Ethical living? Stop taking cocaine

There is a great Leader in this Sunday’s Observer which makes a point I’ve often debated – how cocaine takers in Britain and the US, which provide the demand for the illegal drug industries in Latin America, tend not to think too hard about the impact their weekend drug habits might be having on other people.

If they did, given the trend for ethical shopping that is sweeping the Western World, demand would surely drop.

More than likely these are the same well-read folks who buy fair trade coffee, pooh-pooh Starbucks and SUV drivers and refuse to shop in chains that they think use sweatshop labour. The Observer quite rightly points out how ‘consumers …should reflect more deeply on the impact their habit has on people around the world’.

‘Huge quantities of cocaine continue to be consumed across Britain, often by people who pride themselves on their ethical lifestyles. There is nothing fashionable about cocaine and users should remember the dreadful impact it has on the lives of millions of people in distant countries. Cocaine might now be relatively cheap, but for those whose path it crosses the price is still devastatingly high.’

As both Presidents Calderon of Mexico and Uribe of Colombia continue their military assault on the lethal narco-networks running through their countries, little media attention is spent on the source of demand for the illegal product, whose industry has displaced thousands and kills scores of people.

Calderon is fighting narcotraffick in Mexico with the military, but it is a battle doomed to failure without the eradication or mediation of demand coming from the world’s richest countries. As capitalism continues to dominate, so will the most fundamental forces of supply and demand continue to determine this battle.


8 Responses

  1. God, what a smug, moralising article in the Obsverver – and what hypocrisy from a paper that lent its unswerving support to the invasion of Iraq (see, for example, the recent book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies) as well as myriad other dubious causes.

    The reason the proceeds of cocaine are able to fund murderous right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia, and other undesirables, is governments’ continued insistence on keeping cocaine illegal. Why shouldn’t Colombian farmers be able to make a living out of a product for which there is a demand? Apart from the impact on the health of cocaine users, what exactly is wrong with that?

    This leader – and I’m afraid, by implication MexicoReporter – is incredibly naive in swallowing the idea that by ending their use of cocaine Westerners can end wars and correct injustices by remote control. The Colombian government USES the excuse of the cocaine trade to prosecute its war against Farc. By buying the governments’ line, you only obscure the issue.

  2. […] in today’s Observer (The devastating price of Britain’s cocaine habit; via the talented Mexico Reporter).  Many young, upper middle class university students party and binge on the weekends when they […]

  3. Thanks for your comment Becky, and I agree with you on your points.

    I agree farmers should be able to make a living out of a product for which there is demand.

    But you know as well as I do that the legalisation of cocaine is not on the horizon, not yet at least.

    I don´t think it´s naive to think that Westerners can change things by altering their consumption habits, wether it be fair trade coffee or cocaine – the principles are the same.

  4. Dopers will never come clean…see the first response to the article….

  5. If all the city boys cut out the powder, what would they waste their money on ? Think of the house prices…..

  6. (People with nothing to contribute can’t help sniping from the sidelines all the same… see the fourth response to the article….)

    Thanks for your response, Deborah. Sorry if my tone was a little harsh but articles like that in the Observer really make my blood boil. They use a faux, supposedly progressive political point as a cover to moralise about drug-taking.

    I don’t think relying on Western purchasing power is good enough. I think this type of consumer campaign to get Westerners to stop using cocaine is no more likely to succeed than campaigning for the decriminalisation/legal regulation of the cocaine trade.

    Much better to direct our energies into exposing how supposed counter-narcotics programmes are used to excuse repression and worse on the part of governments. For example, the Colombian government’s aerial spraying programme which they assert aims to eradicate the cultivation of coca (the plant from which cocaine is derived) in fact tends to do more harm to small Colombian farmers’ other, legitimate crops. It intensifies reliance on coca cultivation, as the coca plant recovers more quickly from aerial spraying. It causes illness and may cause genetic defects. In fact, many analysts suggest the government is in fact using spraying campaigns in pro-Farc areas to punish peasants who support Farc rebels (or who simply happen to go along with Farc because they live in a Farc-held area). It’s terror.

    These are the real crimes we should be shouting about, and directing our energies against. Not some Londoner taking a line of crap (probably with very little actual coke in it) at a party.

  7. You’re totally right that relying on Western purchasing power isn’t enough, but surely it’s worth raising the issue in circles where it might not have been discussed or considered so seriously. We can’t take responsibility away from the consumer completely.

    Re Colombia’s US-backed fight against drugs, yes it is hugely controversial and the rhetoric is abused by the administration. What you write doesn’t surprise me.

    My aim was not to moralise against drug-taking, but to raise an important issue. If I had my way, the whole industry would be legalised so we could keep an eye on it and relieve the suffering it causes by having to be clandestine. People will always want to get high, and why shouldn’t they – let’s just try and minimise the damage to others.

  8. Agreed!

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