Cocaine to China and an attack on Bolivia cultural expression

The publication Latin American Newsletters have claimed that the growing new market for cocaine in Asia is linked it to a decrease in cocaine consumption in the United States. This decrease is claimed by US drugs czar Gil Kerlikowske to be a result of action by his office. He is claiming that since 2007 the number of cocaine users in the United States has fallen by 21%. This has been linked to two large seizures of cocaine in Hong Kong in the past year, one of which is claimed to have originated in Bolivia.

The essential argument being made is that because the United States has been so successful in reducing demand for the drug that the 'cartels' are being forced to look for other markets, in this instance China.

This comes at a time when the Chinese have refused to join with the United States in hindering the Bolivian Government’s attempts at ending the racist and culturally imperialist banning of coca chewing. The Chinese Government has likened chewing coca in Bolivia to drinking tea in China and has made it clear that it does not want to play a part in this latest neo-colonialist escapade in the war on drugs.

Setting aside the spurious linkage between coca chewing and cocaine production, if we choose to look at both parts of this argument it seems extremely flawed.

The claim by Gil Kerlikowske that the United States Government is responsible for the fall in cocaine consumption is reminiscent of the UK’s soon to be disbanded Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) claim that its drug war efforts had led to an increase in the wholesale price in cocaine in the UK. The real reason for the ‘increase’ in the UK wholesale price was likely to be the collapse in the value of the UK’s currency when buying a commodity traded in US Dollars.

To begin with it is easy to wonder how these figures might have been massaged in order to demonstrate that the war on drugs isn’t just a futile exercise in state employees fighting for budget. The desperate war in Mexico to control access to the world’s largest market for drugs does not seem to be slacking off, as American’s choose to shy away from using drugs under the benign influence of the Federal Government.

If the fall in cocaine use in United States is actual, rather than a piece of creative accounting, it is surely linked to many other factors, higher unemployment and increased money worries will have left many United States citizens with less money to party. The cultural shift to higher cannabis use amongst young African Americans, the increase in the use of meth-amphetamine and never ending series of prescription drugs ripe for recreational use that the US pharmaceutical industry ceaselessly brings to the market are all factors that should be considered.

All of these factors make Gil Kerlikowske’s claim to have influenced the United States’ pattern of drug use look very weak indeed.

So why are the’ drug cartels’ shipping drugs to China? Any business person would currently be focusing on the emerging markets in Asia as the United States declines in terms of relative wealth. China and India with strong economic growth are full of consumers who are clearly keen to experiment with cocaine use, especially given the solid marketing that has been done for the drug by Hollywood over the years.

One would hope that the Chinese are subtle enough to ignore such a crass attempt to influence them. This week whilst visiting the United States the Chinese leader Hu Jintao openly talked about China needing to do better on human rights, clearly a good thing, however he didn’t do as I hoped and chastise Barack Obama for the truly appalling record of the United States’ criminal justice system.  Which relies heavily on the war on drugs for its justification and in Michelle Alexander’s words ‘The mass incarceration of people of color in the United States can be counted among the most astounding, large scale human rights violations of the past century.’

China’s diplomacy seems somewhat subtler than that of the United States and more respectful of cultural difference. Perhaps they won’t be persuaded by the type of scare tactics that the Latin American Newsletter appears to have made about cocaine and perhaps Hu Jintao chastised his host in private to avoid embarrassing him.