I graduated in 2011 from this wonderful school of ours with four years’ worth of great memories and friends. I can honestly say that my time at UCSB was the happiest four years of my life. About a month after graduation, I moved to Belize with a two-year job commitment with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
But the reason I’m writing this isn’t to make you jealous or to show off. I am writing an appeal to anyone who will listen. As it stands this tropical little “paradise” that is know about by few Americans (and of those mostly in terms of tourism) is bleeding out. Drug smuggling, gang violence and poverty are literally killing this nation. According to a U.N. report published in April 2012, Belize is the fifth most dangerous country in the world. A few months ago, three people were killed on the street in broad daylight. The government has responded by declaring that in certain areas, houses can be broken into and people can be arrested without a warrant. We have had enough experience with the Gang Suppression Unit to know this is a bogus solution. To make the point clear, the Police Commissioner’s wife was roughed up by police officers after she tried to stop them from beating up a man on the street.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because one of the main causes of all of this pain is drug trafficking en route to the States. The coke that gets used during a weekend in I.V. is tied to the boy that is killed on the street here in Belize. I know this because I know kids who were in primary school when they were used as drug mules. It’s impossible to deny the damage that is linked to America’s drug habits. The death toll from the war on drugs and the cartels in Mexico is in the tens of thousands. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious or holier than thou, but if you decide to indulge in things that weren’t locally grown (if you catch my drift), even if it’s “just once to try it” or “only a few times when I’m really drunk” it adds fuel to this fire.
I am writing this because I believe that the average UCSB student doesn’t want to cause harm to others. On the contrary, I believe the average UCSB student is passionate about making the world a safer and more loving place, but sometimes we’re so trapped in our little surreal privilege bubble of university life that we forget that our actions do have consequences. My plea for you (and for everyone else) is to then help create a culture of resistance to cocaine or any other foreign drug use.
There are some very smart people at UCSB who I have talked to about this who feel like legalization would be a great fix to this problem. While it may be someday, the reality now is that there is no such thing as “fair trade” cocaine. Also, I just don’t have enough blind faith in the “invisible hand” of the international free market to turn this industry bloodless. Why? Because while clothing, cell phones and Apple products are all legal, that hasn’t stopped the capitalistic pursuit of profit from creating inhumane conditions to make these products for consumers. One just has to look at Foxconn in China or Savar, Bangladesh to see the lengths people will go to make money. And drug cartels are nothing if not bloody efficient capitalists.
Let people know it’s not cool, and that other human beings died in the process of getting that drug to California. Please don’t turn a blind eye to the sufferings of those who are victims of our people’s wealth and indulgences. There are plenty of strong and inspiring women and men in Belize who are trying to take back their country from the violence that plagues it. They don’t need our “help” as much as they need us to stop “harming.” I know there’s still enough hope and idealism at UCSB to make a difference.
Janet Ornelas graduated in 2011 with a B.A. in Chican@ studies and Spanish.