Smoking the Population: Why the War on Drugs is a War Against Civil Society

In a nation such as ours where there is such an abundance of wealth and military might, it is not surprising that countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and India have been wedded with the task of producing our consumer products. But unlike toys and textiles, there exists another product in which America’s consumption dwarfs that of every other country, a product manufactured under far more dangerous circumstances than those found in a Chinese sweatshop.

More than the Nike shirts our athletes sport and the plastic dolls our children dress, the narcotics that our citizens smoke, snort, huff, and inject is connected to a great deal of suffering that has been inflicted on the world’s population. The most startling manifestation of this suffering can be observed in the ravaged cities of Mexico where 38,000 people have been brutally slain in the course of four years.

Given these unsettling facts, I think it’s instructive to analyze Washington’s response to this alarming trend unfolding in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, two of the major cities where this drug-related violence has spread. Upon first examination, it becomes shockingly clear that the US role has  been to support Mexico’s Felipe Calderon in his so-called war on drugs. Certainly, the phrase “so-called” is necessary because if one were just to take a glance at the facts it can be easily understood that what’s unfolding in Mexico, with the support of the US, has absolutely nothing to do with drug use and everything to do with controlling the Mexican population through acts of intimidation and coercion.

If the death toll fails to provide enough evidence for this claim, how about the fact that the Global Commission on Drug Policy came out with a report recently that showed that the use of opiates went up by 35%, the use of cocaine went up 27%, and the use of cannabis increased by 8.5%? Unless there was a typographical error in the report where the researchers typed “cocaine” instead of “candy” I think it’s frighteningly clear what this “war on drugs” is about. It’s a war against ordinary people carried out under the pretext of a war on drugs. Drug use is merely an excuse used to enforce state repression.

So given this policy of criminalization and punishment that has done nothing but fuel more violence against vulnerable populations, what are the governments of the world to do? Since the US is the largest consumer of narcotics in the world, if there’s going to be a paradigm shift in how we handle drug addiction it’s vital that it happens here.

But we can’t expect a little thing like empirical fact to deter our government from pursuing their mission against civil society. Immediately after the report was published, Washington rejected the findings of the Global Commission .  Shortly after the report was published, Rafael Lemaitre of  Washington’s Office of National Drug Control Policy came out with a press release stating that “the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce drug use are not born out of a culture of war or drug war mentality” and that drugs place a “strain on our economy, health and public safety”. This statement would be quite reasonable, if only it were true.

History shows that the very concept of a war on drugs originated in the US when President Nixon declared his “war on drugs” in 1971. Like the war sweeping through Mexico at the moment, Nixon’s war on drugs was also waged to crush civil society. It just so happened that his enemy wasn’t Mexican journalists and activists; rather, it was young Black men. The legacy of Nixon’s war is still with us in the bloated prisons now holding the same number of Black people as slaves in 1850. Is this a war on drugs?!

But the roots of our government’s war against civil society goes far deeper than this. Senior editor at Random Length news, Paul Rosenberg, wrote an article on June 5th titled “The Global War on Drugs and the Nixon Connection” in which he explained in great detail the “far-reaching pattern of US covert operations with high-level drug-dealing organizations” during the 1970s in southeast Asia and how the “CIA-supported Afghanistan conflict not only helped create Al-Qaeda [but] rocketed the local poppy crop to the top of the global charts.” Is the Obama administration supporting a war against the CIA? Of course not! The CIA protects “democracy” not narco-traffickers! Better yet, why hasn’t the US been more forthcoming about there relationship with the Colombian government? Certainly, Colombia has produced enough cocaine to satiate the appetite of the entire Western hemisphere. I guess these are all just impolite facts that shouldn’t be raised in the presence of “civilized” peoples.

As the war against civil society unfolds beneath the banner of a “war on drugs”, we should remember that there is one other drug that’s never talked about. This drug is not only legal but every US President has labeled it as the drug of choice. I’m talking about the narcotic called power. Obama, Clinton, Calderon, and their associates purchase a ziplock bag of power every morning from the media, from corporations, and from the brutal dictators oppressing their populations overseas. And Washington continues to find solace in the fact their dealers will be forever loyal. Bearing this in mind, it’s time for the population of the US to stand up, like the brave people in Mexico, and tell our government that we will no longer support their habit. We will not be their enablers. No longer can they continue to smoke the general population.

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4 thoughts on “Smoking the Population: Why the War on Drugs is a War Against Civil Society

  1. What are the specifics of this war against drugs? By that I mean, what do they do under that banner? Do they stop drug sellers, ban drug trafficking? What is the method so far of this ‘war’?

    1. The method so far has been that of criminalization and incarceration. Any possession of drugs, from cannabis to cocaine, carries a prison sentence. While this method has removed many drug users from civil society, it has also led to a proliferation in organized crime and drug cartels. Given the heightened restrictions placed on drug use, dealers have gone deeper underground, making themselves undetectable by more conventional methods of law enforcement. An example of law enforcement using unconventional methods can be found in the Supreme Court case Kentucky v. King where an 8-1 ruling was made in favor of a police officer who carried out a warrantless drug search through a suspect’s house because he believed that the suspect was destroying the evidence before he entered. The arresting officer also claimed that he “smelled marijuana” coming out of the house. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.examiner.com/public-policy-in-louisville/supreme-court-allows-warrantless-drug-search-kentucky-case-1

      Another dimension of the current war is that it has led to a dramatic rise in the militarization of the drug trade. The increase in “security” or weaponry among law enforcers has contributed to a corresponding illegal weapons trade. When this militarization is combined with the constant need on the part of cartels to supply particular demands it often leads to the violence that has become so commonplace in places like Ciudad Juarez.

  2. From what you tell me, essentially this is treating the symptoms without treating the cause. Surely such efforts are doomed to fail and give rise to other problems. You have mentioned how it helps the Mexican govt. to control its people under this banner, could you tell me more about how it serves America?

    1. Part of the reason America supports it is because President Calderon himself requested the aid of the US in fighting this so-called war on drugs. But aside from the conventional rationale of the US to reduce drug usage I think there are simple geopolitical reasons why America supports these types of regressive policies. Washington supports Calderon’s war on drugs for the same reason they supported Saleh’s war on terrorism and Mubarak’s repression of the Egyptian people. An empowered population is anathema for American policy planners especially in Mexico where the two economies have become so integrated after the passage of NAFTA. I also think it’s important to note that Mexican civil society has a very lively culture of progressive politics that has always challenged American hegemony. Our support comes from this notion that in an environment torn by violence, ordinary people are less willing to stand up and push back against regressive policies, many which have their roots in the US. Also a strengthening of the police state apparatus in Mexico helps the country to become more vulnerable for neoliberal reform like private investment, the dismantling of workers unions, and the privitazation of energy resources. There would be less resistance against this if the population is dominated by fear. If you’re interested in Mexico’s political culture, here’s an article I was reading earlier today that talks about it: http://zcommunications.org/the-rebirth-of-solidarity-on-the-border-by-david-bacon

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