Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.
Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.
by Peter Gorman
They’re all personal to some extent. All the calls from strangers at 2 AM telling me they’ve been busted and used their one call on me and can I help them. The letters from people in prison who explain they’ve got 10 or 12 more years to serve for a non-violent drug offence and need someone to talk with. Even the statistics concerning how many pot smokers or dope sellers are rotting their lives away in cages instead of raising hell or their families on the outside are personal to some extent. Drug war reporters wouldn’t stay in the business if we didn’t let it get to us. But then some of the stories are more personal than others. Sometimes the drug war hits us hard. This is one of those.
I’ve been working in Peru for parts of more than the last 20 years. Mostly I work in the jungle. Some of it’s reporting, some of it’s exploring, but I’ve been starting and ending each long trip with a visit to my friend Julio, a healer who works with ayahuasca, for a long time. Ayahuasca is the legendary visionary tea used by curanderos or shaman throughout most of the Amazon.
One of the fellows who lives near Julio on the little Auchyaco river—about 24 hours by riverboat up from the jungle city of Iquitos—is my friend Ruber DelCastillo. We’ve worked together since I met Julio in 1985 and over the years he’s learned a lot about healing from Julio and running tourists from me. Enough that he makes an occasional buck taking guests to the river to show them the jungle and have Julio serve them ayahuasca. Ruber lives up there with his kids—all teens—and wife. Aside from Ruber and Julio there are maybe 10 families on the little river, most of them with a family connection (Ruber is married to Julio’s daughter, for instance) and a couple of the men who live there used to apprentice with Julio and have become curanderos in their own right.
About two years ago one of Ruber’s tourists asked him to send a bottle of ayahuasca to France, where it was legal at the time. So Ruber, who has little income, split the hundred bucks he was getting for it and had the two former apprentices of Julio make it for him. Then he headed down the river to Iquitos to send it off.
The bottle got as far as Lima, Peru’s capitol, and then the US War on Drugs kicked in. To kiss US administration ass, Lima had instituted a program in which they opened all unlabeled bottles that had obviously been prepared outside of a factory and stuck a litmus paper into the liquid. It changed color, indicating the presence of alkaloids.
Alkaloids could mean it contained ayahuasca or any other vine or bark essence; they might indicate potato extractions. They might even indicate the presence of opioids—opium.
Six months later, it’s decided by the Peruvian drug control people that the litmus test could only indicate opioids, and three months after that Ruber, the two curanderos and Ruber’s 17-year-old son (also named Ruber and the only other family member at home in the jungle at the time), were picked up in the jungle and brought to Guyabamba prison in Iquitos. They were unofficially charged with manufacture and distribution of opioids. That opium poppies don’t grow well in the jungle didn’t come into play. That Peru is not known as an opium producing country didn’t come into play. The police theory was that poppies were grown in the mountains and shipped down to the jungle where the two curanderos extracted the opium, then added it to a liquid and gave it to Ruber who tried to pass it off in the post office as the legal ayahuasca.
I say Ruber was unofficially charged because in Iquitos being formally charged would mean a trial and witnesses and proof. Unofficially charged means you can be held for up to four years before being officially charged. Most of Guyabamba’s 700 or so prisoners are never officially charged. They just serve two or three years and then are set free.
In this case, Ruber didn’t mention he was in prison to me—his family just said he was doing some work in Brazil—until early May. By that time he and the other three had been in jail for seven months. I got in touch with some people I know in politics in Lima and they had the weight to pressure the Peruvian drug administration to do a real test. It came back negative. No opioids.
The results were passed to the judge in Iquitos handling the case. She said couldn’t do anything about it because Peru needs a certain number of drug prisoners to keep the US happy and Ruber and his kid and friends were serving that purpose. US DEA agents were contacted; they couldn’t do anything about it, they said, because it was a Peruvian case. They wouldn’t even address the fact that until 10 years ago it was legal to buy morphine over the counter at any market or pharmacy in Peru, and that that only changed because of US Drug War policy.
Nearly four months have gone by since the test came back negative for illegal drugs. Ruber, his son and the two shaman still rot in a jail where if you can’t pay for a bed you sleep on the cement floor. A jail where the jail guards charge a fee to visit an inmate—often taken in sexual favors from wives who can’t afford cash.
US policy put Ruber there. Proof of innocence has not given the judge the balls to buck US policy power and set him free. More than 44 aggregate months have passed since the four have seen their jungle homes.
Fuck US drug war policy.
That’s how stupid it’s gotten and how much power it wields.
Someone ought to step up to the plate and put an end to it.
As long as I’m being personal this month, I’m going to say this and be clear about it. I hate snitches.
I hate snitches.
I understand there are times when someone’s children or wife are put in the middle of things and a person decides to rat out an associate. I hope I’m never in that position because I don’t want to say what I’d do given those circumstances. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about professional snitches. I’m talking about people like Marc Craven. Craven’s a professional snitch with a felony record who’s made his living convincing people to commit minor drug offences and then having them arrested so that he can make a few bucks a head.
Craven was hired by the Yamhill County Interagency Narcotics Team in Oregon in the Spring of 2005 to help round up drug dealers. He went about his business with the zest of a zealot. He advertised that he had high-paying jobs open in construction and landscaping. People came in for interviews. Craven apparently told them he smoked a little pot but didn’t know where to get any. If the interviewee could only get him say, a dime-bag, the job would be theirs.
In June, 47 people who needed work or better work—many of whom, it turned out, don’t even smoke pot—went out and got Craven what he demanded. But instead of a job for their efforts they got arrested.
By chance, word of Craven’s past got out and Yamhill County District Attorney Bard Berry decided that he would drop 40 of the cases to avoid public humiliation. The rest he’s going to continue to prosecute because Craven was only tangentially involved in them.
The questions are: Why isn’t Marc Craven being prosecuted for jigging up false cases? And who on the Yamhill County Interagency Narcotics Team hired Craven, and have they been fired and charged criminally yet? They didn’t just pick his name from the phone book. Someone got it from someone who knew who Craven was and what he did. He’d even run the identical scam nearly 20 years ago.
Craven’s one of the reasons I don’t like snitches. Mostly I don’t like them because they are generally people who’ve done really rotten things to other humans and then buy their way out of the consequences by bringing pain and suffering to other humans. Like Sammy the Bull Gravano who did all that killing for the mob then squealed and was given that new house and nice life in Arizona. Like the guy who made nearly a quarter of a million from the Dallas police for having innocent illegals deliver cars that they didn’t know contained bags of crushed up sheetrock and pool chalk in the trunks from one parking lot to another. When they’d arrive the cops, who thought the white stuff was crack or cocaine, were waiting to arrest them. Poor guy comes to the US for work only to be set up and sent to jail by a schmuck who’s raking in bucks selling the cops sheetrock and pool chalk. Or the snitch who got a job as a deputy sheriff in Tulia, Texas a couple of years back and had more than 40 African Americans arrested, charged and sentenced for cocaine distribution when some of them weren’t even in the state at the time the deals allegedly went down.
The War on Drugs is already criminal. To hire criminals to screw innocent people to get the numbers up and keep those privatized prisons full is beyond the beyond. Unfortunately, when a snitch is busted, they generally get away Scott free. I only hope there’s a special place in hell for them.
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.