Saturday, October 17, 2015

Grow a Leaf, Go to a U.S. Prison

FARC leader Timochenko, accused by the U.S. and Colombia
of  'controlling the production, manufacture, and distribution
of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States
and the world,' could soon be in Congress.
Alias Timochenko and other leaders of the FARC guerrilla group, which produces and traffics a big chunk of the world's cocaine (as well as committing countless other crimes), likely will receive little more than symbolic punishments, as well as protection from extradition, before moving into politics, under the peace agreement announced recently.

Yet, while the kingpins who earn millions will likely walk free, impoverished campesinos who grow the coca leaf and earn trifles could end up in U.S. prisons.

Coca farmers like these men could soon be
subject to extradition under a U.S. law.
Those are the dirt-poor peasants who plant coca leaf because they see no alternative to feed their families and may have been pushed into the business by threats from narcotraffickers. They are simple people who may have only vague understanding of what happens to the leaves after strangers buy them and haul them away.

This is thanks to the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act of 2015, now making its way thru the U.S. Congress. According to the Congressional Research Service's summary, the act 'Amends the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to prohibit the manufacture or distribution of a controlled individuals having reasonable cause to believe that such substance or chemical will be unlawfully imported into the United States.' If the act passes passes and Colombia cooperates, then the peasant farmer who made a pittance from his coca leaves will turn on the TV in a U.S. federal penitentiary and watch the guerrilla leader who earned millions exporting those leaves making a speech in the Colombian Congress.

According to El Tiempo, only a few dozen campesino farmers are imprisoned in Colombia for the single crime of growing coca leaves. However, some 60,000 Colombian campesino families make their living by growing coca leaf, earning little more than a $1,000 per year per household. All of them - or at least the heads of household - would be subject to extradition and traial and imprisonment in the U.S. The would require lots of new U.S. federal prisons.

It hardly seems likely that entombing a few Colombian peasants in a U.S. prison would have any impact on drug production. After all, there are innumerable other hungry and fearful farmers waiting to take their places. And doesn't the U.S. have any better uses for its tax dollars than to fly peasants north, put them on trial and imprison them for decades - such as, perhaps, treating addicts in the U.S.?

Meanwhile, Colombia itself seems to be heading in the opposite direction: decriminalizing coca farming, in favor of encouraging peasants to shift to legal crops.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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