Like an uneasy ghost, recently retired drug czar General Barry McCaffrey has risen from his brief respite and returned to public life, this time to haunt the citizens of Puerto Rico. Earlier this week, McCaffrey signed on as a senior advisor on drug policy to Gov. Sila M. Calderon, who recently pushed a bill authorizing the creations of a drug czar's office through the island's legislature.
Not surprisingly, McCaffrey endorsed the recent vote to establish an office of the drug czar for the island, arguing that drug use and the drug traffic threaten Puerto Rico's health and stability.
"The threat is not only the violence associated with the drug traffic, but addiction, which threatens the family, which is the center of Puerto Rican life," McCaffrey told the San Juan-based newspaper El Nuevo Dia.
Playing to his new audience, McCaffrey told the Puerto Rican daily that he was honored to work with Calderon, whom he had known when she was mayor of San Juan, and that under her leadership, Puerto Rico could become a strong link in the war against drugs in the Americas.
Activists on the island are worried by this development. Dr. Carmen Albizu of CECA told DRCNet that supporters of a public health/harm reduction approach were concerned that the McCaffrey appointment was part of a pattern in which Gov. Calderon refused to address the concerns of reformers.
"Our governor has opted to hear only Gen. McCaffrey and has ignored the community of policy analysts, non-governmental service organizations, professional associations, health professionals, social scientists, and organizations concerned with human rights (the Bar Association's Committee on Human Rights) who have expressed that the law recently enacted does not provide any guarantees that harm reduction strategies will be supported," wrote Albizu. She added that while legislators and the governor claim that the law is balanced between supply and demand control strategies, that has not been the pattern with the drug czar's office at the national level.
"We are well aware of Gen. McCaffrey's disposition to misstate the facts," wrote Albizu, "and we think it is quite likely that public health advocates have been demonized for her benefit.
"The governor has not responded to the letter we sent her on March 5th requesting that she receive a five-person delegation from among the broad coalition indicated above. We expressed our concern that she has not had an opportunity to listen to the arguments against sustaining public policy primarily focused on criminal justice activities," wrote Albizu. "We understand that she has not had the chance to confront the facts regarding the results of drug war efforts sustained on supply control. She has obtained her data from the ONDCP and from advisors such as Collazo."
Consequently, wrote Albizu, the governor's message to the legislature on her proposed budget "mentioned the drug problem solely within the context of law enforcement. There was no mention of funds for dealing with drug issues within the health care or educational system. It reaffirms that the problem is still formulated as one having to do with public order."
And, the doctor told DRCNet, the drug czar's office was approved with a $500,000 annual budget, which has now mysteriously ballooned to $2 million. "The governor says this was an action by the Senate, the Senate says it must have been the Governor. Where is the money coming from? Nobody seems to know."
Public health and harm reduction activists continue to try to be heard, Albizu told DRCNet. CECA is organizing a showing of "Traffic" on March 31, followed by a forum and discussion about alternatives for which Puerto Rico can readily opt, without altering the current state of law. The press and community leaders have been invited.
"We shall continue to insist that we have to be taken into account in developing drug policy for the island," concluded Albizu.
Though Albizu and company were unable to block the creation of the island drug czar's office or exert much influence over the shaping of the office, they did manage to derail the nomination of the governor's first choice for the post, Col. Jorge Collazo. His nomination came under fire from citizens concerned that he had admitted participating in keeping intelligence files on pro-independence activists. The Puerto Rico Herald (San Juan) reported that Collazo asked Calderon to remove him from consideration on March 15th.
A second candidate for the position, retired police Col. Hector M. Lugo may face similar problems. The San Juan newspaper El Vocero de PuertoRico reported that Lugo was head of security for the island's long-distance phone company when it was involved in a scandal over secretly intercepting phone calls.
McCaffrey suggested a third candidate, Puerto Rican Francis "Pancho" Kinney, who is currently director of strategy for the federal drug czar's office. Calling Kinney "very capable," McCaffrey told El Nuevo Dia was well-acquainted with US and Puerto Rican drug problems. But, McCaffrey added, he believed that Kinney would stay in Washington.