What I’m going to tell you is not a happy tale, but a sad history.
When I was a little boy, more than 30 years ago, and lived a more or less calm life in my native city of Cali, Colombia, I constantly heard about a “little problem” that the United States had with the flood of drugs that was inundating its youth, and that it was all the fault of a few South American countries who produced the drugs. I remember the words of one of my professors who repeatedly emphasized how the very policies of the United States against illegal drugs made that “problem” grow, but he also used to say pointedly: “those gringos love to take drugs, and therein lies the heart of the matter.” These days we know very well that such is the case.
In the sixties, the production and distribution of so-called hard drugs: cocaine and heroin, was so territorially distant for Americans that perhaps their worry was not so great. The crops and labs were in a neighborhood far away. Shipments were sent from Perú and Bolivia, and Colombians timidly began to enter the business as intermediaries. Later, in the eighties, the Colombians learned the business and became the owners. The “little problem” was now closer to Americans’ neighborhood. Then, they began to worry a little more and the war on drugs was begun. My city ceased to be the haven of peace that it was during my childhood. We suffered crime and violence, and we contributed millions of gallons of blood. The Americans lost that crusade with soldiers and the Colombian people on the battle field, which ironically helped to invigorate the communist guerillas and the right-wing paramilitary regimens who discovered how to exploit the goldmine. The business was soon strengthened and the guerilla war in Colombia became unstoppable.
The “little problem” began to show scary signs. In the nineties, it crossed the street and arrived in México. It was now in the next neighborhood over. Like good students, Mexicans learned the methods, from buying drugs from the Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary groups, to corrupting authorities and killing indiscriminately. At the beginning of the 21st century, it reached the border. Coyote gangs knew they could earn thousands of dollars without much effort at all. They initially tried with the most unsuspecting undocumented immigrants. Transportation costs nothing. It’s free, because they charged the naive immigrant to bring him to fulfill his dream, and also made him cross the desert carrying the damned drugs on his back.
These are signs that certain United States officials never saw. Their ignoring these signs produces rage; by not recognizing that they were growing closer, neither did they realize when the “little problem” came in through the back door. Threatening, it came through the living room, the dining room and the bedrooms of this mansion called the United States and devastated the dreams of our children and grandchildren. Hard and soft drugs are available to everyone and United States officials still believe that the “little problem” is in the countries producing them. How blind they are!
Although you may call me a pessimist, I assure you that the war on drugs will never be won. It’s been lost ever since the danger signs were ignored. We all lost it when people looked the other way while their children were on drugs. We lost it when we ignored the fact that our children get drugs in school hallways, school bathrooms, shopping malls and clubs where no one is watching because for some, not knowing is profitable.
We must attack “the heart of the matter”, as my professor said. “Those who like to take drugs.”
Once and for all, we have to take American officials by the shoulders, shake them and tell them how wrong they are. That we lost the war on drugs because they relegated their neighbors to the role of the guilty party, without even noticing that the “little problem” was in their own home.
Or better yet, they should have made social investments, defeating the poverty of the “neighborhoods next door, and in this manner they would have begun to win the war on drugs without such a high cost.