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Drug warriors retreating in parts of America

By Chuck Armsbury, November Coalition editor

"The real narcotraffickers are not found in the neighborhoods where poor people are pressured and induced into crime in order to earn their daily bread." Brazilian President Lula then dared to say that "the kingpins of narcotrafficking are to be found in the large centers of capital,"

The drug war is in retreat. Perhaps "in check," as in Brazil.

For the last year in this largest of South American nations, national drug policy reform has been focused and energized by the courageous lead of President Lula da Silva, following his mission to put kingpin narcotraffickers out of business. In a major speech in April 2003 Lula laid out his plan to end drug war violence and profiteering.

"The real narcotraffickers are not found in the neighborhoods where poor people are pressured and induced into crime in order to earn their daily bread." The Brazilian President then dared to say that "the kingpins of narcotrafficking are to be found in the large centers of capital," reports Al Giordano from Narco News Bulletin.

Lula called on his chief prosecutor and police commander to 'form a posse' to hunt them down. Declaring the war on drugs to be a class war has pushed these major political issues onto the American reform agenda:

  • Small-time drug dealers are not the primary cause of the crime and violence in the country.
  • The real 'drug kingpins' enjoy the protection of politicians, police, members of the judiciary, major media and obscenely wealthy international businessmen residing in financial capitals all across America.
  • The shroud around the judicial branch must be opened and placed under external auditing and control, and the unjust class 'war on the poor' must end, to be replaced by harm-reduction programs based on drug addiction as a public health question, not a law enforcement issue.

Lula, a respected labor and community activist, was elected by a large majority of Brazil's poor and working people. Lula's determination to end drug war violence has drawn battle lines between his administration and the wealthy powers he aims to put out of business - the money-laundering bankers, paid-for judges, turn-your-head police and corrupt government bureaucrats.

By December 2004 Lula had yet to fulfill a pledge to implement harm-reduction policies. This may mean his rhetoric has outstripped his ability to muster a new consensus within government bureaus. There's little doubt, also, that U.S. drug warriors are applying pressure to Lula's administration, attempting to moderate the president's anti-prohibitionist agenda.

In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner, according to journalist Giordano, "has not called for decriminalization, but has appointed a Supreme Court chief that openly does. Kirchner has embraced the coca leaf as a sacred, legal plant and funded many harm reduction programs to lessen the harm caused by use of some drugs under prohibition."

By most reports, drug policy issues were not a part of the political struggle in Venezuela during the recent presidential campaign. Now that President Hugo Chavez has received 59% of the vote to continue progressive reforms in the country, following Brazil, the path is clear for policy changes that will decriminalize the small-time user.

In Chile, by contrast, members of the Constitution Commission of Chile's national Congress rejected a marijuana legalization bill in August 2004. What gives, Giordano asks. Why is it that "in the lands where a political Left is on the rise (Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia), reform marches forward instead of backwards?"

Giordano insists that where drug reform movements are not united with and motivated by larger social justice alignments - is where failure flourishes. "Political leaders and movements that do not champion the poor - the first and greatest victims of drug prohibition -have shown zero success in reforming drug laws," insists Giordano.

Chile's leadership long ago, writes Giordano, "abandoned the poor and working folks in favor of business interests and 'free trade." Since the U.S.-supported overthrow of Chile's popular President Allende in 1973, another generation of wealthy Chileans will likely follow U.S. policy requirements on most matters, including the war on drugs as acceptable class war on the poor.

To social justice progressives in North America, especially - those who condemn the drug war - let's not shy from Al Giordano's blunt talk. Can we ask large questions of each other's missions? Is there really much measurable progress to boast of in the United States of America for us tireless reformers?

Is it pessimistic thinking or a wake-up call to insist that those who labor for drug reform in the U.S. do so largely without significant support from working and poor populations?

If a national president, affectionately called 'Lula,' can call the drug war a 'class war,' then the majority of Americans everywhere should feel emboldened to action. "The political solution to it lies in embracing and supporting the struggle by the poor against the authoritarian, private sector special interests. Once that fight gains traction, as the hard evidence has demonstrated, the rest, regarding drug policy, works itself out because that battle undermines the economic and public opinion conditions that serve as the foundation for submission to U.S.-imposed prohibitionist drug policies," concludes Giordano on August 25, 2004.

There's plenty evidence of rising American confidence to end the drug war. But that sense of winning craved in our time means eyes and ears must be wide open to all of America - North, Central and South - for inspiration, knowledge and direction in furthering our anti-prohibitionist goals.

Source: Selections from Narco News Bulletin, online at

Drug trade fills employment gap

In Chicago "over the last three decades, the narcotics business has filled the economic void left by manufacturers who fled the city's industrial corridors on the South and West Sides. Anchored by gangs that control territory, slinging dope has become, for thousands upon thousands of young black men, the only avenue for employment," wrote Rex W. Huppke in the Chicago Tribune last spring.

"Drug dealing in the black community is born out of necessity," said Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire, an anti-violence group in Chicago (quoted in the Tribune). Others in this featured article described the slow march from traditional jobs to the drug trade pragmatically, "It's a question of market substitution. People aren't going to starve."

The Urban League of Chicago estimates that nearly half of Chicago's adult black men have felony records. Economists say businesses in the current tight economy can pick and choose whom they hire, and said one observer, "If they've got a record, all I can do is hold their hand until they commit another crime, said one job counselor."

Recognizing that 'work works,' Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele is collaborating with more than a dozen other commissioners to form a job-training program for nonviolent former prisoners. Proof of success for Steele and others struggling with these challenges is that the rate of recidivism for those who are employed for at least 30 days drops from nearly 50% to 16%.

Source: Selections from The Chicago Tribune, 04/18/04.

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