The Complex Geopolitical and Domestic Realities of the War on Drugs
The war on drugs is not exactly like the war on terrorism. For starters, the war on terrorism is rather more effective. It is rare that an act of terrorism happens on U.S. soil, conducted by a foreign interest. While many would say that the powers that be are abusing their mandate by conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens, the fact remains that the average citizen remains terror-free in their day to day lives.
The same cannot be said about the war on drugs. As wars go, it is hard to imagine how one could be lost so badly by those who remain so resolute to fight it. It seems the harder we fight it, the worse it goes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, we spend over $600 million due to addiction-related expenses every year. They go on to say:
As staggering as these numbers are, they do not fully describe the breadth of destructive public health and safety implications of drug abuse and addiction, such as family disintegration, loss of employment, failure in school, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Though it is not always readily apparent, the war on drugs is not a war on the U.S. Rather, it is a war on behalf of the U.S. Let us turn our attention to the region on which the crosshairs are set:
In Search of the Real Enemy
Identifying the real enemy has proven to be a complex, social challenge. Is the drug addict the real enemy? Since the war on drugs, we have incarcerated millions. Yet somehow, it feels a lot like blaming the victim. Or worse, it is like punishing a person for having a disease.
Is the drug dealer the enemy? We seem to feel a little bit better with that assessment. Yet, drug dealers are a lot harder to catch. And when we do, we often discover that what we have caught is not a significant link in the chain. Furthermore, closer examination reveals that they are just as much victims as the people to which they sell. Is your kid a criminal because he possessed $10 worth of pot? Is he public enemy #1 when he sells half to his best friend, also a minor? At what point does he stop being a victim, and start being the personification of evil?
Perhaps the real enemy is the one who grows the crops, or the chemist who perfects the formula, or the one who transports the product across the boarders, or the government and country from which the drugs originate. Having so many targets is indistinguishable from having no targets at all. It’s ready, fire, aim. And we still are unsure at whom we should aim. But that has not stopped us from firing, and keeping this war alive.
Targeting Latin America
If the country of origin is the enemy, that puts the crosshairs on Latin and South America. According to the Drug Policy Alliance:
Latin America is a crucial geographic zone for drug production and trafficking. The Andean countries of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are the world’s main cocaine producers, while Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean have become the principal corridors for transporting drugs into the United States and Europe.
Surely, if Latin and South America is where the drugs are originating, then it is reasonable to target them. But it is not quite that simple. The people of Latin America are the one’s suffering from the drug trade. Rehab International reports:
Drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions in Latin America, and the troubles stemming from it continue to expand. Binge drinking and marijuana use are growing just as rapidly in Latin America as they are in the United States.
In Brazil, less than 60% complete the 8th grade. The Huffington Post also reminds us of the unintended health and environmental effects of our war on the region due to our areal fumigation of coca crops. In a very real way, our war on drugs has become a war on the people who suffer the most.
No one is suggesting that illicit drugs should go unchallenged. Just that our current efforts are misguided and ineffective.