03/02/18 Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno

Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno author THERE ARE NO DEAD HERE - A STORY OF MURDER AND DENIAL IN COLOMBIA + Protest Philippine President Duterte's drug insanity, Hou Atty David Jones re racist judges in Houston, Abolitionist Moment, cohost Liliana Noonan.

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, March 2, 2018
Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno
Drug Policy Alliance



MARCH 2, 2018


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

This is Cultural Baggage. We're just getting things rolling here, trying to get stuff situated. I have Liliana Noonan with us today, she's going to be co-hosting as we put this show together. We've got some pre-recorded stuff we're going to do here, but mostly we're going to be talking about a brand new book that's just hitting the shelves this week. It's titled up, "There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia." It's written by Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno. She is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

And she nails it right through the head. She describes the horror, the barbarity, the butchery, that went on, that still goes on, in that war in Colombia. And Liliana, a Colombian native, will be able to share her thoughts, her experience, her context, in that regard. And Liliana, please, introduce yourself a bit, tell us about your, your life, your perspective.

LILIANA NOONAN: Hi, my name is Liliana, I've been a programmer on KPFT for 12 years, and I've been talking about the situation in Colombia and human rights, terrorism, paramilitary groups, and of course ex-President Uribe. While he was the president, about a hundred members of the Congress were under investigation either for narcotraffickers or paramilitary links.

So, this book opens something new, a new chapter, and hopefully we will get to see President Uribe to face justice. So there is a huge expectation about this book in Colombia.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I certainly know that to be true, Liliana. I tell you what, let's just go ahead and play a portion of that interview with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno.

Starting in the late 1990s, the paramilitaries carried out a bloody expansion campaign throughout much of Colombia. Fueled by an endless stream of drug profits, they committed gruesome massacres in the name of defending the country from the brutal Marxist guerrillas of FARC.

They killed trade unionists, human rights activists, journalists, schoolteachers, and judges. They gouged the eyes out of their victims, tore off their limbs, and raped and murdered them in front of their families. The United States, more interested in the appearance of success in its war on drugs than in stopping the carnage, largely ignored them, even as it poured billions of dollars into Colombia's military.

Now comes a book from Nation Book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia, which uncovers the little known history of the Colombian military groups with close ties to drug cartels that massacred, raped, and tortured thousands, with the complicity of much of the country's military and political establishment. And with that, I want to welcome the author of this book, There Are No Dead Here, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno. Hello, Maria.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Hi Dean, thanks so much for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Maria, this book is an astounding work. The level of detail is astounding, the reach into the history, the details you bring forward, are just amazing. I want to thank you for this book.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Thank you. It was a real delight to get to work on it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know --

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Painful as it was, too.

DEAN BECKER: I have covered, you know, the Colombian drug war over the decades. I certainly didn't know one tenth of what you were able to put forward in this book, and I realize your work with the Human Rights Watch and your perspective on Colombia gave you the detail, gave you the time, and the information, the context, to develop this book. Tell us how it was prepared. I mean, it's, it is astounding, the detail.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah, so, I covered Colombia for six years for Human Rights Watch, so I really got to know the country very well then, you know. I met with, you know, people all the way up from the president, through his cabinet ministers, people in the military and the police, but also hundreds of just ordinary people who had suffered terribly due to the country's war, and many of whom were remarkably brave and committed to their principles, and decent, even in the midst of all of the brutality and corruption all around them.

And that, those stories really stayed with me, stories of people who took huge risks, often, to tell the truth about what was happening to them, and I wanted to find a way to tell those stories, and bring them to a broader public.

I knew that in the United States a lot of people were aware of Pablo Escobar, maybe they knew about the abuses by the FARC guerrillas and their kidnappings, but they didn't know about the paramilitary groups who were death squads funded through the drug trade, and essentially the country's biggest drug traffickers, who often worked very closely with members of the Colombian military, and over time it was discovered also worked with very senior officials, including members of Congress and people in the presidency.

So the stories I'm telling in the book are the stories of three people who helped to uncover those links between the paramilitaries and senior officials. But at the same time, I hope that those stories represent the stories of the many other hundreds of anonymous Colombians who have -- who are the real heroes.

We're not talking about the DEA agents you see in -- on TV shows so often. These are people who may not be recognized or noticed, but who have made a real difference in the country.

