Movie About U.S. Drug War Gets it Right

  Movie About U.S. Drug War Gets it Right

Posted by FoM on February 19, 2001 at 17:13:48 PT
By Ruben Rosario 
Source: Pioneer Planet 

I got around to watching ``Traffic'' the other day. If you want to get a good sense of why and how badly we're losing the ``war'' on illegal drugs in this country the past three decades, go see it. And please take your teen-agers. But don't take my word. Jorge Valdes and David Reyes also give the Oscar-worthy film an enthusiastic thumbs-up. You won't find two better or more credible critics on both the movie and our failed drug policy.
As head of the Medellin drug cartel's U.S. operations in the late 1970s and early '80s, Valdes pocketed $1 million a month while amassing a financial empire and lifestyle that included Learjets, mansions on both coasts and overseas, luxury cars and $150,000 monthly champagne tabs. In one year alone, the college-educated young accountant from Miami oversaw the distribution of 20,000 kilograms of cocaine smuggled into this country from Colombia and South America. Until two weeks ago, Reyes, 43, was in the business of trying to put people like Valdes out of business and in prison. A former Hennepin County prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota, Reyes cut his teeth working drug cases in the Tucson, Ariz., area, one of the drug smuggling hot spots near the Mexican-U.S. border. He averaged 150 drug cases a year, about the same number the combined staff of his counterparts in Minnesota prosecuted annually.Both men say ``Traffic'' is the most realistic mass-market movie yet on the drug crisis in America. They find it accurately portrays the rampant corruption south of the border, the erosion of American family life that leads to drug abuse among our young, and the snow job the American public keeps getting from politicians and presidential administrations that secure votes by keeping alive the myth of a war that much like Prohibition, we handled badly and never had a chance of winning. Both Reyes and Valdes note that the film also pays tribute to the earnest cops on both sides of the border who struggle mightily despite the corruption, temptations and deceptions that swirl around them. ``My godfather (Medellin cartel co-founder Manuel Garces) called and sadly recounted to me that McCaffrey (Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey) had mentioned that the administration had reduced consumption of cocaine by 50 percent,'' says Valdes, 45, whose autobiography, ``Coming Clean'' (1999, Waterbrook Press) has received acclaim and may be made into a movie.``Guerrillas in one little corner of Colombia last year were responsible alone for over 800,000 tons of cocaine that came into America,'' Valdes claims. ``Now you tell me how it could be dropping.'' Valdes believes out of all the U.S. presidents in the past 35 years, it was Richard Nixon who came closest to establishing an effective drug policy by attacking consumption through education and funding of treatment programs. In fact, Nixon's administration diverted more federal money into treatment than law enforcement, a strategy that was significantly reversed during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. Valdes says legalization will only make matters worse, in terms of substance abuse.He also notes that drug use remains steady, despite years of mandatory minimum drug laws that have served only to build more prisons, employ more guards and cops, and imprison mostly low-level drug offenders, the bottom-feeders of the estimated $500 billion illicit drug industry.``The drug war's the greatest joke. Most of the people in jail are the little-bitty people,'' says Valdes, a married father of five who served 10 years in prison, found Christ and now runs Coming Clean Ministries out of Atlanta.Reyes agrees. ``Unfortunately, most of the people sentenced to the longest prison terms are low level or don't have anything to trade. The wealthy dealers, the ones that have something to trade, they end up with the lighter sentences.'' Reyes and Valdes both point to the controversial clemency by President Bill Clinton of Carlos Vignali, a convicted drug dealer responsible for transporting 800 kilograms of cocaine from California to Minnesota as a prime example. The Vignali caper smells like 5-day-old fish. Vignali's 15-year prison sentence was commuted to time served -- six years -- despite objections from judges, cops and prosecutors in Minnesota who maintained that he was the major player behind the two-state drug ring. It turns out Vignali's rich, connected father contributed heavily to political campaigns following his son's incarceration.``No surprise here,'' says Valdes, who holds a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Loyola University. ``I know a kid, Al Pastor. He has a wife, three kids and he was starving. They asked him to drive a Lincoln Continental with kilos of cocaine from Miami to Mobile, Alabama, for $50,000. He took the money. It was a sting. He got busted and got 25 years. He's served 11 years now. His family was destroyed by this. The drug kingpin behind the deal gave up some people and he's already out. It's a sin.'' If there is a war to be waged, both men say, it is one at the homefront, one household at a time. ``I attend an early childhood education program and they asked kids not using drugs what was the Number 1 deterrent for them,'' says Reyes, who nows runs a criminal defense and general practice law firm in Edina with his wife. ``It was, `My father would kill me.' The only way it's going to get better is through a strong family, a strong parent.''Valdes notes that a central character in the movie struggles with drug addiction in his family.``The best message this movie has is the conflict between the drug czar (played by Michael Douglas) and his drug-using daughter,'' Valdes says. ``Here's this crusader against drugs and he doesn't realize that the crusade begins at home.'' To learn more about Jorge Valdes, visit his Web site at: following sites offer a variety of viewpoints on drug policy: Rosario can be reached at: rrosario Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)Address: 345 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55101 Author: Ruben RosarioPublished: February 19, 2001Copyright: 2001 St. Paul Pioneer Press Contact:  letters Website: Forum: Official Web Site: Articles - Traffic

Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #6 posted by FoM on February 20, 2001 at 08:23:58 PT
Related Article About Traffic
Drugs Don't Live Up To The Myth
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #5 posted by FoM on February 20, 2001 at 08:15:40 PT
Good News  We Can Buy It!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by FoM on February 20, 2001 at 08:08:32 PT
Saving Grace
I want to see Traffic but I really want to see Saving Grace. I hope it is released on video soon. Movies About Marijuana Are Sprouting Like Weeds The Movie - A Ron Mann Film Grace Your Garden Grow
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by curandero on February 20, 2001 at 06:36:03 PT:
Saving grace
 I finally went to see Traffic this weekend, Great movie. Followed it up with "Saving grace" on PPV. Another great movie. Signs the tide is turning?..
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by J.R. Bob Dobbs on February 20, 2001 at 06:08:46 PT
Who's working for whom?
>>Valdes says legalization will only make matters worse, in terms of substance abuse.  Wasn't he the one who's family is making lots of money off of the illegal drug trade?? Not to mention, his treatment programs might suffer if fewer people are forced into them. 
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by Verve81 on February 20, 2001 at 00:50:49 PT
Great Film
I thought the film was excellent. Not only the premise, but it was well acted, well written and excellent cinimatography.This film will put the fear of god in the parents. I am GLAD that they focused on narcotics- the real problem in this country, not weed.
[ Post Comment ]

  Post Comment

Name:       Optional Password: 
Comment:   [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]

Link URL: 
Link Title: