Convicts, Collateral Damage, and the “War on Drugs”

by JOSEPH NEVINS

Two recent court cases in southern California provide insight into the identity of those smuggle drugs across the international boundary between the two countries. But more importantly what they do is highlight how the ludicrous “war on drugs” produces casualties of many sorts.

Eugenio Velázquez, 51, is a U.S. citizen who resides in Tijuana. He is also one of that city’s most prominent architects. U.S. border authorities arrested him in March while he tried to enter the United States from through the official port of entry in San Ysidro (part of San Diego), California, after finding more than 12 kilos of cocaine concealed in his vehicle.

In June, he pleaded guilty “to knowingly and intentionally importing the cocaine,” reports the San Diego Union Tribune and is scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

Maximino Melchor Vázquez was, until recently, a member of Tijuana’s classical music community. Sheriff’s deputies arrested the 23-year-old trained tenor who enjoys singing opera and traditional Mexican music, in September near Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine base north of San Diego. They caught him transporting 44 pounds of crystal methamphetamine.

The young man, a member of the Tijuana musical ensemble, Opera Ambulante, pleaded guilty in November to drug trafficking charges in San Diego Superior Court. According to the Union-Tribune, he received a nine-year sentence, at least half of
which he will have to serve in prison.

In addition to challenging the stereotype of who smuggles narcotics, what the two men share is that both might very well be victims of the very drug trafficking syndicates that the authorities who arrested, charged, and convicted them claim to combat.

Melchor has remained tight-lipped about the circumstances that resulted in his transport of the drug. But his lawyer, John R. Rodriguez, asserts that his client acted under duress, and did so to protect himself and his family. According to his attorney, “He was propositioned in a way that it would put everybody at risk if he simply walked away.”

Velázquez, for his part, has been more forthcoming. In a recent letter to the news media in Tijuana, he explains that his actions were “the result of a situation of high risk, threat, and intimidation.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Lauren Mack coldly says that such claims are to be expected: “It’s very common for drug smugglers to claim coercion after they’ve been caught.” She uselessly advises those who feel that “they are in harm’s way if they don’t smuggle . . . .  to contact authorities and let them know before they get caught.”

While one can’t know for certain what actually transpired in the events that led to their arrests, Eugenio Velázquez and Maximino Melchor Vázquez appear to be among the more sympathetic individuals tragically ensnared by the seemingly endless drug war. Regardless of what they did and why, their cases demonstrate that it is the war itself that is the crime. It produces countless victims—whether “innocent” or “guilty”—while fueling the very practices that allegedly necessitate the “war” that is supposed to extinguish them.

Joseph Nevins teaches geography at Vassar College. He is the author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008) and Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2010).

This article was originally published by NACLA.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy