the government’s realization that they were actively suppressing the democratic will of the majority of Americans.
 
Despite this progress, marijuana remains federally illegal as a Schedule I drug. In many parts of this country, marijuana users are being imprisoned, and the plant’s prohibition allows gang wars to rage on. Meanwhile, the impact of US marijuana prohibition is incomparably more painful for those living south of the border, where violent cartels build their empires on illegally-gained American dollars.
 
The Department of Justice’s decision is certainly a step in the right direction, but the failures of the war on marijuana will never be truly rectified until the government backs down from its criminalization of the plant.
 

Remember the International Overdose Awareness Day

 
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This Saturday, August 31, marks International Overdose Awareness Day, and there hasn’t been a more important time to get involved. Drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54; amassing a death toll of over 38,000 in 2010. That’s the equivalent of a city the size of Berkeley being wiped out every three years.
 
International Overdose Awareness Day is an occasion to promote a variety of policies that protect vulnerable segments of society. One such policy, the 911 Good Samaritan law, provides a level of immunity from arrest for low-level drug offences; allowing acquaintances of an overdosing individual to call emergency services without fear of prosecution. DPA spearheaded the passage of New Mexico’s ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation in 2007, and has passionately supported the implementation of such laws in 13 other states, including in New Jersey in May of this year.
 
Another vital tenet of harm reduction and overdose prevention is improving the availability of the life-saving drug, naloxone. Naloxone is an inexpensive, non-addictive, non-toxic, easily-administered and FDA-approved substance used as an antidote for individuals overdosing on opiate drugs, particularly heroin. Research shows that – with improved accessibility – naloxone could effectively halve the number of overdose death rates.
 
Entrenching ‘Good Samaritan’ laws and naloxone availability into state drug policy programs are vital steps, but they are not enough. Meghan Ralston, the harm reduction manager for DPA, insists that “much more is needed, such as integrating overdose prevention into existing drug education programs.” Alarming data shows that the number of first-time heroin users in the United States doubled between 2006 and 2011; it is vital for the federal and state governments to offer appropriate and humane legislation to correspond with the speed of these changes. This Saturday, on International Overdose Awareness Day, make it known to your friends, family and representatives that you support overdose prevention policies.

Dr. King’s dream lives on in NYC’s Community Safety Act

First published by the Drug Policy Alliance: http://www.drugpolicy.org/blog/dr-kings-dream-lives-nycs-community-safety-act

Fifty years ago, in August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King profoundly addressed the nation to demand justice and equality for racial minorities. Despite the huge changes that have occurred since then, people of colour still face discrimination and prejudice in many ways, including with the New York Police Department’s implementation of drug laws.

New York City is the marijuana arrest capital of the world – with almost half a million people being arrested for marijuana possession since Bloomberg assumed office in 2002. The vast majority of these arrests – 87 per cent – were of Black and Latino individuals, despite data indicating that people of colour and White people have a similar rate of marijuana use.

Dr. King asserted that “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”. Yesterday, the New York City Council helped those waters flow; Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the Community Safety Act was successfully overturned. This piece of legislation is comprised of two important progressive changes; preventing discriminatory profiling by the NYPD – particularly relating to the stop-and-frisk program, and oversight for the police department being allocated to the independent Department of Investigation.

Prior to yesterday’s vote, an inspiring press conference and rally were staged at City Hall, where progressive advocates from a range of backgrounds voiced their support for change. Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the NY Civil Liberties Union, said we must ensure that “New York City is a place where our youth of colour can walk the streets”, and that it is time to end stop-and-frisk, which she defined as a “racial profiling program”. Bloomberg and his allies have claimed that the legislation prevents violent crime – allowing police to get weapons off the streets – but statistics refute this. There has been little change in either the number of shooting victims, or the number of homicides since 2002, despite this period seeing the annual number of stop-and-frisks increasing seven-fold.

