Culture, Globe, Latin America, Screen

The truth about the drug war

“Cocaine Unwrapped” is a documentary that addresses the issue of drugs from a different perspective, by presenting an in depth look at one of society’s apparently unassailable and never ending problems.

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Javier Duque


The film is captivating because the film makers decided to discuss the problem, not from a legal perspective but from a social one. Therein lies its value.

In this way, using both research and independent journalism, “Cocaine Unwrapped” opens the debate around drugs, making it clear that the current open war against them is not the solution.

And in order to show that, it calls upon testimonies gathered in different situations. The film has the audience travelling along the streets of a neighbourhood in the United States, where a local ex-policeman explains through his own eyes and words how the sale of drugs works and how an entire generation has been lost to drugs.

It takes the audience to Colombia where a coca producer tells his story. Then similarly, on to Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez, filmint images and stories of the deaths that provoke wars between cartels. The launch of the war against drug trafficking declared by the Mexican government was accompanied by the announcement that many would die.

This and other pre-existing factors have allowed for the violation of human rights, extreme militarisation and the corruption of certain sectors.

The film shows the violence and speaks about the perpetrators of violence, but also talks about those who become criminalised, people who are hardly the smallest link in the great chain built and sustained by large gangs and their accomplices.

From here emerge children and all those people who, faced with drug taking, suffer health problems caused by addiction and also from crop removal through spraying and the use of other harmful techniques.

However, the film slides past the reality in Europe and its consumers, those who are not aware that “for every gram they consume one Latin-American dies”. All this caused by pressure and violence that people suffer just for tackling production and not consumption.

The fact is that the drug market is not only made up of the gangs that sell the drugs and their customers. It goes much further, there are also people who have ended up involved in this world because of their life circumstances.

The proof of this is that the majority of inmates in a women’s prison in Ecuador were imprisoned for drug trafficking, for having been made “mules”. With one objective, to get enough money to feed their children.

On the other hand, not all those who grow the coca leaf produce cocaine. It is also used to make tea, medicines and for chewing, something which is almost a religion in Bolivia. The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, permits the cultivation of a small predetermined amount.

Although the coca leaf is destroyed in other countries, like Colombia because it is believed that it will end up as cocaine, sometimes this is done with methods such as spraying which can destroy nearby crops such as papaya.

These and other situations are the subjects of the documentary “Cocaine Unwrapped”, directed with great skill by Rachel Seifert, who makes a clear point that the current policy of fighting against drugs has failed.

A possible solution, according to Grace Livingstone, one of the panellists, could be the legalisation of drugs because there will always be demand. The Prisma spoke to her about this issue.

Who is responsible for the drug problem, the countries who produce or the consumers?

I think that there will always be demand and that’s not anyone’s fault. Therefore, instead of criminalising growers, I think it would be better to legalise it. Some European countries, such as Portugal and Italy, have legalised the possession of drugs in small quantities.

This debate about the legalisation of drugs appears to grow by the minute, doesn’t it?

Yes. Presidents like Evo Morales, Rafael Correa or Otto Pérez Molina have spoken about this possibility.

However, the United States doesn’t show signs of being happy with that solution. Could the countries of South America do it on their own?

No. It has to be an international agreement. If it is legalised in one country and not in another, it wouldn’t work.

It is clear that the United States’ strategy of militarising the Colombian army has failed?

Yes. The army of Colombia already had enough weapons to fight against drug trafficking.

And Mexico?

The United States is guilty of what is happening in a country as affected by drugs, like Mexico. Firstly because the United States is the biggest consumer of cocaine in the world and Mexico is the transit country. Second, it is promoting an economic model, the NAFTA, that essentially translates into benefits for the large companies from both sides of the border at the cost of small farmers and traditional industries.

What is the result?

The result has been an increase in youth unemployment in Mexico. Some young people have no hope of getting a job and the only way in which they can earn money is working for drug gangs. Lastly, the problem of arms exists because they are easy to get hold of in the United States and sold to Mexico and end up being used by drug gangs.

Is there a drug problem in the United Kingdom?

70% of cocaine is consumed in North America and Europe. Inside Europe, the three countries that have the most users are Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, where one million people take cocaine. Because of this, many Latin-American leaders say that if rich countries want to get rid of the drugs market, they have to control the demand at home.

(Translated by Harriet Payne)

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