It was one of those rare conversations that starts innocently enough. As we waited at the crosswalk for traffic to zip past, I said something about the bicycle he was pushing. He immediately responded in English, having worked in the US for several years. We crossed the busy roundabout at Avenida Paraiso, heading west along the Rio Tomebamba, walking and chatting about bike riding in Cuenca. Neatly dressed in a jacket and tie, he was headed for the university and his teaching job. I was hiking to Spanish class. Without hesitation, he corrected my pronunciacion as I learned the names of bike parts.
He laughed hard when I called him “Profesor Bicicleta.”
Then I said something about President Correa – he liked bikes. My bad. The political can of worms was now open, and he didn’t wait. It was the first time, after many talks with friendly Cuenca locals, I had ever been asked:
“The election in America, who you vote for? How come?”
Yikes! Now I’ve stepped in it. That’s a loaded question. I need real language skills here. Luckily, my class had covered cognates – the gringo’s best friend. The “ion” words are auto-Espanol. I tried a few on my new friend just to warm up:
“Estados Unidos es corrupcion, dolars de prohibicion, ilegal operacion, explotacion, mucho distorsión.”
His eyes got big and the questions started. I struggled with my explanacion – using my poor articulacion.
I have an immediate recommendation regarding these types of conversations – I do not recommend them. The challenge of explaining, to locals, America’s current political disarray, borders on the impossible – even if it’s in your native language. Nuance and reflection are required, with minimal swearing. Can you stifle the heated emotion and show some thoughtful objective balance? Maybe even a good knowledge of American political history? Will your conversation stay civil?
I can’t even do that with my wife.
Perhaps candor is not a virtue here. With my new Cuenca amigo, I probably should have stuck to some easier but current political topic, like the size of Ms. Venezuela’s booty.
But that’s not my style. Slowly, we tiptoed towards a full blown discussion of the real, deep state rumblings currently shaping politics in the USA – and what this means for expats in Ecuador.
“Yes, please write it – because I find the stench from the Hillary-Trump charade overwhelming.” My editor’s response to a proposed two article series on the US election.
Who could blame him? It’s an attitude almost universally shared among expats. Disgust with US politics is today’s biggest maker of American wannabes. Still, let’s not miss the amazing show on display. The citizen revulsion scale closely matches the election spectacle. This is easily the most fascinating American vote in living memory – maybe since our own civil war.
Where to even start? As I gently probed Profesor Bicicleta’s political attitudes, he peppered me with questions. He was making a huge mistake – acting interested – not like my other friends – or my wife. As I tried to explain the Trump phenomenon and the history of Hillary, I sunk deeper into the muck. Back and forth we went, covering the upside down political mess, the end of an empire, and how the drug war industry was related. It was good practice for both of us. I got to use some Español, he got better at looking stunned.
Are you still in the USA? Hiding in the belly of The Beast allows you to ignore reality. In fact, it’s actually encouraged. There’s always a big game on TV – that’s more fun. It’s different for citizens of the globe. Expats are more exposed to US foreign policy decisions and shifting political plate tectonics. Could unstable dark powers back home screw up your little niche in paradise? In Latin America, it’s happened many times before. There’s Panama, Chile and Argentina in the 70’s, Nicaragua in the 80’s, modern Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Brazil, Honduras – you get the idea. Don’t kid yourself, gringo. Like it or not, American politics matter. Just because you’ve frog-jumped out of the frying pan, it doesn’t mean your chosen expat heaven won’t become the fire.
“As soon as we got to our hotel, we went out for a two hour walk. When we got back, the shocked front desk girl told us about the coup. We had no idea there was martial law in the streets. I thought it was strange, we hadn’t seen many people…..” First time Cuenca expat friends arriving in Quito – September, 2010.
Expats and wannabes are generally a savvy bunch, with skepticism being the inherent default attitude. It burns much stronger than in the average stateside human resource. In part, this is age related. Older expats are more willing to face the music, even if it’s too loud.
Here’s an election tune most Americans have never heard. It was certainly new to Profesor Bicicleta.
What is the single biggest threat to your peaceful expat retirement in Ecuador? I would humbly suggest that the number one hazard has been the same for the last 30 years – drug war violence.
