Bartilow, Horace A. “Drug Wars Collateral Damage: US Counternarcotic Aid and Human Rights in the Americas.”

Drug Wars in Latin America

This picture was chosen to represent how the war on drugs perpetuates violence in Latin America.

In order for a state to receive US economic aid in fighting its war on drugs they must have preexisting laws on protecting human rights. However, the author argues that there is a collateral damage effect. The collateral damage narrative shows that US counternarcotic aid actually increases overall violations of human rights. Human rights violations include: disappearances, political imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings. The author analyzes state repression literature in order to develop a hypothesis on the effects of US counternarcotic aid to Latin America and the level of human rights abuses. The author hypothesizes that US aid has a greater effect on human rights abuses in democracies rather than autocracies. Human rights violations increase overall, but the collateral damage effect is greater among democracies rather than autocracies.

The author emphasizes the importance of how regimes respond to the perception of domestic threats. In the context of the drug war in Latin America, state perception of domestic threats is very high. Narcotics organizations and cartels commonly use terror and intimidation in order to influence state policy. If the state feels threatened by violence, it is likely to respond with greater levels of repression. Additionally, US counternarcotic aid allows under-developed countries to expand their coercive capabilities. That is, US aid funds state repression working to eliminate domestic threats. US counternarcotic aid to democracies is likely to undermine the institutional checks and balances that are necessary to hold accountable the military and the various coercive apparatuses of the state when the human rights of citizens are violated in the process of fighting the drug war. US counternarcotic aid to autocracies is expected to be much lower because autocracies already possess the ability to coerce and repress, and therefore have lower levels of threat perception. Additionally, the collateral damage perspective contradicts US human rights law. The United States is prohibited from funding security or drug enforcement forces whose members have been implicated in human rights violations. The results reveal a shortcoming in the effectiveness of US human rights policy.

The author’s research is important to understanding the larger themes of this course because it examines the role of the United States in the existence Latin American human rights abuses. Historically, the USA has been linked to a number of human rights violations in Latin America—notably, the Dirty Wars that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. Understanding America’s role in Latin America is key to understanding the corruption and human rights abuses taking place in Latin America.

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