How alcohol and drugs have contributed to the breakdown of Latin-American family life.
LONG before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, American Indian tribes consumed various native alcoholic beverages. They chewed coca leaves, even smoked marijuana. Cocaine was used for centuries by the natives of different regions of today's Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. During the pre-Inca period it was considered a divine drug. It could only be used by those of royal ancestry or by the priesthood. Likewise in Colombia, almost all the native tribes before the Spanish Conquest used indigenous hallucinogens in religious rites, not as "mind-expanders" as today. By the time the Spaniards came to the New World, the use of native alcoholic beverages was common among members of virtually all social levels of American Indian society. Family life had severely broken down. American Indians from Tierra del Fuego in the south to Mexico in the north were also great consumers of chicha, an alcoholic beverage generally made from fermented corn. Chicha could he made from native American grapes and from apples or pears. Because of unsanitary conditions that prevailed in preparation of this drink, chicha has been gradually prohibited in this century, being replaced by the consumption of beer. European civilization did little to modify these customs of the Indians. Europeans, however, did promulgate during the 19th century the first decrees (in Brazil) against the use of marijuana and cocaine in urban areas. Violators were incarcerated. Over the years family life was significantly restored in the native population. But during the past 30 years an alarming and dramatic growth in the consumption of grain alcohol has again occurred. The cause? Rapid breakdown of the family at all social levels under the impact of industrialization, the invasion of the home by secular media such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines. Add to that the explosive growth in crime and the presence of drug-oriented organized crime whose ultimate aim for reasons of greed is the breakdown of family cohesion and authority. Although public attention today is focused mainly on the smuggling of marijuana and derivatives of coca, alcoholism remains the principal cause of most health and social problems in Latin American homes. In 1975, a survey conducted in five important Latin American cities showed that between 30 and 35 percent of men between 15 and 64 years of age drank excessively. More than half of those surveyed told of having experienced some kind of social, economic or health problem directly related to heavy drinking ("Drug Abuse in the Americas" by Marilynn Katatsky, World Health, August, 1981, page 27). The myth that the problems of alcoholism are characteristic only of the poor and the less-educated of a society persists in certain circles. Information acquired in urban areas of Latin America reveals a different picture. Problems related to alcoholism in men appear to be the same across all social strata. In women, however, the problems seem to be significantly related to social class. Latin American women with greater education are most prone to problems with alcohol (ibid). The reason we shall see momentarily. In Mexico, alcohol is consumed much more than other drugs. About 10 percent of the Mexican population is considered to be suffering from alcoholism. According to Mexico's General Directory of Statistics, five million people suffer from alcohol-related problems. The figure of five million does not include those who are not yet alcoholics but who drink excessively. There are also more than 900,000 alcohol-induced invalids in Mexico. In Argentina, it is estimated that the number of alcoholics is around 1.25 million, about 5 percent of the population. The per capita intake of distilled alcoholic beverages in Puerto Rico is surpassed only by that of Russia and Poland. It is estimated that 2 percent of the population of Puerto Rico is alcoholic. According to the Chilean Department of Investigation, the annual number of infractions of the law is up 6 percent, but alcohol-related infractions account for 23 percent of the total. Alcoholism is a major source of concern for the Chilean authorities.
Abuse of Sedatives
In Latin America narcotic drug addiction is a secondary problem when compared to alcoholism. But narcotic drug problems are far more extensive and harmful than is shown by existing evidence and data. In addition, there is practically no effective control or regulation over addictive substances such as sedatives or barbiturates in most Latin American countries. Where some form of control does exist, it is usually flawed. In Bolivia, for example, control consists of three or four agents responsible for inspecting pharmacies throughout the country! This number would be inadequate for the inspection of the pharmacies in the capital city alone. In Brazil there is strict control over pure drugs that have adverse effects on the mind. But industries interested in profit are mixing these pure psychoactive drugs with other substances in order to be able to market them. Once these drugs are combined they are not subject to strict governmental controls and can be purchased readily. The highest rate of usage of tranquilizers, amphetamines and barbiturates in Latin America occurs among the middle-class, middle-aged women of Peru and Bolivia. In these countries it is easy to find women who consume these drugs in quantities greater than those recommended medically, mainly because advertising induces them to believe that they need them to resolve their emotional frustrations. This phenomenon is not generally considered drug addiction, in the usual sense of the word. These people are not addicted to what are normally considered to be harmful drugs. Nevertheless, constant intake of tranquilizers, amphetamines and barbiturates often results in a critical state of despair, uncertainty and unhappiness in the user. It greatly increases the probability of future use of and dependence upon various narcotic drugs and alcohol.
