The nation has not quite made up its mind about cocaine, the white powder that when taken into the nose produces sensations of euphoria and power.
It is an expensive drug, widely used among the hip classes from Hollywood to New York, and said to have 5 million users. It is what the pimp and the hotshot businessman have in common--a substance without the low-achiever implications of marijuana or the damnation of heroin. For nearly everyone else cocaine had been easy to ignore, until it mucked up the fall pro football season.
"The Cocaine Cartel," an "ABC News Closeup" airing tonight at 10, provides more evidence that ignorance of King Cocaine 1983 is not bliss, and that "nose candy," far from being a gentrified drug, is a source of murder and economic havoc.
The one-hour documentary examines the sources of cocaine in Bolivia and Colombia; its illegal importation through Miami by airplane, coat and courier; and attempts to lay out the methods by which millions of dollars in cash are then "laundered" through banks from Wall Street to Panama.
Data about the cocaine trade is often estimated, but we may take as probable truth that there are 4,000 clandestine airstrips in Bolivia, that drugs have forced up the Miami crime rate by 132 percent, that in three southern Florida counties one-fourth of all recent real estate investments have been with drug money, that illicit drugs are an $80 billion-a-year industry second only to Exxon in terms of total assets, and so on.
Correspondent Bill Redeker says that "we are losing the battle" against cocaine smugglers, and that in the past 10 years a new mob has risen up, a new Cosa Nostra of drugs, "whose power cannot be ignored." This does not seem a hysterical conclusion, given his description of Central American drug families with fleets of as many as 10 aircraft, and the staggering new wealth attributed to the drug trade in south Florida today.
"The Cocaine Cartel," nevertheless, has a difficult time with its best intention, which is to describe precisely the many-staged transfer of hot cash into cold corporate bank accounts--the money-laundering process. It was a noble effort doomed by lack of intense pictorials. Much more memorable, though of only anecdotal importance, is mid-program footage of a Coast Guard cutter machine-gunning a ship suspected of carrying contraband, while the skipper shouts over his radio, "You are killing all the people! You are killing all the people!"
On the whole, the program is a useful primer, despite its tendency to attribute to cocaine the financial and social effects of all drugs. It would have helped to include the Drug Enforcement Administration's breakdown of the approximately $80 billion in annual illicit trade: $27 billion to $32 billion in cocaine; $18 billion to $27 billion in marijuana; $8 billion to $10 billion in heroin; $1.5 billion in hashish; and $14 billion to $20 billion in pills and chemicals.
"The Cocaine Cartel," had it included a look at the people to whom cocaine is marketed, would have found a prevailing attitude that cocaine use is a no-victim crime. But this program is about murder and corruption, and it suggests that victims abound.