Colombia Applauds 'Trafico' for Focusing on U.S.

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  1. By T. Christian Miller, Times Staff Writer
    Source: Los Angeles Times

    There are plenty of ways to interpret "Traffic," the labyrinthine drug war docudrama with five Oscar nominations. But in Colombia, where the film was just released, one stands out: vindication.
    Few countries have done as much to fight drugs, with less recognition for the effort, than Colombia. Three presidential candidates, dozens of judges and hundreds of police officers have been killed in the largely U.S.-backed war on drugs. Nevertheless, Colombians complain that they are seen abroad as a nation of drug dealers, corrupt politicians and violent thugs.

    Thus, for many here, the most rewarding part of director Steven Soderbergh's film--which focuses on the U.S.-Mexico narcotics trade--is its emphasis on American demand as the other side of the drug problem, the evil twin to Colombia's production.

    "If you ask who is responsible for the problem with drugs, the answer is, 'The U.S.,' " said Ricardo Rincon, who watched the movie with his son at a mall in Bogota, the capital, on a recent weekday night. "Without demand, there is no production. Without demand, there wouldn't be a problem."

    Theaters have been packed since "Trafico" made its debut here this week. At a recent showing, the tense silence was broken only once, by scornful laughter, when several in the crowd laughed out loud at a character who dismissed the idea that addicts need treatment.

    Reviews have generally been positive, if somewhat befuddled. One critic wrote that he was "surprised" to finally see a film from the U.S. that portrayed the drug problem in all its complexity.

    That's because Colombians have long considered the United States blind to its own role in the narcotics trade, ready to deliver guns, money and lofty rhetoric but unwilling to confront the problem of drug consumption on its own turf.

    As a result, there is a lingering suspicion here that the U.S. doesn't take its obligations in the war on drugs very seriously and is content to let Colombia and other drug-producing countries do the dirty work. Former President Clinton's pardon of various drug traffickers was seen as the height of hypocrisy.

    Further proof came this week, when a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 74% of Americans think the war on drugs is being lost. The poll found, however, that, rather than change strategies, 66% of respondents continued to back the same strategies now in place to stop importation.

    "I hope this film helps the U.S. recognize that it needs to do more to fight demand, and less to focus on the producers," said Edith Botero, a 44-year-old businesswoman who watched the film. "We Colombians don't need to be reminded of that. We live it every day."

    For many Colombians, the U.S.-backed "Plan Colombia" is the latest sign of this blind spot. The expensive effort to cut cocaine production in this country has generally been welcomed by Colombians, who believe that the $1.3 billion in aid will strengthen their police and army and help reestablish order within their borders.

    But few believe that the destruction of Colombia's vast coca plantations will result in the disappearance of America's vast numbers of drug users.

    "Colombia does not need more money to fight the war on drugs," said Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, an economist who spoke at a recent Berkeley conference on Colombia. "Use your money on yourselves."

    Besides putting the focus on demand, the film has struck a nerve here in another way. By tracing the lives of several characters touched by narcotics, the film personalizes the war on drugs. And many Colombians have direct experience with the violence and heartbreak of the drug trade.

    There is even a close parallel to the plot line involving Michael Douglas' character, the U.S. anti-drug czar whose daughter is addicted to heroin. In January, the son of the woman who heads Colombia's anti-drug cultivation program was sentenced to more than five years in prison for trying to smuggle heroin through the Miami airport.

    Marcel Borje, a 29-year-old who saw the film recently, said it did a good job of portraying the drug trade. But he said "Trafico" didn't teach him anything new.

    "For us, the things in the film are an everyday experience," he said. "It's part of the life of Colombia."

    Special correspondent Mauricio Hoyos contributed to this report.

    Complete Title: Colombia Applauds 'Trafico' for Focusing on U.S. Role in Problem

    Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
    Author: T. Christian Miller, Times Staff Writer
    Published: March 24, 2001
    Fax: (213) 237-7679
    Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
    Address: Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053

    Traffic Official Web Site

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