This is the harrowing story of a (not quite) typical mule: Maria Alvarez (Moreno), an intelligent and fiercely independent 17-year-old girl from Colombia who agrees to smuggle a half-kilo of heroin into the United States.
Walking out of the theatre, I found myself at a loss of words.
What struck me the most about the story was how un-exaggerate everything was. Let it be Maria’s job, her village, or her family. They were portrayed with moderation and care. The result was impressively real and honest. Maria’s job was not uncommon for a third world country’s village girl of 17. I’ve read far worse treatment and horror stories of factory workers in ShenZheng, China. The real evil was in the lack of a choice. All Maria had was the job in the flower factory. It was the only economic opportunity presented to Maria. It was what her family, even her entire village depended on. Sounds familiar? I thought of that British mining town in Billy Elliot.
Like all country girls who rebelled against their fate, Maria made a choice, the same choice all country girls in her shoes made, to go to the city. On her way, she was tempted away from the possibility of becoming a rich family’s maid; instead, she was offered an adventure. Traveling, America, and American dollars added together proven to be too big a temptation to turn down for a rebellious country girl. Was there really a huge difference for her, between pulling thorns off roses and swallowing cocaine pellets and carried them to America? Both were rich people’s merchandises, both were beyond her reach. She was one little link in the economy chain. The latter sounded a lot more exciting than the former, and it would take her beyond the depressing village outside of Bogota. She was, finally, presented a choice.
The subsequent story made me admire Maria’s intelligence and coolness. But it also chilled me to the bone to see how cruel and brutal the drug world was (is).
Would legalizing drugs clean up all these brutality? Would legalizing drugs prevent Maria and her fellow Columbian women from participating in this dark and ugly trade?
If so, then why wouldn’t any country take that step?
“Because drugs are evil and hurt people who use them. How could you legalize something so damaging to our very selves? How could any government give out any signal that drug abuse is ‘legal’, therefore, ‘ok’?”
Because not legalizing it made it worse? Because the huge profit margin is driving the drug trade into a frenzy, and it is killing poor people like Maria left and right? Cigarette is legal, isn’t it? It is harmful to people’s health, too. Why is that okay to endorse but not drugs? Since when human being became such innocent creatures?
“If you legalize drugs, then more people will become drug addicts. That would be disastrous and self-destructive.”
Okay. People have self-destructive tendencies. There are evils in these world, too many. People always have the choice of whether to become drug addicts, just like people have the choice of whether to smoke a cigarette. Are you saying that government has the right to make the choice for its citizens that the government knows what is best? What about education? What about the fittest survive? It is not like I don’t get drug offered when I walk down Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, it is not like high school kids don’t get drug offers in parties, at playground, on their way to school, anyways. It is happening right now. How much worse could it get? Besides, once it became legal, it could take away the “adventurous lure” it has right now to the rebellious type. Couldn’t it?
Drug abuse is part of modern societies already. We have to deal with it. But if legalizing it could take away the huge profit for the drug lord, then it could reduce their incentive to produce them. It could dry up so many money sources for terrorist groups and anti-government organizations. It could save Maria and girls like her the fate of dying on ruptured cocaine pellets that they carry in their stomach. It could save them from being treated like animals (”mule”), whose stomach was cut open so their cargo could be retrieved. Mule’s life was of no consequence. The dehumanization of Maria and her fellow mules was not caused by drug’s own evil-ness directly. It was made possible by the huge profit of drug trade, and its huge profit came from their illegal status. It was made possible because of human being’s own greed.
If government wants to do good to the society, then it could place the choice into everyone’s own hand. Take away the possibility to make people even more greedy than they already are. Don’t tempt them. Trust them.
In Chinese modern history, there was a much revered national hero, General Lin Zexu. Who initiate the fight against the British in 1840’s. He burned all the opium he could gather in a huge public display. His angry words are still recited in today’s Chinese elementary school classrooms, “Opium is evil, it weakened our people, our soldier, our country…” But the fact was, Chinese society was weakened from inside before opium even appeared. The closed society has been quietly rotten away from top to bottom for centuries. There was little outlet for real talent of the society. There wasn’t much progress happeneing for the society as a whole. Corruptions were prevalent. Opium provided an escape. A dying plant happened upon a killer disease. It was easy to blame the disease. Even though General Lin Zexu won his opium war, the final treaty between the British and the Qin Dynasty turned out to be the first of many humiliating treaties to come in China’s Modern History. Burning Opium didn’t help General Lin’s cause. Burning the entire country might. That was exactly what Chairman Mao tried over a century later.
There is a little analogy in gardening. When a flower attracted diseases, it was often because the plant itself was weak and unhealthy, either from lack of water, light, or too much water, etcetera. To prevent disease from happening, you either make the plant strong and healthy, or you try to shut down all disease sources. The latter has proven to be a harder path. Shutting down flow of air would usually cause more problems to the plant. Exposing the plant to the natural elements was usually more healthy for the plant. As long as the plant was healthy, often it could fight off many diseases using its own strength.