Pubdate: Sun, 05 Mar 2006
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2006 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Diane Abbott
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


The election of Portia Simpson Miller to the leadership of Jamaica 
has caused considerable euphoria. But, as the exhilaration wears off, 
one of the biggest problems facing her will be the drug trade and the 
crime that goes with it.

One of the key drivers of the drug trade is demand. So it is worth 
looking at the history and pattern of drug use in America and here in 
Britain in order to relate it to the situation in the Caribbean.

The recent International Narcotics Control Board report reveals the 
surprising fact that more people have tried cocaine in Britain than 
anywhere else in the world. Some 6.8 per cent of UK adults admit that 
they have tried it. And nearly two per cent of them use it regularly.

Cocaine is the drug of choice for many middle-class professionals 
here in Britain and is now the second most popular drug after 
cannabis. Usage has doubled in the last seven years. Over the same 
period, the price on the streets of London has dropped. Cocaine used 
to cost about UKP 70 a gram. Now it sells for about UKP 35. This 
suggests that, despite well publicised drug seizures, the authorities 
have been decidedly ineffectual in stopping the flow of cocaine into 
the country.

And the cocaine trade causes some of the biggest problems for law 
enforcement in Jamaica. This is largely because of Jamaica's position 
as a key hub in the shipment of cocaine from South America to the 
markets in North America and beyond.

For centuries the drug trade has been tied up with colonialism and 
profiteering by western business interests. Hypocrisy has been a 
constant theme. On the one hand the British and American ruling 
classes have always condemned drug use and the countries that produce 
the raw materials. But they have always been perfectly happy to 
profit from narcotics and other drugs and turn a blind eye to their 
own citizens' drug use (just so long as those citizens were rich and powerful).

This pattern first emerged in the 16th century when the Spaniards 
conquered the Incas of South America. The Incas were the first known 
users of cocaine. They had chewed the coca leaf (the raw material for 
cocaine) for thousands of years.

It was officially reserved for Inca royalty, but it was widely used 
for medicinal and other purposes. When the Spanish conquistadors 
invaded South America they started out condemning cocaine (they 
called it "an evil agent of the devil") until they realised that the 
locals could not work without it.

In their anxiety to mine gold and generally rape South America of its 
raw materials, the colonialists forgot their moral scruples about 
drugs and legalised the coca bush. Many settlers made a point of 
distributing the leaves three or four times a day to their 
(semi-slave) labourers in their work breaks.

The settlers also imposed a special tax on local farmers, taking 10 
per cent of their coca crop. Even the Catholic Church in South 
America grew it. The pattern set was to last until today; the West 
likes to moralise about drugs and profit from them at one and the same time.

Closer to modern times, not many people know that cocaine was widely 
used in Europe in the Victorian era. It was the main ingredient in a 
number of tonics and patent medicines. One of the most well known was 
a tonic wine called Vin Mariani, which was first produced in 1863. 
Every ounce of it contained 11 per cent alcohol and 6.5 milligrams of 
cocaine. Not surprisingly, it was extremely popular.

Famous Victorian writers like Emile Zola, Jules Verne, Alexandre 
Dumas, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Louis Stephenson loved it. 
The Shah of Persia and US presidents William McKinley and Ulysses 
Grant drank it. And even Queen Victoria herself liked a tipple.

The famous soft drink Coca Cola originally contained a small amount 
of cocaine per bottle. It keeps the name to this day; but in 1904 the 
manufacturers removed the actual cocaine.

Cocaine remained fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s. Song writer Cole 
Porter was a user. But in the 1960s and 1970s cocaine was overtaken 
in popularity by LSD, amphetamine, ecstasy, acid, speed and heroin. 
But cocaine (and the derivative crack) became a market leader again 
in the late 1990s. Street sales in the United States topped US$35 
billion in 2003. It was because the American market became saturated 
that the dealers turned to Europe. And today on the streets of my 
district in London, and many other inner-city areas, we struggle with 
drug-related criminality.

The drug trade is a huge problem in Britain and America. But it is an 
even greater challenge to Jamaican politicians and the new prime 
minister, Portia Simpson Miller. In Britain, drugs are a threat to 
the health of the citizen. But in Jamaica, the narcotics trade is 
also a threat to the health of its democracy. So friends of Jamaica, 
wish the prime minister every success in standing up to the drug dons.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom