EDITORIAL, 7 Jun 2010
The narco-traffic flow of drugs from the White Triangle Colombia-Peru-Bolivia into USA (some directly to Florida) across the Mexico-USA 3,200-kilometer border, one million crossings daily!, comes with a money-traffic counter-flow annual payment of 29 billion dollars, mostly washable and untraceable cash from the world’s major dollar printer[i], and an arms-traffic counterflow from the world’s major arms exporter (300 factories, 200 million guns owned by 34% of the US people). All three flows are illegal and increasing. More than a trillion dollars spent on the “war on drugs”, attacking forests with highly polluting chemicals, killing producers, processors, transporters has been wasted, but have increased the price by increasing the risk. What keeps it going?
First, the supply from the people level in Latin America: Millions of small farmers process cultivated coca into cocaine, (like in Afghanistan opium poppies into heroine). A sturdy plant with four-five harvests a year, some of it for Coca Cola. A 1986 study estimated behind only 300 cocaine exports 220,000 coca farmers, 74,000 paste producers, 7,400 paste transporters and 1,333 refiners, adding to 1.5 million drug employees. Their 1% of the price is ten times more than they earn from legal crops. Thus, Bolivian exports outdid their whole GNP in 1985. And illegal drugs are number four in world trade after oil, cars and tourism.
Second, the demand at the US people level, 30 million addicts, a tenth of the population. Their social and personal profiles are difficult to trace, but many must be high up in society to afford the high prices. The drugs transport them into a virtual reality more spiritually enriching than a greedy, materialist US rat-race with more losers than winners, and the spiritually empty, elusive, and in addition shaky, American Dream awaiting the winners.
In the USA drugs are converted into money, and some of that into arms. In Mexico and the White Triangle this is for narco-traffic carteles, gangs, police, military, guerrillas with porous borders between them. And for schools and roads in very poor districts. When the Colombian drug tsar, Pablo Escobar, was killed, 20,000 grateful mourners came to his funeral.
To control a cycle by controlling supply only, doing nothing serious with the demand beyond “just say no”, is counterproductive by rising the prices fetched, and stupid. There must be strong forces at work. At the government level in Latin America much money flows into bribes, corruption or participation, like in Afghanistan. And, at the US government, apart from financing CIA?
An enormous fear that the US malaise, the discontent that became evident in the 1960s will find political activist outlets worse than bombs: for an alternative society, less steered by the market. Better a virtual than an alternative reality, even if it comes at enormous health costs, including for the families. And the same logic for Latin America: better illicit income from that ultimate legitimacy, the market, than Zapatista, FARC, however confused, working to reduce the power of the market and the state.
Nothing serious will happen as long as there is no pressure on the US government to decrease the drug demand, and they may be  unwilling, and  incapable, no idea about how to do it. The same goes for the Mexican government: Calderón may tell the US Congress to stop the arms-traffic[ii], nothing will happen as long as the arms demand is not reduced. In the meantime arms exporters make money, helped by NRA lobbies in the US and Mexican congress.
Any exit? Latin American soldiers in the USA checking house by house for drug consumption, capturing, killing consumers?[iii] Or, a Mexico-USA commission to reduce both demands, in both cycles?
Add to these vicious cycles the people-traffic. Starting in the 1960s, Mexicans arrived in search of jobs, money, remittances back home. In the 1970s some went back with the American Dream, having an impact on the lifestyle in Mexico. In the 1980s the drugs were flowing into the big cities–Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta–with many consumers and Mexicans. In the 1990s came a counterflow of arms and Mexican-US military cooperation to stop the flow, and in the 2000s US military intervention in Mexico with 24,000 killed in drug contexts, and 50,000 arms–guns, mines, rocket-launchers–confiscated in a period of 3 years. Add to this the massive killing in the border town Ciudad Juárez related to all flows, with 30,000 Mexican soldiers unable to stop it.
In 1846-48 the USA conquered 53% of the Mexican territory in a terrible war; the USA says it was 33%. Today a fifth of the Mexicans live in the USA, legally or not; 53% of them would mean 30 million more in the USA. Far too much, says Arizona in the anti-illegal immigration law, denounced by Calderón as threat to human rights and democracy. Obama, to the right of Bush, sends 1,200 soldiers to the border; with 1 million Americans now living in Mexico, mainly close to beaches, to stretch meager pensions.
Down the line is a breaking point as all four flows increase. With all these heavy interests involved only something above the two states, like a North American region, a MEXUSCAN, can control these vicious cycles. But that might only be far into the future.
Meanwhile, Hugo Chávez was on CNN-Español and claimed that during his presidency Venezuelan poverty dropped from 73% to 40%, and misery from 23% to 5%. Given his social policy it might simply be true, or close to it. So much more important than GNP growth. And threatened by Obama’s seven bases in Colombia, and the Fourth Fleet. And yet the voice of the future. Not those vicious cycles
[i]. According to John Morton of the Department of Homeland Security, Excelsior, Mexico, 3 June 2010.
[ii]. Washington Post, 21 May 2010.
[iii]. In a brilliant paper turning the US Plan Colombia upside-down, Jose Maria Tortosa firstname.lastname@example.org uses this to illustrate the madness of the present approach.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Jun 2010.
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