If effectively implemented, this new legislation will significantly decrease marijuana arrests and police discrimination against people of colour. The Council’s decision is a great success for civil liberties, as well as a victory in the fight against the drug war. Perhaps this will set a national precedent; Benjamin Todd Jealous, the President of the NAACP, declared on the steps of City Hall, “What happens in New York City has consequences for the nation”. It still needs a lot of work, but Dr. King’s dream lives on!ImageImageImageImage

Courtesy of Canada: As the Bank of England gets a new boss from the land of the lumberjack, we take a look at other famous Canadians over here calling the shots

This piece was originally published by The Independent here:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/courtesy-of-canada-as-the-bank-of-england-gets-a-new-boss-from-the-land-of-the-lumberjack-we-take-a-look-at-other-famous-canadians-over-here-calling-the-shots-8679980.html

 

 

 

If you hear someone with a North American twang warning that the British economy is even more doomed than we thought, here’s how to get your own back: ask him which part of the United States he is from.

For you can bet your bottom Monopoly-money-looking dollar that the man in question won’t thank you for the misconception; even if he is too polite to make a fuss about the mistake.

That’s because Mark Carney, who starts tomorrow as the new Governor of the Bank of England, hails not from the US but from Canada: that vast expanse of icy nothingness more famous for lumberjacks and a fondness for red maple leaves than big City players. Or so the popular stereotypes would have you believe.

But there’s more going for The True North than back bacon and brawny hockey players. There are plenty more Canadians over here calling the shots than just Mr Carney – which could prove handy if he’s feeling homesick when he turns up for work on what is, after all, Canada’s national day (celebrating the foundation of the country by the British North America Act in 1867). Let The Independent on Sunday be your guide to Carney’s compatriots, and no, they’re not American. Didn’t you see the maple leaf tattooed on their skin?

Turning over a new leaf

Moya Greene

You do know our postage stamps are all about one woman, right? And no, I’m not talking the Queen. Want to know who to blame for the incessant first-class stamp price rises? Step forward Newfoundlander Moya Greene, Chief Executive of the Royal Mail.

David Furnish

He may not sing like our Elton, but David Furnish is still a star of the British art firmament, largely due to his civil partnership with the rock star. The Ontarian was co-host of the pair’s 15th annual White Tie and Tiara Ball last week to benefit the Elton John Aids Foundation. A highlight of the summer season, provided you can afford a ticket.

Bryan Adams

His might be a fleeting physical appearance on these shores, but who can forget the summer of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”? Still, Mark Carney can always dial it up on Spotify should he feel the need, or I’m sure there are still tickets available for Bryan Adams’s 14 July gig at Stoke Park, in Guildford, Surrey.

Alannah Weston

There were cries of nepotism when the owner of Selfridges department store, Galen Weston, appointed his daughter as its creative director. But Alannah has proved herself more than capable of dictating our shopping desires, if not our needs. Still, someone’s got to keep us spending, for the sake of the economy, no?

Autumn Kelly

Given that our Queen has been their monarch for all these years, you could say that Autumn Kelly is getting her own back. The Quebecer married Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips in 2008. Top fact: as daughters Savannah and Isla have dual nationality, they are the first Canadian citizens to be in line to the throne.

Greg Rusedski

Yes, we all liked to call him “our Greg”, but you do know that was a bit of a yarn? Born in Montreal, Quebec, Rusedski was a Canadian for two decades of his life before switching allegiance to the Union Jack, aged 22.

Margaret Atwood

OK, so Mr Carney might have to pick up one of the illustrious author’s books for a reminder of home, rather than chat in person, but that isn’t to lessen the impact Margaret Atwood has had on these shores. Five times shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, her novels are enduringly popular.

Michael Buble

The singer may not be a UK resident (he lives in British Columbia) but he’s always popping in. His last three albums topped the UK charts and Bublé marks Canada Day tonight by kicking off his latest tour at London’s O2 Arena.

This piece was co-written with Susie Mesure.

Dissertation: The Failure of the War on Drugs

Introduction

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control mans’ appetite through legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not even crimes…” – Abraham Lincoln, 1840

The United States government has implemented federal laws that outlaw certain narcotics since the early 20th Century. The implementation of such policies is known as prohibitionism, and has been characterised by government suppression of the cultivation, manufacturing, trafficking and consumption of a number of drugs. This illegality was instituted into international law by the United Nations in 1961, and, since then, the United States has advocated this prohibitionism as a prominent part of its foreign policy agenda. This dissertation aims to identify and investigate the impacts of these policies upon basic human rights and security. In this context, ‘human rights’ are deemed to be the internationally recognised set of rights outlined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ‘Security’ is perceived as the safety and survival of the state or governing body; in this context, national security and regional security are encompassed by this term. In this dissertation it will be argued that prohibitionism has directly caused a severe deterioration of human rights and national security.

