Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 189 | Abril 1997


United States

The US Drug Fight: A Form of Social Control

The United States has decertified Colombia for its failure to control drug trafficking. It is one more piece in the U.S. strategy for the social control of Blacks and Hispanics on a basis of hate and fear.

Noam Chomsky

The anti-drug fight in the united states is, in general terms, a technique of social control in two senses. There is a type of advanced structural adjustment in the United States similar to the adjustment in the third world. In the name of this adjustment, the US government is implementing policies that channel wealth and resources to society's richest sectors and harm the majority of the population. Probably over half of the US population has been experiencing economic deterioration in the last 15 years, and they are dissatisfied. The policies put in practice in the United States are making a sector of my country into a third world society.

In a typical third world society, like Colombia or India or Egypt, everything goes on more or less the same with the adjustment. Three sectors exist in such a country: an enormously rich sector; a large number of people who live somewhere between need and extreme poverty; and a third sector that is superfluous<197> leftover people who contribute no earnings and for whom the only remedy is to find some way to get rid of them. In Colombia this is called "social cleansing." Other forms exist in other countries.

All third world societies have that same structure, and it is now beginning to be imposed in the United States. A broad sector of the population, probably the majority, suffers growing deterioration. Wealth is enormous and is very concentrated in another sector whose earnings are going through the roof at a rate of growth never before seen. And there is an increasing sector of the population, African Americans and Latinos, who are dispensable. These superfluous people generally do unskilled labor in poor urban neighborhoods.

What can the system do? The same thing it does in the third world. Superfluous people must be gotten rid of and those who live between need and extreme poverty must be controlled. How to control them? One of the most effective ways is to increase hatred and fear, make them hate each other and fear the superfluous people. This form of control is taking place everywhere and is now being applied in the United States. The anti-drug fight in the United States must be interpreted in this framework.

The anti-drug fight being developed in my country has very little to do with drugs themselves. It is basically the application of a technique to control populations considered dangerous within the United States. And it is not a new technique<197>it has always been this way. It is enough to look back in history a little bit, to 19th century England, when gin was declared illegal while whiskey remained legal. It was not just for simple class reasons: gin was the working class drink and whiskey was for the upper class. Above all, it was a way to control the working class.

When alcohol was prohibited in the United States, it was done with the goal of closing New York saloons where immigrant workers gathered. No one was ever arrested for drinking in rich neighborhoods. Something similar happened in the case of marijuana. The US prohibition was directed towards Mexicans. When marijuana was prohibited, no one knew what it was; they only knew it was something Mexican immigrants used. Its consumption was criminalized to be able to control the Mexican immigrant population.

The current "anti-drug war" in the United States began in the 1980s and directly targeted the African American population. There is an attempt to separate the white population from this war which targets precisely the kinds of drugs used by African Americans. This war has nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with a way of controlling and criminalizing populations considered "dangerous." It is, in a certain fashion, the US formula of Colombia's "social cleansing."
The US authorities are not trying to stop the drug supply, they are trying to criminalize the African American population. African Americans are the primary victims in this war. An enormous number of them are trapped in the judicial and penal system.

And how does this war affect the population that is seeing its living standard deteriorate? It aims to scare them. The more fear of drugs and crime increases, fear of welfare mothers and immigrants increases, fear of foreigners and all kinds of "dangerous" people increases, the more effectively people can be controlled. If you make them afraid of each other and make them think that the other person is stealing from them, you can control them. That's what the anti-drug war is actually seeking.

Colombia plays a role in this war. Drugs are produced in many countries, but Colombia is the symbol of where they come from. If the government can take a hard stance by imposing sanctions on Colombia, "decertifying" it, this will contribute to the anti-drug war, the social control program, within the United States.

What is happening in my country has nothing to do with preventing drugs coming from Colombia. The drugs will continue coming, and the US government knows that no matter what it does, there is no way to stop them. If they really want to stop drug consumption in the US, there's an easy way to do it: educational programs. They are more efficient and have achieved great changes. Among the more privileged sectors, drug use has been dropping for a long time, as has the consumption of many other damaging substances. For example, my students don't smoke or use drugs, coffee consumption is dropping so it goes with all. Currently, cigarette consumption in the United States is a class issue. Almost no university student smokes. But if one goes to the poor sector of any city and finds groups of young people there, they will be smoking. It's a class problem, as is drug or alcohol consumption. It's a custom that has to do with changes of perception and conception that depend on the culture of social classes.

Some years ago a basketball player named Len Bias died in the United States of a cocaine overdose. For more or less the next year, cocaine use in my country fell by about half. The drop in drug consumption is basically due to education. In this case, such a rapid drop in consumption was achieved through the massive publicity of such a horrible incident, but there are ways to achieve the same goal in an intelligent manner.

In the United States cuts are being made in educational programs directed to the people, at the same time that the circumstances that lead people to drugs are intensifying. There is more poverty, fewer jobs, lower salaries and fewer support programs. All this leads people to drugs. That's where the problem lies. When Colombians say: "The problem is in the United States," they are totally correct. As long as the demand for drugs exists, there will be a supply, and there is no way to stop this. The root of the problem is within the United States, a problem that will never be resolved if drugs and the war against them are used as a means of social control.

It's like when we turn on US television and hear all sorts of attacks against single mothers subsidized by government social welfare programs. The goal of these campaigns is to pit working people against these mothers. Workers' salaries are dropping; their lives are worsening, their children won't even have the same opportunities they themselves had. So what is television going to tell us? Will it say, "I'm doing everything possible to hurt you," or will it say, "Welfare mothers are stealing from you?" Clearly it will tell us that welfare mothers are stealing from us. If an adolescent is raped and has a child and I subsidize her, she's stealing from me. Therefore, hate her. That's why the welfare system is being portrayed in such a bad light.

Increasing hatred and fear; these are the social control methods used everywhere. In a country like the United States, where paramilitary groups couldn't really be used to kill people, more trust is placed in social control techniques. And this is basically how the anti-drug war must be seen.

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