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A Different Sort of Blowback || The Candy Machine: How Cocaine took over the World-

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  • smacko
    A Different Sort of Blowback by Forrest Hylton Cocaine is a central commodity of the neoliberal age; so, too, its re-processed form ( crack ) for the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2009

      A Different Sort of Blowback
      by Forrest Hylton

      Cocaine is a central commodity of the neoliberal age; so, too, its
      re-processed form ("crack") for the desperately poor in de-industrialized
      cities of the North and South Atlantic. First announced by Richard Nixon in
      1971, the "War on Drugs" predates the rise of cocaine and crack by nearly a
      decade, but in the 1980s and 90s the "War on Drugs" was redoubled in
      response to the explosion of the cocaine business. It now ranks as the U.S.'s
      longest-running military-police campaign. Thus if we look at cocaine as a
      social hieroglyph-not as a thing, but as a complex relation between networks
      and organizations of people, as well as between states and bureaucracies-we
      may glimpse some of the distinguishing features of the contemporary world.

      more here:

      The Candy Machine: How Cocaine took over the World

      The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World by Tom Feiling
      To Dominic Streatfeild, this plea to legalise cocaine is nothing to be sniffed at
      Inside the New Print Edition of Our Subscriber-Only Newsletter!
      The Culture of Cocaine
      Forrest Hylton gives a dazzling overview of the political and social role of
      the central commodity of the neoliberal age.


      Evil Hour in Colombia

      Colombia's long-drawn-out internal strife between guerrillas, paramilitaries
      and the state is confusing to many outsiders. The numerous groups fighting
      for land and power, combined with the presence of powerful
      narco-traffickers, have created an environment of violent chaos and
      political conflict. Hylton, a researcher in history at New York University,
      helps make sense of this disorder in his detailed and concise history of
      Colombia over the last 150 years. In this short book, he manages to create a
      full picture of Colombian history and the violence that marks it. At a
      quick, consistent pace, the book moves through the early causes of radical
      mobilization in the mid-19th century and the system of repression that
      emerged in response. Hylton examines the fractured social and political
      circumstances that spawned the extremist groups as well as the forces, such
      as the rise of coffee exports after 1880, that have fueled them. He also
      examines the major role the United States has played in Colombia's history,
      and how the "war on drugs" was often executed with Washington's broader
      political and economic goals in mind. By the end of this well-researched
      book, Hylton clarifies Colombia's endemic violence as a social and political
      Product Description
      The most up-to-date book on Colombia: from the mid-19th century to today's
      guerrilla narco-traffickers and paramilitaries.

      Colombia is the least understood of Latin American countries. Its human
      tragedy, which features terrifying levels of kidnapping, homicide and
      extortion, is generally ignored or exploited. In this urgent new work,
      Forrest Hylton, who has extensive first-hand experience of living and
      working in Colombia, explores its history of 150 years of political
      conflict, characterized by radical-popular mobilization and reactionary
      repression. He shows how patterns of political conflict after 1848, and
      especially after 1948, explain the war currently destroying Colombian lives,
      property, communities and territory.

      Evil Hour in Colombia also traces how Colombia's "coffee capitalism" gave
      way to the cattle and cocaine republic of the 1980s, and how land, wealth
      and power have been steadily accumulated by the light-skinned top of the
      social pyramid through a brutal combination of terror, expropriation and
      economic depression.
      The historian goes his own way. With abundant documentation, the author
      demonstrates the confrontation--not at all magical, but rather all too
      real--that results when a small group of elites cleaves to latifundismo;
      when indigenous and Afro-Colombians are displaced from their territories;
      when coffee, and later cocaine, exports lead to processes of internal
      colonialism; when the armed insurgency hypertrophies; when the state
      delegates the exercise of violence to paramilitaries, who become a new,
      corrupt and criminal entrepreneurial class.


      A Different Sort of Blowback
      by Forrest Hylton

      Cocaine is a central commodity of the neoliberal age; so, too, its
      re-processed form ("crack") for the desperately poor in de-industrialized
      cities of the North and South Atlantic. First announced by Richard Nixon in
      1971, the "War on Drugs" predates the rise of cocaine and crack by nearly a
      decade, but in the 1980s and 90s the "War on Drugs" was redoubled in
      response to the explosion of the cocaine business. It now ranks as the U.S.'s
      longest-running military-police campaign. Thus if we look at cocaine as a
      social hieroglyph-not as a thing, but as a complex relation between networks
      and organizations of people, as well as between states and bureaucracies-we
      may glimpse some of the distinguishing features of the contemporary world.

