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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 May 2012

Film review: 'Cocaine Unwrapped'

The failing 'war on drugs'

Paul Heron
Cocaine Unwrapped, directed by Rachael Seifert

Cocaine Unwrapped, directed by Rachael Seifert   (Click to enlarge)

Cocaine Unwrapped, a documentary film directed by Rachel Seifert, went on general release from 5 May.

It looks at one drug, cocaine, and its impact in two worlds - the relatively wealthy west, and poor areas of the southern hemisphere.

It tells several stories, travelling to London, Baltimore USA, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico.

It examines the simple coca leaf, its production and transformation to cocaine. It looks at drug mules, prisons, poverty, death squads, gang crime and its political impact. It is an eye-opening account of the devastating repercussions of the 'war on drugs'.

It is a human story, showing individual users in London saying how the drug helps them enjoy a night out, while in Baltimore it portrays the city's industrial devastation and the rise in unemployment.

We are shown around the neighbourhoods where dealing drugs is a way out for many of the poorest.

In South America, 140,000 members of Colombia's police are fighting the 'war on drugs,' backed up with paramilitary force and billions of dollars of US 'aid'.

Small farmers in the Tumaco region found their crops of chocolate, bananas and yucca plants destroyed as indiscriminate aerial spraying of herbicide occurs regularly.

As local community leaders explain, spraying causes ill-health, economic stagnation and mass migration.

Even the reactionary former president of Colombia, Cesar Gavira, has to outline the social damage this 'war on drugs' causes: "It destroys the lives of people who are not criminals and who are just trying to survive."

In Bolivia before 2005, governments waged a war against coca growers. In 2005 the election of Evo Morales and the Movement for Socialism (MAS) showed the anger of workers, peasants and the landless at the effects of neoliberal policies.

As the film shows, the Morales government allowed limited growth of the coca leaf, monitored by the growers themselves through the trade unions, and supported the farmers' right to diversify into other crops.

The coca leaf in its natural form is just a leaf that can be made into, among other things, herbal tea and creams for skin disorders. The US government is trying to stop these changes in approach happening.

Tragically Morales and MAS now increasingly implement neoliberal policies, including openly backing the landowners in one of the world's most unequal countries for land ownership. 100 families own 25 million hectares, five times more than the entire indigenous population combined. Morales' failure to challenge this now threatens to destroy all improvements.

Cocaine Unwrapped, a film by Rachael Seifert

Cocaine Unwrapped, a film by Rachael Seifert

The film moves to Mexico, focusing on Cuidad Juarez, a town where violence escalated in recent years - it shows 50 freshly dug graves ready for fresh bodies as the war between the army, the gangs, and inter-gang rivalry escalates further.

A 'war' in Mexico against drugs was used as a smokescreen to hide abuse of the democratic process. Like George W Bush, Mexico's current President Calderon was elected after a suspect election.

As Bush used the 'war on terror', Calderon used the 'war on drugs' as a smokescreen with devastating effect.

Calderon destabilised the illegal trade, sparking the escalating war, the intervention of the army, abuses of human rights and corruption in local and national government.

The Mexican film director Alejandro González Iñárritu specialises in films where seemingly unrelated stories inevitably crash and collide, such as Amoros Perros and 21 Grams.

Cocaine Unwrapped takes a similar format, showing stories of the casual user, the drug mule, the displaced and the poverty.

Director Rachel Seifert accounts for the drug's environmental and human costs in South America and the seemingly illogical way that the 'war on drugs' is conducted.

The unfolding tragedies make up a network of miscommunication, violence, and cyclical poverty that feeds on the demand for and illegality of cocaine.

Cocaine Unwrapped has no answers but holds a mirror up to the effects of the 'war on drugs.'


Showing at the Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square, Wednesday 16th May 8.30pm.

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In The Socialist 9 May 2012:

Socialist Party election analysis

Legitimacy of Cameron and Clegg further shattered

Election results: How did TUSC do?

Con-Dems battered in Scottish local elections

Labour's best Wales result in 21 years will not stop cuts

London elections - TUSC: A marker for future struggles

Coventry: Socialist campaigner Dave Nellist narrowly loses

4,792 mayoral vote for Liverpool 47 candidate

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition local election reports

Unison attacks TUSC candidate

International socialist news and analysis

France: A weekend that shocked Europe

Greece: Political earthquake sees pro-austerity parties' support collapse

Socialist Party news and analysis

Water waste of money!

MPs find Murdoch "not fit" to run media empire

Them & Us

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Good result for Socialist Students candidates in NUS elections

Health services at risk in Cardiff and Vale

Privatisation pushes up transport costs in Yorkshire

Care home closures in Sheffield

Police restrict anti-racist protesters in Luton

Socialist Party workplace news

Come to the NSSN conference!

Greenwich libraries - fighting back can win

Exposed: the dirty world of NHS privatisation

Duncan Smith throws insults at Remploy workers

Workplace news in brief

Reviews and comments

Film review: 'Cocaine Unwrapped'

Turning anger into action


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