So, the other thing that I want to point out is that there should be hopeful message for people in the US, even in dark times, even when you're facing challenging circumstances, it is possible for ordinary people here, for activists, for journalists and many others to make a difference.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I've talked to a couple of Houstonians from Colombia. They tell me the word coming back from that nation is that you're stirring the pot down there big time, that you're raising a ruckus, and in so --


DEAN BECKER: Well, tell us about that ruckus, what you've learned as well, please.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Well, I mean, this is highly detailed, in a way, but one -- and this is a very small part of the book, but, one of the people I got in touch with in the course of writing the book was a former paramilitary leader who was imprisoned in the United States, extradited here, and he's a person who's responsible for very, very serious crimes, murders, massacres, other atrocities, and he was one of the country's biggest drug traffickers as well.

His name is Don Berna, that's his alias. Diego Murillo is his actual name. And when I got in touch with him, I asked him a bunch of questions, including about the murder of one of my main characters, who is called Jes??s Mar?¡a Valle, who had been talking about, in the late '90s, about the links between the paramilitaries and the army, and this was at a time when nobody was talking about this, and everyone ignored him, dismissed what he was saying, talked about him as though he were, you know, out of his mind, or an enemy of the armed forces.

He got murdered for his reports. And Don Berna had said, in one of his statements to prosecutors, that the person who ordered his murder was in fact the right hand of the governor of that state of Antioquia at the time. Well, that right hand man was a guy called Pedro Juan Moreno, and the governor was a guy called Alvaro Uribe, who later became president.

So, I asked Don Berna about this killing, and he says, yes, in fact, that Juan Moreno ordered the murder, and on top of that, that Juan Moreno later had a falling out with Uribe, who was later president, and Uribe ordered Pedro Juan's murder. So, that was a surprise. And I pushed Don Berna to tell me more. He repeated his story. Eventually he said, look, there are things that you know in the world of illegality that you cannot prove, but you know them. It's kind of like when a cop asks you for a bribe, he won't give you a receipt.

So, I, you know, mention this in the book. I also point out that former president Uribe has, you know, questioned Don Berna's credibility, has said that Don Berna's trying to seek revenge because Uribe extradited him, and, you know, has said that none of this is true and that it was all [unintelligible].

There are other people though who have made the same statement, or similar statements as Don Berna, about the murder of, or the death of this former chief of staff. So, you know, it's something that needs to be investigated, but obviously when that detail came out in Colombia in an op-ed by a journalist a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty explosive because former president Uribe's a major figure in the country, and very popular in some sectors, and he's facing a lot of questions about other behavior right now.

You know, the Supreme Court has said that he might have been involved in -- in trying to frame another senator for, you know, for all sorts of crimes, and so it's -- it's a rather complicated time in Colombia, and this revelation has certainly gotten people excited. So this morning I did five radio interviews in Colombia about it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good to hear. I realize this book's just coming out, and apparently, five radio shows in Colombia today says there is a lot of focus down there on this book. Once again, we are speaking with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno, she's author of the book I'm speaking of, There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia.

And, denial. That seems to be at the heart of what makes the drug war work, or what makes this, the smuggling efforts work, just deny everything and keep doing what you're doing. Take out those who squeal or get in the way. Isn't that kind of how it works, Maria?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: That's a big part of how it works. I mean, I think it's true of abuses and atrocities in lots of parts of the world, that they're able to happen because a lot of people look away, choose not to pay attention to it, and in Colombia, many people who have spoken the truth have paid for it with their lives, and a whole society has looked away.

You know, the drug war in Colombia is a very -- a very difficult thing to wrap your head around, because, you know, the country has been the epicenter of the war on cocaine, and the US has poured millions, actually billions, of dollars into the country, mostly into the military, to fight the war on drugs.

But, the reality is that that money, by going to the military, eventually meant it was supporting one group of drug traffickers against another, in a way, because the military were often working with paramilitaries, and so even though the guerrillas were also involved in the drug trade, by working with the paramilitaries, the, you know, the US money was, like I said, supporting one side against another, but not really actually fighting drug trafficking per se.

The other thing is, if you look at how these groups work, eventually a lot of the paramilitary leaders did get extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges, and many of the FARC leaders have now demobilized and are trying to enter the political system, but all of these people are being replaced by others, because the illicit market in drugs is such a huge source of wealth, that there are all of these other people eager to step into their shoes, and continue, you know, bringing in that money and developing all of that power and ability to corrupt authorities and secure their own -- their own impunity and protection.

