Drugs

Who's Winning in Colombia's Conflict?

What have you heard about the paramilitary leaders extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges? As formally demobilized paramilitary, they were being processed under what is known as the "justice and peace law" and were in the midst of hearings. Their confessions of macabre acts, partial at best, evolved to include naming ties with the Colombian government and international corporations. [...]

Shaking Up the Drug Industry

Zachary Bentley says he's no Ralph Nader. The business manager and corporate officer of a drug infusion service, Ven-A-Care, based in Key West, Florida, is shaking up the pharmaceutical industry all the same.

It's true; Bentley never planned to lead a crusade for corporate reform. In 1990 he simply was sitting at his desk wading through paperwork when he noticed something amiss with a Medicare payment. He received a $56 reimbursement for a pharmaceutical that had cost his company only $10. In theory, 80 percent of the drug was to be paid for by Medicare and 20 percent by the beneficiary. Bentley did some quick math and figured that the beneficiary's co-payment alone surpassed the actual cost of the drug. Convinced that the Florida Medicare carrier had erred, he tore up the check and asked the agency to reprocess the reimbursement.

Days later, the carrier got back to him and informed him that there was no mistake. Puzzled, Bentley searched for answers. What he found shocked him. More than a few doctors and clinics are billing Medicare based on "wholesale" prices that pharmaceutical companies give the government program. The pharmaceutical companies then sell the drugs to the health care providers at a much lower cost. The providers reap exorbitant profits and, because the windfall operates like a government-funded kickback, pharmaceutical companies also come out big winners.

Bentley reported his discovery to federal and state agencies, yet was troubled by their muted response. He knew intimately the impact of skyrocketing drug costs on people suffering from debilitating illness. At the time, Ven-A-Care primarily delivered intravenous drug care to clients in their homes as an alternative to visiting a hospital. Most of its business was AIDS-related, and Ven-A-Care gained local acclaim for extending treatment to patients even after their health insurance ran out.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2003
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Your Tax Dollars at Work

Ten U.S. soldiers from Fort Huachuca, Arizona, have been charged in a $3 million drug-running scheme for allegedly transporting more than 100 kilos of cocaine and 1,000 kilos of marijuana across the Mexican border in Army-owned vans with U.S. government license plates. The whole time, they wore their uniforms to allay suspicions on post and at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. In their defense their lawyer pointed out that some of the soldiers "only had an income of $1,250 a month." Fort Huachuca is headquarters of the Army Intelligence Center, which every year trains several thousand soldiers in military intelligence.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2002
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Holy Boldness, Batman!

When a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency survey found that one out of every 10 people in Baltimore is a drug addict, Methodist pastor Tim Warner decided enough was enough. Warner, Baltimore-Washington Conference coordinator for the "Holy Boldness" movement, met with local Methodists to plan a Christian assault on drug addiction.

"The yoke and bondage of drug addiction is going to be broken in Baltimore this summer," said Warner. "We are going to act with holy boldness and change our city one soul at a time." Tents will be erected in four Baltimore neighborhoods. By day they will offer social services. By night there will be vacation Bible school, a Jesus circus, street theater, and prayer meetings.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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Can You Say "Counterinsurgency"?

In November 2000, Congress passed "Plan Colombia," a $1.3 billion plan to fight cocaine production in Colombia. Colombia is now the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, after Israel and Egypt. More than 75 percent of the money in the package went to support the Colombian military and police.

This is radically different from the original Plan Colombia drafted by the Colombian government, which emphasized a negotiated peace process with the guerillas, restoration of economic and social stability, strengthening the civil society, and reducing the narcotics trade. The U.S. version of Plan Colombia (drafted behind closed doors, some say, with the help of oil companies and helicopter manufacturers) funded only the military portion of the anti-narcotics initiative and ignored the rest. It focuses on eliminating coca production in southern Colombia through forced crop eradication and on launching a military campaign against the guerrillas resisting the eradication.

The U.S. package made it increasingly difficult for Colombia to raise support for the other aspects of their plan. The European Union had promised aid for economic conversion programs and alternative development strategies in Colombia but withdrew that support when it learned that the U.S. contribution was nearly all military aid.

The U.S. version of Plan Colombia does not target the large coca plantations in northern Colombia, nor is there a significant strategy to pursue cocaine traffickers or crack down on the right-wing paramilitaries responsible for the majority of human rights abuses in Colombia. In fact, paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño claims that the Drug Enforcement Agency tried to recruit him to implement parts of Plan Colombia, even though he has stated that 70 percent of his income comes from drug trafficking.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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