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 United States.

       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
Mexican soldiers guard the site where confiscated marijuana and cocaine burns
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.

Crack cocaine!
Drug dealer hides crack cocaine from police in his mouth.
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 my country.

"We Who Prayed and Wept"
by Wendell Berry

       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 yourself. will have nobody else to blame but yourself!
"You will have nobody to blame but yourself!"

* White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Some discussions....

US government agencies have been profiting from both ends of the Drug War
"...We believe the laws (and severe punishment) against certain narcotics
inflates the prices of these drugs which in turn is causing the violence.

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."