      There is a strong argument to be made for the impact of the cocaine business
      on architecture, urban design and construction, fashion,
      media-entertainment, sports, and aesthetics, not to mention banking and
      credit institutions. Fighting cocaine producers, sellers, and users has
      radically changed the shape of states in relation to those who are, at least
      nominally, rights-bearing citizens, as states have become more militarized,
      policed, punitive, and carceral, and citizens more powerless and less
      protected by the rule of law. As Bourdieu observed in his late work, states
      do not disappear under neoliberalism: rather, their repressive right wings
      are strengthened while their progressive, redistributive rights-based wings
      are weakened or eliminated. This is most notable in cities, where urban
      space has been re-made in line with the requirements of policing and
      surveillance to protect capital investment and affluent consumers.

      Tom Feilingâ's The Candy Machine.
      Though it does not advance these arguments, except tangentially, Tom Feiling's
      well-researched The Candy Machine: How Cocaine took over the World (Penguin,
      2009) makes a similar claim for the importance of its subject (one suspects
      the sub-title and perhaps even the title were foisted upon the author by the
      publisher). Yet could not the same be said of any essential commodity: oil,
      for instance, or cars or clothes? What makes cocaine different? The answer,
      of course, would depend on whom one asks, but what makes cocaine
      extraordinarily profitable for its import-export merchants is the fact that
      it is illegal. The fact that one country-Colombia-supplies 90 percent of the
      cocaine consumed in the U.S. also makes the commodity different. With the
      strength of the Euro relative to the dollar, routes out of Colombia through
      the Amazonian and Orinoco basins to Europe have taken on increasing
      significance in the current decade, and Peru's production has risen
      correspondingly. Yet the breadth of the U.S. domestic market is still, as
      Lenin noted more than a century ago, nonpareil. 90 percent of Colombian
      cocaine enters the U.S. through Mexico (and Guatemala), smuggling having
      been made considerably easier by NAFTA, which de-regulated trucking and
      shipping. Plans Colombia and Mérida (Mexico)-based on counter-narcotics and
      counter-terrorism-are the two most important U.S. foreign policy initiatives
      in the Western Hemisphere, with Plan Colombia and its successors costing
      U.S. taxpayers $8 billion between 2000 and 2008, and Plan Mérida, approved
      in 2008, costing $500 million in 2009. So cocaine is not only big business,
      it is also high politics: Plan Colombia has been held up as a model of
      counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency success for Mexico, Afghanistan,
      and Pakistan. The title of an April 2009 op-ed piece in the Washington Post
      read, "Which Way in Afghanistan? Ask Colombia for Directions." As
      U.S.-trained Colombian Special Forces headed to Afghanistan to help the U.S.
      train the Afghan army in July 2009, one senior U.S. official told CBS News,
      "The more Afghanistan can look like Colombia, the better."

      A cocaine factory in Ciudad Perdida, Colombia. Photo by Admanas. flickr.com
      Public debate in the U.S. concerning the suppression of cocaine production
      and consumption-and the U.S. has determined international drug policy since
      the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961-is moralistic, due to the
      weight of conservative strains of Protestantism, even among
      non-evangelicals, not to mention neo-conservative Catholicism: decent,
      responsible people should not consume drugs, and should not be allowed to
      consume them, because if they do they will become oversexed, unproductive
      degenerates. Worse than the hypocrisy to which they inevitably lead, rigid
      moral postures actively refuse to deal with the fact that illicit drugs
      exist and people consume them no matter how much blood and money are
      expended to stop them from doing so. There are economistic assumptions at
      play as well, borrowed from neo-classical theories about the relationship
      between supply and demand. If supply is reduced, the official argument goes,
      prices will rise for consumers in the U.S., and demand will drop

