Sunday, March 16, 2008

The what-if game, round 1

A good deal is one where everyone involved is happy, some say. I just thought of one. This may sound outlandish, but bear with me.
Hugo Chavez may not be the most popular guy in the world, but I just thought of a way to fix that. I have no problem with him myself, but others clearly have.
Whatever his faults are, the man has cash on hand to make deals. Here's my proposal for a deal;

Stage one: Send a delegation to Afghanistan and buy the opium crops. Pay twice what the drug barons are offering - they only pay penuts anyway (especially compared to what they make in the end), and if necessary leave some support for the farmers so they don't get assaulted for selling out when you leave.
Benefits; No opium to the drug cartels. Money to the farmers. No need for the US to bomb or spray the fields, so they could cut back on that and make both governments happy. No drugs to the US. Great stride forward in the War on Terror and enormous longjump in War on Drugs.

Stage two
: Bring the opium back to Venezuela and use local labs to turn it into painkillers instead of heroin. Morphine is desperately needed in developing countries, but it is expensive and supplies are scarce. A double-punch of cuban medical workers and low-cost venezuelan medication would make a lot of difference to a lot of poor people.
Benefits; Obvious benefits for poor people in developing countries. Venezuela becomes goodwill ambassador to plenty of new allies, with a chance to spread the word on the "Bolivarian whatever". Less strain on NGO:s trying to help, so medical aid can spread further. Medical benefits have domino effect on other areas of life, could be a way in for yet other NGO:s to build for example schools etc.

Stage three: See if there are other sources of raw material for projects like this. Colombia comes to mind. Perhaps the Colombian government could sign a cooperation deal allowing the Venezuelan military to make training exercizes in the countryside, buying up crops while keeping the cartels down with whatever it takes, and ridding Colombia from some of the drug factories.
Benefits; Less cash for various drug-funded paramilitaries, less drugs to the US, less stress on the Colombian government. Big stride forward in US War on Drugs. More raw material for medicine in Venezuelan medical aid programme. Chavez popularity soars internationally. Farmers no longer bombed every tuesday. US govt kan save some much needed money for Wars on Other Things. Farmers can be convinced to grow other useable medical crops, since anything can grow in Colombia.

So, what are the gripes?

"Chavez is not a good guy!" Well, if he starts helping the developing world this way it would make him a pretty decent guy in my book. Someone else will have to solve his other problems.
"Growing opium is flat out wrong and they should grow cucumbers instead!" Nah, if the opium actually goes to a good end use there is nothing wrong with growing it, and who knows what religious problems may be associated with cucumbers? Face it - Afghanistan looks like classic desert and I suspect nothing but poppies will grow there unless a lot of infrastructure is put in place. So grow poppies but use them well.
"Dumping the price of medicine will hurt Big Pharma." Big Pharma is not doing business with these needy people since they have no money. This will make no difference at all to them financially, since they do not bother to exploit this market anyway. Also, I could care less about Big Pharma if I really made an effort, but the strain might kill me.
"The US will collapse if the drug supply is cut off like that!" In that case maybe the War on Drugs should have been abandoned instead of increased every year? I don't think it will be a problem, local labs can always make synthetic drugs instead. Which, incidentally, doesn't ruin anything for anyone in another country.

This simple solution would improve world health and increase world happiness. It would make Chavez popular wherever his medic-aides go and it would help the US drop the habit. By the time Jeb Bush wins the US election for the republicrats next year, this could all be in place and running smoothly. He could move Venezuela from the "Topple immediately" to the "Good ole folks to cooperate with"-list. I would love to see this. A lot of land mine victims currently without painkillers would love it too. To calm Big Pharma, the Venezuelan drug labs could stamp Chavez' likeness on every pill, making it tough to sell them in the west to slash inflated medicine prices here (all westerners find him hard to swallow, eh?).
All this takes is for the Afghan government to trust Chavez, and in stage three the Colombian government to do the same. What do they have to lose?