Foreign ramifications of local drug wars

It’s not often you see something in the press that makes you think, Yes! I KNOW! But sometimes it happens, and there were two pieces in the media this morning that gave me that sense.

The first was this column in the Guardian by George Monbiot, who came back to an issue we touched on here on some time ago about the ‘ethics’ of using illegal drugs. Having lived in London for years, of course I knew free trade shoppers who worried about where their coffee came from but enjoyed a few lines of coke or spliffs at the weekend without thinking about where THAT was grown and harvested and what the aftereffects might have been.

Hell, for a few brief months in my mid-twenties, I was one of them. 

I believe that informed adults should be allowed to inflict whatever suffering they wish – on themselves. But we are not entitled to harm other people. I know people who drink fair-trade tea and coffee, shop locally and take cocaine at parties. They are revolting hypocrites, he writes. 

Every year cocaine causes some 20,000 deaths in Colombia and displaces several hundred thousand people from their homes. Children are blown up by landmines; indigenous people are enslaved; villagers are tortured and killed; rainforests are razed. You’d cause less human suffering if instead of discreetly retiring to the toilet at a media drinks party, you went into the street and mugged someone. But the counter-cultural association appears to insulate people from ethical questions. If commissioning murder, torture, slavery, civil war, corruption and deforestation is not a crime, what is?

In a world in which the production of everything from clothes to coffee has become globalized and is outsourced to every corner of the globe, why should cocaine be any different? Although the problem of the illegal drug trade is a huge one, it is based on the principals of demand and supply. 

Which is why President Felipe Calderon’s war against the illegal drug traffickers here in Mexico – which has killed nearly 10,000 people since January 2007 – is so baffling, something that Monbiot doesn’t mention in his column, which only makes a reference to Colombia.

Whilst Calderon has deployed the nation’s army across the country to fight the organized crime networks and drug traffickers, he is doing very little to create job opportunities and tackle the rising levels of drug addiction in his country (see the video below), never mind the demand for narcotics coming from Mexico’s northern neighbour, which he is incapable of affecting. It would seem to be obvious to everyone but Calderon and his administration that this is not a battle that can be won through brute force alone.


Another article that really caught my eye was this one by – full disclosure – the newspaper that I spend the lion’s share of my time working for here in Mexico City, the Los Angeles Times; "Drug war on another border: Canada", about drug-related violence in Canada.

Authorities trace the violence to the recent government crackdown on cocaine traffickers in Mexico, which has squeezed profit margins for cocaine north of the U.S. border.

The report demonstrates how the drug war in one country squeezes the prices in another, as do policies affecting production of practically any product around the world.

Just because a product is taboo in society as well as illegal, why should it be excluded from the same considerations we apply when we’re buying anything else? It’s illegality is what makes the product so valuable, but its manufacturing process and consumption so difficult to monitor and, crucially, regulate. And as along as people living in the United States and other developed countries continue to demand and buy cocaine, drug related violence in the world’s poorer countries promises to continue.

I guess someone just needs to figure out a way to stop people wanting to get high.