      Cocaine in its many forms.
      Nevertheless, Plan Colombia and related anti-drug initiatives in the Andes
      and Mexico have not reduced the supply of cocaine to the U.S., where prices
      have tended toward secular decline since the early 1980s, and domestic
      demand has fluctuated from generation to generation. The volume of illicit
      drugs that U.S. citizens consume has not changed significantly over time,
      but the type of drugs they consume has-detailed in Ryan Grim's This is Your
      Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America (2009)-with
      cocaine coming back into fashion, together with pharmaceuticals, among
      young, affluent people during the Bush II period. In terms of costs and
      benefits, fighting cocaine production and consumption is a disaster even by
      the standards of the Pentagon: according to a 1994 RAND Corporation study,
      to reduce cocaine consumption by 1 percent in the U.S. it would be
      twenty-three times cheaper ($34 million) to spend on treatment and education
      for consumers than on coca eradication for producers ($783 million). The
      drug war has evidently failed on its own terms, as announced in an op-ed
      piece in the Wall Street Journal written in February 2009 by former
      presidents Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), César Gaviria (Colombia), and Fernando
      Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), darlings of the neoliberal "Washington Consensus"
      during the 1990s.

      Cocaine in its many forms.
      But the failure to achieve stated objectives has yet to affect
      policy-making, which is driven mainly by ideology. Empirical data has little
      bearing on the policy-making process, so it is worth asking if perhaps some
      measure other than the benchmarks put forward by the drug warriors should be
      used to evaluate it. The logic driving the War on Drugs has been chiefly
      ideological and political, not economic: domestic politics in the U.S. have
      determined policy abroad. One of the defining policies of Cold War
      liberalism, President Johnson's "War on Poverty"-which had less than
      one-tenth of the lifespan of the "War on Drugs"-took for granted that
      federal and state governments should take responsibility for improving the
      plight of the poor in northern cities, and represented a semi-coherent
      response to African American riots and insurgencies. But what if poor black
      people in cities could be held responsible for their poverty? What if, as
      industrial jobs disappeared by the millions, they became addicted to selling
      or consuming illegal drugs produced and/or distributed by U.S. government
      allies in Cold War counterinsurgent campaigns? Then, of course, African
      Americans could be locked up for non-violent drug offenses and warehoused in
      prisons at an accelerated rate.

      Cocaine in its many forms.
      It is to Feiling's credit to have discovered this larger truth, albeit in
      bits and pieces, by taking the requisite critical distance from the
      moralizing and economistic assumptions that prevail in the U.S.: "blame is
      at the heart of the War on Drugs. In retrospect, one can't help but conclude
      from the politicians' reactions to economic restructuring and the closure of
      many of America's biggest factories in the 1970s and 80s, that the crack
      scare obviated the need to develop effective policies to tackle
      unemployment. As long as the focus stayed on drug sales and drug abuse,
      inner-city residents could be blamed for the poverty they had been driven
      into.what the politicians had to do was convince the American public that
      the inner cities deserved to be abandoned." Here Feiling re-invents the
      wheel Christian Parenti turned to excellent effect in Lockdown America:
      Policing and Prisons in an Age of Crisis (1999). In the 1970s, President
      Richard Nixon and Governor Nelson Rockefeller in New York campaigned for
      office by whipping up hysteria about "crime" and "drugs," and then
      criminalized African American communities, militarized policing, and
      increased incarceration. After a brief respite under Carter, fighting crime
      and drugs in urban African American neighborhoods became the rhetorical coin
      of the political realm under Ronald Reagan. The idea was to put African
      Americans back in their place without Jim Crow segregation, and to get
      elected or re-elected by doing it.

      Fear was to be one of the most enduring weapons in the U.S. politician's
      arsenal. In his diary in 1969, Nixon's top aide, H.R. Haldeman, provided a
      succinct summary of the overall strategy: "Nixon emphasized that the whole
      problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes
      that, while not appearing to do so." In a letter to Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon
      wrote, "Ike, it's just amazing how much you can get done through fear. All I
      talk about in New Hampshire is crime and drugs, and everyone wants to vote
      for me-and they don't even have any black people up here." Nixon's "War on
      Drugs," Feiling notes, was "politically expedient, since it turned attention
      away from.Vietnam, while preserving the military culture that had inspired
      the war in the first place." Nearly all of those imprisoned in New York
      State for drug offenses have been African American or Latino males, most of
      them from eight neighborhoods in New York City. Whereas the U.S. had 200,000
      prisoners in the 1970s, it currently has 1.8 million in jail and 5 million
      on probation or parole, making it the largest carceral state-society in
      world history. The U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world's population and
      25 percent of its prison population. 500,000 people are serving time for
      non-violent drug offenses.

