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Serious concern over the drug crisis would quickly lead to inquiry into a much wider range of government policies. U.S. farmers can easily be encouraged to produce crops other than tobacco. Not so Latin American peasants, who, with far fewer options, turned to cocaine production for survival as subsistence agriculture and profits from traditional exports declined. In the case of Colombia, for example, suspension of the international coffee agreement in July 1988, initiated by U.S. actions based on alleged fair trade violations, led to a fall of prices of more than 40% within two months for Colombia's leading legal export.39
Furthermore, U.S. pressures over the years -- including the "Food for Peace" program -- have undermined production of crops for domestic use, which cannot compete with subsidized U.S. agricultural exports. U.S. policy is to encourage Latin America to consume the U.S. surplus while producing specialized crops for export: flowers, vegetables for yuppie markets -- or coca leaves, the optimal choice on grounds of capitalist rationality. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs comments that "only economic growth in Latin America, the promotion of financing of alternate legal crops and a decrease in U.S. demand will provide a viable alternative" to cocaine production.40
As for U.S. demand for illegal drugs, middle class use has been decreasing. But the inner city is a different matter. Here again, if we are serious, we will turn to deep-seated social policy. The cocaine boom correlates with major social and economic processes, including a historically unprecedented stagnation of real wages from 1973,41 an effective attack against labor to restore corporate profits in a period of decline of U.S. global dominance, a shift in employment either to highly skilled labor or to service jobs, many of them dead-end and low-paying; and other moves towards a two-tiered society with a large and growing underclass mired in hopelessness and despair. Illegal drugs offer profits to ghetto entrepeneurs with few alternative options, and to others, temporary relief from an intolerable existence. These crucial factors receive occasional notice in the mainstream. Thus, a specialist quoted in the Wall Street Journal comments that "what is new is large numbers of inner-city people -- blacks and Hispanics -- sufficiently disillusioned, a real level of hopelessness. Most northern European countries have nothing remotely comparable."42
In a British television film on drugs, a political figure draws the obvious conclusion: "We cannot police the world. We cannot stop [heroin] supplies. We can only limit the demand for it by producing a decent society that people want to live in, not escape from."43
With its contributions to the growth and punishment of the underclass, the Reagan-Bush administration helped create the current drug crisis, yet another fact that merits headlines. And the current "war" may well exacerbate the crisis. Meeting with congressional leaders, Bush outlined his proposals for paying the costs of the drug plan, including elimination of almost $100 million from public housing subsidies and a juvenile justice program. The National Center on Budget priorities estimated that the Bush program would remove $400 million from social programs.44 The misery of the poor is likely to increase, along with the demand for drugs and the construction of prisons for the superfluous population.
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39 Joseph Treaster, "Coffee Impasse Imperils Colombia's Drug Fight," Sept. 24, 1988.
40 Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Sept. 13, 1989. On the Food for Peace program and others like it, see Necessary Illusions, p. 363, and sources cited.
41 See David Gordon, "Real Wages Are on a Steady Decline," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1989.
42 Alan Otten, WSJ, Sept. 6, 1989.
43 John O'Connor, New York Times News Service, April 17, 1990, reviewing the TV film "Traffik" shown over PBS.
44 Michael Kranish, BG, Sept. 5; James Ridgeway, Village Voice, Sept. 19, 1989.