US Drug Warriors Waging Backroom Campaign to Put Their Man Serrano in UN Drug Czar Post 3/8/02

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A cabal of Bush administration and congressional drug war zealots are enmeshed in a largely behind-the-scenes effort to gin up official US support for the nomination of former Colombian National Police chief Rosso Jose Serrano as head of the United Nations Office on Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCCP). Serrano, who stepped down as head of the Colombian police in June 2000, has long been a favorite of US drug war hard-liners, as much for his slavish willingness to support misbegotten US anti-drug policies in Colombia as for his much vaunted reputation for incorruptibility.

But according to the Washington Times, the rightist newspaper that has been carrying the drug warriors' water on this issue, the State Department is instead prepared to endorse the candidacy of Giuseppe Lumina, an Italian protégé of the last, and widely-criticized, UN drug czar, Pino Arlacchi. The State Department is keen to stay in the good graces of European allies by supporting the Italian candidate, the Times lamented.

Still smarting from being voted off the UN's International Narcotics Control Board and Human Rights Commission last year (, congressional and administration conservatives are determined to regain their place as first among equals in international drug control efforts. They see Serrano as their man at the UNDCCP.

Serrano first won plaudits from US drug warriors for his role in the destruction of the Medellin and Cali cartels in the early 1990s. He also earned accolades for firing 11,000 corrupt members of the National Police and reducing human rights violations in Colombia's war on drugs. He gained much publicity and favorable press profiles upon his resignation, when he famously announced he was retiring because "I have been to so many police officers' funerals that I can't bear another."

But Serrano has from the beginning made a career of supporting US anti-drug policies in Colombia that ensure that many more police officers, as well as soldiers, guerrillas, and civilians will join those already in the ground. In addition to waging war on the cartels (which has led to a many-headed hydra of smaller trafficking organizations with no decline in cocaine exports), Serrano pioneered aerial fumigation of coca crops in the early 1990s. During the administration of President Ernesto Samper, whom the Clinton administration accused of receiving campaign funds from cocaine traffickers and subsequently froze out of bilateral relations, Serrano and his National Police became the primary conduit for continuing and ever-increasing flows of anti-drug assistance from the US.

In fact, the former police chief became such a favorite of congressional drug warriors that when Samper's successor, current President Andres Pastrana, came to Washington in 1999 to lobby for his Plan Colombia, Republican members of Congress rebuked him for not bringing Serrano with him. "I am the president of Colombia," a peeved Pastrana was forced to remind the solons.

While Serrano has talked about reducing demand, he remains a staunch prohibitionist. "Drug trafficking is the devil," he told the Chicago Tribune in 2000. "Drugs are different from alcohol, and Prohibition was different from what we're going through. A drink can be managed socially, but doesn't necessarily lead to alcoholism. Whereas drug users always ascend. You see that many marijuana smokers go on to shoot heroin, and so on."

Serrano has been a staunch supporter of Plan Colombia and its Bush administration successor, the Andean Initiative, and the drug warriors know a pliable ally when they see one.

"Gen. Serrano's reputation as an international law enforcement officer and unwavering ally of the US government is nothing short of legendary," burbled DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson in a Feb. 15 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the department to back Serrano's bid. "His relentless pursuit of the Medellin and Cali cartels, even in the face of countless threats against his life, personifies the resolve of the Colombian people in their ongoing struggle against the oppression of illegal drugs," wrote Hutchinson. "Gen. Serrano's appointment as executive director would be a natural transition and well-deserved capstone of a stellar career in the counterdrug arena."

Former DEA administrators Donnie Marshall and Thomas Constantine have also written letters in support of Serrano, the Times reported. That is no surprise, given that the agency in July 2000 awarded him with the DEA's special agent award -- the first time the award had been given to anyone other than a DEA agent.

Drug czar John Walters has also jumped on the Serrano bandwagon, the Times reported, as have a veritable who's who of Republican congressional drug warriors. "I strongly urge you to consider promoting Gen. Serrano's candidacy for this important UN post," wrote Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). "His credentials are impeccable, his friendship with the US is firm, and his dedication to the task at hand is without question."

Other drug war hardliners running interference for Serrano include House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and House members Cass Ballenger (R-NC), Bob Barr (R-GA), Dan Burton (R-IN), Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Mark Souder (R-IN).

Gilman, head of the House Committee on International Relations, and Burton, head of the House Government Reform Committee, also chimed in with support for Serrano: "He is a good friend of the United States and a longtime ally in the worldwide fight against illicit drugs and crime," they wrote to the State Department. "He is the right man at the right time."

For the right wing perhaps, but a successful effort to place an unreconstructed drug warrior and mouthpiece for retrograde Washington drug warriors such as Serrano would not bode well for enlightened drug policies at the global level.

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Issue #227, 3/8/02 Editorial: History's Dustbin | Swarthmore to Replace Student Aid Lost to HEA Anti-Drug Provision | Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal the HEA Drug Provision in Full | Breaking: Ninth Circuit Court Blocks DEA Hemp Rule | US Drug Warriors Waging Backroom Campaign to Put Their Man Serrano in UN Drug Czar Post | Drug Reform Groups and Paid Advertising: What Are They Getting for Their Money? | Marijuana Foes Fall in California Elections | Hawaii "Treatment Not Jail" Bill Stalled as Key Legislator Unveils Plan for Popular Referendum on Issue | Scotland Ends Drug War, Sort Of | ENCOD Letter to UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Annual Meeting | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar

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