Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cheap Cocaine Floods Argentina

A highly addictive, smokable cocaine residue called paco has caused a cycle of drug-induced street violence.The scourge underscores a significant shift in both Argentina and its larger neighbor, Brazil, which in just a few years have become sizable cocaine consumers. Brazil now ranks as the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world after the United States, the State Department says. The surge in drug use has been fueled by porous borders, economic hardship and, more recently, the rolling back of restrictions on coca growing since President Evo Morales took office in 2006 in neighboring Bolivia. The result has been the democratization of cocaine in this part of South America, which has become the dumping ground for cheaper, lower-quality cocaine. The challenges to stopping the flow are immense. Fewer than 200 federal police officers patrol Brazil’s 2,100-mile border with Bolivia, though the Brazilian government says reinforcements are on the way. Only 10 percent of Argentina’s airspace is covered by radar, leaving traffickers free rein.


Jourdan C. said...

This country needs to take a deep breath regarding the whole Drug War thing. We need to understand that the methods used to combat this menace were politically derived and that what we are doing to "fix" it is doing everything but. First of all, you can't lie to the people. If you lie about one thing - say, marijuana - and tell kids through the DARE program that it's as bad as heroin and cocaine. Well guess what, folks, those kids are still going to be exposed to marijuana. And when they are, they'll think - 'they lied to me. I'm fine. I wonder what else they lied to me about.' And this, coupled with the likelihood of lower-class kids getting exposed to several drugs, has created the Gateway theory. They lied and the resultant upsurge in hard drug use is their fault. It's not the cartels, it's not the Colombians, it's the U.S. government.

Let us consider the most troublesome elements of this story: the drugs are dirty - kerosene and whatnot with very little cocaine. The drug business leads to crime and murder. The drugs prey on the children, who have little education about drugs and even less opportunities at rehabilitation. Now, let us analyze.

If anyone has ever seen Sin City, my suggestion may be a little easier to understand. When prostitution was legitimized, the girls were no longer abused, the pimps no longer existed. The business, which despite any regulation could not be destroyed, became legitimate. The girls were in charge; the guys got what they wanted. The violence disappeared.

I am not suggesting a legalization of everything. What I am suggesting is that drug policy has been guided by the moral superiority of the Reagan administration. Aside from the physical and mental problems associated with drug use, it was pursued as a moral decision that leads to decadence. For this reason, prostitution would never be legal because it's an immoral act. Even though this would, theoretically, solve the problem.

Theoretically? I meant Amsterdam. The girls are products - willingly, my friends, willingly. They aren't abused, they decide to do the job, they are required by law to use protection and, friends, they make good money. So let's try to apply this to the drug problem.

Very hypothetically, let's say the drug was legal and regulated like the drugs, oh say alcohol and tobacco. That would mean there was purity required in the product. By legitimizing the product, you take it off the streets. Hell, you could sell it in porn stores - where kids aren't supposed to be anyway. And with the market no longer underground, dealers wouldn't be pressured into selling to kids. They would have business licenses and open little opium den equivalents. So now we've taken the drug off of the streets and made it a drink or a smoke for adults, with regulated purity. Legalization would drive the price down, reducing street crimes and in-house robberies because the dealer wouldn't have his stash in a house or on the street. He would be in his store, following the official guidelines, backed by the police.

But Jourdan, cocaine is addictive. We can't legalize addictive substances. And that may be true, if of course, the United States isn't predisposed to harvest such a crop. But tobacco and alcohol, step right up - you're the next contestant on the morally opposable, but it makes us so much money conundrum.

So now you have an addict. Well, it's bound to happen sooner or later. But, with all of the money saved from no longer playing cop-and-robber with the WAY over-powered police, the money can be directed into education policies - a DARE program that doesn't lie! And not only that, additional saved funds can be directed into rehab programs. Did you know in Amsterdam there's a heroin district where addicts register and receive rations? Perhaps someone realized that these people aren't going to quit no matter what, and by taking care of them legally you take the nastiness from the streets. You eliminate the really sad stories. God bless the European dream.

