Erik Vance is an American scientific journalist who writes about sustainable markets for fish and seafood.

His assignments occasionally take him to northern Mexico, along the drug supply route to California.

Vance wrote for Slate about his encounter with Mexican fishermen who have no choice but to help drug cartels. The article is called ‘Cocaine Is Evil’, and he compared cocaine purchase to ‘donating to the Nazi Party’.

The hundreds of comments in response reveal that cocaine users were none too happy with the comparison. As is the fashion today, they clamoured for legalisation. I wonder. Too few dissenting voices pointed out that cocaine is equally illegal in Mexico. Also, one American who lives in a state where marijuana is legal said that everyone he knows still goes to their dealers — because the product is cheaper (no tax)!

Anyway, what Vance discovered in and around Sonora, Mexico, horrified him (emphases mine):

I remember one interview in particular in which a fisherman told us about his relative who occasionally ran drugs for the cartels in between seasons. In this area, it’s not blood in, blood out. Cartels have porous edges, where people drop in when they need the money and get out as fast as possible. And we are not talking about characters from Breaking Bad here—these are poor fishermen with no other choice. And mostly they hate it.

Fishermen are great mules because they know the waters and they don’t draw attention. And if you have to chuck your haul overboard to avoid the military, other fishermen can dive to retrieve it.

Vance says the fisherman said that his relative had a long, possibly stormy, journey to his destination. Once he arrived:

and he met the men who would take the cargo across the border, they put a bullet in his head and tossed him overboard to feed the fish he should have been catching. It’s cheaper to kill the mule than to pay him.

That story made Vance think about his upper middle class friends who think nothing of doing a line of coke or, when on the end of a credit card or house key, a pile of it, which is called a ‘bump’:

It’s a marvel of the English language that something so horrible, so corrosive can have such a cute little name. I wonder what that fisherman would have said to that innocuous little word. “Glad I could help brighten the party,” maybe?

Not that the fisherman here are wholly innocent—many of them do meth and coke to stay awake on the water, and some have become addicted. But we all know who drives the drug trade. It’s us. At our hip little parties, our New Year’s Eve celebrations, our secret back rooms, and on the counters of people from well-off families who are destined for rehab.

He cites the number of drug-related deaths linked to coke:

Around 60,000 were executed as witches during 150 years at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. Mexico alone has seen perhaps twice that many deaths during its seven-year drug war. From 1990 to 2010, Colombia had some 450,000 homicides, overwhelmingly due to coke. Add all the rest of Latin America (counting all the military actions that were driven by efforts to control trafficking routes as much as by politics), the U.S. share (15,000 per year on the high side, counting all kinds of drugs and overdoses and such). Now add an estimate of all the uncounted murders and overdoses and track that carnage back to the 1960s when the modern drug war began. The number starts to be in the league of the atrocities of Nazi Germany or American slavery.  

He adds:

the magnitude and gruesomeness of the atrocities committed to acquire and maintain drug trade routes to the United States actually are comparable. Decapitations and burning people alive are just the start. Chainsaws, belt sanders, acid—these things are used very creatively by cartel torturers. They disembowel bloggers and sew faces to soccer balls. Children are forced to work as assassins, people are forced to rape strangers at gunpoint, and lines of victims are killed one at a time with a single hammer. Many of those people disappear into unmarked graves. If their bodies are ever found, they are described in the media with antiseptic words like “mutilated.”

He concludes:

So yes, I say that paying for coke is equivalent to donating to the Nazi party. The unspoken thing here is that the reason Americans aren’t more outraged or guilt-ridden is that the people dying are poor brown people—many of them in a tragic irony are classified as narcos so governments can claim it’s just gang-on-gang violence.    

So perhaps you can see why I sometimes feel a little silly covering the ocean fisheries crisis, telling people what’s not sustainable and why. It’s true, consumer choices are behind the ocean crisis. But you can eat sustainably every day of your life and give to charity every year, and it all gets wiped out with one line of coke ...

There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine

Parents, pastors and youth leaders could help by discussing this hideous reality at home and in church groups for mature students.

I remember my adolescence and university days. Most of my friends and I discreetly experimented with illegal drugs coming from Latin America, some more than others. Today’s students are no different and, with all the calls for legalisation or decriminalisation, perhaps more inclined to do so.

I don’t know what the smuggling situation was 30-some years ago, but this is what today’s is like. Some might call this subjective morality, but if I’d heard this story and read this article (complete with a gruesome photo), it would have stayed in my mind: thanks, but no.

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