I spent the last three days watching Bernardo Ruiz’s Kingdom of Shadows at the SXSW movie festival in Austin. I appear in the film, along with a nun from Monterrey, Mexico and an agent from the Department of Homeland Security in El Paso.
After screenings, we took questions from the audience, but sessions were too short to adequately address issues related to the subject matter of the film—the effect of drugs and drug prohibition on our societies.
When watching or listening to works prepared for public consumption, I am always struck by how little time producers have to make their point. Many hours of footage must be reduced into tiny glimpses of complex subjects worthy of extensive and detailed treatment. Pieces are cut and cobbled together, often losing context of surrounding conversation that doesn’t make the final cut.
Over time, I have grown leery of participating in such endeavors for fear that my words might be used in a way that misrepresents my convictions or distorts accounts from my past. In the case of this documentary, Bernardo was a trustworthy caretaker and nothing rises to that level, but there was so much more that ended up on the cutting room floor. So much more….
You know, the stuff you can’t say on TV. The stuff that makes policy makers and pundits squirm in their seats.
I highly recommend watching the film. Bear in mind, however, this film is not and should not be just about me.
But it does give me the floor for a time and I feel compelled to expound—to answer a few of those unasked questions.
As a rule, works such as this point out corruption in foreign lands while failing to address rampant corruption in our own country.
To be sure, a country like Mexico earned its reputation, as have many other third world countries.
And, within working ranks of governmental agencies of the United States, the policy of taking mordida for favors is much less prevalent.
In the United States, the bulk of corruption is encountered at a higher level, a level beyond the reach of most agents tasked with the job of preventing drugs from entering this country, a level of even greater effect, unfortunately, on the availability of illegal drugs worldwide.
Cops and or journalists that follow leads to those uppermost levels and encounter this illegal activity are ordered to cease and desist, all in the name of national security.
End of story.
Not quite, motherfuckers.
While I was in the business, I personally witnessed a DC-6, piloted by Michael Palmer of Vortex Aviation (Florida), land a plane with 20,000 pounds of Colombian marijuana near San Miguel, Coahuila, Mexico. I was told but did not see that there were also 500 kilos of coca base on that plane.
Later, I would learn that Palmer had first delivered weapons to Contras in Central America in the same plane before continuing on to Colombia to secure the load of drugs.
Palmer later testified before a Senate subcommittee headed by john kerry about these activities.
When Gary Webb, subject of the movie, Kill the Messenger, tried to report on this and other related incidents, he was branded a sensationalist and a liar and hounded out of the media by none other than venerable establishments like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
When Celerino Castillo, an agent of the DEA tried to report related illegal activity in his region of Central America, including the landing of military planes loaded with drugs headed to the United States, and refueling at American military bases, he was ordered to stand down, then demoted and later hounded out of the agency for compiling evidence of these crimes. In the end Celerino was framed on a ridiculous minor weapons violation and sent to federal prison.
During the war on Afghanistan, the United States government hired Afghan drug lords to lead the fight against the Taliban. This is not speculation, but instead, fact.
The Taliban, being religious fundamentalists, had all but eradicated heroin production during the period of their rule. To be sure, Taliban are not the kind of people I want for neighbors, certainly not ruling any country in which I have to live (think extreme right wing authoritarian Christian fundamentalists multiplied by two and a half).
After defeating the Taliban, heroin production in Afghanistan increased by some 900%.
I’ve seen pictures of American soldiers wandering through the poppy fields.
Here’s the story from Mexico: That was then; this is now. We have a new government. The days of corruption are over.
Here’s the story from the United States. That was then; this is now. We have a new government. The days of corruption are over.
And it’s puro bull shit.
Many people ask about legalization of drugs.
Here’s my take:
I think marijuana should be legalized.
I don’t want to promote indiscriminate use of the stuff, but what you do with your body is not my choice to make.
I do think marijuana is a powerful medicinal herb, and like many other powerful medicines, carries with it the potential for abuse.
In light of the way we tolerate the use of alcohol and tobacco, in my view, far more harmful substances, I think it’s criminal the way we persecute and prosecute those that choose to smoke marijuana.
I've read there are over two million people locked up in this country. About half of these are incarcerated for non-violent drug related crime. Half of the drug cases are for marijuana.
Meaning in my off the cuff calculation, that some 500,000 now sit in our prisons for marijuana.
Many more are on parole or probation for the same.
Vacate their sentences.
You just reduced prison population by 25%.
These people also have families affected by our policy. No good comes from this.
I also think we should allow the legal use of coca leaf and other mild herbal extracts and elixirs with controls similar to those now exercised over the use of alcohol and tobacco.
I know I’d a hell-of-a-lot rather share the highway with someone that has had a cup of coca tea or a coca infused soda drink than I would with someone that has downed a couple of shots of whiskey or tequila.
Herbs and dilute extractions containing ephedra, (a precursor to methamphetamine), like ginseng root, should also be legalized. While they can be dangerous, and should not fall into the hands of children, it’s a hell of a lot safer than meth.
Even raw opium in dilute solution is a fairly safe substance.
I do not advocate legalization of hard drugs, unless prescribed and administered by a licensed professional.
These drugs are extreme distillates and too dangerous.
They carry the very real possibility of accidental overdose and death for any that use them.
I believe these legal alternatives would devastate the business of illegal drug salesmen, and greatly reduce the importation of drugs into this country.
But it’s no magic bullet.
New problems will arise, new ways to abuse the system.
I view drug addiction as a symptom of societal ills. There comes a point when the drug becomes the ill, but addiction does not occur in a vacuum.
Nor does the business of producing and selling these substances.
It will require a lot more time and space than I have and the voices of many others to address the larger problems that create this condition.
Issues like excessive world debt, poverty, inequitable distribution of resources, overpopulation of the planet, environmental damage and many others cause mental and spiritual illness and fuel migrations of people.
Drug addiction did not create these problems; it is a result of them, a symptom of a greater disease.
PS. Watch Bernardo's movie when you can. It's well worth your time.
PS. Watch Bernardo's movie when you can. It's well worth your time.