After leaving Cali I made my way to Medellín, infamous for being the headquarters of Pablo Escobar and the cocaine drug cartels of the 1980s. It is a much safer city now, modern and bustling with commerce. They even have a nice clean metro:

Another view of Medellín.

They passed a law that required art to be displayed in every public building and park. One such area, the Plaza Botero, contains several works by the artist and sculpture Fernando Botero, who was born in Medellín.

But Medellín has a darker side. Parts of downtown are littered with garbage. Casinos, sleazy bars and brothels are on every block. Homeless people lie on sidewalks, drunks stagger about, groups of grimy children sit and sniff glue and smoke God-knows-what. Beggars crawl around asking for money, some with limbs missing. I was sitting on a park bench and a filthy man staggered up asking for money. He had a open wound on his arm with blood dripping out. I was so nauseated I had to get up and leave. I found the area strangely fascinating and repulsive at the same time.

The overall success of Medellín must be due partly to the influx of all that drug money. Escobar was the tenth richest man in the world in the 1980s. He had to spend the money somewhere. This got me thinking about these archaic drug laws that governments pass. Billions of dollars are spent on the so-called “war on drugs”. The answer is simple: legalize marijuana and cocaine. We should have learned from Prohibition that outlawing mind-altering drugs is a recipe for disaster. The period in US history where most gangsters thrived was during the prohibition years. The same applies now. If drugs were legal supply would increase, prices (and profits) would fall, quality would increase and the problem goes away. Why are politicians so afraid to suggest this? The Libertarians are the only party brave enough to propose this solution.

Granted, demand and usage would also increase, and this would lead to more addiction problems, just as there are alcoholics now. But the benefits of eliminating the gangster element from the industry far outweighs this drawback. Plus, billions of dollars would be saved on law enforcement. You could abolish the DEA, courts would be freed up, and there would be less crowding in the prison system.

2 thoughts on “Medellín

  1. David Rae December 18, 2007 / 6:36 pm

    Hi Kevin,
    Entirely agree about the drugs. The war on drugs has been an almost complete waste of time for years as evidenced by the fact that the price of the stuff is going down (so I read) whereas if the “war” was effective it would be getting more expensive. Not only would you save all that money but just like tobacco you could tax it some and so it would be a win win, spend less and get more revenue. Going after the growers is tackling entirely the wrong end of the problem as any RCA would tell you. I don’t think that there is a realistic prospect of making big progress in Afghanistan whilst what the farmers can get for their opium crop is many times what they can get for any other crop. Unfortunately I can’t see much chance ,if any ,of legalisation happening. When the government in the UK moved marijuana down a notch in its drugs classification,i.e. decreed that it was less harmful than previously thought but still illegal, they were absolutely hammered by the press and people with loud voices and little brains.
    On the dumping of rubbish. – I don’t think this is always or necessarily a function of wealth or the lack of it. You only have to look at some town centres in the UK after a Saturday night to see litter everywhere. I would say you have to make it easy for people to dispose of it and then as a consultant recently told me (!!), set clear expectations and standards and hold people accountable In less developed countries you could argue they’ve got more important things to concentrate on but I suspect most people if given the choice and opportunity would prefer not to live amongst piles of rubbish. Remeber all the garbage on the White Sands beach in EG. That would be an easy problem to fix if the government and authorities had any interest other than getting rich and staying in power.
    Its finally stopped raining here in EG about 2 weeks ago. Already its getting dusty. I return to the UK in a couple of days for Christmas and then back into the Aberdeen office. No idea what I’ll be doing. Maybe I’ll just stop work too. Seems much more fun. Hope that you have a safe and enjoyable Christmas.

  2. DAD December 25, 2007 / 2:12 am

    Correction–there are too many Christians in government.

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