Your serene, idyllic Cuenca lifestyle is highly dependent on global shipping routes for drugs – and I don’t mean stool softeners. For the first time since the 80’s, shipping routes into the US for heroin and cocaine are now in flux. At stake is what political faction will control them.
Don’t forget to vote!
“Yes, yes, yes……. it goes on. Ecuador is poor…. people must live,” says Profesor Bicicleta referring to his country’s illicit drug industry.
It’s important to understand this: prohibition builds empires. Pain killing opiates have an endless worldwide market and unlimited profit potential. Refined coca based stimulant has a similar limitless demand. Nobody controls the world without controlling the dope. Ask the Romans, the Ottomans, the Persians or the British just to name a few. You could even bring up the Incas. Today, you might also ask the Clinton Foundation.
Want some impressive numbers? Talk to The Beast about a horse. Since the US invasion following 9/11, Afghan heroin production has ballooned to 23 times the previous record output. Used as both a weapon and an asset, it destabilizes targeted governments and also provides massive profits back home. Even bigger is the downside. In 2014 alone, 10,574 Americans died from heroin overdoses. Internationally, it was many times that amount. Now, virtually ignored in American corporate media and Congress, the situation is worsening. Very pure product is arriving in the US via the Canadian border and from North Africa using commercial airline routes.
“We cannot say how much Afghan heroin is being smuggled into the US from Canada.” (DEA spokesman to The Ottawa Citizen newspaper, July, 2016.)
I’ll admit, I had problems explaining this part to my discussion partner, Profesor Bicicleta. Every year, America spends billions on anti-drug efforts. The big dogs cash in on both sides of the war. The Clintons have mastered this for decades. For kind-hearted souls like Profesor Bicicleta, the depth of American political corruption is difficult to understand. Eventually, he just nodded.
He liked this part though – I think he taught bookkeeping.
The current price, for a gram of heroin in the USA is around $200. First, it’s bought for pennies per donkey load from impoverished Afghan farmers. Then it’s refined. There are 28 grams to an ounce, 16 ounces in a pound. A two kilo “sticky brick” of uncut, processed heroin weighs in at just under 2000 grams. You can pack 100 of them into a 48 gallon drum – 50 of those fit on a flatbed truck. Tarp it all up, station a taxpayer paid, full-combat escort in front and behind, and off you go on a midnight run to an American airbase. Control this industry, and you’re a player who’s financing coups and buying banks.
It’s not just about drugs, it’s about the cost of capital.
“….for Ecuador, very scary….. the government was stolen….. our people took it back…..” Profesor Bicicleta on the 2010 coup to depose Correa, authorized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in leaked emails.
Thankfully, only a small portion of world heroin production occurs in Latin America. This may change as US foreign policy collapses. There’s talk of potential new poppy fields in the Chiapas of southern Mexico. For now, Afghanistan currently produces 80% of the global heroin supply. Wherever the poppies are found, you will also find the US military. Thank you for your service!
“….according to leaked emails, Clinton’s US diplomats withheld aid because Ecuador would not allow them to choose the anti-drug police….” (TeleSURtv.net, July 2016)
Here’s another awkward fact that Profesor Bicicleta struggled with. I tried to be gentle.
The biggest drug smuggler in the US is the government. Why not? Political success requires money. The Kennedy dynasty got started with Joe Kennedy running liquor. Our modern prohibition era began in Mena, Arkansas in the 1980’s, with a young governor named Bill Clinton – and his wife Hillary. You remember: guns for drugs, the Contra’s terrorizing Nicaragua, Oliver North and Barry Seal, etc. etc. Thirty five years later, the US government is completely controlled by a firmly entrenched “narcocracy,” and the Clinton crime family is at the top of the white-powdered heap. Of course, this is in close partnership with the Bush clan who controlled shipping routes through Florida and Texas. Most of the 80’s era cocaine originated in Colombia. Now, together with Peru, the two countries are still the world’s largest producers.
Stuck between them is Ecuador.
“What the hell was that? Were those gunshots?” First time Cuenca visitor, Dee Fugit, reacting to midnight firecrackers echoing down narrow cobblestone streets.
