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The missionary’s position — and Mr. Huxley’s… and mine

16 March 2011

I recently added (along with a lot of other sites) a listing for A Franciscan Abroad, which features observations on Andean (Peru and Bolivia) and U.S. current affairs, written by a Brother Stephen Dewitt, OFM.  As with any of us writing from and about Latin America, our experiences in one nation are sometimes all clear an admonition to another.

Apparently some U.S. officials are encouraging Mexico to look to Columbia, or more specifically the U.S. sponsored “Plan Columbia,” as a model in the drug war. The problem with this, as the Institute for Policy Studies’ Sanho Tree points out, is that Plan Columbia* has been a failure. Plan Columbia revolves around a strategy of “fracturing” – the breaking up of larger cartels and disrupting their operations. The problem with this strategy is that destroying larger cartels creates a void that is immediately filled by smaller groups that are harder to track, monitor, and infiltrate. This is exactly what happened in Columbia [sic], which after ten years of Plan Colombia, still supplies roughly 90% of the U.S.’s cocaine, roughly the same amount it did before.

Tree’s analysis fits my experience in Bolivia. During my time there a groups from my language school visited one of Bolivia’s big coca growing regions and talked to the anti-drug police there. They told us that the majority of drug operations in the area are family affairs. These are small family groups that process small amounts of raw coca for export to Columbia and other places to be further refined into cocaine. These groups use relatively cheap, portable equipment that can be moved or abandoned if discovered. It is nearly impossible to reduce these groups; when you arrest or shut down one, there are ten more ready to pick up the slack. Something similar seems to have happened in Columbia.

There is no reason to believe that the result will be any different in Mexico. Moreover, considering the extreme levels of violence plaguing the county, efforts to institute a “Plan Mexico” could extend the violence even more by preventing any kind of settling of drug operations there. The Mexican governments violent war on drugs has cost over 35,000 lives and has completely failed to have any effect on the drug trade in Mexico (in fact, drug seizures have dropped since the government there began its current campaign). In Mexico, the attempted cure seems worse than the disease.

* Spelled thus in the original, although Bro. Steve is referring to the country of Colombia.

Bro. Steve recommends the usual — decriminalizing possession in the UNITED STATES (and putting more resources into rehabilitation and abuse prevention) — which is certainly the best interest of the United States, and might end some violence here, but it seems that seems to overlook that the United States has always  has always turned a blind eye to the abuses and unfair trade practices associated with exploiting both agricultural and mineral resources from this part of the world.

As I noted once before, even “progressive” writers make the assumption that the United States has the right to control whatever resource it is that it craves… in this case,  lithium, specifically lithium deposits in Bolivia.   Whether the United States “needs” lithium, any more than Spain or Portugal “needed” gold and silver in the 17th century is beside the point.  They WANTED it, and that desire overrode all other concerns, moral, ethical, and even survival:  Spain and Portugal ended up broke — “failed states” in modern parlance — as a result of their addiction to “easy money.”  That in the process of obtaining their fix, they unleashed a genocide in the Americas is beside the point for an addicted country… they HAD to have what they needed, and all else was irrelevant.

Sugar, tobacco, coffee, oil… the story is the same in the Americas, and in other parts of the world.  Those that become dependent on it have no concern, nor interest, in the effects their addiction has on the supplier, only interested in maintaining their supply.

Aldous Huxley, in his 1934 Beyond the Mexique Bay wrote:

If coffee and tea grew in Western Europe and had to be picked by people drawing European wages, the cost to the consumer of these commodities would be,  I suppose, about eight or ten times what it is at present.  Which means that the consumer simply would not consume.  ‘The cups that cheer but not inebriate’ will continue to cheer only so long as tropical countries continue to be backward in relation to temperate countries.  Our afternoon tea and our after-dinner coffee depend on the existence of a huge reserve of sweatable coloured labour.  An unpleasant thought.  And if the labour is no longer sweated, then tea and coffee at once become luxuries beyond the reach of all but millionaires.  In an economically equitable world we shall have to depend for our stimulants on the chemist rather than the farmer.

Huxley — far-sighted enough to envision chemical stimulants — might be forgiven for not recognizing that the “sweatable coloured labour” of his time would continue sweating,  not so much to provide stimulants (although two of Mexico’s illegal exports, methampetamines and heroin, do depend on chemists in some sense), but to guarantee that all manner of basic products would continue to be available to other than millionaires. Although manufacturing pays better than work in the fields, or in the mines, the situation is still one where the profits are exported, along with most of the product.  Even though we are no longer “backwards”… in that we are industrial countries and have access to the same goods and services and “cups that cheer” that one can find in the “temperate countries”, our labor is what creates these products, and is considered more “sweatable” than it is properly compensated.  The profits go north, the overhead stays here.

EXCEPT, perhaps, in the narcotics industry.  While I’m hardly convinced that the “real” wealth of any of our narco-lords is anywhere near that claimed by Forbes,  narcotics are bringing wealth into otherwise under-developed areas in Mexico.  Secondly, the anti-narcotics efforts that are implemented do nothing to limit the product, seeking instead to prevent it from becoming a rival to outside interests that could profit from the “sweatable coloured labour” of the producers, for the benefit of “coloured capitalists.”

As Bro. Steven noticed in Bolivia, growers here are small time operators, looking for a return on a investment in an exportable crop.  In that, they are no different than other farmers throughout the world.  The energies (and lives) spent on controlling the exporters, however, seems to be designed to keep the farmers from using local exporters.  Given the on-again, off-again attitude towards legal narcotics in the largest consumer nation, one questions whether the issue isn’t that the “wrong sort of people” are the ones in control.  Were marijuana farmers answerable to Montsanto or Archer-Daniels-Midland,  I imagine the U.S. government would be following a very different course.

We probably would still expect to have an appalling industrial accident and death rate, but perhaps not so noticeable.  One theory floated throughout Mexico is that the militarization of the “anti-narcotics ‘war'” — as in Colombia — has as much to do with preventing social movements from countering foreign industrial intervention or even abetting the foreign companies.  Funny that the Colombian Army found narcotics just where it so happened mining and biofuels companies wanted to acquire property… and that the Texas borderlands are being cleared of rural residents, just as U.S. corporate agriculture is looking to acquire farm land in that area).

I honestly don’t find narcotics all that interesting (and somewhat resent even having to write so much about the fall-out from the proxy war on narcotics exporters) except as another commodity.  The only interesting thing about the business is that, like Bolivian lithium, there is a consternation that “we” in the south challenge the northerner’s assumed rights to control the  production and distribution.  The north, it seems, resents not the narcotics, but that we don’t all go along with their attempts to make us absorb the overhead and would like to see our fair share of the benefits.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Juanita Cortez permalink
    16 March 2011 11:47 am

    Might want to learn how to spell the name of the country, Colombia…

    • 16 March 2011 1:16 pm

      Ouch!!! I have to admit I was reading for content, and didn’t check the source’s spelling.

  2. kwallek permalink
    16 March 2011 12:18 pm

    Catching, processing, caging and letting them go later are big money earners in the US, you trying to start another depression?

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