DEAN BECKER: So, a few years back, I got a chance to speak with Anthony Placido, who was then the deputy director of the DEA. He said that each year, approximately $370 billion flow into the pockets of terrorists, barbarous cartels, and gangs, and apparently the paramilitary in Colombia and elsewhere, and that trade is not going to go away, no matter how many arrests they make, not matter how many people they kill. Am I right?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: That's exactly right. In fact, you know, it seems to only get stronger, and the US has been engaged in a war on drugs for decades, and they've never seen a meaningful reduction in supply or problematic drug use. So, it's not working, even for its own stated goals.


MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: So, something else needs to be looked at.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, we have all seen the stories of the -- what was it, the burning of the supreme court there in, what was it, Bogota, and even to this day we have TV shows where they're trying to trace down Pablo Escobar's buried millions out there in the jungle somewhere. It has just a life, well beyond, you know, what we think of the drug trade. It is a -- I don't, I'm looking for the word here, just a god damnable thing. I don't know.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah, I mean, it, like I said, it just keeps growing. Those images from the Palace of Justice are from the '80s, like a lot of what Americans know about are the Medellin Cartel, and Escobar, and events from that era. And people don't realize that a lot of that violence, maybe not so much against very visible public officials, or, you know, against the Supreme Court, but more against ordinary civilians, continued and in some ways became even worse, when the paramilitaries took over the reins of the drug business from Escobar in the '90s.

DEAN BECKER: We've been hearing half of my interview with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno, the author of There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia. We're privileged to have with us in studio Liliana Noonan to share her thoughts. She's lived in Colombia, she's studied this drug war her whole life, and I want to get her responses to this. Here we go, Liliana, what do you think, miss?

LILIANA NOONAN: First of all, I'm so pleased with this book. We've been waiting for many, many years to see this President Uribe to face justice, and hopefully this book will bring him a little bit closer.

There are a few things that are very important. This book -- in this book, Maria talks about the life of Valle, a human rights activist that was killed. A hundred and ninety eight human rights activists were killed in Colombia last year. And right now, many of the leaders that are being killed are the leaders. They want to transition from illicit crops to licit crops. So, it is huge, that's telling you how important the drugs is in Colombia, and how many people from all over the world benefit from the war on drugs.

Most of these leaders that are being killed are Afro Colombians and indigenous people from Colombia, the more vulnerable people. They're being killed by the army, by narcotraffickers, yes. There are so many people that benefit from this. So, it's very -- it's -- we are going through a peace process, and one -- these killings are making this process very, very difficult, and again, all these leaders are being killed and every time the government is questioned about it, the answer is, oh, they just had trouble with their girlfriends or their wives. That's what the government says.

And keep in mind that the president that we have right now was part of Uribe's government seven years ago. So everything is related.

DEAN BECKER: Sure, it tends to just be handed off to an accomplice, so to speak.

LILIANA NOONAN: Oh yes, yes. Again, 198 human rights activists in one year. We've been hearing about so much going on in Mexico, yes, there's a lot going on in Mexico, but for some reason, everybody stopped talking about what's going on in Colombia. Things are not any better in Colombia.


LILIANA NOONAN: Things are the same, and right now, things are way worse, and I'm going to tell you why. Now at last FARC have become a legal political party, all these paramilitary groups are taking over all these places where the FARC used to be, where they used to be, so these people, they killed Mister Valle, are now pretty much controlling the country.

So things are way worse right now. We're seeing the killing of human rights activists, campesinos, indigenous, like the way we saw in the '90s, when Uribe was the president. And I don't understand why President Uribe has been so against the peace process, because his people benefit from these in a major way, because now they've lost power, are a legal group, the paramilitaries are having a blast. They're having a great time.


LILIANA NOONAN: Taking over all these territories.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we return to our interview with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno, author of There Are No Dead Here.

Well, you know, I want to come back to, I guess, the heart of your book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia. And you talk about the sacrifice, the commitment, of three people. Now, I'll probably butcher the name, Jes??s Mar?¡a Valle, Iv?ín Vel?ísquez, and of course the journalist, Ricardo Calder??n.

They gave their lives, or their, they offered their lives, to ending this madness, because they just felt it was that necessary, because it was destroying their country. Right?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah. I think, for all of them, it simply was inconceivable to do anything other than what they did, and that's one of the remarkable things about these people, is that, you know, all the incentives around them were to, you know, put their heads down, to accept the brutality around them, maybe to accept bribes, to go along with it, and not take any risks.

