Over the past two weeks, U.S. media airways have been dominated by the sad spectacle of elected representatives’ refusal to govern, their repudiation of even the pretense of trying to seek agreement on issues of grave importance to people living in the country and many more affected by their actions around the world.
However, despite unprecedented levels of acrimony, open hostility, and free-flowing expressions of contempt, one issue continues to galvanize widespread support: the drug war. It seems preposterous in the face of increased levels of violence, political corruption and profiteering associated with the illicit drug trade and the official mobilizations to combat it, that the U.S. government—and its mouthpieces in the media—would celebrate drug war “successes.” But this phenomenon does place the propaganda value of the so-called war on drugs on prominent display.
There has been a flurry of reporting on apparently successful counternarcotic police operations lately, perhaps a soothing antidote to the failure of government to look out for peoples’ more basic needs. Take for instance the aptly named Project Delirium: after twenty months of nationwide investigation this Drug Enforcement Agency operation culminated at the end of July in the “largest U.S. strike against La Familia Cartel.” The DEA arrested almost two thousand people, and seized more than twenty thousand pounds of cocaine, marijuana and heroin. The director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (known by the chillingly appropriate acronym ICE) held up his agency’s operation as an example of cooperation in this moment otherwise characterized by official gridlock and rampant violence:
“Law enforcement officials here in the U.S., in Mexico and all around the world are cooperating at unprecedented levels. There is a willingness -- like never before -- to work hand-in-hand to fight the cartels, the criminal enterprises, and the violent gangs that threaten the peace and security of people on both sides of the border.”
Drug war delirium is a useful antidote for popular skepticism about the legitimacy of our rulers and exasperation over their ineptitude. There has been a veritable parade of reaffirming stories. The U.S. Coast Guard released a video this week (below) dramatically capturing its “first” ever interdiction of a “narco-sub”, or submersible vessel ferrying drugs, in Caribbean waters.
In a press release the U.S. Coast guard expressed that it “greatly appreciates the support and cooperation of the Honduran authorities” in the effort. This vision of international cooperation and cutting edge police drama is no doubt a more appealing story than the one documented in a recent report by Ryan Deveraux. Deveraux discusses the current situation in Honduras which is characterized by increased levels of official corruption linked directly to drug trafficking, particularly in the aftermath of the US-backed coup in 2009.
There were other dramatic drug war “firsts” this week as well: in England a “record-setting” bust of cocaine hidden on a yacht ferrying drugs from South America. This “largest-ever haul” of a Class A drug was celebrated by officials, even while experts acknowledged it would “make little difference to the price of cocaine or its availability on the streets.” Drug war delirium was evident in New York City this week as officials announced a "record-breaking seizure" of methamphetamine. Across the country in California’s Mendocino National Forest more than one hundred people were arrested and some 460,000 marijuana plants uprooted. The U.S. attorney explained “The Mendocino National Forest is under attack by drug traffickers," even while locals re-directed similar accusations towards the police. One man observed: “I just thought it was outrageous that they should disrupt the peace of the wilderness with these military helicopters to destroy a plant that has been around since the dawn of mankind.”
Back in Central America, the Panamanian police announced the largest drug bust not merely in the nation’s history, but in the history of the entire region. In a striking display of drug war delirium and its potent-propaganda power, this coincides with a recent ruling by the French government to extradite one of the most famous convicted drug traffickers in recent history: former President of Panama Manuel Noriega. After running afoul of his CIA sponsors and being ousted in a US-orchestrated coup, Noriega served 20 years in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking and other charges. He was immediately extradited to France upon his release where he is currently incarcerated, facing imminent dispatch to Panama where he faces charges of human rights violations.
This is not a defense of Noriega, but simply an effort to point out the depressing utility of a media spectacle focused on dramatic drug busts and demonized drug traffickers which despite the flurry of declared successes has failed in any meaningful way to alleviate the destructive impact of the drug trade, drug consumption, or the militarized war waged in its name. But it does provide a useful mechanism for attacking one’s political enemies, and justifying the ongoing allocation of resources toward the police and the military even as calls for economic austerity threaten to unravel our basic social infrastructure.
First Interdiction of Western Caribbean Drug Sub and Underwater Recovery
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