So here we are - a solution to this problem that requires honesty and reality over a moral agenda. God knows I don't have any control over it, but just imagine if we did. Imagine if the truth were told about marijuana - how different it is from the other drugs. Then, when kids try it they will understand - okay, this is a high but it's nothing as dangerous as cocaine or heroin, so I will still stay away. Quit lying to the kids and to yourselves and maybe a solution will be found for this tragic situation.

shutts said...

I thought this article was really interesting, mainly because I did my country profile on Argentina. Although I came across information about increasing drug use in the cities, and read that the border areas are particularly susceptible to cocaine shipment headed for Europe and money laundering, I didn't realize how severe the situation is, particularly in Buenos Aires. It's striking that only 10 percent of the airspace in Argentina is regulated by radar.
It's disturbing that the citizens feel so alienated by their government that they have taken matters into their own hands. The lack of police presence and overwhelmed law enforcement has led to a lack of codes, as one mother, Andrea Cordero, pointed out. It is impossible to entirely eliminate an underground drug economy, but it is possible to at least minimize its effects. Though legalization allows for regulation (making for a strong argument when considering how poor and thus dangerous the quality of paco is), I'm not sure drug education reforms or legalization, as jourdan touched on, are solutions. Enforcement is key.
The Mothers of Paco support group that Mrs. Acuna helped form, reminded me of demonstrations by the mothers and grandmothers of "disappeared" people during Argentina's Dirty War. The group, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, took matters into their own hands out of desperation.
The sense of hopelessness and subsequent increase in drug usage can be tied to the economic crisis at the turn of the century, but it has been several years and Argentina's economy, though fragile, is rebounding. It is hard to ascertain the extent of the problem, as many of the articles statistics are pulled from Brazil. Regardless, I think enforcement is important; the responsibility of patrolling the streets shouldn't fall to desperate mothers.

GERBER said...

Argentina has a drug problem. People are using in the streets and dealers are selling to children. Clearly the government needs to step in and take more control of the situation.

First, the drug problem will subside with a stable economy. The New York Times article explained that many people who either use or deal Paco do so out of dire need. If someone has to chose between providing for their family and watching them struggle, they will figure out how to provide; even if it means breaking the law.

When people turn to narcotics and dealing to provide income, they too are prone to fall under the drug's influence. The government needs to figure out a way to help boost the economy and provide more jobs. People need to be able to feed, cloth and provide shelter for their children.

Colombia provides a perfect example. Colombia continues to struggle with drugs and trafficking, however since Uribe was elected president in 2002 he has fought against drugs, largely by working on stabilizing the economy. He has argued that a country cannot fight the war on drugs, if the county's economy is in question. He understands that in Colombia some people were choosing to join paramilitary groups and guerrilla groups to create a better life for their families. Once they join then they get caught up in the drugs and their lives can never go back.

The other solution lies in education. The article did say that the government has spent funds on anti-drug education, but clearly not enough. I question whether the education includes this new 'bastard' form of cocaine. The education should not be limited to schools, but should be universal. Fliers, speakers, and public service announcements need to be made to education people on the addictive nature of this new drug. People might think twice about trying it, if they hear stories about people who became so addicted they sold everything they owned. Education can only do so much, however it is an important step in the right direction.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

(this is in response to Jourdan's first post)
You did raise some interesting arguments for what you think would be a fool proof plan. I’m not arguing against your stance, but I don’t approach the drug debate with the same easy-optimism. I don’t think your comparison between Argentina and the Netherlands is entirely fair. The Netherlands boasts a population of 16 million—Argentina is 2.5 times that and the U.S. is 18. The histories, ethnicities and governments are all different. To say, “Well, Amsterdam gets along great with legalized drugs and prostitution—why can’t other countries follow suit?” is a bit naïve. I agree with your thoughts that leaders need to be more honest about drugs, but I don’t agree that solving a countries drug problems is as black and white.

Danielle N said...