Yet, all of them just believed very strongly in justice, in truth, in a more decent life for themselves and for all of Colombia. And they persisted even in the face of tremendous threats. And of course Valle, the first character, got killed in the late '90s for what he was doing, because he felt he needed to speak out for the hundreds of people in his community who were getting killed.

And he was this lonely voice out there, but he did it. And then Vel?ísquez and Calder??n also both faced real threats. Calder??n at one point got kidnapped by his sources in the intelligence service and beaten over the head. At one point, he was even -- he suffered an attempted -- a murder attempt by apparently members of the military for what he was doing.

And Vel?ísquez, you know, was constantly taking risks, and his family suffered serious threats. His wife actually kept those threats she received from him, because she was afraid that if she told him he would stop his work, and she knew that that would break him.

And she realized that it was such an important part of who he was to keep fighting in this way, but she didn't want to interfere with that.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and, good for her, because it helped to expose this corruption. You know, in looking at the situation in Mexico, I often hear the phrase, plata or plomo, that translates to take the silver or the lead, and that is essentially what makes the drug war work. Mexico, Colombia, even in the US, there is at least an inference that that is part of what controls things here.

What do you foresee for Colombia, as we have been talking about. It's not over. The drug war didn't end. The corruption is still there, just wearing a different suit. Is it not?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: I think corruption is always going to remain in Colombia and Mexico and elsewhere, so long as you have so much wealth going into the hands of organized crime, because they have to find ways to protect themselves, and that means they need to block authorities from investigating them. And so, you know, they also want to increase their profits, and get into other businesses, and it's very, very easy to buy off officials.

And frankly, given that they're so powerful, you know, as some of these people in my book discovered, in many cases officials themselves seek them out, because they're the ones who can ensure that they get elected, for example, in Congressional races. And, you know, they've become a parallel power structure in the country.

DEAN BECKER: Well, once again, we're speaking with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno, author of There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia. Let's step off this book for just a moment. Just today, I heard that our president Trump was talking about how it might be a good idea if he could execute drug dealers here in the United States. Now, he spoke with great admiration for president Duterte in the Philippines, and I just wanted to get your response to that thought, if you will, please.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah. It's, apparently he said a number of things, according to different sources, about how great it would be to be able to kill drug dealers. And how he thinks these other countries are so great, which is, while not surprisingly flatly wrong, there's zero evidence that any drug problems have been addressed in the Philippines. Meanwhile, 12,000 people have been murdered in apparently state sanctioned executions.

You know, this is appalling, that the president of the United States thinks that it's admirable to send police or, you know, vigilantes out onto the streets to murder people who they claim may be involved with drugs.

If you take a look at Singapore, or countries that have the death penalty for drug offenses, tends to be countries that are pretty autocratic. Singapore, China, Iran. You know, the death penalty for drug offenses is illegal under international law, and it also hasn't really been shown to address any drug problems in those countries.

Just, frankly, grotesque that the president thinks that he should address the drug problem by killing people, when he hasn't even looked at solutions that have been proven to work to improve, to reduce rates of overdose, for example, and improve health outcomes in places that have gone in the opposite direction, like Portugal, that decriminalized, or in Canada, that's adopted much more aggressive harm reduction measures.

It's really telling that he went ahead and said this, and it just confirms that any talk about public health as his focus, when it comes to the overdose crisis, was just rhetoric.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right. I mean, he keeps appointing Ivanka and, I don't know, people with no experience, no medical expertise whatsoever, people who have never dealt with the drug problem whatsoever, to be in charge of the quote "cure" for the opium crisis, and it just, it does sicken me to think that he's ignoring the possibility, the potential, the lives that can and should be saved, by just this bluster. Your thought there, please, Maria.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Absolutely. I mean, we know that overdose can be addressed in many other ways, and, you know, we've put forward a lot of those proposals, when it comes to setting up supervised consumption sites, for example, which have been proven to reduce overdose, providing for drug checking services, expanding access to naloxone in the hands of the community, not just first responders, and moving away from the criminalization model, because we know criminalization drives people who use drugs underground, and it makes it less likely that they will access services and care when they want and need it.

So, the US has, you know, used the war on drugs and criminalization as its main approach to problematic drug use, or all drug use, for decades, and it got us here, where, at this time when tens of thousands of people are dying of overdose every year. It's time for the US to look, take a hard look, at these failed policies, and explore new alternatives that have been proven to work elsewhere.

