Pass the Co Co

Addiction blows. No pun intended. Shits on you, your friends, family, etc…The U.S. government has its own addictions, not least of which is hegemony. Call me a commie, but you know you want to say “true dat, double true.” We wreak havoc on the whole world, and part of the havoc for the rest of Western Hemisphere is the drug war. But even after years of fighting dirty Colombians and crazy Bolivians, all we’ve seen is an increase in cocaine usage in the states. The solution on the home front? Lock up users in a place where they can still get the drug, release them back to the gold dust woman, and then welcome them back the next time around. So with a winning solution at home and twenty years of waging war on South America through policies like eradicating the coca plant in places like Bolivia, shouldn’t Whitney and Bobby not be so cracked out – literally?

The slogan in Bolivia is “coca no es una droga.” If not obvious enough, that translates to the simple fact that “coca is not a drug.” In a country that might be as divided as the U.S., the coca leaf is one of the few uniting elements Bolivia possesses. The indigenous and upper class alike embrace it as a powerful herb, viewing it as a cure-all for any ailment – from tired miner to empanada-overdosed stomach. But it is hard, if not impossible, to know that here when U.S. policy simply maintains their own mantra that coke is coca. The manifestation of this is setting up shop in places like Bolivia and Peru and wiping out a crop that, for many in those countries, is the only sustainable option. Hard to believe, but plantain doesn’t always cut it.

Since the mid-80s, the U.S. has dictated drug policy in Bolivia by using aid as leverage in order to secure eradication. The Chapare region of Bolivia has been a fully militarized zone since then, not only causing countless demonstrations and protests across the country, but hundreds of deaths in the region as well. U.S. military personnel, though presently fewer in number under the new administration of Evo Morales, have detained and tortured coca farmers (cocaleros), continuously feeding Bolivia’s part of global anti-U.S. sentiment.

But why all the hustle for Bolivia? What the hell are they going to do? They don’t even have access to the sea. With Morales further solidifying the new Latin American Left and trying to take advantage of coca’s potential as a market commodity beyond cocaine (i.e. the leaf itself, tea, soap), U.S. hemispheric power is being challenged. A cocalero himself, Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president and the first president since Simon Bolivar to stand up to what is basically Western imperialism. To note, Simon Bolivar liberated Bolivia from Spain in 1825.

While Morales seeks to maintain his own policy of “zero cocaine, zero eradication,” the U.S. would do better to take a step back onto U.S. soil to really examine the situation here. Cocaine is presently the most abused major stimulant here in the states. In 2001, 55% of all federal prison sentences in the U.S. were drug offenses, and over half of those offenders were low-level powder cocaine users. Crack cocaine offenders make up an even higher percentage of the drug user population. And the numbers have not and are not going down.

So do we really think that showering fumigations down on Carlos Arce’s couple of hectares of coca fields will stop my friends from doing a few more lines? Doubtful. And it is obviously not going to help the convicted drug offenders, young and old and non-violent and violent alike, who get locked up instead of getting actual rehabilitation. Because chances are that they will be able to find coke just as easily in prison as they did outside of it. And once they leave, are they really going to check themselves into rehab? I’m going to say no. Either they’ll fall back into the habit, or even if they want to stop, they may not have the resources or money to do so, particularly so for the average lower-income crack cocaine user.

It’s more than a vicious cycle; it’s an endlessly revolving door for the drug users here in the U.S. as they enter, leave, and re-enter prison for drug abuse. Prison time for drug offenders is not just a waste of our tax money; it is a total waste of that person’s life. Slamming Evo and his boys with fumigations and trying to maintain a global dominance needs to take a backseat to what is increasingly becoming more of a domestic than international problem every day. Instead of continuing the high economic and social costs of incarceration, we should take those resources, as well as the zeal of the drug war, into real prison reform for drug abusers by creating government-assisted rehabilitation, or something along those lines at the very least.

Easier said than done; I know. Obviously prison reform would require lots of work and time, but surprise! That’s just what it takes, and that's what our administration - past, present, and future - should be held to. A good starting point would be following in the footsteps of Beyonce, as she has taken it upon herself, saint that she is, to make small steps in the war on drugs.