Here’s my point – there is no end to the drug business and it will never stop. If a peaceful Cuenca existence is your goal, ask yourself how the Trump/Clinton choice will affect that. The Hillary faction was born, multiplied and has triumphed riding the wave of international drug war finance and profits. Trump has no known drug running history, although you can’t be a billionaire developer in New York without meeting gangsters. Some say his recent trip to Mexico included talk about new shipping routes – doors in the wall, so to speak. Still, there is zero doubt the current controlling narcocracy hates him. The industry is permanent, so what could Trump change? Only time will tell. Want to avoid it all and just hide in a beautiful, peaceful Ecuadorian foxhole?
For now, welcome to Cuenca.
“Senior Trump? Si, es posible asasinato?” Profesor Bicicleta quickly understood the risk of drug related violence in the U.S. election.
In my mind, it is incredible what President Rafael Correa has done. Yes, he’s criticized for taking FARC money, negotiating with drug terrorists, cracking down on critical journalists, booting out American drug warriors, fostering corrupt institutions and using the dollar status to launder drug profits – all may be valid points. Still, you have to consider the razor’s edge on which the man must balance. As certain as gravity, South American cocaine is headed for the 100 billion dollar market in El Norte. It’s always the producers and transporters that are blamed, never the customer. Correa has been forced to deal with a dense web of international organizations, military pressures and gangster personalities whose entire existence is based on illegal drug profits – like Hillary Clinton. The Ecuador president claims to favor Clinton in the election. More calculated moves? Curious minds wonder. A favorite mobster tactic is the silver or lead ultimatum: choose a million dollar bribe, or a double tap to the head. What would you do?
I’d be twirling with The Beast.
Defoliation programs, micro-distribution networks, transnational organized crime, fusion centers, Chinese and Mexican cartels, drug money laundering, precursor chemicals, mobile processing labs, clandestine shipping ports, decriminalization and zero tolerance – the words swirl around in a haze of drug war blather. Through it all, Correa has deftly danced with the criminal stars of the US If his goal is to protect Ecuador citizens from drug violence, his success has been nothing short of remarkable. The annual murder rate for all of Ecuador doesn’t approach a single frisky weekend in Chicago. History tells us how fast that could change, and who would do it for a few dollars more.
The international drug industry and bloody violence – Stronger Together.
“In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital in the second half of 2008…… many banks were rescued with loans funded by the drug trade……” (Antonio Maria Costa, head of UN office on Drugs and Crime, December, 2009.)
No election choice? I disagree. It may not be pretty, but let’s grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.
Are you in Ecuador on a fixed retirement income? Do you care if U.S. Social Security keeps paying? How is that 401K looking? Is your pension concentrated in equities? With perhaps an emphasis on the financial sector? Without a steady flow of drug cash, it could all disappear in a digital, derivatives fueled, and insanely leveraged nanosecond. The Beast has us hooked, and we’re all just drug money junkies. We don’t need to like our dope dealer, as long as they keep the pain away. If you agree, than your choice is an easy one. When criminal experience counts, you can count on the Clintons.
How would a Trump victory impact the illicit drug industry in Ecuador? There are only questions. Would changing flows of narcotics and money have an impact on expat life here? If there’s a President Trump, would the entrenched U.S. narcocracy punish him and his angry deplorables, maybe even overseas expat groups who support him? Could narco controlled banks serve as a weapon?
For Cuenca expats, future answers may bring only anxiety and confusion. Be advised. Both are common and permanent side effects of the US war on drugs.
My intense political discussion with Profesor Bicicleta had by now moved to a bench near the river, and persisted non-stop for well over an hour. We were both late for class. When we finally said goodbye, he shook my hand, smiled and thanked me. His amused, telling expression left me certain of two things:
I will always remember our conversation as a highlight of my Cuenca experience … and he will never ask a gringo about politics again.
In part two of US Election Tales for Expats: All new rules, truth in labeling, death and birth of the media, expat Bern victims, and the second biggest risk to a tranquil life in Cuenca.
Banner art by DonkeyHotey. See his work at donkeyhotey.wordpress.com.