IS DRUG CONTROL AN INSTITUTIONAL OR A POLITICAL PROBLEM?
In Colombia it is pretty obvious for a lot of people that psychoactive drugs would not be produced where there not a demand. In the United States it is also obvious for a lot of people that if there were no offer, drugs would not be consumed. Basically, both points of view are valid. In both countries, these statements allow people to place the blame for drug production, traffic, and use abroad thus exporting responsibility and avoiding the need to explore the internal and institutional causes of supply and demand.
The main drug-producing countries have very special characteristics. All of them are countries where drug laws are not enforced. The causes for this are manifold: collapsed states which do not control the whole of their territory, or which have weak or inoperative legal systems; countries with minorities which have been and are exploited and economically and politically excluded, or with minorities which have preserved their autonomy from central power and have no loyalty to the nation; countries where subversive groups use drugs to finance themselves; countries where society is tolerant towards certain deviant behaviors.
All of these characteristics are of an institutional nature; that is to say, that they are tied to social control over behavior and the values generated by each one of the societies. Colombia exhibits an extreme individualism and a conjunction of the above mentioned characteristics. Colombia has institutional and deep-seated values’ problems which need to be corrected with or without drugs.
One could elaborate a similar argument regarding drug use. Drug use has always existed and will continue to do so. Controls, however, have always been social not governmental. It is only when these controls disappear that people seek for the state to exercise control, even if it is mainly inefficient at doing so. Drug production, traffic and use arise when social controls are weakened. For this reason, the problem is not one of policies but of institutions and values. Repressive policies and alternative development are designed mainly with the aim of making this activity less profitable in absolute or relative terms but rarely do these policies take institutional problems into consideration. This is why, in the best of cases, these policies occasionally arrive at temporary successes and, in many cases, what they do is hinder the achievement of long-term success; as in the case of fumigation. If, in order to solve the long-term problem, a feeling of pertaining and loyalty to the nation has to be first attained, then state presence through fumigation is not one of the best means.
Liberalism has been criticized in this forum. Nonetheless it seems strange that neoliberalism's critics seek an ideal world where neoliberal policies are not allowed, with the exception of those related to illegal drugs. The problem is not liberalism per se but one of concentration of richness and power. Drug legalization is put forth as a solution. If by legalization we understand a free and neoliberal market where each person can produce, commerce and consume whatever drugs he so desires, this will not occur; at least not during my lifetime nor that of my children.
Translated from Spanish by MM Moreno,
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