US prohibitionist policy has taken a number of forms, including the support for militarised counter-narcotic endeavours. This policy has caused extreme intrastate violence in Latin America, particularly evident with the conflation of terrorism and drug trafficking. This militarisation of prohibitionism is explored throughout this dissertation, and may be considered to be the reasoning behind the word ‘war’ in the idiom ‘the War on Drugs’; a phrase coined by Richard Nixon when state violence against drug traffickers began to develop.

To analyse the effectiveness of prohibitionism, it is essential to investigate the origins of such policy. Chapter One will involve an investigation into the roots of domestic prohibitionist policies in the United States, as these were the principal laws upon which global prohibitionist regulations were based. Subsequently, this chapter will focus on the transition of prohibitionism into international law, and will provide an explanation and analysis of how the United States government was, and continues to be, the primary driver of the intensification of the War on Drugs, particularly in Latin America. The primary argument put forward by this chapter will be that prohibitionism originated from a bigoted and oppressive rationale, and that these connotations continued as it progression into the international realm. It will also be argued that this discriminatory foundation is partially responsible for the inherent flaws within contemporary international prohibitionism.

The proximity of Latin America to the United States has allowed the former to become the primary cultivation region of the two most prevalent illegal drugs used by Americans: marijuana and cocaine. In the 1980s, Colombia emerged as the predominant producing nation in the hemisphere, and Mexico became the principal transit route of illegal drugs into the US. Since, Colombia and Mexico play vital roles in the drug trade, Chapter Two and Three will analyse the important, but distinctly heterogeneous, impacts that the War on Drugs has had upon human rights and security in these two nations respectively. Chapter Two addresses prohibitionism in Colombia; analysing the success of policies – including crop fumigation and the conflation of counter-narcotic and counter-terror efforts – and the repercussions upon the government and citizens. In contrast, Chapter Three will address the widespread corruption and empowerment of cartels that have resulted from prohibitionism in Mexico, as well as assessing the effectiveness of US involvement in the nation. These case studies are used to argue that prohibitionism, particularly the militarisation of drug policy, has caused severe destabilisation to both Colombia and Mexico’s national security, as well as a marked increase in human rights abuses; fuelling social, economic and political instability in both a local and regional context.

Following this disclosure and scrutiny of the consequences of prohibitionism, Chapter Four will outline an alternative framework for controlling drugs. The concepts of legalisation and decriminalisation will be defined, and the potential for their successwill be considered by referring to recent examples of drug policy reform, as well as theoretical perspectives. This chapter will put forward the argument that a legal and regulated system for the cultivation, distribution and consumption of drugs is superior to prohibitionism for the protection of human rights and national security. Additionally, it will be argued that legalisation is the most appropriate course of action at both the national and international level.

FULL DISSERTATION (PDF):  http://www.scribd.com/doc/143759208/The-failure-of-the-War-on-Drugs

The US role in the rise of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile

This is an academic piece written for my university which explains the impact that the United States had in the overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende, and the installation of dictator Augusto Pinochet, in the CIA-backed coup in Chile in 1973:

During the 1960s and 1970s, Latin America saw a sharp rise in the number of military dictatorships taking control of a number of nations. The role of the United States government in these occurrences has been contentious, especially due to the clandestine tactics employed at the time. The case of Chile stands out due to the highly interventionist nature of the United States in the nation’s democratic political progression; this piece will consider the importance of US involvement in the rise and fall of Salvador Allende, and discuss whether it was the most crucial catalyst for Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power. This will include a consideration of the importance of other factors in the political transition – including economic strife and other internal issues – that may have led to the rise of Pinochet’s regime. Attention will also be given to the reasons why the US became involved in Chile; issues such as the fear of communism, and the effects of Chilean socialism upon US business interests, will be reviewed. Lastly, this piece will address the traits of Pinochet and Allende’s domestic policies, and consider whether the US support or opposition to them was justified.

