Last Friday’s New York Times carried a front-page article entitled “Desperate Guatemalans Embrace an ‘Iron Fist,’” which showed how the failures of government interventionism inevitably lead toward calls for dictatorship to bring “order and stability” to society.
The article is about the drug war, perhaps the most failed interventionist program in history. Like Mexico and other Latin American countries, Guatemala is besieged by drug-war violence. Drug gangs, cartels, drug lords, murders, and corruption have become an established part of Guatemalan society.
Not surprisingly, people are sick and tired of drug-war violence. Their answer? They want the military to enter the fray — to crack down brutally in the war on drugs — just like Mexico has done.
The frontrunner in the country’s presidential campaign, Otto Perez Molina, is “a former military general whose campaign symbol is an iron fist. Reserved and intellectual, he both commanded troops during the worst atrocities of the war and negotiated the 1996 peace accords that ended it.”
What war? You’ll recall that in 1954 the CIA, one of the premier agencies of the U.S. government, ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, in a coup. In this early regime-change operation, the CIA installed in his stead a series of unelected military generals who proceeded to establish order and stability within Guatemalan society, with the full support of the U.S. government whose coup installed them into power.
Since a large portion of the Guatemalan population opposed the CIA’s regime-change operation, especially given that it favored unelected military dictatorship over democracy, the country was thrown into a 30-year civil war, one that ended up killing more than a million people. Needless to say, the CIA-installed military dictatorship considered the opponents to be communists and terrorists.
As part of their goal to establish “order and stability,” the Guatemalan military “burned villages, killed children, and, just a winding road away from here [Coban, Guatemala] also massacred hundreds of Mayan peasants, and after torturing old men and raping young women.”
So, as the Times points out, the fact that the Guatemalan people are now hoping that the military will solve the drug-war violence just shows how desperate the drug-war violence has made them.
Unfortunately, however, they’re moving in a totally wrong direction. All they have to do is look at Mexico to see what happens when the military cracks down in the war on drugs. In the last five years, the death toll in Mexico is around 30,000 people. Moreover, many Mexicans are even demanding that the military exit their regions, owing to the horrible human-rights abuses that inevitably come with using the military for law-enforcement purposes (which is why the Posse Comitatus law in the United States prohibits the military from doing domestic law enforcement).
If only the Guatemalan people were to figure out that it is the drug war itself that is at the root of the violence. Making drugs illegal is what gives rise to the drug cartels, drug gangs, drug lords, murders, burglaries, muggings, bribes, and corruption.
Legalizing drugs — ending the drug war — would extinguish the violence immediately, just as the repeal of Prohibition did with alcohol. That’s the only way to restore peace and normality to Guatemalan society. Employing the military to crack down in the drug war is only going to make life worse for the Guatemalan people.