The Bane of Our Time
Corrupting everything they touch!
An angry commentary
When I was a teacher in the neighborhoods
just west of downtown Los Angeles, I would often go and sit in one
of a dozen different Mexican food restaurants after work in the Pico-Union
and Westlake areas. I would go there to relax, eat some dinner, read
the newspaper, and then grade papers. Many of these restaurants were
located in areas that were essentially rampant open-air drug dealing
supermarkets, as the local gangmembers plied their product in plain
view to anyone who would pay. I would sit there and just watch.
I remember one incident like it was
yesterday: An aging baby-boomer with a pony-tail drove up in a beautiful
white Lexus, handed some cash to a Central American mara salvatrucha gangster,
and in return received a small plastic bag. The Lexus then pulled away
from the curb and drove away down the street - the whole transaction
taking not more than fifteen seconds. This is a scene played out thousands
of times daily all over Los Angeles, not to mention the rest of the
I turned around and looked at the
proprietor who had also been watching the drug deal out the restaurant
window. He met my eyes and began to shake his head in anger. He then
told me the following:
"That fat and spoiled gringo with his luxury
car and probably living in a house like a palace up in the hills
with nothing better to do with his time and money than buy and
take drugs! And that good for nothing thug on the corner with the
gun and respect for nothing and nobody! Bringing only death and
disgrace to his community!"
He was really upset. Although this campesino-cum-restauranteer
had probably only a few years of formal schooling, he had just defined
the essential nature of the drug crisis which links the United States
and Latin America together in disgrace better than any "drug expert" or
professor somewhere that I had ever heard before or since.
In truth, the illicit drug trade brings
with it more than enough blame for everyone. Illegal drug production
and consumption has the unique ability to highlight the absolute worst
of both the United States and Latin America -- all this despite the
fact that the vast majority of Americans don't buy or use illegal drugs
and only a minority of Latin Americans have anything to do with cultivating,
transporting, or selling them. Unfortunately, none of the parties involved
seem to be able to move much past finger-pointing and blaming other
people for their own problems with respect to the "drug dilemma."
Mexican soldiers guard the site where confiscated marijuana and
outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, in February, 1998.
Take Latin America, for example. I have often heard Latin Americans
decry any complicity in the drug trade. According to the rationalization: "If
there were not so many consumers in the United States, then we would
not produce so many drugs. We are simply supplying a product where
there is a demand. It is as simple as the law of supply and demand!
Your average campesino is only trying to make a living the best way
he can. They do not use or consume drugs themselves after all." The
sad fact of the matter is that too many Latin Americans because of
lack of education and underdeveloped Third World economies have nothing
better (or more profitable) to do with their time and industry than
produce and smuggle illicit drugs. The whole "supply-and-demand" argument
is entirely too easy: if a person thinks they can base their whole
livelihood on producing and selling death without being destroyed in
the process, they are badly deluding themselves. It is the insidious
nature of drugs that they corrupt everything they touch! One day that campesino will
wake up and discover that he lives in a "narcodemocracy" where the
scum have risen to the top and nary an honest official can be found
in the land. He'll discover he lives in a society rotten at the core
and he can do absolutely nothing about it. Moreover, there is a God
who sees everything and we all must answer to Him one day for our actions.
Drug dealer hides crack cocaine from police in his
Because crack isn't water soluble, the drug can be swallowed,
which makes the policing of crack dealers much more difficult.
But I have still more contempt
for my own country's role in this ignominious dynamic. The United States
has an insatiable appetite for illegal (and legal!) drugs and Americans
spend BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars each year buying them. Every
American who has driven down to the ghetto in search of drugs shares
the blame! Each person who has made that phone call to their dealer
is partly responsible! Fat and spoiled Americans with too much money
and not enough common sense! Shallow souls bearing ready cash and eager
to pay for an easy fix through a cheap pleasure that can be bought
mindlessly and then consumed! Deceived enough to think this will improve
their lives! Individuals clueless enough to think they have found a
magic-bullet elixir which will make the arduous work of being a successful,
mature human being easier! Is your life difficult, at times unbearable?
Do you despair, find little hope for the future? Well, hear the good
news! There is better living through pharmacology! Break out
your wallet and enjoy a chemcial vacation from reality! Hit the ATM
machine, slap down the credit card, pop the pill, sniff the powder,
smoke the bong, drink the beer! There is so much work to be done in
the world, so many noble causes to which people could devote their
energies and resources, and they waste incalculable sums of both in
getting high! These twin evils, affluence and indulgence, which so
much define late 20th century America. It makes me feel ashamed for
And the United States has the temerity
to blame the Latin Americans for their own huge drug appetite! Everyone
in the United States has been told that drugs are dangerous and yet
people still buy and consume them to the tune of an estimated 57.3
billion dollars in 1995!* According to Barry McCaffrey, director
of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, that amount
of money could have bought college educations for 1 million people,
or 22 billion gallons of milk to feed undernourished babies. These
billions of dollars spent by Americans on buying illicit (and licit!)
drugs does not even take into account the social costs they bring
about in terms of increased crime, major health problems such as
hepatitus and AIDS, and disruptions in family lives. And there is
no end to the rampant drug consumption in site! What a waste!
What can be done? What is the solution?
From the American point of view, the solution to the drug crisis
is simple: quit whining and stop buying the damn drugs! Watch half
the banks and "legitimate" businesses in Columbia and Mexico fail
overnight. Watch politicians and police all over Latin America declare
personal bankruptcy. Don't wait for the Latin Americans to clean
up their act. Jesus! Corruption in government is as Mexican
as tortillas de maiz - always has been, always will be! And
it is an individual decision to use drugs and no amount of rationalization
or evading of personal responsibility will change that. Only in America
would people blame their own shortcomings on anyone but themselves.
No, ignore that comment -- the Latin Americans are no less accomplished
in the avoidance of responsibility in blaming the hated gringos for
the corruption and ignominy of their narcodemocracies. What a mess!
There is not a damn thing we can do about the backwardness and disorder
in Latin America; however, we do have more control about what goes
on in our own country. In my most cynical moments, I think we in
the United States should not only legalize drugs but subsidize their
use. In this manner, if you are so stupid as to risk your life with
say, heroin, for example, we can expedite the process. Want some
heroin, you big knucklehead? Is your life so fucked up that you need
a way of coping? Do you seek an explanation for your troubles? Is
heroin the "easy out"? Here you go then... follow the needle into
the grave posthaste and be done with it already!
You will have nobody to blame but
"You will have nobody to blame but yourself!"
* White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
In the darkest moments we realize that somewhere in that
darkness there is a flicker of hope.
"We get used to the places where
we grow up, no matter how scummy, how desperate, how
futile and dark life may seem to others."
"I'm sick of cops busting people for victimless crimes."
"I have to tell you, with all
due respect, that you are exactly the type of person that
I want to get away from."