Breaking the drug system
I had been reading a bit more about Bolivia of late, and how President Evo Morales campaigned on an anti-American platform last year. Anti-Americanism sells there, since the US pressured the country to stop growing coca crops in the 1990s. What happened was that rural poverty increased and led to greater instability, something that US foreign aid did nothing to help with.
Throwing money at a situation does not make any sense, if the deeper causes are not addressed. Yet the US often does not realize this, pinning the blame on the foreign government’s ineptitude or at corruption. To some degree this is not always wrong—I have personal concerns about Morales’ views—but understanding the foreign country is imperative as a ﬁrst step.
I have, in the past, advocated listening to bloggers, but when the country is as poor as Bolivia, where few of the affected people have access to the ’net, other methods are needed to supplement our research. History is a better pointer to a country’s fabric than examining statistics on GDP or disease, for instance.
There are great blogs, from those who have spent time trying to help the Bolivian people, such as the Democracy Center’s Blog from Bolivia. The Center is based in Cochabamba, Bolivia and San Francisco, Calif., and recently reported on President Morales’ speech at the UN.
The comments to that post are eye-opening, with some believing that alternative expos for Bolivian products beneﬁt only a select few business people, and others saying that coca plantations are harmful to the environment. At least one believes that President Morales’ unions themselves beneﬁt from coca crops, and that despite his anti-capitalist rhetoric, the President himself uses capitalism to his own ends when it comes to drugs.
I do not have a total solution to this presently—if I did, I would be as guilty of those in politics and economics whom I say have not understood the issue, and I certainly do not after a very cursory foray into the matter. But reading through the blogs and the ensuing debates means that I won’t repeat solutions that have not worked.
On a very basic level, it appears that poverty is rife and coca has worked in the past to alleviate it. But alternatives have not worked, just as the alternatives to opium have not in Afghanistan.
The supply of drugs will continue if there is a demand for it, so perhaps some of these efforts could be better directed at the countries that illicitly import them?
It seems to make sense, at least from this basic point of view, to treat the entire matter as systemic, examining both the supplier and buyer nations.
Why do some people resort to drugs? Probably because they see little hope in their lives, and their countries have failed to provide them with a decent standard of living. Education may have failed them in the past. Thus, they resort to things that they know are bad for them, and have not come to a decision to do otherwise.
There will be people in those situations every day, with the drug cartels getting new users regularly.
It is in their interests that countries remain unstable, that some people ﬁnd life hopeless, so they can exploit them.
So it is in these countries’ interests to provide for those who have slipped through the cracks.
New Zealand’s earlier stability partially came from an over-manned state sector, one which was largely inefﬁcient and which the technocrats of the 1980s sought to dismantle with state-asset sales and mass sackings. Since 1984, the use of psychostimulants have increased, more so in the late 1990s.
There has to be a degree of state-funded projects that better the national infrastructure and the standard of living. Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore have done it with what a New Zealander might call Think Big projects, leading to relative prosperity. But it must be considered alongside a sense of duty to the community and education, and how drugs harm others beyond the self—a concept that is harder to market in an era where selﬁshness, not selﬂessness, is the norm.
Thus, Red China’s drug problems are far worse than when the British ﬁrst got Chinese hooked on opium, because there have been few incentives to change the situation. This highlights that the economic boom is not reaching many Chinese, while those who actually are prosperous have diversiﬁed into recreational drug use of meth, for instance. There, too, something needs to be done, and I advocate the restoration of Confucian principles that are fundamentally sound to many Chinese.
When it comes to Bolivia, are there substitutes? Can private enterprise ﬁnd ways to reach those who need real substitutes for coca? What did they grow prior to that (as it appears coca has not historically been the crop of choice) and can demand for that be created? Can a sense of “the system” be communicated to Bolivians directly, as technology improves?
And bringing it back to my sphere, can branding be the tool—a bidirectional programme that brings both buyer and supplier communities together?
I mean a programme that includes substitutes that are totally in line with the rural way of life, rather than one imposed on farmers by governmental decrees, and one that markets those new crops but in a fair way so that the same farmers get a good share of the proﬁts, rather than the minute dregs?
Of course this would not be welcome by those in power—which may or may not include President Morales. Delivery of such a programme needs to be carefully considered, and that is where my expertise does not stretch right now. There are some parallels with B2B programmes for new products, but not quite enough for me to write comfortably in a blog post without more research.
It must be considered in “the system” with a programme in the buyer nations that cut off demand for drugs, one which should be far easier for the likes of the US State Department and similar bodies to understand. Part of the American efforts have, rightly, been directed at home. As the State Dept. reported:
Non-governmental organizations exhibit an even wider range of issue deﬁnitions. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America frames the issue as one of helping children and teens reject substance abuse by inﬂuencing attitudes through persuasive information. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University defines the issue as one of employing research and education to encourage individuals and institutions to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction in American society. The Federation of American Scientists frames the issue as one of reducing the suffering caused by drug abuse, drug trafﬁcking, and drug control measures by using careful analysis, open dialogue,and civil discourse to develop better policies. The Drug Policy Alliance frames the issue as one of promoting new drug policies based on common sense, science, public health, and human rights. The Council for Spiritual Practices, focusing on the experiences that can be elicited by certain controlled substances such as the psychedelics and MDMA (Ecstasy), frames the issue as one of making direct experience of the sacred more available to more people. The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, believing in the individual’s right to think independently and autonomously, frames the issue as one of freedom of thought. The Vaults of Erowid, a drug-information website, believes that accurate, responsible information about drugs will promote their healthy integration into our culture’s political and social structures.
The one thing that strikes me is, should the efforts not be more united, put into a single programme, and marketed like crazy? And if people are taking drugs to rebel against or to oppose the conventions in a system they see as unfair, would communications from that system be accepted?
Maybe that programme needs to be subtler, its emphasis shifted to how drugs affect those whom they love, told through narrative rather than facts? We are not talking about a rational decision here, but one made because alternatives seem less than stellar.
If coordinated, the war on drugs could well be won—but those who provide the most funding for it, viz. the politicians, need to be far more united and not worry about which department gets the most kudos.
And shifting from a national focus to a global one, thinking of neighbours in another country, may be the best thing that any player in this war could do. Posted by Jack Yan, 23:54
The amount of money the Afghan or Bolivian farmer can get from a crop of opium poppies or coca plants will always be greater than what they can get for alternative crops. The profits are so enormous in illicit drugs that drug dealers can pay vastly higher prices for the farmers to grow such crops. Combine great poverty and great return and it isn't surprising that farmers in both countries are so willing to grow such crops. It also isn't surprising that efforts by other countries to get those farmers to stop growing such crops are going to have considerable difficulties.Post a Comment
Links to this post:
NoteEntries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.
Individual JY&A and Medinge Group blogs
DonateIf you wish to help with my hosting costs, please feel free to donate.
Copyright ©200210 by Jack Yan & Associates. All rights reserved. Photograph of Jack Yan by Chelfyn Baxter.