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Uruguay Tells US Drug War to Take a Hike

The Increasing Decline of American Credibility

There’s a very deep-seated mistrust in Latin America for right-wing gringo leaders from the North. Uruguay is small and likely more homogeneous and cosmopolitan than its much larger neighbors. This may explain why its ex-guerrilla leader is so respected, while in the giant to the north -- Brazil -- ex-guerrilla, former President Dilma Rousseff, who was also imprisoned and tortured, was ignominiously removed from the presidency by the Brazilian right in a highly-polarized political climate. Her predecessor -- the popular Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva -- was just given a 10-year jail sentence. In both cases, the charge was corruption. With a very violent and exploitative history, Brazil is one of the more corrupt nations on the planet; corruption seems to have been absorbed into its very being. Corruption in Brazil? To paraphrase the narrator’s line in Apocalypse Now: “Charging someone with corruption in Brazil is like giving out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500.”

Colombia has a very bloody history as well. But President Santos has broken with his predecessor and the absorption of FARC into the system seems to be working. His views on the Drug War are equally interesting. He opened his Guardian op-ed this way:

“How does one explain to a Colombian peasant in a rural community in the southwest of the country that he will be prosecuted under criminal charges for growing marijuana plants, while a young entrepreneur in Colorado finds his or her legal recreational marijuana business booming?”

A very good question that our own Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other drug warriors should be made to ponder. Too many of them are still obsessed with violence and prison as a problem solvers.

Uruguayan Congressman Sebastian Sabini, a 36-years-old leftist and an occasional pot smoker, is the father of the new marijuana legalization plan in Uruguay. He says it’s a matter of social justice. “The sectors that bear the brunt of drug policies are the poorest,” he told The New York Times. “The ones sent to jail are the poor people.”

That class-based dynamic is certainly at work here in the United States. (Of course, we're not supposed to mention the idea of class here in North America.) All one has to do is look at the race and economic strata of the majority of people we have prosecute and imprisoned over the years for drug crimes. Then watch unpopular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pander to The Opiate Crisis and suburban Jersey girls on heroin. Nobody cried such crocodile tears when it was inner city African American kids ruining their troubled lives on crack or heroin. Then, it was an impassioned call for more cops and more prisons. Get tough! No mercy! Arrest ‘em and lock ‘em up. And once they're locked up in America -- where politicians can never be seen saying I’m sorry or I was wrong -- prison reform is a Sisyphian project.

I will never forget an encounter I had back in the ‘90s with then-Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. I was working as the house photographer for Widener University, which is just south of the Philly airport and just north of the Delaware line. Biden was then working hard in the Senate to fund more cops and prisons. He came to Widener to speak on the topic, and I was assigned to photograph him. After taking a few shots, I decided to stay to listen to the man and his pitch for the Drug War, something that personally interested me, beyond my job as a flak photographer.

story | by Dr. Radut