‘Narcos’ lesson? Drug ‘wars’ don’t work

Bea Cupin
‘Narcos’ lesson? Drug ‘wars’ don’t work
The stars and showrunner of ‘Narcos: Mexico’ are definitely not afraid to be political

SINGAPORE – After 3 seasons and a spin-off show, Narcos showrunner Eric Newman is very sure of at least one thing: drug wars simply don’t work.

“I think that the world is at war with drugs. And what Narcos shows is that which is very much our point of view – that there is no such things as an effective war on drugs and the supply of drugs,” said Newman in a media roundtable during Netflix’s “So What’s Next Asia” event at the Marina Bay Sands on Friday, November 9.

Newman is the showrunner – executive producer and overall creative mind – behind the hit Narcos, a 3-season Netflix series about the drug war in Colombia during the ’70s. He has the same role in Narcos: Mexico, a spin-off show that deals with the drug war in Mexico during the ’80s.

“The war needs to be on the demand of drugs because as long as there is a demand, there will always be a supply,” added Newman.

Narcos: Mexico, which premieres on Netflix on November 16, centers on two main characters – Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna), leader of the Guadelajara Cartel; and Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Michael Peña), a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who was assigned in Mexico.

That the mistakes in previous drug war policies became front and center during the 15-minute media roundtable was not surprising – Newman and Peña were, after all, speaking to a room full of journalists from a country that’s in the middle of its own drug war, the Philippines.

Peña is first to admit that Narcos: Mexico exists primarily to entertain but at the same time “it brings about these discussions and I think that’s good.”

The Philippines has been waging its own campaign against illegal drugs since President Rodrigo Duterte came into power in 2016. There are key differences in the two.

If the drug wars in Colombia (from the original Narcos series) and Mexico zoomed in on drug production, in the Philippines, the brunt of state efforts have been on the demand side – cracking down on users, particularly those in the poorest communities. The Philippine “drug war” has been accused of being biased against the poor.

“I believe that if you use the terminology of a war on drugs, you’ve already lost. If you treat it as a health care crisis, which is what it is then you combat addiction [and] not by imprisoning people for being drug addicts but for actually getting them the help they need, you greatly reduce demand,” said Newman.

The problem of drugs in Colombia and Mexico, said Newman, wasn’t just the drug lords themselves but the “complicity” between them and state forces, including the police and the government itself. “Those who betray public trust… Those are the real monsters,” he said.

Diego Luna, who was a child when the Mexican drug war began, said the series doesn’t just explain what happened then – it also helps explain current dynamics between the US and Mexico, or why the relationship is “difficult.”

And while Luna admits it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of his country, it’s a story that must be told. “It’s not a series that will make you go: ‘Ohhh look, I love Mexico.’ Gladly, there are other stories of Mexico out there,” added Luna. – Rappler.com

Narcos: Mexico streams on Netflix on November 16

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.