I have watched the twenty episodes of the Netflix serial " Narcos " and enjoyed it thoroughly. I found it absorbing and hmm.. addictive too. The story of Pablo Escobar is colorful and has all the ingredients for entertainment. I liked the dialogues in Colombian Spanish, the best in Latin America.
The story of Escobar is part of the larger story involving the politics of Colombia; the social divide between the oligarchic ruling establishment in Bogota and the poor people in the interior; the leftist guerrilla wars; corruption and violence in the Colombian society; the interference in the internal affairs of Colombia by US in the name of the war on drugs and the war on communism; and the US military-industry-intelligence complex which plunged into Colombia, looking for a new playing field after the end of the 'cold war'.
Interestingly, there are some Brazilian elements in this Colombian serial. Brazilian actor Wagnor Mora has done justice to Escobar's character by his superb acting. He had learnt Spanish specially for acting in the serial. Jose Padilha, the Brazilian who was famous for his film 'Elite Squad" directed the Narcos serial in the beginning. The title song of the serial is composed and sung by Rodrigo Amarante, another Brazilian.
Narcos is based on the real life story of Pablo Escobar, the Medellin drug king and the hunt for him by Colombian and American forces. Escobar, who starts life as a small time smuggler of cigarettes and electronics, discovers the Big Business of cocaine supply to US and goes up in the value chain. With the power of money, he starts buying, fighting and bullying politicians, media,security forces and rivals with his 'plata o plomo' (money or bullets) approach. The Colombian politicians did not care much initially about the drug business which they considered an easy way for some enterprising Colombians to make quick dollars from the decadent Yankee drug addicts. But the Colombian government is forced by the heavy hand of American administration to act against drug production and trafficking. Caught between the Devils of the Empires of Consumption and Supply, the Colombian administration and security forces get into enforcement reluctantly. Escobar retaliates with bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. When the public opinion and government pressure become overwhelming, Escobar makes an incredible deal with the government under which he self-imprisons himself in his custom made jail cum resort 'La catedral'. Unable to tolerate his continuation of business of drugs and killings from the jail, the government sends special forces to transfer him to another jail. But Escobar escapes and is on the run. Realizing that the security forces are not a match to Escobar, the American and the Colombian security agencies conspire and create Los Pepes, a right wing militia which kills Escobar's associates and destroys his businesses one after another, in collusion with the rival Cali cartel. Escobar tries to send his family abroad to a safe place but the government stops it and makes his family a hostage. Escobar's phone conversations with his captive family provides the opportunity for the security forces to trace his calls and kill him.
After watching Narcos, I read the book " Killing Pablo- the true story behind the hit series Narcos" written by Mark Bowden. The author has interviewed the main American and Colombian officials and political leaders involved in the hunt for Escobar and has had access to a number of US documents. He has given a detailed account of the 'turf war' between the US spying and enforcement agencies who compete with each other for one upmanship, resources and credit.
According to Bowden, Escobar became an ideal trophy target for the CIA, NSA, FBI, Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, and special forces, who were looking for a new role in the world after the end of the cold war. They jumped joyfully into the 'war on drugs' with their spy equipments, budget and Rambo confidence. At one time there were about 17 spy planes flying over Medellin to track Escobar and they had to assign an AWACS (airborne warning and control centre), to keep track of the planes.
While I enjoyed watching the serial and reading the book, I ended up feeling sad and angry, like my Colombian and Latin American friends. The Narcos story has been narrated narrowly from an American point of view distorting the facts with false and misleading propaganda. Colombians are portrayed as the bad guys while the DEA agents come out as 'good guys'. But the truth is that the real villains are the American consumers of drugs. Colombia had to bear the extreme pain and shed blood for the sake of those Americans who enjoy the pleasure of illegal drugs. The drug business is basically demand-driven and consumer-driven from US. The drugs are continuing to be consumed even now by Hollywood actors, politicians and pop stars besides the students and other sections of the American society. So long as this continues and the US consumers are willing to pay top dollars, there will always be suppliers. Even President Nixon, who declared the war on drugs, admitted in his June 1971 address to the Congress, “as long as there is a demand, there will be those willing to take the risks of meeting the demand.” In this statement, he publicly proclaimed that all efforts of interdiction and eradication are destined to fail. But the Narcos serial as well as the American media and administration have succeeded in demonizing Pablo Escobar as 'the most powerful criminal in history' and giving a bad name to Colombia while covering up the real consumer culprits in US and and misleading and distorting the global discourse on drugs. The killing of Escobar has not stopped or reduced drug consumption in US. The Cali cartel took over where it was left by the Medellin gangs and is now run by Mexican cartels.
The US market for illegal drugs was over 100 billion dollars in 2012 , according to a Rand Corporation report (file://localhost/Users/rengaraj-viswanathan/Documents/RAND_RB9770.pdf) which included 40 billion dollars of Marijuana, 28 billion of Cocaine, 27 billion of Heroine and 13 bn of Meth. According to a 2012 study by the Organisation of American States ( http://www.cicad.oas.org/drogas/elinforme/informeDrogas2013/laEconomicaNarcotrafico_ENG.pdf ) the Andean cocoa leaf producers get only 1% of the retail value of cocaine in US, while the traffickers get 20-25% and the remaining stays within the US retail business. So, the illegal drugs are just a business in which the US "Customer is the King". The Colombians and Mexicans simply serve the King and receive just the crumb.
The business of 'war on drugs' is also equally huge. It is said that US spends around 50 billion dollars a year. DEA has its own fleet of planes, boats and secret cash. No wonder that the DEA chief is called as the Drug Czar. The corporations, contractors and equipment suppliers to DEA want the continuation of this profitable war and successfully lobby the Congress and administration for its perpetuation.
In the name of the 'war on drugs', the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other intelligence agencies of the US have infiltrated the security forces of many countries of Latin America. The US forces these countries to militarize their anti drug operations as a priority and devote more of their resources to the drug war at the expense of all other law and order issues. Through such interference the US creates and cultivates future military dictators. The classic case was Manuel Noriega who became the Panamanian president. CIA had used him for their covert operations and helped him with drug trafficking and money laundering. But when he became too hot to handle, the US invaded Panama and took him away as prisoner. There is evidence that CIA itself had got into the drug business to generate money to aid the 'contras' against the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. This has been brought out in the Hollywood fim "Kill the messenger", based on the true story of an American journalist who uncovered the scam.
The US had tried very hard to prevent the election of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia by branding him as a coca-leaf producer. US has airsprayed harmful chemicals in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia to destroy coca fields, damaging agricultural land and the ecosystem. The US needs to respect the Andean tradition of using coca leaves for religious, food and medicinal purposes and separate the sacred leaf issue from the profane cocaine snorting in US for recreation.
Drug trafficking is not just one way business. Drug goes into US for which the American dollars and illegal guns are smuggled to Latin America. This reverse trafficking is even more dangerous than the drug flow since guns kill instantly and takes many victims at one go unlike the drugs which kill only the consumer and that too slowly . According to a US report (The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border.” study by University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute http://catcher.sandiego.edu/items/peacestudies/way_of_the_gun.pdf ), over 200,000 guns are smuggled from US to Mexico every year. On average, there are more than three US gun dealers for every mile of the 1,970-mile border between the countries. Mexico has just one gun shop for the whole country while there are 51300 retail gun sellers in US. A significant proportion of the US gun sellers depend on the illegal demand from Mexico. It has been reported that over three fourth of the guns used in the fights between the gangs in El Salvador are of US origin. Thousands of people die in Mexico, Central America and Colombia from the illegal guns smuggled from US, the largest manufacturer and supplier of fire arms in the world. If we use the American logic that eradication of production is the solution for drug problem, isn't it logical to extend this argument and say that the gun production in US needs to be eradicated to prevent the killings in Mexico and Central America? Probably more people in Latin America have been killed with American guns than the number of Americans killed by Latin American drugs.
According to a 2010 Homeland Security study ( https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cne-criminalproceedsstudy.pdf), between $19 billion and $29 billion dollars of cash had been smuggled from the United States to drug trafficking organizations and other organized criminal groups in Mexico each year. Western Banks like HSBC have been caught for drug money laundering in Mexico. But HSBC got away with payment of simple fine to US justice Department.
Many even in the US admit the failure of the American drug war. Clearly, illegal drug consumption is a social problem within the US which needs domestic solutions such as legalization. The drug wars in Latin America is just a ploy to blame others and mislead the world to cover up a purely domestic problem. US could learn from Uruguay which has shown the way to legalize production, distribution and consumption of marijuana. The US states of Washington and Colorado have already taken the lead to liberalize sale and consumption in a limited way. Many Latin American presidents have called for drug legalization but the US would not let them.
Like the Netflix serials, the military-industrial-intelligence complex of US has been inventing its own versions of real life serial wars for profit as well as to destabilize and interfere in the affairs of Latin American countries. They started off with the "war on communism"during which they overthrew many democracies and propped up military dictatorships. Then they moved on to "War on Drugs" and messed up Colombia. The US sent hundreds of agents, soldiers and contractors to Colombia with diplomatic passports and made the embassy in Bogota as the largest in the world. The Americans were interfering freely in the Colombian police, armed forces, judiciary, Congress and administration ordering them what to do and what not to do. They corrupted the Colombians with 'visa and asylum for collusion and collaboration'. The Americans are now vitiating Mexico and Central America with the same drug wars. The third serial was the "War on Terrorism" since 9/11. But this did not find much traction in the region, although 'terrorists' were invented before the Rio Olympics and spotted earlier in Paragauay and Mexico in the same way as nuclear weapons were 'found' in Iraq. Fortunately Latin America did not suffer in the terrorism war since the neocons have had their hands full in the Middle East.
The fourth and the latest serial is the "war on corruption". The US intelligence has spied on Petrobras, the Brazilian firm which is now at the centre of the ongoing corruption investigation in Brazil as well as President Dilma Rouseff, among others, as revealed by the papers leaked by Snowden. The Brazilians suspect that the US had passed on information against selected targets to a Brazilian judge who had been to Harvard and participated in exchange programmes with US agencies. The judge, according to some Brazilians, started a selective crusade against the Workers Party, President Dilma and ex-President Lula who had stood against the hemispheric hegemony of US and successfully killed the US initiative to sign a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Outraged by the US espionage, President Dilma cancelled her state visit to Washington DC in 2013. President Lula had directly challenged US by his audacious rescue of President Chavez when he was briefly overthrown in a coup in 2002 and his attempt (unsuccessful) to undo the US-supported coup in Honduras in 2009. So the US wants to teach a lesson to Lula. The corruption war has already yielded commercial dividends to US. The unelected right wing Brazilian President Michel Temer has put an end to the "Resource Nationalism policy" by cutting down the monopoly of Petrobras in the pre-salt oil production and breaking the company into pieces which are being picked up by US corporations at rock bottom prices.
Another Latin American victim of the 'war on corruption' is the Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who seemed to have got on the wrong side of the Big Brother, like Noriega. The Latin Americans believe that the leakage of Panama Papers with information on selected targets and the aggressive investigation into Latin American FIFA officials are also part of the destabilization of the region in the name of the 'war on corruption'. It is no surprise to find from recent US media reports that many Venezuelans have been named as corrupt or alleged to be involved in narco trafficking. This is just preparation for the 'regime change' in Venezuela. The war on corruption could claim more Latin American leaders who dare to disobey the Washington Consensus.
While I am looking forward to see more episodes of 'Narcos' in the forthcoming third and fourth seasons, the Latin Americans fear that the Warlords of Washington DC might also be planning their own next real war serials in the name of something or other.