      Needless to say, the profile of the U.S. prison population does not reflect
      consumption patterns: whites consume an estimated 80 percent of cocaine in
      the U.S., while African Americans consume 13 percent; whites consume cocaine
      in disproportionate numbers, while blacks do not. Yet 38 percent of those
      arrested and 59 percent of those convicted for drug offenses have been
      African Americans. And stereotypes notwithstanding, whites account for 46
      percent of all crack use, while African Americans consume 36 percent and
      Latinos 11 percent. That is to say that although African Americans use crack
      out of proportion to their numbers, probably because it is the least
      expensive of illicit drugs, they consume considerably less of it than whites
      do. Were it not for the media, the law, policing, and prisons, the main
      feature of crack users would be their poverty and the misery of their
      de-industrialized urban surroundings, not their race.

      Just as Jim Crow succeeded slavery at the end of the 19th century after
      Reconstruction was reversed, militarized policing and prisons replaced Jim
      Crow after the civil rights movement was rolled back. Black freedom
      struggles determined the limits of U.S. democracy from the early 19th
      century through the 1960s, and the criminalization and incarceration of
      young African American males through the War on Drugs at the end of the 20th
      century represented another dramatic constriction of democratic politics in
      the U.S., first under President Nixon and accelerating under Presidents
      Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. As Feiling and others have stressed, it was
      through sentencing laws on crack vs. powder cocaine passed in 1986 under
      Ronald Reagan-and a revolution in police tactics and organization-that this
      was achieved.

      This is the domestic context without which it is impossible to make sense of
      U.S. foreign policy in producer countries in the Andes (Colombia, Peru, and
      Bolivia) and transport countries in Mexico, Central America, and the
      Caribbean (leaving aside Brazil, whose government does not respond to U.S.
      pressures). After Ronald Reagan was elected, aerial fumigation was
      undertaken against marijuana growers in Mexico, Jamaica, and Colombia in the
      early 1980s, even as the Pacific Northwest became the leading supplier of
      the U.S. market thanks to its competitive advantage in transport costs; the
      region was soon to find itself subject to similar, if less toxic campaigns.
      In 1982, President Reagan became the first to appoint a high-level official,
      then Vice-President George H.W. Bush, to run the South Florida Drug Task
      Force-composed of agents from the DEA, Customs, FBI, ATF, IRS, Army, and
      Navy-to deal with cocaine trafficking in Miami, by which time the city's
      homicide rate had made headlines thanks to the violence that Colombians had
      unleashed in their bid to take over and maintain distribution networks.
      Before launching the invasion of Panama and the Gulf War, in 1989 President
      George H.W. Bush created the Office of National Drug Control Policy, led by
      "drug czar" William Bennett, militarized anti-narcotics policing in
      Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and doubled the anti-drug budget to
      $12 billion. Mexico had already become the major transshipment point for
      Colombian cocaine, but its dominance would only increase with the end of
      U.S. counterinsurgency wars in Central America, the passage of NAFTA, and
      the fall of the two so-called "cartels" in Colombia-Medellín and Cali-under
      President Clinton.

