Canary in the Coalmine, 1.0: Las Mulas


BY ELIZABETH THOMSON

As Dr. Mark Haas frequently says, women are the canary in the coalmine: the way their society treats them is the first indicator of where it is going. That is why there will be a miniseries on women and the consistent life ethic; not out of a feminist agenda, but because women truly do reveal a society’s character.

This particular blog entry details the use of the human body to traffic drugs. Warning: it is graphic, and contains spoilers to the film María llena eres de gracia.

Colombia is known for its violence and drug trafficking. It supplies more than 800 tons of cocaine worldwide, making up 80% of the market. Beginning with President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs campaign started in the 1970s, the United States has spent more than $8 billion on Plan Colombia -- more than any foreign project outside the Middle East -- trying to mitigate the problems and violence based on drugs. However, this has not stopped the trafficking, but rather altered the way it is done. One of the ways is through the human body.

This particular technique of transporting drugs through a human was brought to light in a 2004 film called María llena eres de gracia. The title adds significance to the story: it comes from the first lines of the Spanish translation of the Catholic prayer "Ave Maria." Its English equivalent is "Hail Mary, full of grace," deriving from the angel Gabriel's Biblical salutation to Mary the mother of Jesus. Following the salutation, Gabriel announces that Mary will conceive in her womb Jesus while retaining her purity. In other words, she carries in her womb salvation.

This highly contrasts María Álvarez’s story. She carries within her an illegitimate child; also, she carries within her dozens of large capsules of cocaine. Like many Colombian families, hers is poor, and she agrees to be a mula, or a drug mule. The job seems like a kind of salvation for the young single mother. Her delivery, far from pure, is dangerous and risks both her life and the life of her unborn child. Other young women are with her, all of them destitute, choosing drug trafficking as a last resort.

They swallow cocaine, which is sealed in latex capsules, which are made from condoms or glove fingers. Unable to eat or drink, the drug mules wait to expel the capsules in a bowel movement and hope that none of them burst. María practices swallowing whole grapes before she is given the capsules to swallow. The first few times, she chokes, and then ultimately succeeds. She dips the capsule in a liquid, places it on her tongue, and forces it down with the strength of her throat. After 62 capsules, she can swallow no more, takes a plane ticket, and flies to New York with a few other mulas. Midflight she breaks into a sweat and hurries to the lavatory, where she defecates then re-swallows the collected capsules.

She arrives in the United States and is immediately spotted as a drug mule. However, when she has a urine test and is discovered to be pregnant, the workers at customs are unable to perform an x-ray and let her go. This is much to her relief: the American penalties include life imprisonment or death.

Connected drug lords pick up her and the other women. They stay in a hotel and wait for the laxatives to work out the capsules. One of the women, Lucy, starts to lose consciousness, murmuring "No me siento bien" ("I don’t feel well"). María takes her into the shower to try and wake her, too fearful to take her to an emergency room. A few hours later, María wakes to the sound of shuffling, and sees one of the drug lords carrying Lucy's bloody corpse from the room. A trail of blood leads into the shower, which is splattered with thick, dark blood. One of the packets burst. The drug lords gut Lucy, retrieve their packets, and abandon her body in New Jersey. When María demands payment for Lucy’s packets -- to pay to send her body back to Colombia -- they refuse.

Leading actress Catalina Sandino Moreno won awards for her performance. Her compassion towards the human aspect of the trafficking was apparent in the vulnerable, helpless way she portrayed María. The film exposes the darkness surrounding the problem. It is a huge part of CEL as it involves the abuse of the human body as a dangerous utility, risks death, and demonstrates a complete disregard for the respect due to a human. While there are no easy solutions, it is an evil that needs exposure and active work to combat.


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