SPREADING THE FLAMES OF WAR
Hal Pepinsky, firstname.lastname@example.org, pepinsky.blogspot.com
December 22, 2011
As I sat here yesterday in a beautiful rented house on looking out at the Pacific Ocean on the beautiful, environmentally green Costa Rican coast listening to NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard a story of escalation of US intervention here (http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=143957246&m=144056126) that made my blood boil. The US has just “donated” two intercepter boats to the Costa Rican coast guard, who are building a grand new station just up the coast from here for the sole purpose of catching drug smugglers. The thesis of the NPR segment is that Costa Rica is turning violent as drug smugglers take advantage of Costa Rica’s tranquility as a transit point on the drug trafficking route from South America to the US. The segment featured Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla expressing alarm at how the trafficking had increased violence and corruption in her country, saying that the trafficking had to be stopped now before the activity further increased. Hence, the long history of Costa Rican “cooperation” with US drug warriors is being taken to a whole new level. How tragic for Costa Rica.
I accept the truism that prohibition is counterproductive. That’s why the US repealed the 18th Amendment to our constitution in the early 1930s, giving up on enforcing zero tolerance for legal alcohol consumption. What applies to alcohol applies to all other forms of prohibition of private behavior, as of guns, abortion, and cheating on standardized tests. The greater efforts to stamp out a common human activity, the higher the price people will pay to evade the prohibition, and the more the market for the activity spreads. As I have argued for wars on terrorists, escalating wars has the same effect of pouring water on a grease fire; it scatters the flames. So now in Costa Rica, escalating the war on drugs will only raise the price and expand organization and involvement of Costa Ricans in international drug trafficking.
Last weekend my family were stopped by traffic police on the way to Mal Pais from San Jose. The officer described how expensive and troublesome it would be for him to write us a citation, carefully explained traffic laws to us, and quietly slipped a US fifty-dollar-bill into his pocket before he let us go. I have also written before about how “corruption” permeates US political culture as surely as it does elsewhere; we have no business pointing fingers at how other people curry private favors in public places. I found myself having no trouble with the officer’s earning a little tax-free cash on the side for performing his public duties. The problem is that when the price of getting caught rises in this case in a drugs market, people are willing to pay people including officials more for illicit favors, and offers to be paid become harder for people to turn down, especially those like those who fish under more restrictive conditions in this area who struggle to feed their families, and who therefore send gasoline out to passing drug-carrying speed boats or bring drugs into Costa Rica for relatively safe landfall and ground transport. More people get drawn into drug trafficking for a living. As enforcement escalates and penalties for getting caught rise, the stakes in avoiding capture and in protecting drug shipments escalate. Among other things, so does armed resistance to drug enforcers and armed competition for control of ever more lucrative trade routes. The traffic increases to pay the price of increase enforcement. With more drugs in the pipeline, more spills over into local trafficking and consumption along the way, much as larger cancer tumors metastasize.
Costa Rica has no standing army. I long the day when the US will have no military personnel (private, let alone public) or law enforcers abroad. I long for an end to US drug prohibition that fuels violence abroad, now most prominently in our Mexican neighbor, now spreading to Costa Rica. The problem is that prohibition doesn’t work, a principle that applies to US military and law enforcement industries as it does to drug trafficking. At a time of high unemployment and impoverishment in the US, it is politically intolerable to lay off the huge number of military, law enforcers and support workers now employed in wars on drugs and on terror, despite that that the greater the effort they bring to bear, the more and more deeply violence spreads from the halls of Montezuma to the interior of the US. While I applaud the many voices that are raised for drug legalization, and steps forward like the decriminalization of “devil” drugs in countries across southern and western Europe, I expect that the greater political force against drug enforcement becomes, the greater the force that will be mobilized by those invested in the drugs control industry to prove we need them more than ever, and the more the demand will grow for imposing ancillary private drug treatment.
In the US political culture, from opium to obesity, wars against what individuals put into their bodies is grounded in 19th century to “socialism” that antedates the writings of Karl Marx. From then on, the prevailing political “wisdom” is that if some groups or people get poorer while their masters or employers get richer, it is not a failure of social policy but instead a failure of individuals to keep themselves clean and to raise themselves by personal effort. Current occupations from Wall Street to Oakland are the latest in persistent protests against the ideology of rugged individualism. Unfortunately, at this stage in our history, as in the Citizens United case and bank bailouts, such actions generate a more than equal and opposite political economic reaction.
Speaking for myself, what keeps me going and speaking out is that over generations to come, voices of resistance to wars and inequality will bit by bit generate change in the political culture of war that for my moment and place in history continues to spread. Love and peace--hal