The dramatic scene in the skies over the Venezuelan jungle is more familiar in neighboring Colombia and Bolivia than in the nation ruled until March 2013 by the late-flamboyant anti-American president Hugo Chavez. A fighter jet, either one of the Bolivarian (Venezuelan) Armed Forces’ Russian-built Sukhol or one of its U.S.-built F-16 aircraft shooting down two light planes allegedly smuggling drugs. The head of Venezuela’s Strategic Operational Center, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez later told his nation via state-owned television that the aircraft had been targeted only after “all other means of persuasion had been exhausted.”
My inescapable, undeniable conclusion is that as long as marijuana and coca thrive in the welcoming climate and anarchy of the Amazon and the Andes, the campesinos will grow dope.
- Geraldo Rivera
What struck me was the government’s obvious pride of achievement in the shoot-down of the dopers. “These are drug-trafficking mafias which intend to use our country as a platform for drug-distribution, trespassing our airspace,” bragged the swaggering head of the National Anti-Drugs Agency, Alejandro Keleris Bucarito, after posting on Twitter pictures of one of the destroyed aircraft.
Bearing in mind that the troubled region is the heartland of most of the world’s cocaine and much of its marijuana production, why is all this so unusual? It’s because during President Hugo Chávez tumultuous reign, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was tossed out of his country, accused of spying and otherwise undermining his socialist regime.
The melancholy thing is that all the law enforcement in the world cannot stop Latin American drug smuggling. This is a story I have been covering for over four decades. From the pot fields and drug labs of Mexico, Brazil and Central America to the Andean coca fields of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, I have dutifully chronicled the high-risk, ultra-expensive, super-dangerous War on Drugs.
My inescapable, undeniable conclusion is that as long as marijuana and coca thrive in the welcoming climate and anarchy of the Amazon and the Andes, the campesinos will grow dope. And buccaneering smugglers will attempt to fly it to the voracious U.S. drug markets. The dopers will continue to corrupt and undermine local authorities, spread violence and mayhem, and they will succeed far more often than they fail, regardless of every effort to stop it, including Venezuela’s newfound ambition to police its suddenly unfriendly skies.
The nation of Uruguay to the south of Venezuela has a new and different idea to combat indigenous narcotics, which after all the deaths and disruption associated with the failed trillion dollar plus War on Drugs deserves attention. Essentially, Uruguay is saying "if you can’t beat them, join them."
Uruguay is set to become the first New World nation to completely legalize marijuana for recreational use. (As far as I can tell, North Korea is the only nation on earth that doesn’t even classify pot as a drug. How progressive and weird is that?) Already passed by the lower house of Congress and expected to pass easily in the nation’s Senate, the law will create a system whereby registered consumers will be able to buy up to 40 grams of marijuana a month in drug stores. That’s about an ounce and a half or a chubby joint per day. The law also allows each home to cultivate up to six pot plants for personal use.
With the urbane Uruguayan capital of Montevideo on the lovely Rio de la Plata set to become the Amsterdam of the Southern Hemisphere, isn’t it time for all nations, including ours’, to cop to the reality that almost everyone has at least tried marijuana once in their lives? How can the hard-nosed DEA continue to spend billions insisting that Latin American nations wage war on marijuana when the entire U.S. states of Washington and Colorado have laws similar to that bill in Uruguay? And in addition to those two states, there are 20 or more states which allow pot for “medical” purposes. Legal pot use is spreading faster than Obamacare.
Stop throwing good money after bad. End the drug war. Viva Uruguay.
Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.