Who Creates the Drug Stigma in Central America?

by Curt Devine

Drug trafficking in Central America has always attracted high media attention. From the popular news coverage of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine trade in 1980’s and early 1990’s to the recent murders committed by the Zetas Killers in Veracruz, Mexico, narcotics and its associated crime syndicates have bolstered mainstream headlines for decades. Today, the attention continues.

On Aug. 21, Nicaraguan police arrested 18 individuals posing as Mexican journalists and found $7 million stashed in their six vans, which were disguised with logos of Televisa, a Mexican mass media company. The individuals entered Nicaragua’s northern border after clearing customs, pretending to cover the high-profile murder case of Argentine folk-singer Facundo Cabral. Police were suspicious of their behavior and received an anonymous tip from Honduran officials of cash hidden in compartments of their vans. Televisa later confirmed that it had no reporters in Nicaragua.

National Police Chief Aminta Granera said Mexican drug cartels often smuggle money into Colombia to pay for cocaine sold in U.S. markets, according to BBC. Granera said that Interpol and the Mexican embassy confirmed that some of the ‘fake journalists’ are Mexicans from Tamaulipas, the Mexican state home to the Zeta and Gulf cartels.

This story has received more attention in international headlines than any other Nicaraguan event in the past month. Yahoo, Reuters, BBC, CBS News and Al Jazeera all reported the arrest. While the story has implications for the region’s security and the international drug market, the attention seems due to its scandal and resemblance to a Hollywood movie scene.

Nicaraguan media outlets such as El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa reported the story, yet they also reported other major local developments that have not been picked up by international news sources, such as China’s $300 million investment in Nicaraguan . It is therefore clear Central American drug trafficking and the crime connected to it often receive unbalanced international media attention affecting global perceptions of the region.

As suspicions of drug trafficking perpetuate, paranoia leads to the unmerited arrest and detainment of innocent people, such as the four Panamanian journalists detained last weekend crossing through Nicaragua after covering a soccer game in El Salvador. The Panamanian Embassy in Managua later sent a missive requesting the journalists be released on Sept. 5, verifying their legitimacy.

Drug trafficking and its economic, political and cultural repercussions cannot be ignored in Nicaragua, yet when the media focuses on issues of illegal drugs while ignoring issues of development, an unbalanced stigma is created. Furthermore, according to the 2011 U.N. World Drug Report, the largest global cocaine market “continues to be that of the United States, with an estimated consumption of 157 metric tons of cocaine, equivalent to 36 percent of global consumption.” As long as U.S. demand remains high, producers and traffickers will inevitably find a way to maintain supply. It’s unfair to place a stigma on Central America when in fact America supplies the demand for the cocaine industry.

Interestingly, smaller news outlets such as The Nicaragua Dispatch, created by U.S. journalist Tim Rogers in 2011, increasingly report on community development projects that point to sustainable changes in Nicaragua. As news sources follow this balanced model showing both scandal and success, this stigma can be undone and replaced with a more accurate assessment of the region.

About Curt Devine

Freelance Writer. Social-Justice Crusader. Podcast Producer. Elephant-Riding Enthusiast. I also like wine and running at 1 a.m. (but not together).
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