It’s obvious that there’s a drug problem in Argentina and that the reforms to fix the problem need to start with the government. Regulation is minimal and there are no concrete plans in place to try to combat this epidemic. Government officials say that they have increased spending on drug education, prevention and rehabilitation, but it pretty apparent that they have not spent enough.
There’s also the economic factor that contributes to the increase in drug distribution and consumption. When people are hard-pressed to find a stable, livable income they are going to resort to other methods of obtaining money. Argentina’s government needs to make more jobs available and help to limit the cost of living.
I certainly don’t think that legalization of drugs is advisable. (I am talking about hard drugs, not tobacco, alcohol or marijuana.) It’s not as simple as 1-2-3. You can’t just legalize drugs and automatically think that drug violence will stop, consumption will decrease, etc. The legalization of drugs would cause more chaos while people got acclimated to the idea, which is not what Argentina, or any country, needs.
Also, the public is taking issues into their own hands because the lack of government regulation has led to a lack of “moral code” among the dealing profession. In all honesty, I am unsure of how to combat this problem other than law enforcement needs to take a more hands-on approach to stop the dealing, especially to minors. No child should be subjected to drugs at such a young age and have it go unnoticed. And, while officials say they have educational programs, they are never going to work if officials don’t do anything to act on a problem. If it’s not bad enough for people to be arrested then why is it so bad for them to take? All in all, the economy needs to improve and the government needs to get more involved and gain more control over the underground drug market.

CrystalE. said...

I was also surprised by this article. Beyond the democratization of the drug, the root of the problem resides in the impoverishment. Such areas are easily exploitable for the drug market. When people have no hope for the future, an obvious turn is to drug use. The comments from the people in this story were heart wrenching- their thoughts of sadness, depression, desperation, etc. I found it absolutle terrifying that the traffickers are cutting the cocaine powder with everything from boric acid to lidocaine to baking powder- causing health issues.

Special preventative attention needs to be directed toward children. The must be educated on the effects of such, while being provided options and hope for their future. If no opportunities for advancement exist, anti-drug campaigns will not have the hoped beneficial effect. More police are needed- not the 200 to guard Brazil's 2,100 mile border with Bolivia.

Health of citizens is the most crucial aspect governments must be attentive to. If health is not promoted and ensured, there is no hope for the advancement of a nation. If the problem persists without much government action, an entire generation, or generations, of educated citizens wil be lost in the workforce.

I looked more into Morales and his democratization of cocaine. I found it interesting that he was a coca grower and now is a coca union leader. Morales campaigned for the presidency on promises to encourage cultivation of the coca plant. Throughout his time as a congressional deputy, Morales worked actively on
many legislative matters while still directing road blockades and other union strategies to
protest counterdrug policies. I realized how intertwined the coca-cocaine production in social, economic, and political arenas of Bolivia. I wonder what Morales' views are of the issue in Argentina.

Bethany said...

The photos with this story deeply affected me. I think the most upsetting ones were of the 45-year-old woman who was so skinny and rundown-looking. I’ve seen scores of pictures of drug addicts in drug-prevention programs and other news stories, but they never fail to arrest me. The fact that this woman, who is only a few years younger than my mother, is living in the slums and is wrapped up in an addiction that she will probably never escape is just hard for me to grasp. She could be anyone that I know.

I think that’s the worst part of drug addiction to me: the sense of overwhelming hopelessness. It really is a cycle, and the government is not making it better. I know the group of mothers in the story is doing what it can, but I have to wonder what kind of impact they can really have. If they can help a few people, how many others are becoming addicts at that same moment? I know this is a depressing view, and I don’t mean to take away from their work because I realize its importance and difficulty, but with such a powerful drug, small groups seem like a weak opponent. I admire them for their work, and I also wonder how long they will be able to continue in the face of so many obstacles.

Another aspect of the story I was struck by was the discussion about the government’s role in the problem. By restricting the sale of refining chemicals, the Bolivian government is essentially encouraging the production of lower-quality cocaine. That speaks to the pervasiveness of the drug; limiting its availability won’t make people stop doing it, it will just make them resort to more dangerous means. The fact that a drug can have this power is astounding.