It's unfortunate that this administration seems unwilling to look at those seriously, but that just means that Congress and state and local governments need to increase their efforts in that direction.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right. Yeah, you know, I think about it, it's been right at a hundred years ago, we had proponents of eternal drug war in the United States, and then they moved to other countries, went to the United Nations, convinced the world that this prohibition was so necessary. And it's not going to unwind, it's not going to reverse course, until the United States begins to go in that opposite direction. Would you concur with that thought, Maria?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: I think that the US has so much influence globally that it's going to be hard to unwind the war on drugs without the US coming on board.

That being said, you've seen a lot of pressure from other countries for a rethinking of the war on drugs, and that includes the presidents of Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala, which a few years asked for the UN to reconsider its approach to drug policy, that includes the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a whole huge group of very prominent leaders, intellectuals, former presidents, like the former president of Switzerland, and former president of Colombia, and so on, who have come out and said we need to try something else, and they've done multiple reports about their proposals.

And that includes a lot of policies that are going ahead and rethinking some things, you know. France is considering decriminalization. Norway is. Canada is taking another look, due to overdose. So, I think you could see real progress in other countries, and you're going to see increased pressure over time from other countries, for a new approach.

You know, even the Organization of American States, and important parts of the United Nations, have called for at least decriminalization of personal use and possession, as an important and necessary step. Yet the United States has yet to do that, in any state except where it comes to marijuana.

So I think we need to start having conversations, very serious conversations, about why we're putting people in jail or prison simply for using drugs personally, without harming others, and whether there isn't a better way of addressing the needs of people who have problematic drug use, rather than just channeling them through the criminal justice system, which only compounds their problems.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think I heard a little bit of an emergency there in New York City, if I'm not mistaken. Let's hope it wasn't drug related, but, we've been speaking with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. She's author of this great new book I highly recommend, There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia.

Well, Maria, we're going to Portugal here in about three weeks, to learn how they are progressing, to maybe pick up ideas on how we can create progress here in these United States. Do you want to talk about that situation, what we might learn over there?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah, and, I think it's fantastic that you're going to Portugal. It's a country that has had tremendous success in decriminalizing the personal use of drugs. Now, they did so in a very thoughtful way.

Not only did they decriminalize personal use of drugs, but they created these commissions that would talk to people who are having problems with drug use, you know, try to convince them to, you know, accept different resources, although it's purely voluntary, and they've had tremendous success in reducing overdose, reducing rates of HIV and hep C, and no increase in drug use, which is one of the big fears that many people express when it comes to decriminalizing personal use of drugs.

They have a strong public health system in Portugal, so that's an important piece that we have to bear in mind when we're looking at alternatives in the United States. I think it's absolutely worthwhile to reduce the harms associated with criminalization by decriminalizing, but ideally we would also put in place strong measures and systems that would provide support to people who need it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, all right, there you have it, friends, some great advice from the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the author of There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia, Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno. I want to thank you. Do you have a closing thought you might want to share with the listeners?

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Oh, well, thank you so much, Dean, it's been terrific to speak with you. I think that, you know, all of these stories from Colombia connect very clearly also to the terrible stories that we see in the United States all the time of people incarcerated for drug use, overwhelmingly black and brown people.

DEAN BECKER: Poor people.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: People suffering terribly because of all the collateral consequences of arresting and incarceration, people being separated from their children, people being deported. You know, we have to look at this all as one big picture, and, you know, these are all terrible harms that are flowing from our current approach to drug policy, and it's time that we rethink it.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, and you can certainly learn more from the Drug Policy Alliance on their website, which is DrugPolicy.org. Thank you, Maria.

MARIA MCFARLAND S?├╝NCHEZ-MORENO: Thank you so much, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, this is Cultural Baggage, I am Dean Becker, your host. We're in studio, we've been listening to an interview with Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno. The book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia. And, I have with me here in studio Liliana Noonan, she's been -- she's lived in Colombia, she understands the nature of this problem we've been talking about.

And as we heard Maria McFarland talking there, you know, people around the world are starting to get this, and again, I want to stress this, I'm no novice at this, 16 years. I've been invited by the European commission on drugs and drug abuse [sic: European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction] to speak to their commission on March 19th. I'll be in Lisbon, Portugal. How long do you want the drug war to last?

Well, I know the answer, but I'm going to get her response and her thoughts to what we were hearing there from Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno. Liliana, the drug war has lasted just way too long, it has no logical, no rational, no real purpose, does it?

