DRCNet Activist Guide 10/96

Perspective: Keep Your Eye on the Ball...

Guest columnist: Cheryl Anthony Epps, Drug Policy Foundation

Recent allegations of CIA involvement with Nicaraguan Contra sympathizers in the introduction and sale of cocaine to South Central Los Angeles have provoked righteous outrage from the Black community and all others of good will and political savvy. However, this information is seductive in its simplicity. One must not let this "peek" inside the inner workings of the American government's super-secret [or better yet, "sometimes" secret] intelligence arm obscure the central issue: it is the system of prohibition which allows -- nay -- which ensures such "business arrangements" in the modern world's global economy. And, in its essence, that's primarily what it was: a business arrangement with financial gain for one party [Contras] and political gain for the other[CIA]. To condemn the CIA's alleged involvement in such a caper without condemning the system which makes it all possible -- prohibition -- "engages the battle while conceding the war."

In economic terms, prohibition geometrically increases the market value of relatively inexpensive substances so that they become "products of choice" in a market system based upon monopoly capitalism and to an entrepreneur desiring quick cash, fast turn around, and no taxes. The risk engendered by dealing in illegal substances is justified by the monumental returns on the investment. The cost-benefit analysis is clear: "Make mega-bucks quickly! Now!" It's the mantra of venture capitalists, whatever the product.

Moral, racial, religious, and health considerations [to name a few] are equally as irrelevant in the international drug trade as in the international arms trade. The economic and political vulnerability of South Central Los Angeles [and most every other predominantly Black Community in America], along with the popularly accepted characterization of the "drug problem" as a "black problem", makes this particular scheme, if true, even more reprehensible. But, in real terms, if someone is buying, then someone is selling, "drug free society" fantasies notwithstanding.

However outraged, one should keep in mind the political realities surrounding the discovery of such information (1) This is old news. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) proved to my satisfaction that Oliver North knowingly allowed his Contra colleagues to transport cocaine on his air strip, as long as they transported guns to the Contras -- on that same strip. (The Senate testimony, taken in public hearings, is available to the public.) Further back in time, Cuban soldiers detailed to the African Revolutionary movements based in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania in the `70's alleged CIA complicity in drug sales for political gain even then. (I was there.) The world is not a big Sunday school and intelligence agents aren't choirboys. What else is new? (2) The full and unvarnished truth about these allegations will never be revealed to the public. The CIA's budget wasn't even public until a year or so ago. One candid federal agent summed it up best: "...you'll never know. The documents are classified and the CIA & the DEA will never declassify them." Get a grip! This is "a day in the life". All the more reason to "keep your eye on the ball..."

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who represents South Central Los Angeles in the House of Representatives, has done just that. She alone has kept this issue alive. She correctly perceives both the implications of this PR nightmare detailing "business as usual" at the CIA for (l)the Black Community in Los Angeles and beyond; and (2) for overall drug policy in the U.S., and has sought a dialogue with the drug reform movement in her quest for alternatives to the drug status quo.

However, before you begin fantasizing about legalization bills being offered in the House of Representatives, let me disabuse you of such notions. None of the three branches of government is likely to experience a political turnover on Nov. 5th, so the players remain the same. And as far as legalization bills are concerned, it matters not whether Newt Gingrich (R-GA) or Dick Gephardt (D-MO) is Speaker of the House. Forget the Senate. Remember as of yet, the drug reform movement lacks a demonstrable political constituency. Without one, we're playing softball in a cut-throat hardball game. And Rep. Waters' efforts, whatever their final form and however noble her intent, will be played out on a field where her power is "limited" and her allies few, to be optimistic. Any gains for our side will be modest indeed, if not more ceremonial than substantive. But, she is one lady who will definitely step up to the plate.

The opportunity to join the debate is important and Rep. Waters is to be commended. DPF and DRCNet and Lindesmith Center and the Harm Reduction Coalition, and FAMM, and all our colleagues out there who make up this movement, have to "do the work" [in political terms] to see gains in the political sphere just like all other reform movements that came before us and all those that will follow. This is the work. All the more reason to "keep your eye on the ball".

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DRCNet Activist Guide 10/96

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