Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.
Growing up in Colombia during the 1970s and early 1980s was an eye-opening experience. As a teenager living through the daily tensions of a country in constant social turmoil and violence, the thought of worrying or even thinking about marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, and their impact on the world was irrelevant. Illicit drugs and awareness campaigns were not part of the country’s social, health, or educational policies. The internal use of drugs, from my perspective at the time, was almost nonexistent. This was a problem of the marginalized and the homeless—at least that is what my Grandmother used to say. The real problems were poverty, political violence, and corruption. I quickly learned in the mid-1980s, though, when I started to travel to the United States in order to live with my Dad in Brownsville, Texas, that Colombia’s internal social, political, and economic problems (not to mention environmental problems, which I did not think about back then) were mostly repercussions of the US War on Drugs.
I vividly remember a trip to the United States when I was just 14-years old. Soon after landing at the Miami airport, I was asked by the immigration officer to step aside and follow the other officers who, out of nowhere, appeared next to me to accompany me to another section of the baggage claim area where they opened my suitcase, searched me, and questioned me about bringing in drugs into the country. The stigma of having a US passport that says that I was born in Colombia still haunts me today—and perhaps will for the rest of my life. Since then, I have been stripped and deep-searched by US customs and Colombian customs officers on so many occasions that I have built some sort of travel paranoia.
The recurring experiences of being targeted and psychologically abused while traveling inspired me to constantly reflect on the local and global impacts of illicit drugs and, more particularly, on the social, cultural, economic, and political constructs that have resulted from the American War on Drugs. My overarching conclusion when it comes to illicit drugs is that American and other Western societies are hypocritical when facing the impacts of their own addictions and relationships to drugs. With the blessing of their governments, Western societies have lived, continue to live, and will live under a social construct that advances the idea that the problem with drugs is foreign and external. When in reality, the problem is deeply rooted in Western culture itself.