To comprehend the involvement that the US had in the emergence of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, it is important to understand contemporary contextual relations between Latin America and the United States. In the early 1960s, when Salvador Allende began to gain momentum in his popularity among Chilean voters, tensions were rife between the United States and foreign governments that were perceived to be sympathetic to communism. The US considered the empowerment of any socialist or Marxist leader – democratic or otherwise – to be a direct threat to US interests; this stemmed from the belief that any state allowing such ideology to flourish would signify an expansion of Soviet influence. However, the support provided by the United States to Latin American military dictatorships that supported US interests was not unique to Cold War international relations; throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, US presidents authorised “overt military efforts” with the intention of removing governments considered to be resistant of accepting US political and financial interests[1]. Prior to this period, the tactics used by the US government in installing and maintaining dictatorships in the region had been largely consistent; support for “small oligarchical political parties” on the right side of the political spectrum had proved effective in protecting US interests[2]. However, the ousting of Fulgencio Batista in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the empowerment of Fidel Castro, led to the realisation that an oppressive US-supported right-wing leadership strengthened public support for the left. During his brief presidency, John F. Kennedy privately spoke of a “viable alternative” of fostering support for centrist and reformist parties[3] – a move that would have created a dissonance between those on the left who supported an outright revolution, and those who preferred a gradual reform of political institutions.

This approach was clearly seen in US policy when, in the 1964 Chilean presidential election, Christian Democratic Party (PDC) leader Eduardo Frei gained an absolute majority – ensuring his power[4]. However, Frei’s success was a direct result of covert intervention by the US Central Intelligence Agency in the campaigning process. The run-up to this election was the key point in which the United States made its first efforts to undermine Chilean democracy in this period; the CIA financed a significant portion of Frei’s campaign, and spread vast amounts of anti-communist propaganda. These actions included the distribution of 3,000 political posters, as well as the financing of radio spots and news commentaries that opposed Allende[5]. After ensuring his 1964 electoral win, the United States government then had to maintain Frei’s popularity among the Chilean people – to safeguard a PDC win in the 1970 elections. Therefore, a period of covert financial assistance ensued, with around $1.2 billion in grants and loans being provided to Frei’s administration to “sustain social and economic development”[6]. The fact that the United States found it necessary to fund the PDC at the time is indicative of the political failures of Frei’s governance to address the contemporary needs of the Chilean people.

A number of factors contributed to the US sentiment opposing the increasingly popular Allende; a potential for a Chilean alliance with Cuba and the Soviet Union, the spread of communism in mainland Latin America, and Allende’s significant support for the nationalisation of Chilean industries.  The latter was significantly contentious, as Chilean industries were “dominated by US corporations” at the time, and a nationalisation move would cause a dramatic loss of profits for the United States[7]; essentially, a significant reason that the US opposed the democratic election of Allende was to protect the business interests of a wealthy but powerful few. A CIA report at the time indicated that an Allende win would threaten “US private investment of more than $750 million”[8]. As noted in various sources, Chile historically had “the strongest tradition of democracy in Latin America”[9], yet with the implementation of various tactics by the CIA, and a few domestic issues, this democratic tradition was destroyed in 1973.

In 1970, after it became apparent through polling results that Allende was expected to achieve electoral success, the United States began to formulate plans to depose him, and install a leader with policies sympathetic to US interests. To exact this, the CIA concluded that “the only viable solution for blocking Allende” was a military coup covertly organised by US agents operating in the region, or Chilean proxies implementing CIA-backed actions. Following the elections in September 1970, a clear winner was not evident, as both Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri received a similar number of votes – both well below an absolute majority[10]. Due to the nature of the Chilean political system, the choice of who was to become president had to be voted upon in Congress. While a decision on this was still being considered, the United States executed the first stage of their anti-Allende plan known as the ‘Viaux solution’, due to the involvement of General Roberto Viaux. The commander-in-chief of the Chilean army at the time, René Schneider, had expressed opposition to the staging of a coup, due to his support for constitutionalism and an apolitical military. However, this did not get in the way of US intentions for a military coup; a group of insurgents led by General Viaux, and financed by the CIA, shot and killed Schneider during a failed kidnapping attempt[11]. The US involvement in this highly undemocratic move is indubitable; the US ambassador to Chile at the time, Edward Korry, described Schneider as the “main barrier to all plans for the military to take over the government”, and that he needed to be “neutralised, by displacement if necessary”[12]. This development was intended by the United States to cause instability in Chilean politics, while blame for Schneider’s murder was to be placed on leftists – therefore inciting the military to raid Communist-controlled areas, and leading to the creation of a ruling junta to dissolve Congress and prevent any empowerment of Allende[13]. Despite the intentions, Schneider’s death created a significant “repudiation of violence and a clear reaffirmation of Chile’s civil, constitutional tradition”[14], this culminated in Congress electing Allende as president of Chile.

The election of Allende was viewed as a more severe threat than previous Latin American leaders who were later overthrown by the United States, as he was the twentieth century’s first democratically elected “socialist parliamentarian” in the Western Hemisphere[15]; an ideologically opposing politician with a clear representative mandate. Evidence thus far is highly indicative of a crucial US involvement in the political process of Chile throughout the 1960s; however, it is vital to note that US efforts to depose Allende, destabilise democracy and create a dictatorship serving US interests, were largely failures until this point. Once Allende became president, US policy changed from a strategy of prevention to a more direct assault upon the stability of Chile. President Richard Nixon privately declared that the “Allende regime in Chile is not acceptable to the United States”, and ordered the CIA to “make the [Chilean] economy scream”[16]. President Nixon and his administration began to develop numerous tactics to ensure “that son of a bitch Allende” was removed and replaced with a dictator[17]. The logic of Cold War relations led to Allende’s election being seen by the United States as not “a legitimate action by the Chilean people, but as a ‘takeover’ by hostile, outside forces”; despite Allende’s acceptance speech outlining an intention to uphold the values of “democracy, pluralism and freedom”[18][19]. Most importantly, as Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explained, in the perception of the United States, “Allende’s election was a challenge to our national interest”[20]. Evidence has also emerged indicating that Kissinger’s anti-Allende policy was motivated by business interests; within two weeks of polls indicating an Allende win, Kissinger met with David Rockefeller or Chase Manhattan Bank, as well as the president of Pepsi-Cola, to determine how sabotaging Chilean democracy may prove useful to their interests[21]. This eventually resulted in Nixon instructing the CIA to “play a direct role in organising a military coup d’état in Chile”[22].

In August 1973, Allende appointed Augusto Pinochet as the new commander-in-chief of the Chilean army; a decision that was to change the nation’s fate. This topic is contentious, as Pinochet’s appointment was unrelated to US involvement in Chile – it is feasible that without Allende having made the decision to appoint him, the military coup may have been unsuccessful, and democracy may have been maintained. Several weeks after this occasion – when Pinochet ironically told Allende that he would willingly “lay down [his] life in the defence of the constitutional government” – CIA and anti-Allende Chilean conspirators had recruited Pinochet to launch a military attack upon the presidential palace[23]. The number of soldiers that the CIA had managed to recruit to fight the government by this point was substantial, this was especially due to the economic woes felt by many – ostensibly due to Allende’s economic policy; in fact, the United States had orchestrated an “international credit squeeze” which caused high debt and inflation in Chile, in order to establish a firmer opposition to his presidency[24]. Soon after the coup was initiated, Allende died in his palace. Pinochet assumed power of Chile immediately, and the United States used this opportunity to both overtly and covertly support his oppressive rule.

The “Nixon administration officially [but privately] embraced the bloody coup d’état in Chile”, despite this, the US government publicly portrayed itself as being in a position of “neutrality” towards Pinochet’s regime[25]. Notorious uses of torture by the Pinochet regime against thousands of supposed militants and civilians (including children) were rife; evidence of abuse included the use of electric shocks and forced rape between family members[26]. Additionally, over 2000 people are thought to have been killed by Pinochet’s repressive regime. Despite these reprehensible abuses of human rights, the United States continued to support Pinochet; the Nixon administration agreed to provide “1,000 flares [and] 1,000 steel helmets” for the Chilean military junta with the spurious justification that the US should “be willing to take some risks to avoid [a set pattern of attitudes]”[27]. The provision of this equipment to the military was conducted with purported US ignorance to its usage; however, Nixon clandestinely provided equipment for other clearly malevolent purposes. The US eventually became aware that Pinochet was creating “detention camps” for political prisoners, but considered it to be politically untenable to aid in their establishment. Instead, the US indirectly supported the creation of these camps by providing materials such as tents and blankets which it insisted “need not be publicly… earmarked for prisoners”[28].

