By Carlos Olloqui
The war on drugs cannot be won. That’s according to Guatemalan journalist Harris Whitbeck who spoke to our War Reporting class about the drug crisis that has spread throughout South and Central America.
“I don’t think a war on drugs is the solution,” Whitbeck said. “I think the only solution is to legalize it.”
After more than a year of investigation and research, Whitbeck produced a documentary on the drug trafficking mostly coming from Colombia up through Guatemala and Mexico and into the United States. It focuses on the advanced and primitive methods the cartels use to smuggle drugs across the border and how the feds are trying to stop them. The documentary is titled Narco Tech.
“It’s has to change on its own, it’s got to be a natural and organic process,” he said. “The amount of drugs that are reported to be entering the U.S. are only a small fraction of what actually gets through.”
Whitbeck says the cartels are extremely innovative in getting their drugs past the U.S.-Mexico border. They use slingshots, canons, liquid cocaine on postage stamps, attach shipments to the hulls of boats and dig underground tunnels from Tijuana to San Diego.
“What surprised me the most is how astute these people are at finding methods of transporting drugs, such as the catapult to launch drugs over the border,” Whitbeck said. “It’s not so much advances in high-tech, it’s more just people using their minds to find creative ways of transporting drugs.”
This makes it nearly impossible for authorities to crack down on the cocaine, heroin and marijuana they get to their high-paying customers in the U.S.
Whitbeck found that the deep web also plays an important role in the drug smuggling business. TOR is one of networks the cartels use because it conceals its users by separating identification and routing. Whitbeck and his team tried to access TOR, but were unable to get in.
“It is really deep,” he said. “What we see when we are online is literally only the tip of the iceberg to what’s really down there.”
He says drug smugglers use Bitcoin and legal websites to launder their drug money.
“It’s mostly through online gambling,” Whitbeck said. “Most of these operations are based in Costa Rica. It’s a tool that already exists, and I’m not sure much can be done about it.”
Despite the political corruption, poverty and violence associated with the drug war, Whitbeck says the Latin American people maintain a positive outlook.
“There is a very thin line between life and death,” he said. “People in these countries don’t stop to think about whether there’s hope or not, they basically just go about trying to feed their families.”