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Americans Have a Massive Blind Spot on Drug Use in Latin America

A Mexican protest in memory of drug war victims. (AP)

A Mexican protest in memory of drug war victims. (AP)

November 07, 2019

Flying home from a business conference in Cartagena to New York in September, I sat next to a 30-something American sporting a thick, black Pablo Escobar mustache. He explained that he and 10 friends had just finished a bachelor weekend at a luxury Airbnb in Colombia’s seaside party city. “We made a rule that everybody had to grow a Pablo mustache to enter the apartment,” he laughed. The group went through about 100 grams of cocaine during the trip, he reported, with some pride, adding that the in-house maid had thoughtfully sorted all their drugs on the kitchen table every morning. “Great town,” he said, shaking his head in wonder. “Great country.”

We live in an era when virtually every consumer choice is scrutinized for its ethics: Is it local? Is it vegan? Carbon-neutral? Yet the same largely urban, mostly affluent set that wouldn’t be caught dead driving an SUV, using a plastic straw or smoking a cigarette somehow still has no moral qualms about hoovering up a line of coke on a Friday night. The dynamics here are complex: Humans have been getting high since at least the days of Mesopotamia, and addiction is a grave public health crisis that I do not wish to trivialize. That said, it’s clear that in 2019, far too many Americans, Europeans and others continue to have an utterly anachronistic — and often racist — ethical blind spot when it comes to Latin America and the real-life consequences of recreational drug use.

I lived in Latin America for a decade and still write about the region for a living, so I’m probably closer to the story than most. But — sorry — ignorance is not an excuse after a week like this one, when the massacre of three women and six children (including two infants who were burned) in Sonora, Mexico, was the top story on U.S. national news. The exact circumstances remain unclear, but no one doubts that Mexican cartels were behind the killing. It comes at a time when drug-related violence is rising once again not only in Mexico — where there were a record 25,890 murders from January through September — but throughout much of the region. Cocaine trafficking is also, along with oil, a main source of hard currency sustaining Venezuela’s dictatorship, which has murdered thousands of dissidents and driven more than 4 million others from the country in recent years...

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