Sunday, October 13, 2013

When cocaine is all there is

   Drugs are on my mind, as they often are these days. South American cocaine, to be more specific, 800 tons of which are reportedly moved north every year to eager markets in the U.S. and Canada. And the majority of it passes right through this region where I’m working at the moment - the Moskitia.
   Just before I left Copan Ruinas to come down here, I was telling an American friend about how I loved coming to this gorgeous place but at the same time always felt a bit on edge because of the enormous presence of The Business, as I've come to think of it. She was astounded that such a thing could be going on in plain sight without the military and Drug Enforcement Agency being all over it.
   But of course, that’s the thing about The Business in a country like Honduras (or anywhere, for that matter): It’s complicated.
   One of my co-workers here in the Moskitia was complaining this week about the tendency among people in the scattered, isolated villages around here to view the industry as an employer rather than a scourge.
   But in truth, it IS an employer, in a region that has damn few. It’s also a customer for the handful of hotel and restaurant services eaking out a meager existence, and probably even an emergency lender at the neighbourhood level for families in a jam.
   The Business owns real estate, legitimate businesses, tourist attractions, gas stations. When the notorious Los Cachiros cartel was busted last month, people in the cartel’s home town of Tocoa protested over the jobs that would be lost if authorities shut down the cartel’s many businesses, which include a very popular private zoo.
   Here in the Moskitia, who can blame anyone for getting in on some of the thriving business going on right in the ‘hood? The people are completely on their own here, ignored by their government and largely shunned by development organizations. They've got no electricity, no infrastructure, no money that would let them leave and no jobs that would help them stay. 
   If you were sitting in your crappy shack with your kids getting eaten alive by mosquitoes coming in through the holes where the windows would go if you had the money to buy any, what would you do? Those of us from drug-consuming countries like to frame the selling of drugs as a values issue, but it’s just another way to make a living in a place like this.
   A dangerous way to make a living, mind you: Narco-traficantes have a way of settling scores that leave women, children and countless young men dead, as two recent incidents in the Moskitia proved yet again. It’s a business with a terrible penchant for violence. The presence of the industry in Honduras is not benign, but I suspect it’s too well-integrated and perhaps even too essential to the country’s economy - and certainly to the economy of the Moskitia - for anyone to put a stop to it.
     Whatever the solution, it won’t involve sending armed troops into this fragile region to do battle with the “bad guys.” I don’t know if the lines were ever clear, but they certainly aren't anymore. 

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