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MOVIE REVIEW

'Traffic': How the Drug War Became Big Business


by Uri Dowbenko

      There are no good guys or bad guys in the so-called War on Drugs.

      Only losers.

      On that theme, "Traffic," directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Stephen Gaghan, is a brilliant movie. It's engaging, heart-breaking and all too real, interweaving multiple storylines with a top-notch ensemble cast.

      One story begins with Tijuana cop Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and his partner Manolo Sanchez (Jacob Vargas) on a stakeout in the desert. They confiscate a truckload of drugs, only to be overtaken by Mexican army troops in shining new black Suburbans. The punchline of this opening sequence? There is no difference between the drug traffickers and Mexican government officials. They are literally the same people.

      In another story, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) defends US asset seizure laws saying there's "no sacred protection of property rights in the United States" -- if you grow a controlled substance like marijuana (or, he should have added, if they plant it on you).

      Ironically, even though he's tapped to be the new Drug Czar, the head of the US Office of Drug Control Policy, he and his wife (Amy Irving) are in complete denial about their daughter (Erika Christensen) and her upper-class prep-school friends in Cincinnati, who party with drugs like it's the end of the world.

      Meanwhile in ritzy La Jolla, California, north of San Diego, Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones) watches as her husband Carlos (Steven Bauer) is dragged off by DEA agents. She's also in denial. She doesn't have a clue that she enjoys her high-maintenance lifestyle because her husband is not only a "businessman" but a drug trafficking kingpin as well.

      At the same time, undercover agents Montie Gordon (Don Cheadle) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzman) are working a case against another "businessman," Eduardo Ruiz (Michael Ferrer), who has been arrested and decides to turn against his boss.

      The two agents, a Latino and a African American, talk about their "dreams about busting the top people. The rich people. The white people." In other words, even low-level DEA agents know who's really running the drug trafficking.

      Moving deftly between shakedowns in Mexico to cocktail parties in Washington, Soderbergh uses a shoot from the hip documentary style to produce the fast-paced immediacy of the drug war-business and the players at all levels.

      The movie's "Scenes from the Drug War" approach shows the intricate relationships of all the players. However -- surprise! -- the movie doesn't even hint at the complicity of US Government, military and CIA sanctioned narcotics trafficking -- a fact of life documented extensively in many highly credible first-hand accounts.

      One of the characters even says, "In Mexico, law enforcement is an entrepreneurial activity. Not so in the United States." This politically correct disclaimer is, of course, untrue -- and one of the few false notes of "Traffic."

      Many books written by former DEA and CIA agents confirm that the US Government through its agencies has been condoning and sanctioning drug trafficking for at least 50 years -- if not longer.

      The specious term "War on Drugs" is after all simply a way for the top players to eliminate the competition.

      Need more evidence? Here's a list of books which deliver the facts of US Government drug trafficking:

* "Defrauding America" by Rodney Stich, which documents ongoing CIA and DEA narcotics trafficking.

* "White Lies: The CIA, Drugs and the Press" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair on the long twisted history of CIA narcotics trafficking and media coverups.

* "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade" by Alfred W. McCoy, which documents CIA sanctioned drug dealing since the Vietnam War.

* "Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion" by Gary Webb, on the facts of CIA drug traffickers, which Hitz's Inspector General report suppressed.

* "The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic" by Michael Levine, a veteran DEA undercover agent for 25 years who stumbled into CIA protected narcotics trafficking in South America.

* "Drugging America" by Rodney Stich, a former federal investigator who documents decades of CIA drug trafficking and the phoney War on Drugs.

* "Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras and the Drug War" by DEA agent Celerino Castillo III and Dave Harmon who write about US Government collaboration with drug smugglers.

      Regarding "Traffic," the most relevant book is Gary Webb's heavily documented "Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion." In this classic historical analysis, Webb details the exploits and adventures of "Freeway" Ricky Ross, a Los Angeles based distributor of CIA cocaine who networked with CIA-connected Nicaraguans and the Iran Contra drug trafficking network.

