The best answer to America's cocaine problems ultimately lies in an appeal to the ethics of cocaine users in the United States, LaMond Tullis said Wednesday at the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Tullis, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, illustrated the correlation between the increase in international cocaine trafficking and an alarming increase in malnutrition among children in Peru and Bolivia."This is not the kind of malnutrition in which you simply go to bed hungry," he said. "It's the kind of chronic malnutrition which has a telling and lasting effect upon one's life," and which, according to the World Bank, affects 40 percent of the children in Peru alone.
His lecture, "International Perspectives on Cocaine Trafficking," focused on the economic incentives that drive people of cocaine-producing countries into the drug trade.
Over 100 tons of cocaine a year comes into the United States, and 50 percent of all cocaine produced comes from Bolivia and Peru, he said.
"In areas where cocaine is produced substantially, there is less food per capita produced, and what is produced sells for a higher price," Tullis said. He added that those who are involved in cocaine production manage to meet the rising costs, while those outside the inflationary economy suffer. "So there is a great impetus to become caught up in the cocaine economy, to abandon whatever else you're doing."
He pointed to a decline in the production in two basic foods: potatoes and casaba, the principal diet of the poor. In addition, he noted a dramatic rise in food aid, to Boliviain particular, during the years cocaine production is up.
Conventional approaches that address cocaine trafficking as a South American problem and attack that problem at the supply end - crop eradication, subsidized crop-substitution programs and in-country interdiction - require great risks to life and law, and are unlikely to succeed, Tullis said.
"The problem will have to be addressed as a U.S. demand problem."
In that regard, Tullis identified two possible approaches: Draconian law enforcement measures, such as the confiscation of all vehicles containing the slightest trace of a controlled substance, and educational efforts to develop alternative social values.
Concerning Draconian law enforcement, Tullis said such measures require the "elimination or incarceration of a fairly large percentage of your population." The accidents, mistakes and injustices that accompany those measures "have the unhappy tendency of alienating not only those being pursued for their crimes, but non-criminals as well," he said.
"I'm not aware of any democratic society being able to maintain the freedoms that justify its existence while implicitly supporting (the limitation) of its liberties as always happens in the course of waging internal wars, which is just about what it would come to," Tullis said.
The remaining answer, Tullis argued, lies in educating U.S. cocaine users about the correlation between their habitual pleasures and international suffering, and in an appeal to the moral conscience of those who create the spiraling, internationally devastating demand.
To illustrate the irony of the current dilemma, Tullis noted that the coca leaf was used as a ceremonial hallucinogen by the Incas more than 2,000 years ago. And Andean peasants still chew the leaves that are made into cocaine to relieve their hunger and endure the high altitudes and cold temperatures, he said. However, "We have educated urbane and Yuppie Americans who suffer neither deprivation nor hunger and who have decided for a moment's pleasure to risk the physiological and psychological subversion of American society."
Americans can't afford to ignore the issue, Tullis said, "because quite frankly, the next cycle of hunger may be our own."