If this were the 1980s, an attack and then parry in response between two countries in Central America—specifically Nicaragua and Honduras—would be nothing of note. The aforementioned plus neighbouring country, El Salvador, was the site of a bloody battle known as Iran Contra back in the day.
The “elevator high pitch” for those that missed it was that it was, from a North American perspective anyway, kind of like Vietnam, The Eighties version, with a few hemispheric twists. It also gave rise to loads of action movies set slightly south of Mexico’s border and featuring actors who appeared in such immortal titles, half clothed, with ripped bodies of all genders, endless ammunition, and a great deal of violence in and to a lot of delicate and hard to replace vegetation. Not to mention human lives.
As with most such skirmishes, as well as Cold Wars that turn hot, it was bloody, and there were issues on all sides, although “atrocity” of the human rights kind happened less on the Nicaraguan one. Internationally, the conflict came to represent which political side you were on. The Contras were supported, including illegally and covertly, under the Reagan Administration, in part by highly “creative” and illegal deals for drugs. Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s current president, led the resistance in his country and survived to have grown children and to lead the country by winning a democratic election.
Here is the modern update. In this unique and unprecedented piece of cannabis legalization history, one of Ortega’s sons has now announced that the normalization of cannabis should be “discussed” at the federal level.
There are many ironies to this story beyond the father-son theme. Both sides in the war in El Salvador and Nicaragua were accused of illegal drug running to raise cash to fund what was in effect a regional civil war. The Russians may have not so covertly funded Ortega, but nobody in Soviet nosebleed political levels got called on a congressional carpet for corrupt and criminal behaviour of the drugs, or swapping drugs for arms. On the “other” side, see Oliver North. Case closed.
For cannabis legalization to now erupt not only in Honduras, as it did this week, but Nicaragua as well, speaks volumes about where the international direction of the old Drug War, if not the new one, is headed.
Race To the Bottom
As has been widely predicted since Uruguay’s recreational step nine years ago, it was only a matter of time before cannabis reform began to drastically change economies (for good and for bad). While yes, the climate in this region of the world is “perfect” for cannabis, it is also equally if not more important for rapidly disappearing, highly biodiverse places called rainforests.
Outdoor cultivation, as has been discussed as an option in Honduras, would, in almost all probability, lead to a new rash of deforestation.
The same is true in Nicaragua—although there is one stark contrast to what is going on across the border in the other “left-leaning” government now in power in Honduras. Here, the country’s first female president, with a last name of Castro, is currently hearing conflicting advice on the issue from her husband (also a former president) and her vice president, a former CEO of Honduras Pepsi also known endearingly (or not) as El señor de la Television, aka the more traditional media version of Elon Musk, at least in his immediate, localized geography.
In Nicaragua, Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, plus the son of Vice president Rosario Murillo, have publicly claimed that their version of legalization would have to include provisions for the welfare of citizens. This would mean that the government believes that a fully regulated industry is possible in the first place.
The other interesting point raised was whether production of cannabis would overtake more important crops for the sake of the security of the country—namely self-sufficient food cultivation. Food sovereignty is an important mantra of the government here—as it may well become in other places as the war in Ukraine raises global prices on grain and certain kinds of cooking oil.
These are exceedingly difficult questions in a part of the world where such deeply-seated economic problems cannot be answered lightly. And while the discussion has taken other forms in North America, not entirely absent from the debate in the U.S. or Canada either. That starts with the level of energy required to keep indoor pot farms going, as well as water in certain states, starting with California.
Of course, there is almost no way that anyone could completely control a small farmer who grows a micro garden of cannabis for personal, family use (anywhere for that matter). Medical (or recreational) cannabis use is not something that should be forbidden to the poor as it is in many western economies right now.
However, this is a slightly different discussion. Large scale illegal cultivations in the rainforests do more damage in both the short and long term than almost anywhere else in the world. There are rapidly shrinking patches of rainforest on the earth, and cannabis, for all its amazing qualities, should not be responsible for wiping out biodiversity. Even of itself.
That such questions are being raised in the middle of a global mega crisis, and by nations in this part of the world with a tragic track record so far, is notable—and rather historically apropos.
Perhaps there are ruderalis species in both countries that might dissuade the disenfranchised and the criminal to use virgin land and other precious resources to support either a legal or illegal trade. But that argument, sadly, has repeatedly lost before.
Towards A Globally, Environmentally Sustainable Footprint?
Unlike any other place on the planet right now, the battle over reform in Central and Latin America has now begun to place tough questions in a stronger and more central limelight that the global industry so far has largely avoided.
Cannabis legalization, of course, is an overdue, global emergency. But no matter how urgent, it is critical, particularly at this juncture, that whole countries do not ruin their environments or economies for the production of a plant that is becoming rapidly commoditized all over the world.
Plenty of trade and much hotter kinds of wars (Ukraine anyone?) have been fought over equally precious resources. Cannabis, no matter its other healing properties, should not be one of them.