As well as providing equipment, the United States immediately lifted its financial blockade on Chile once Pinochet had seized power. On September 12th 1973, one day after the coup, the Washington Special Actions Group – a government task force – began to consider “short, medium and long term Chilean assistance requirements”[29]. This involved the United States dramatically increasing the amount of economic and military aid to Chile, including $24million to ostensibly “alleviate food shortages” – aid that was not granted to Allende’s government due to the aforementioned blockade. It is indubitable that the US government were fully aware of the atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime against the Chilean people. Recently declassified evidence indicates that Henry Kissinger was briefed with a secret document entitled “Chilean Execution” which detailed the hundreds of people killed by the regime since its establishment[30]. The disparity between economic support provided by the US to Allende, and that provided to Pinochet, is huge; between 1970 and 1973, the Allende government received $19.8 million in assistance, compared to $186 million provided to Pinochet between 1974 and 1976[31].

Despite this plethora of evidence indicating a crucial US role in the emergence of Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile, there is an array of other factors which may have contributed to the 1973 coup d’état. Importantly, Allende made a vast number of promises during his election campaign and victory speech that indicated a wide range of economic and institutional reforms; he pledged to “abolish the monopolies which grant control of the economy to a few dozen families… abolish a tax system which favours profiteering… nationalise credit… [And] to put an end to the foreign ownership of our industry”[32]. The expectations he provoked among the poor were very high, while the wealthy and middle classes viewed his proposed tax reforms as threatening; Chile was highly polarised, and Allende’s lack of progress at the start of his presidency exacerbated the rift between classes[33]. Social stability then deteriorated, with a major strike participated in by numerous workers who felt inappropriately affected by his political actions, or lack thereof; this eventually culminated into a “nationwide business lock-out which aimed to bring down the government”[34]. The effects of this strike, along with the unfortunately-timed drop in copper prices – a major industry nationalised by Allende, massively damaged the economy. Economic woes were also increased by high government spending on social programs such as a rise in minimum wage and the provision of free milk for school children, as well as an underhanded “sabotage by the economic elite”[35]. However, regardless of these financial issues caused by domestic factors, the most prominent economic factor in the failure of Allende’s government was the blockade imposed upon Chile by the United States. This also involved the IMF refusing to provide regular credits and assistance to the nation due to Allende’s unwillingness to recant to the institutional reformation criteria of the US-backed “stabilisation program”[36].

The United States was not simply involved in the emergence of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile; it was directly involved in multiple aspects of the Chilean political process during Frei’s presidency, Allende’s presidency and continuously until the wane of Pinochet’s power in the late 1980s – apart from the four years of Jimmy Carter’s US presidency, when the two nations’ relationship was compromised due to Carter’s opposition to Pinochet’s human rights violations[37]. The United States’ role was crucial in Pinochet’s empowerment and the deplorable crimes he committed against his people, and the US was vitally involved in derailing democracy and denying a voice to the Chilean people – with priority given to US political and financial interests. The Allende government made several political failures that led to disillusionment among the public, however, these were mostly exacerbated, if not generated, by US economic sanctions imposed upon Chile. Despite other factors, the United States was primarily, if not entirely, responsible for creating and supporting Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.


[1] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p2

[2] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p3

[3] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p3

[4] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p4

[5] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p4

[6] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p5

[7] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p94

[8] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p94

[9] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p51

[10] US Department of State. Cover action in Chile 1963-1973, US State Department, Washington DC

[11] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p21

[12] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p22

[13] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p28

[14] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p29

[15] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p1

[16] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p96

[17] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p25

[18] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p95

[19] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p58

[20] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p95

[21] Nottingham University. Subversion in Chile, p42

[22] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p52

[23] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[24] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[25] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p209

[26] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p60

[27] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p211

[28] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p211

[29] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p211

[30] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p212

[31] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p62

[32] Lawson, George. Negotiated Revolutions, p179

[33] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[34] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[35] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p58-59

[36] Sigmund, Paul E. The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-1976, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980, P235

[37] Ensalaco, Mark (2000). Chile under Pinochet: Recovering the Truth. P161