IT’S EASY TO pity the lone user struggling with cocaine addiction. Does anyone have empathy for the burdened souls where the white powder is made?
It’s among the tough questions asked by journalist Toby Muse in his new book, “Kilo.” The British–American writer and TV commentator has lived for 15 years in Colombia. He’s seen what trafficking has wrought on the Colombian people.
In the U.S., the debate over the war on drugs generally focuses on how American consumption negatively impacts American communities. Muse’s work shows the fallout is not exclusive to North America. The harvesting, processing and distribution of cocaine is causing its share of turmoil in nations near or below the equator.
Muse follows the drug through its manufacturing process: the gathering of coca leaves to mash into a workable paste; the meshing of paste with additives to bake into a solid brick; and the packaging, storage and shipping of the final product on its stealth journey to foreign markets.
Along the way, he illustrates how good Colombian people from all walks of life are seduced by cocaine’s siren call. Self-respect, humanity and compassion trickle out like residue at the bottom of steel drums used to make cocaine alkaloid. The converted only see big money, affluence, sex and power—and accept that a short, fast life is part of this deal.
Only a fearless reporter who earned the trust of narco-traffickers over the years could have written this. Muse was granted up-close access to this entire process. The reader will be fascinated by traffickers’ business acumen while grimacing over the human carnage.
Those seeking justification for expediting the drug war won’t find it in these pages. Like the eyes of narco-traffickers and their lovers, Muse’s narrative is cold. His illuminating writing, clever and nuanced throughout the book, offers no rays of hope. By endeavoring to upend a basic law of economics (supply and demand), he argues, those determined to eradicate cocaine only tighten its grip.
It’s clear Muse favors legalization of cocaine and international regulation of its commerce. These policies would create their own issues and pitfalls, and he offers no answers to that. But in his view, it’s a viable alternative to a world where murder and mayhem line a meandering, blood-soaked trail that ends up a customer’s nose.