“It is the garbage cocaine that is coming here,” Mrs. Acuña said. “The kids here are smoking garbage.” I have to say that I got a little angry when reading this part of the story. Of course they are smoking garbage! Anytime you take a narcotic drug, it’s like garbage. Just because some cocaine is more pure than others doesn’t make it good. While it is true that the government plays a large role in the distribution of cheap cocaine on the streets, drugs would still exist even with relaxed laws. True, they could be regulated, but they are still addictive. Addicts are not able to control themselves, whether or not their drug of choice is regulated. Alcoholics are still destructive, even though their drug of choice is legal. Blaming cheap cocaine as the cause for this rise in addicts is logical, but it is not the sole cause. To find those, one would have to consider rampant poverty and hopelessness as well as personal demons that people everywhere often try to control with drugs.

Amanda Teuscher said...

One of the most fascinating trends our society has is the use of the term "war" to describe social campaigns, specifically regarding the so-called "War on Drugs." I read an interesting article a few years ago by sociologist, who brought up the fact that when you declare "war" on something, it implies that it can be won or lost. And as long as a problem still exists, the war cannot be won. And because it will be nearly impossible to complete eradicate drugs or harmful substances, we will necessarily always be losing this war.

The problem with declaring war on drugs is that by doing so, we are attacking the symptom rather than the problem. This New York Times story profoundly illustrates the link between poverty and drug use. Bilma Acuna's son used the paco as an escape, not from the physical hardship of having no money, but from the mental effects of poverty, such as depression and helplessness. The story of how the drug completely consumed his life, even leading him to destroy his own home, is deeply effecting, and particularly indicative of how severe drug addiction can have such a devastating effect on not only someone's physical well-being, but on their family and mental health.

I'm not going to pretend that I have the answers to how we might mitigate the pervasiveness of drugs in both our society and societies of other countries. But we need to recognize that the places where drug problems are the worst are also the places where other problems exist: namely poverty. People are turning to these because they have little else in their lives, and then end up ruining their lives and the people around them. Interestingly, Alexei Barrionuevo notes that Pablo Eche's slide into addiction paralleled the demise of the neighborhood, Ciudad Oculta. And the introduction of toxic chemicals to lessen the cocaine's purity demonstrate that drugs in these areas of Argentina do not represent a status symbol; rather, they are a means of escape, at any cost.

Of course, it's easy to say that poverty needs to be alleviated and that the people need to be educated as to the dangers of these drugs. The hard part is finding a way to do it. But perhaps the first step is it wasn't drugs that created the problems; they merely perpetuated the problems and made them worse. A reorientation and new awareness might lead to more effective policies, as well as more effective education.

vincent said...

The article said that the surge in drug use was due to economic hardships and poor border control among other things. An example of Argentina’s economic hardships can be found in the 2001 financial crisis in which the country’s national debt was so steep that the president at the time had to declare a default on the government’s foreign debt. This was due to excessive borrowing with high interest rates from the International Monetary Fund.

A more recent example is Argentina’s struggle to find more energy sources in order to avoid supply shortages. Argentina, as well as Brazil, is on the verge of a short term energy crisis due to a lack of natural gas. Bolivia has been struggling to meet contract obligations to supply natural gas to Argentina and Brazil due to its own rise in demand for domestic energy. A national energy company of Brazil, who has a larger contract with Bolivia, has been refusing to send any supplies to Argentina because of its concern for Brazil’s own energy problems.

Porous Borders: An example is the increasing number of arrests of drug mules smuggling cocaine into countries. Peruvian drug dealers are paying poor Peruvians citizens thousands of dollars to swallow packets/capsules of cocaine and travel to countries like Brazil and Argentina for distribution. For poor/unemployed Peruvians, the payment is for traveling to Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo with packs of cocaine in their bodies is well worth the risk. One extreme case involved the arrest of a 43-year-old woman (with her children) who attempted to travel to Buenos Aires with a Kg. of cocaine in her stomach.