LILIANA NOONAN: Not at all. Very few people benefit from it. Many people, like many Colombians, pay a big price.


LILIANA NOONAN: It's a bloody world, and we always see -- we always see the same people getting killed. Poor people, indigenous people, African Americans.

DEAN BECKER: People in remote areas.

LILIANA NOONAN: People in remote areas, and we always see the people behind the people that really make the money, they just get more and more money, and we see the same people going to prison, or they disappear, or we don't know what happened.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I -- there's a chapter in here, a section of the book, There Are No Dead Here, where Maria talks about, I guess it was the paramilitary going into a swampy area. There's a lot of fisherman, and they go from one small encampment to another, it's kind of a -- I picture it as a village, just kind of spread out, and they just started butchering people and demanding answers where others where, and just destroying the sense of community, that those who weren't killed left and abandoned where they once lived because it was -- it was horrible. There was nothing else that could be done. Your thought there.

LILIANA NOONAN: Dean, there are many, many rivers in Colombia. They are mass graves. They're -- we have at least 200,000 people disappeared in the last 20 years, and most of these people are in the rivers. It's sad to say this, but Colombian rivers are mass graves.

And this war on drugs, we have killings, disappearances, kidnapping, and once you start digging in, drugs are related in many ways. When the president Uribe became the president in 2002, one of the first things he did is he was able to get a law approved that prohibited the possession and consumption of minimal doses of any narcotics, because he -- he wanted the minimum dose to be allowed only for medical prescriptions.

That's not being realistic. So that's one of the first things he did, and again, he was listed the narcotrafficker '82, so he benefits from this. As long as the drugs are illegal, it's going to be a huge profit. So, again, once you have these politicians so eager, these -- they're so happy with the war against the drugs. It has nothing to do about caring about our kids, it has nothing to do about doing the right thing. It's money. Who's benefiting from this.

President Uribe and his family, because many of his family members are either on trial, in prison, or under investigation for drugs.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Physical stimulation, appetite suppression, the prevention of altitude sickness through increased oxygen supply. Time's up! The answer, as is so obvious in the lives of millions of Bolivians: coca. Mother Coca.

The following discussion is with Houston criminal defense attorney and PBS television host David Jones.

Well, David, I recently saw a post you had put up on facebook, talking about the situation with the judges in Harris County, Houston, Texas. Please summarize what you perceive this situation to be.

DAVID JONES: Well, right now, submit communications that is in the hands of a federal judge to carve out an order that would demand that, not just blacks, but all misdemeanor defendants, without felonies pending, and who have signed an affidavit saying they were indigent, would be released on personal bond.

DEAN BECKER: But, this is necessary because of years long, decades long, perspectives and application of granting those rights. Am I correct?

DAVID JONES: Well, it's based on the misdemeanor court judges, who handle class A, class B misdemeanors on, actually not following the law, and using magistrates to conduct probable cause hearings under the direction of the judges to be very, very stringent in not granting personal bonds to anyone, much less people of color. But it impacted people of color more than anyone else because of their living in the most economically segregated city in the nation, Houston, Texas.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, David, i've heard over the years that this is a result, a complication if you will, of the fact that these judges get elected and re-elected, and their main supporters are the bail bondsmen. Would you concur with that thought?

DAVID JONES: That's partially true. The criminal court judges running in elections just do not have access to money. There is nobody like in civil courts, where, you know, wealthy people that are in front of judges and can throw off large donations, I mean, so they're stuck with two people, the lawyers and bondsmen, and, in order to even have a minimum campaign, so I would -- I would say that also both groups, lawyers and bondsmen, are frequently in front of the judges, so relationships develop, and so it's been a conflation of access to minimal amounts of money as well as doing the people we -- you consider friends.

DEAN BECKER: Well, there is hope on the horizon though, am I correct?

DAVID JONES: Oh, absolutely. A federal judge is about to find that 16, fifteen judges rather, lied to her about their policies. That has been recently revealed, after John Whitmire, the senator, filed a complaint saying that the three magistrates appointed by those judges were not following the law, and they basically said they were instructed not to by the 15 elected judges.

DEAN BECKER: You know, is there a website where you might want to point folks towards to learn more in this regard?

DAVID JONES: The research agency for the plaintiffs' lawyers for the accused in this case is the Texas Coalition of Criminal Justice. People could google Gritz for Breakfast. He is the most astute observer of criminal justice matters in the state, and he recently posted a very thorough accounting of this entire episode. That's Grits for Breakfast http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/

And then the Texas Coalition for Criminal Justice in Austin is leading the charge as far as gathering the data for the lawyers in the lawsuit.

