In Puerto Rico, as in the U.S., the “War on Drugs” is another ruling-class weapon in the class war waged against the working class to prevent it from organizing and seizing control. In the name of this fraudulent “War on Drugs, Puerto Rico has suffered years of devastation by the U.S. and its law enforcement agencies.
The coined phrase “War on Drugs” was invented by the Nixon administration in the late 1960’s to use drug laws to suppress student agitation, the civil rights movement, and urban protests in impoverished black communities. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration added mandatory sentencing laws to exert social control over such communities, as neoliberal economic policies slashed government aid.
The “War on Drugs” — supposedly to stop the export of drugs from South America into the U.S. — was, in fact, a thinly veiled scheme, disguised as drug interdiction, to send funds and military personnel to fascist regimes in South and Central America to suppress communist and nationalist movements.
The racist “War on Drugs” in the U.S. has suppressed and destroyed black communities through massive incarceration of young black men.
In Puerto Rico, where the population exhibits less apparent racial differences, the “War on Drugs” is still truly racist as well as a merciless class war. It massively jails the poorest of the poor, targeting Puerto Rico’s Public Housing Projects. With the U.S. military substantially forced from the island because of popular protests, the “War on Drugs” has allowed the U.S. to remilitarize Puerto Rico with a flood of federal agents ready to suppress its long tradition of revolutionary struggle.
Jailing the Unemployed
Historically, enforcement of drug laws was the province of the Puerto Rico Police Department, the second largest police force in the U.S. (including its colonies). Federal law enforcement targeted only large drug importers while local law enforcement dealt with daily drug traffic, especially in Public Housing Projects. In 1995, with poverty and joblessness continuing to rise, and fearing rebirth of the recently crushed armed independence movement, Puerto Rico was declared a High Density Drug Trafficking Area, flooding more personnel and funds onto the island. Thus the “War on Drugs” invaded Public Housing Projects, arresting the unemployed and imprisoning them in the U.S., using mandatory minimum federal sentencing laws.
Today, there’s little work in Puerto Rico. Official unemployment is around 15%, but Puerto Rico has a large underground economy, not counted in jobless figures. On most street corners one sees people selling fruit from their gardens, bottled water, newspapers or anything else they can find. They earn almost nothing but are not counted as unemployed, which tops 30%. Public Housing Projects — the biggest containing approximately 40,000 residents — are where many of these oppressed and unemployed workers live. Drug trafficking is often the only way families can survive.
The “War on Drugs” in Puerto Rico is primarily the federal government’s province. FBI and Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) swarm into Public Housing Projects and based on long surveillance and using cooperating witnesses, arrest and indict from 60-100 residents; 95% are drug addicts and petty drug sellers. They’re charged in a single massive drug “conspiracy.” The mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years, the maximum life. There’s virtually no defense to the charges since sales are videotaped by co-conspirators forced into cooperation by the threat of long mandatory sentences.
In order to avoid 20-30 year after-trial sentences, usually almost every defendant pleads out. Sentences generally run from 5-10 years. Between 600 and 1,000 young men are sentenced each year and shipped to prisons across the U.S. Another 1,700 spend each day at the Federal Detention Center in Puerto Rico, where, having been arrested and denied bail, they wait to negotiate a plea agreement and are then sent to the U.S. to serve their sentences.
Over the past 25 years, the number of Federal judges in Puerto Rico has grown from three to ten; the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the DEA have doubled and tripled in size. Criminal defense lawyers have grown from a handful to over 200.
Massive Arrests, Youth Disappear
In the housing projects, young men are disappearing. Impoverished residents now have no source of income. Drug trafficking continues unabated. Usually within a week of the massive arrests, the drug-selling points are reestablished. But now they are run by 15-year-olds.
Less than two years ago, Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuno fired 30,000 already grossly underpaid public employees. The “War on Drugs” helps make such barbarities possible by justifying the mass use of police terror. Furthermore, it permits the removal and warehousing of thousands of unemployed youth before their misery and unrest can grow into organizing and social struggle.
Many workers are deceived into believing that the government is waging the “War on Drugs” to keep us safe from violent crime. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The real crime is committed by racist U.S. rulers. Only a communist-led workers’ movement will provide an alternative to those being ravaged by drugs, capitalist-induced unemployment. racism and poverty.