      The Candy Machine's greatest strength may be its presentation of
      perspectives from former gang members and drug users, drug traffickers and
      retired narcotics enforcement officials in the U.S. (despite the author's
      desire to "hear from those who work day to day on the cocaine trade routes
      that run from London and New York via Miami, Kingston and Tijuana to
      Colombia," the reader mainly hears from people in the North Atlantic). Thus
      Rusty, a former narcotics officer for the Department of Corrections in
      Arizona: "When I talk about legalizing drugs, people say, "you can't mean
      heroin and crack, right?" But after 30 years of the drug war, spending a
      trillion dollars.the bad guys still control the price, purity, and quantity
      of every drug. Knowing that they control the drug trade, which drug are you
      going to leave under their control? Regulation and legalization is not a
      vote for or against any drug. It's not about solving our drug use problem.
      It's solely about getting some control back." "They" refers to drug barons,
      many of them large landowners as well as warlords, in Colombia, Mexico,
      Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but the problem with Rusty's analysis is that
      U.S. government allies in such countries-the intelligence services, the
      judicial systems, the military and police, business and political elites-are
      either complicit with or directly involved in supplying U.S. and European
      markets with cocaine and/or heroin, generally in order to finance
      counter-insurgency wars. As Alfred McCoy's The Politics of Heroin: CIA
      Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (2003) illustrates, this pattern was set
      in the 1950s with opium and heroin in places like Burma, Marseilles, and
      Cuba, repeated in the 1960s and 70s in Vietnam and Laos, and updated with
      Colombian cocaine in Central America and Central Asian heroin in the 1980s.
      The common thread is that the anti-communist end justified the means-active
      or passive collaboration with rightwing drug trafficking organizations in
      brutal counter-insurgency wars-in all places at all times.

      The career path of "Freeway" Rick Ross, who used the U.S. inter-state
      highway system built when Richard Nixon was vice-president to construct his
      business empire in the 1980s, is illustrative. Unlike everyone else selling
      cocaine or crack, Rick Ross was supplied with cocaine at cut-rate prices by
      Danilo Blandon, a Nicaraguan employee of the CIA in the U.S. government's
      war against the revolutionary Sandinista government, as documented in the
      late Gary Webb's Pulitzer-prize winning Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras,
      and the Crack Explosion (2003). From prison, Ross explained to Feiling, "Me
      and Danilo Blandon were really tight. I knew from earlier that he was
      backing some war, and I knew that he was from Nicaragua, but I had no idea
      about the Contras. I was illiterate at that time, you know? I never read a
      newspaper or listened to the news. They say that Danilo was protected, and
      you can assume from the Feds that I was protected too, but I never knew
      that. I was just in it for the money, trying to get out of the ghetto."
      Blandon sold cocaine to Ross at a price, of a quality, and in quantities
      that none of Ross's competitors could match. As former DEA agent Celerino
      Castillo III, who served in El Salvador, told Feiling, "They gave all the
      coke to Danilo Blandon, who was a CIA asset. He in turn fronted all that
      stuff to Ricky Ross. Ross became the Walmart of crack, distributing to the
      Bloods and Crips and everybody else all over the country.. Hangars 4 and 5
      at Ilopango airport in El Salvador were used as a trampoline for drugs
      coming in from Colombia and Costa Rica. Oliver North and a Cuban exile named
      Felix Rodríguez [a former CIA agent who executed Che Guevara in Bolivia]
      were running one of them, and the other one was owned by the CIA. Rodriguez
      and North used a plane called the Fat Lady, which was also owned by the CIA,
      to load up with arms at Ilopango and then airdrop to the Contras in the
      jungle. Then the fat lady got shot down by the Sandinistas. The only
      survivor was the pilot Gene Hasenfus, who was also working for the CIA. He
      was captured and said it was a covert operation being run out of the White
      House, and that's when the story broke that the U.S. government was
      supporting the Contras." All evidence pointed to Vice-President George H.W.
      Bush's office, but of course nothing came of it besides the Kerry Committee
      Report of 1989, which charged the State Department with making payments to
      Nicaraguan Contras involved in the cocaine business.

      In the neoliberal economy of the 1980s, anchored in financial services,
      insurance, real estate, and speculative asset bubbles, many African American
      males and immigrant males of color saw the cocaine-crack business as the way
      to achieve material security. Cocaine gave a shot in the arm to street
      gangs, who handled lower levels of wholesale and retail distribution in the
      U.S. Rick Ross describes his trajectory: "I was a youngster. Uneducated,
      uniformed, unemployed. I was looking for opportunities. I wanted to be
      important in the world, somebody who was respected. Basically, I wanted the
      American dream, so I guess I was ripe for the picking. The opportunity came
      in the form of drugs and I latched onto it. I just kept saving my money and
      buying more drugs. My childhood friends would be walking, but I'd be driving
      a nice car, and they'd want to know how I got the car. "Oh, I'm selling
      cocaine now," I'd say. "Teach me how to sell cocaine," they'd say. So my
      friends started to get involved, and before long we're making a lot of
      money, and I'm eating at McDonald's whenever I want to. At our height, some
      days a million dollars would come through our hands in a single day. Next
      thing I know, the whole neighborhood is selling, people were already
      gang-banging, but now we were able to afford more expensive weapons, more
      expensive cars, and better houses and the police started noticing it more."
      The comment about eating at McDonalds speaks volumes about the depths of
      poverty from which Rick Ross escaped, only to wind up living most of his
      life in a prison cell.