DEAN BECKER: The following is from Grits For Breakfast, quoting Houston's Judge McSpadden. Quote:

"The young black men -- and it's primarily young black men rather than young black women -- charged with felony offenses, they're not getting good advice from their parents. Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, 'Resist police,' which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man. They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system."

End quote. Again, quoting from Grits for Breakfast, ACLU of Texas has called for Judge McSpadden's ouster based on these comments, calling on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to remove him. Said ACLU Texas's Terri Burke, quote, "When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail black defendants on the assumption they can't be trusted, it's time to take action. This kind of flagrant racism has no place in our justice system."

This is the Abolitionist's Moment: Today, I want to read a quote from retired Judge Dennis Challeen, about sending the addicted to prison.

"We want them to have self worth, so we destroy their self worth. We want them to be responsible, so we take away all responsibility. We want them to be positive, and constructive, so we degrade them and make them useless. We want them to be trustworthy, so we put them where there is no trust. We want them to be nonviolent, so we put them where violence is all around them. We want them to be kind and loving people, so we subject them to hatred and cruelty. We want them to quit being the tough guy, so we put them where the tough guy is respected. We want them to quit hanging around losers, so we put all the losers in the state under one roof. We want them to quit exploiting us, so we put them where they exploit each other. We want them to take control of their lives' own problems and quit being a parasite on society, so we make them totally dependent on us."

The violin solo by Drug Truth Network guest, Professor Arthur Benavie, author of Drugs: America's Holy War.

UNIDENTIFIED: Trump is a traitor, Duterte a dictator!
Trump is a traitor, Duterte a dictator!

DEAN BECKER: This rally was held in front of the Philippine Embassy there in DC. I saw a couple of my friends had attended. Among them, a gentleman I traveled to Bolivia, spent a couple of weeks down there with, and have developed a friendship with over the years, Mister Sanho Tree. Sanho, I was wondering if you'd kind of recap what you presented there, at the Philippine Embassy.

SANHO TREE: Sure. You know, I had just -- I'd just got back from a flight from London before heading over to the embassy, and one of the things I did in London was visit the Imperial War Museum, which is actually a pretty interesting museum, but the entire top floor of that museum is dedicated to the Holocaust. Right? And so I was listening to these parents take their children through the museum, and the most common refrain one hears at these remembrances is Never Again.

And yet, here we are in the 21st century, and the axis of autocrats, you know, covers more territory on the globe now than at any point since World War Two. And one of the worst autocrats is president Duterte of the Philippines, and he's not engaging in a genocide per se, but there is a remarkable parallel to what led up to the genocides of the Holocaust. And that, specifically, I'm referring to the pogroms of Russia and eastern Europe during the 19th century.

And for those who don't, you know, remember that part of history, a pogrom is where the czar and his secret police fabricated all kinds of smears and allegations against targeted groups of a minority group, in this case the Jews, and blamed a whole host of social ills onto them, and made it, basically made it open season for a minority group, that you could attack them and unleash all kinds of hell upon them, and the state would allow it.

President Duterte has done something very similar with the war on drugs. He has taken a cornucopia of social ills, many of which are endemic and systemic in nature, you know, there's extreme poverty and inequality in the Philippines, and rather than address any of these root causes, he says all these problems are the cause of one group: drug users and drug dealers, and if we just got rid of this one group, everything would be wine and roses again.

It is a classic form of scapegoating, and scapegoating comes from the Old Testament, right? It's the -- back in the biblical era, the priest or the rabbi would whisper the sins of the village into the ear of a goat, and literally drive that goat off into the desert, and voila, your village is cleansed of its problems, your sins are gone.

And this is the kind of demagoguery that president Duterte's engaged in, that it's really, at its heart, an eliminationist ideology. Rather than address any of these profound structural problems, he'd rather blame one group and scapegoat all these social ills and say it's open season.

The result of that is that, in the -- since he took power in the middle of 2016, he has killed somewhere between 12,000 at the low end, to 20,000 at the high end, no one really knows the exact figures of suspected drug suspects through extrajudicial killings -- basically death squads or police set-ups, where they claim that they were struggling and resisted arrest, but, you know, later on you find, you know, handcuffs marks on their wrists, or they plant a gun in someone's right hand when the shooter was left handed, that sort of thing.

