Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sing To Me; or, That's Not A Balloon

Sing me a patriotic song, somebody. An empty feeling is coming on strong.

I am looking at a photograph of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City. She is chatting with Porfirio Lobo, the coup-elected President of Honduras, a President legitimized in an election that was not free.

She is there to whip Latin American governments into a more active commitment to the war on drugs. The United States has authorized $1.6 billion over three years to the Merida Initiative, a security arrangement with Mexico and much of Central America, in support of this mythical struggle against the international narcotics racket. Secretary Clinton complains that a number of these governments are not enforcing the rule of law and “are not respecting democratic institutions.” There she is with Lobo, expecting that the newly rolled Honduran state will play ball, and speaking of the virtues of democracy.

There is a sense of emptiness.

For forty years, this has been called a war, yet who is dying? In Mexico, just one place where we spend millions of dollars to assist in this war effort, soldiers rarely die. In Juarez, 4,200 citizens, mainly poor, have been murdered in two years, and only three soldiers. A strange war, indeed, where soldiers are safe and civilians die.

Criminalizing drug use, we have succeeded only in building profitable industries feeding on violence and death. Those profiting from this misery live on both sides of the law. On the one hand, illegal drugs are the second most profitable industry in Mexico, enriching drug barons by tens of billions of dollars per year. On the other side of the law, $40 billion dollars employing narcotics officers alone. We blow hundreds of millions of public dollars building aircraft and surveillance software, equipment such as the aerostat radar devices the Air Force flies over border cities, like the one my son and I saw on the ground here in Deming, while we were driving around some back roads, which Gabriel pointed at and said, “Balloon?”

For all these procurements and armies of agents and expensive defense contracts, the drugs are still pouring in. If they didn’t, all of this economic activity would stop. A for-profit industry in building prisons, the largest prison system in the world, that depends on drug convictions. Lots of them.

Sing me a patriotic song full of hope for the society we are building.

The elementary school where I teach just lost a teacher. She left to join the Border Patrol. Who can blame her? Teachers’ salaries are being cut, and our workloads are increasing while we get scapegoated for our system's social failures. At the DEA, that teacher (for whom we chipped in and bought a cake) can work her way into a six-figure salary in just a few years. Some of her future colleagues pad that salary out even further by smuggling drugs into the country themselves.

There are darker stories, still. I read of a Mexican state police officer, paid while he was in training and receiving nearly ten times that salary by drug barons to be their double agent. He received additional training from our own FBI in Tucson. And he used his training lucratively, kidnapping people for ransom.

Sing me a patriotic song about our values; and then remind me, who is it that we pay well?

There is no real war, drugs are still available at affordable prices, and people are making a great deal of money from a system that destroys human lives. Our Secretary of State holds hands with the figurehead of a violent right-wing coup and speaks of honoring democratic institutions. In other appearances, she has laid blame for the kidnapping and murder on the consumers of drugs – that's the rationale of the Merida Initiative -- not on the war itself, not the criminal status of narcotic use that has created billions of dollars of economic activity in industries that depend on human suffering for profits.

Living near the border, this will in some way touch my son. It may be a friend who disappears. It may be a funeral. It could be a lot of things. I felt this when my darling boy pointed at an Air Force aerostat radar system, a bullet-shaped helium spy device, and saw a beautiful balloon.

It cannot be avoided. This is his country, here on this blood-soaked hemisphere where human life, for all our pomp and homilies, is regarded cheaply. We are fuel for remotely-operated machines, owned by the fortunate and operated by employees.

Sing me a patriotic song; and please tell me, what are we?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put, Algernon.
The "Drug War" has survived many very different administrations of both parties: bureaucratic inertia and worse than inertia. It's the new "military-industrial complex." I don't know what the proper name should be: the "security state-contractor complex"? As you mentioned, private prisons, shadow armies, and Homeland Security empires. And happening far away from the corridors of power, in parts of the country that they've written off.
Hang in there: if only we could beat those spy devices into balloons!