Sanford said...

It was surprising to me to find out that Brazil was the second largest country in the cocaine drug trade. There should be no way that a country, no where near as large as the size as the United States comes so close to it in the drug traffic industry. Just as the problem is here in the U.S., it is apparent that since the cost of the cocaine is so cheap and regulation on coca production is not as strict, the poorer members of the Brazilian population are being able to purchase and use the drugs.

It seems as the though the media exaggerates the drug trade in countries like Columbia and Chile. Obvisiously more focuse needs to be directed toward the targeting of drug usage in Brazil and developing government regulations that would assist in solving the problem.

The Brazilian government needs to recognize the negative impact that this drug crisis is having on the economy and its citizens. Leniet regulations and lack of implementation of the policies will on perpetuate the problem.

Programs should be developed to help addicts withdraw from the drug and assist them with drug rehabilitation. While it may be helping to bring in revenue because people are willing to buy the drugs, this problem in Argentina will only lead to other types of violent crime.

Kirsten Brownrigg said...

Several comments have been made that this is a strictly poverty-related problem and that with increased wealth, Argentinians will steer away from drug use. Certainly I found more than one article showcasing an Argentine psychiatrist who says the endemic use is a "social and spiritual dislocation" that does not extend beyond the lower populace. But although coined a "poor man's drug," after a little Internet browsing, I found a report from a social worker in Buenos Aires that shows much of the Argentina's middle class is wrapped up in the use of paco, as well. The central difference is that cocaine sulfate is not devastating those communities in the same manner that it is doing to their impoverished counterparts. Perhaps thanks to better education, the report alleges, middle-class users refrain from smoking it more than twice a week and force themselves to eat after using the drug, even if they don't feel hungry.

But, I only introduce that information to bring up another aspect to this story, because the same report blames the 2002 economic fallout that led to the devaluation of the peso for the sudden growth of drug "cocinas." Supposedly, none of these drug kitchens existed prior to the financial crisis, and now they proliferate.

Furthermore, if I understand this portion of the article correctly --that "the rolling back of restrictions on coca growing" means the government slackened regulation of cocaine processing -- this point clearly negates proposals that would assert legalizing and taxing the drug would be of any value. Paco can scarcely be compared to cigarettes and alcohol, though sharing addictive properties.

While the slackening and terrorized police force cited in the article seems to indicate that a lack of law enforcement, rather than an excess of it, contributes to the mushrooming problem, there is still the cost of imprisoning. I don't know what the numbers are like for Argentina, but in the U.S. it reportedly costs anywhere from $18,000 to $26,000 to incarcerate an abuser, while it costs less than $5,000 (even as low as $1800) to pay for a year's treatment. But, the draconian conditions of many Argentinian jails hardly matches those of the U.S., so for that reason it should be noted that the cost of imprisonment in Argentina is dramatically lower.

Although the U.S. is hardly an ideal nation to compare to Argentina, it does provide additional examples of success in the rehab area. With a staggering 85 percent of American prisoners reporting a substance abuse problem, there is the potential of approaching these users' plight from the angle of drug rehab rather than prison time. Take the Cornerstone Counseling Center, for example -- drug users attend rehab sessions for several months while their children, if they have any, are enrolled in a program geared toward preventing them from entering the same cycle because of what they've witnessed. Then there's Salt Lake City's premier official drug treatment center, a comparable effort that has addict mothers receive treatment together with their children in a program designed to build trust and mend separation trauma. Meanwhile, the rehab approach seems to have worked relatively well for Pablo Eche in the form of a drug-dependency clinic ... so perhaps an increase in funding for these coupled with encouragement for starting groups such as Mrs. Acuna's would be additional ways to address the issue. That, of course, brings us back to the economy, however, which is clearly the first issue that has to be dealt with before addressing the drug problem. As long as poverty instills an escapist attitude in drug users and an economic desperation in dealers, no matter how hard the push is behind law enforcement and medical treatment, this epidemic of drug use will continue to haunt Argentina and its South American neighbors.

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