Or, they're even recycling old guns without serial numbers, and planting them at multiple scenes. So, this is the kind of bloodbath that's going on in the name of the war on drugs in the Philippines.

DEAN BECKER: And, you reference the Holocaust, the pogroms, the elimination of the Jews, blaming them for everything, and what Duterte is doing is certainly not new. We just had an interview with Maria S?ínchez-Moreno about her book on Colombia, and how the peasants were denigrated and driven from their homes and their property taken so that the drug war could continue there, and what concerns me greatly now is that there are reports coming out -- there are reports coming out that our current president admires Duterte and wishes he had the ability to kill drug dealers as well. Your response, Sanho Tree.

SANHO TREE: Yes, Trump has been saying this for quite a while now. He said it I think about five times in January, and yet the media barely picked up on it at all. And it's understandable, given the number of scandals that are erupting by the hour in this administration.

But nonetheless, when you admire a death squad dictator like that, it's very, very troubling. He has long expressed his admiration for strongmen around the world. He wants to bring the US into the Axis of Autocrats, to remove checks and balances, to go after opposition media, to silence critics.

When president Trump says lock her up, about Hillary Clinton, president Duterte has done that already. He has locked up his main critic in the senate on bogus charges. She's been behind bars for a year now, Senator Leila de Lima. She had the temerity to, you know, to investigate his drug war and his human rights abuses. So, he's quickly locking people up, and Trump admires that.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, quite a world we're living in. Let's hope we can round the corner in the correct direction here soon. Friends, we've been speaking with Mister Sanho Tree. Sanho, please share your website with the listeners.

SANHO TREE: Sure. It's www.IPS-DC.org. Or you can follow me on Twitter at @SanhoTree.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, it's Dean Becker. You are listening to the Cultural Baggage here on KPFT, Houston, the mothership of the Drug Truth Network. I'm in studio with Liliana Noonan. We've been talking about the book There Are No Dead Here: A Story Of Murder And Denial In Colombia, written by Maria McFarland S?ínchez-Moreno. And we got to hear that clip there from Sanho Tree about the barbarity in the Philippines.

Anywhere you look at the, you know, the drug war, you're going to find barbarity. When I began this program, the Cultural Baggage program almost 17 years ago, the first night, I opened it with this thought: broadcasting from the gulag filling station of planet earth, this is Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth about the drug war.

And the reason I was saying that, that was at the time when we were loading up bus fulls of prisoners from the county and city jails and taking them to little towns all around Texas, taking them to Louisiana, dropping them off at private prisons, because we had too damn many people to put in our jails. They were sleeping on the floor, in the hallways, it was ridiculous.

And why? Because we believed in the drug war so strongly. Why? Because we were idiots. But we did believe, and that's what we did. Over the years, I've worked with the police chiefs, the sheriffs, the district attorneys, the mayors, to try to educate and embolden them to change this madness. And we have made such progress.

It was just a week and a year ago, they began the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, put forward by our great district attorney Kim Ogg, which allowed police to just write a ticket for under four ounces of weed. That's a pretty fat sack of weed. But they just write a ticket now. You pay a $150 fine if you've got a job, or you, if you're destitute, well you don't have to pay anything, you just take a course. I haven't taken the course yet, but it probably says something like, don't be stupid and ride around with weed in your car, dumbass.

But you do that, you can do it again the next day. You can get caught with another four ounces, and still not go to jail, still not have your car towed, still not lose your job or your girlfriend or your apartment. It's a pretty good deal. And the -- where I'm leading with this is, the district attorney, Kim Ogg, has said more than once that I was responsible for this, for educating and emboldening them same folks, the DAs, police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, city councilmen, commissioners, you name it.

Nobody wants to fight with me about the drug war. It has no nexus with reality. It is a -- it's an abomination before god, and I can prove it.

Anyway, this has been Cultural Baggage. We've been speaking with Liliana Noonan, I want to give her a chance to share her thoughts with the audience.

LILIANA NOONAN: Well, I just want to tell you, the war on drugs is a war against poor people. Poor people go to prison or to the cemetery, and the wealthy, they get more wealthy.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it's -- and that's all it really is. It has no reach beyond that. There -- it doesn't fill the coffers, it doesn't feed the poor, it doesn't build houses, it doesn't do anything but destroy futures. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage.

LILIANA NOONAN: Thank you, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you, Liliana. And, we'll have to do this again. We're flat running out of time. And, as always, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag? Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge an abyss.