Growing Urban Problem
Each day more and more children end up living in the streets of large Latin American cities. They subsist on what they can steal or find in garbage dumps. In Bogota, Colombia, groups of these children, called gamines, have as their main victims, tourists. In Peru, Panama, Bolivia and Colombia these bands of children from poor families have become the initial stage in the breeding grounds of organized delinquency, prostitution and other vices. It is not surprising to see these ragged children smoking marijuana or inhaling gasoline fumes from automobiles as a method of getting a free high. Recent studies in Mexico reveal that 13 out of every 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 have inhaled some kind of solvent vapors, i.e., gasoline, thinner. Also, three out of every 1,000 young people use these solvents daily, according to Katatksy (op. cit). What we see in Latin America is the breakdown of the family, especially in sections of poor urban areas. And in the more prosperous areas a phenomenal increase in the use of tranquilizers, barbiturates and other sedatives by women frustrated with the pressures of life. The result is thousands of children pushed into social situations where drug addiction is virtually inevitable.
Hard Drugs, Too
The use of harder drugs also pervades the Americas. Bolivia is now one of the principal producers of cocaine. The vast majority of Bolivian peasants cultivate coca, and for 70 percent of the population, chewing coca leaves is as normal as smoking is for much of the rest of the world (Vision, September 8, 1979). It is impossible to make the peasants cultivate any other product because of the high income yield capacity coca offers. In Colombia, the traffic, production and consumption of narcotics are becoming ever more worrisome problems. Forty-five percent of high school students have at one time or another used some form of narcotic. PROMETEO, an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of drug addicts, has shown that the principal causes of drug addiction are to be found in the breakdown of the family and the decline in character training in the educational system. In Ecuador, as in Colombia, cocaine production is important. In spite of the strict control authorities have on drugs in Chile, it is estimated that 2,600 children are arrested annually for trafficking and consuming drugs. Each week an average of 50 minors (up to the age of 17) have to confront the police, the courts and often time jail for using narcotics. Now look at Argentina. Based on indications from cases recorded by the federal police and the National Center for Social Reeducation (CENARESO) in Argentina, the number of habitual or occasional consumers of narcotics is around 50,000. CENARESO conducted a study on the case histories they received during the first six months of 1978. This study revealed that the demand for narcotics among males was 66 percent greater than among females. The average age of those involved was 20. And significantly, 87.5 percent were found to be between the ages of 13 and 24. The types of drugs consumed in more than half the cases were found to be a combination of stimulants and depressants. In Venezuela, the group most affected by the consumption of narcotics is the high school and university population.
A Vicious Circle
The root cause of alcoholism and drug addiction in Latin American society is the breakdown of the Latin American family. Dr. Gloria Pach6n de Galan, who won the Simon Bolivar prize for journalism as a result of her studies of Colombian society, explains some of the reasons for this crisis: "I would have to respond in very simple terms: because all types of relationships between couples have deteriorated, because too often this deterioration leads to separation, because this lack of communication between parents and children is becoming more and more common each day, because teenagers are more and more liberal in their sexual attitudes, and finally because marriage has ceased to be a union in which each person is accepted for better or for worse and has become an experiment that may or may not work out [these problems cannot occur] without serious consequences." The result is a vicious circle. The collapse of family unity leads to the increasing consumption of alcohol. The result is the menace of alcoholism — a source of constant problems in the collapsing home. In Mexico, Dr. Guadalupe Mitchell, of the Women's Institute of Defense and Orientation, revealed the following: 84 percent of family problems are associated with drunkenness, and alcoholism is the final cause of 82 percent of separations and divorces. In Brazil, on the other hand, Alvaro Rubin de Pinho, in his study on medical and social aspects of the use of marijuana in that country, stated that the use of marijuana was one of the major contributing causes of conflicts between parents and children of Brazilian middle-class families. Regardless of which problems give rise to any other in any particular situation, there are laws and principles being broken universally. If these laws were not being broken, the conspiracy to break down the family would utterly fail. The immense profits of drug traffickers would dry up. These are not laws established by any human government. Rather they are spiritual laws that man chooses to reject and ignore. Humanity has forgotten who the Creator God is. The solution to the problems of drug addiction, alcoholism and many other tragedies lies in recapturing true spiritual values, in understanding who and what man is, and in the knowledge of the true purpose of human life.