      What ties in with the "Traffic" movie is that Ross had actually set up crack cocaine distribution networks throughout the country -- including Cincinnati, the scene of the Michael Douglas Drug Czar character and his crack-whore daughter.

      Of course, the irony of Iran-Contra Cocaine and the so-called Cincinnati Connection is that while the CIA specifically targeted blacks (they actually referred to blacks dying from cocaine as a "self-cleaning oven") the upper class -- and its children -- had also succumbed to the CIA's drugs. In other words, though the CIA thought they would make money on blacks killing themselves with drugs, rich white people also became susceptible. There are no class or geographic barriers to addiction.

      "He kept saying he could get me stuff for really cheap and we could make a lot of money with it in Cincinnati, [said Ross]" in his book. "Ross knew Danilo [Blandon, the Nicaraguan supplier] was right. He'd checked around town and had been amazed at how much folks in Ohio were paying for their dope. "I got down there and started meeting people and they were telling me, Aw man, it's this and it's that.' Then my friend from Miami came by and said, "Hey man, come on. I'll give it to you for ten. So he was talking about giving it to me for $10,000 and in Cincinnati, keys were selling for $50,000.' Ross laughed. 'Ounces were like $2400. It was like when I got started...

      "Making Cincinnati his own was effortless,' writes Webb. "By then Ross was an old hand at creating new crack martkets... From there he branched out to Over the Rhine, another poor inner city neighborhood and then took his show to the suburbs: Avondale, Mt. Airy, Bond Hill, St Bernard, Lockland and Walnut Hills using the same marketing gimmicks he had perfected in L.A. -- free cocaine, smoke parties, volume discounts. Once these operations were up and running, Ross called back to L.A. and invited his friends to come out and staff them. Suddenly Cincinnati had two problems it never had before: Crips and crack."

      And that's how CIA-sanctioned crack cocaine, distributed by the entrepreneurial networking master Ricky Ross had penetrated the upper class suburban market.

      For all its realism regarding the phoney War on Drugs, "Traffic" studiously avoids this real-life history.

      To its credit, however, the movie brings viewers face to face with American society's addiction to drug money. The stock market is thriving because the Wall Street money laundry is what people want. It's what they demand in unsustainable high yield returns. America's collective denial makes the "failure" of the phoney "war on drugs" even more ironic.

      As the Eduardo character tells the undercover DEA agents, "Your whole life is pointless. You realize the futility of what you're doing, and you're still doing it."

      Ultimately, the phoney "war on drugs" can be reduced to Wakefield's pronouncement near the end -- "I don't know how you can wage war on your family." It is certainly one of the reasons why the "war on drugs" itself is an abject -- and deliberate -- failure.

      Making money on "privatized" prisons filled with "war on drugs" victims is the current scam. And since the Soviet Union "fell," the so-called prison industry is a great resource pool of slave labor. Correction Corporation of America. Prison Realty Trust. These are the companies that profit by the national fraud called the "drug war."

      Or take a look at Unicor, a corporation which uses prison slave labor to produce low cost data services for Federal agencies.

      Karmically speaking, a house divided against itself must fall. As long as Americans vote for a drug-money-fueled economy by remaining in denial about their "prosperity," the charade will go on.

      And even though the "war on drugs" was lost -- and was never meant to be "won" -- American self deception will continue.

      To reiterate, there are no good guys or bad guys in the War on Drugs. Only losers.


Copyright © 2001 Uri Dowbenko. All Rights Reserved.


Uri Dowbenko is CEO of New Improved Entertainment Corp. He can be reached by e-mail at u.dowbenko@mailcity.com


(The preceding is a sample chapter from
"Hoodwinked: Watching Movies With Eyes Wide Open"
by Uri Dowbenko

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