      Indeed, for most of those serving hard time for non-violent drug offenses,
      the crack business offered much less distance from poverty than it had for
      Ross. Marc, from South Jamaica, Queens-currently the epicenter of the
      foreclosure crisis in New York City's black and brown
      neighborhoods-described his work as follows: "It was the hardest job I ever
      had. It's pure capitalism, you know? Say you're selling drugs in the South
      Bronx, say at 138th and 3rd Avenue, and another crew of guys is selling the
      same drugs as you two blocks away. The block they're on is making $2,000 per
      day, and the block you're on is making about $2,000 per day. They decide,
      'You know what? You're a punk. You're a pussy. So they move you." Dog Eat
      Dog, to quote the title of a remarkable 2008 film about the cocaine business
      in Cali, Colombia: a Hobbesian capitalist world of all against all and
      murder for hire. This pattern-with gangs as cell forms of organized
      crime-was repeated among a host of new immigrant groups in the U.S. involved
      in cocaine distribution and-or smuggling and money-laundering: Colombians,
      Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans in L.A.; Colombians, Mexicans, and
      Puerto Ricans in Chicago; Colombians, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans,
      Mexicans, Albanians, and Russians in New York. These gangs, of course, are
      bi- and transnational, just like the cocaine commodity circuit in which they
      are embedded: in L.A., there are roughly 2,000 gangs; in Medellín, Colombia,
      there were reportedly 6,300 gangs in 2003; Chicago is said to have 70,000
      gang members.

      Gangs involved in distribution aim to reproduce the corporate organization
      of capitalism from which their members have been excluded. Hip-hop music
      testifies to this, particularly the Brooklyn variety pioneered by Biggie
      Smalls and Jay-Z. Lance, a cocaine wholesaler from South Jamaica, Queens,
      described his outfit as follows: "The structure of the business is like a
      Fortune 500. We'd have different titles, but it all basically remains the
      same as in corporate America. You have your CEO, your supervisor, your
      treasurer. You might be the captain; you have your lieutenants, your
      soldiers." Most Fortune 500 companies have different titles for their
      executives, though; only the Sicilian mafia uses such terms for its
      employees. This would seem to be an indication of the extent to which poor
      African Americans-not to speak of Jamaicans, Dominicans, Mexicans,
      Colombians, Salvadorans, and so forth-have seized upon mafia organization
      and ideology to justify the pursuit of employment, upward mobility, material
      abundance, and most importantly, "respect".

      If so, it provides evidence of delusion, desperation, or some combination
      thereof, for as anthropologist Phillipe Bourgeois's In Search of Respect:
      Selling Crack in El Barrio (1995) shows, the cocaine-crack business is much
      like any other low-wage service industry offering no benefits. Feiling found
      that "street-level sellers earn roughly the federal minimum wage, which at
      the time of writing stood at $6.55 per hour." Most top dealers have day jobs
      and take no more than 25 percent of total revenues. Only one in six brings
      home more than $5,000 per month, as 60 percent of revenues go to wholesalers
      and retailers on the lower rungs of the distribution chain. Yet in spite of
      the new mafia ideology encapsulated in Jay-Z's (typically self-glorifying)
      verse, "even righteous minds go through this" (when contemplating whether to
      participate in the crack game), the cocaine business offers only marginally
      more room for upward mobility than the service industries to which African
      American and Latino youth are confined in the licit economy-with the added
      risk, or near-certainty, of prison or violent death at an early age.

      For direct producers of tropical agricultural commodities like coffee,
      neoliberal policies in the countryside-nowhere applied with greater blood
      and zealotry than in Colombia-have accelerated a long-term secular price
      decline: there are no options other than coca for people in isolated rural
      frontier areas where there is no state presence or source of employment. A
      coca grower from the department of Sucre (Monterrey municipality) does the
      arithmetic: "Getting a sack of potatoes to market will cost a farmer between
      3,000 and 5,000 pesos, and it will sell for between 10,000 and 12,000 pesos,
      depending on demand. Meanwhile, coca is a lot easier to sow and process, and
      doesn't need transporting because the traffickers come to the village to buy
      it. They pay 1,500,000 pesos for a kilo of coca paste." Making coca paste
      is, and will remain, the only option for survival for millions of
      impoverished peasant families on the Colombian agricultural frontier; the
      same is true for Peru and Bolivia. As the experience of the Bolivians Yungas
      with northern Argentina demonstrates, a legal market for coca dramatically
      reduces the amount of coca leaf produced for the cocaine business. Bolivian
      President Evo Morales, whose political base remains the coca growers' trade
      union federation in the Chapare that produced him, would like nothing better
      than to tour the world touting the medicinal benefits of the coca leaf and
      coca tea, and it is easy to imagine a successful "coca diplomacy" with
      leaders and consumers in the EU, the U.S., Australia, and Japan. But first
      the U.N. Single Convention of 1961 would have to be revised so that
      companies and firms other than Coca Cola could use the leaf for industrial
      purposes. Until U.S. domestic politics changes, it will stand.

      Perhaps in recognition of this fact, a number of Latin American countries
      have de-criminalized personal consumption of cocaine and marijuana. Colombia
      was the pioneer: in 1994, as head of the Constitutional Court, created in
      the Constitution of 1991, Judge Carlos Gaviria legalized the personal
      consumption of up to 20 grams of marijuana, and/or a gram of cocaine,
      because, he argued, drinkers were much more likely to commit violent crimes,
      and no one had suggested prohibition of alcohol consumption since the 1920s.
      Gaviria, who has since moved on to a political career in Colombia's
      turbulent electoral Left, said, "Legislators can proscribe certain forms of
      behavior towards others, but not how a person is behaving toward him or
      herself, as long as this doesn't interfere with the rights of others."
      Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico have since followed suit, which represents
      the extent to which Latin American countries have sought and attained
      greater autonomy from U.S. imperial control, as many of the anti-drug laws
      in Latin America were drafted under U.S. diplomatic pressure. Latin American
      countries have now joined the Netherlands in treating drug consumption as a
      public health problem rather than a police problem.

      In the U.S., however, as Feiling points out, "legalization" is a "third-rail
      issue" for politicians, meaning that most will not mention it for fear of
      destroying their political careers. As President Obama's drug czar, Gil
      Kerlikowske, put it in July 2009, "Legalization is not in my vocabulary nor
      is it in the president's." To understand why, it is helpful to ask who wins
      and who loses from legalization. The losers, not necessarily in order of
      importance, would include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DEA,
      U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI, the ATF, the IRS, state and local police
      forces, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Armed Forces, to name only some of
      the agencies whose budgets depend on the drug war for funding, as well as
      their counterparts in U.S. client states throughout the Americas; arms
      manufacturers like Sikorsky Helicopters; large pharmaceutical companies like
      Pfizer; suppliers of chemicals for fumigation like Monsanto; the banking
      sector as well as off-shore tax havens; the Republican Party; along with
      warlords, gangs, and gangsters. The clearest winners would be consumers,
      direct producers, and societies that would be less militarized, less
      carceral, less moralizing, and would have stronger public health and
      education systems. But as Jack Cole, who spent 26 years in policing
      narcotics in New Jersey, and is now Executive Director of Law Enforcement
      against Drug Prohibition, stressed to Feiling: "When you train your police
      to go to war, they've got to have an enemy." Cole considers the War on Drugs
      a "terrible metaphor" for "policing in a democratic society." Terrible,
      alas, but substitute "neoliberal" for "democratic" and it is nothing if not
      apt. Predictably, Obama and Kerlikowske have dropped the nomenclature, but
      the policies remain intact.
      About the Author

      An historian and journalist, Forrest Hylton teaches Latin American politics and world history at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá), and is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), among other books


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