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San Antonio Drug Bust Hypesters, Hempsters, and Drug Warriors BY BRETT CAMPBELL As I drive down Interstate 35 to San Antonio for the 1992 Drug Summit, I’m nervous. Not because I’m planning to pull a Hunter S. Thompson and cover the thing in an altered state of consciousness, but because I keep noticing police cars behind me. I’m staying about 5 mph over the speed limit, yet they keep passing me. Given that six world leaders will be attending, I’m not surprised by the police caravans, but at least they could obey the speed limit. After I get on 1-37, I notice that most of the other cars on the highway are taxis, no doubt conveying important media personages from the San Antonio airport to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center where the city has set up an International Media Center. Several roadside signs tout the “loteria,” the recently legalized addiction that will be sponsored by the state beginning next year. At the Media Center, I am handed a canvas bag, stamped with the official logo of the San Antonio Summit \(the word “Drug” was careArtesia Water, t-shirt, map, guidebook, and my official SA Summit press kit, which contains dozens of pages of information about San of it even accurate. The convention center also contains a free food court for the media, translators, fax machines, a videO monitor, and banks of typewriters for the estimated 1,500 journalists from around the world who converged on the Alamo City from Feb. 25-27. The next evening features a $100,000 party in Alamo Plaza at which reporters can gobble gourmet Texas food for free, accompanied by balloon sculpture, flamenco dancers, mariachis, and cloggers. The fiesta’s organizer was quite up-front about her intentions: “We hope the media will write good things about San Antonio, and that will encourage people to come here, and bring revenue back into the city.” In other words, they were trying to bribe the press into hyping the city. Except for the bag of goodies, I skipped the freebies, not out of any moral compunction, but because my parents live in San Antonio and I preferred home cooking. Reporters were even offered six different free three-hour tours of the Big Taco. Despite the friendly atmosphere, the sticky-sweet aroma of hype would permeate the proceedings throughout the three days of summit-related activities in San Antonio. Former Observer Associate Editor Brett Campbell lives in Austin. The press feeding, partly paid for by tax money, provided the only meat for the media during the three-day affair at the end of last month. This solicitousness toward the news puppies turned out to be the main story, if such there was, of the San Antonio Summit, which was otherwise a colossal disappointment to anyone hoping to extract some substantive discussion about a major issue of our times out of those who are charged with addressing it. After weeks of chest-beat, ing about nosing several other cities for the honor of hosting the leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and the United States, the sense of letdown at the dismal reality of the thing was palpable. No public events were scheduled; the world leaders met privately in group and bilateral sessions to discuss in secret policies that dramatically affect their citizenries. They held a state dinner, posed for a class photo, and popped up evasive answers to softball questions tossed by. the establishment press. Antidrug forces claim that mind-altering substances are merely an escape from reality, but the San Antonio summit was the biggest mindless, escapist entertainment of all. Bush’s political advisers no doubt saw the meeting as another stop on the campaign trail, a chance for him to look presidential and _appear to be addressing domestic concerns, while at the same time indulging in his favorite foreign poobahs. \(At the toast, Bush’s glass held the legal drug, alcohol; the President’s own problems with mind-altering substances such as Halcion and Dan Quayle, weren’t appearance, as did local politicos at all levels. SA Mayor Nelson Wolff slipped the President a wish list of weapons for the drug war. Even David Duke tried to cash in on the publicity, arriving at the airport minutes after the President of Ecuador, and giving a press conference attended by about a dozen people, urging construction of a fence along the Texas-Mexico border. Nothing like a little neighborly advice when guests are in town. San Antonio’s closest competitor for the summit host privileges, the President said, was image-obsessed Dallas, and the three-day hypefest the boosters perpetrated almost reached Big D proportions, what with Van Cliburn playing at the state dinner, local and state celebs schmoozing in force, and the media running breathless stories over what would be on the menu at the State Dinner and on the several First Ladies present. It’s hard to blame city officials for using the occasion to toot SA’s trumpet for the otherwise unengaged press corps, and they did a remarkable job of organizing the whole shebang on a month’s notice. The police presence, if not as oppressive as that surrounding the Economic Summit in Houston two years ago, was still pervasive. The weather, at least, was lovely: between 50 and 70 and sunny. By the time the fireworks display concluded Wednesday night, however, it was obvious that the summit was just another carefully . orchestrated media nonevent, cleverly crafted to distrapt the attention of the mainstream press from the real issues involved in drug use and abuse. The terminology of the official media schedule revealed the contrived nature of the proceedings, such as this description of permissible press coverage of the Second Plenary Session: “12:55: Press pool #3 is escorted from Holding Room to Photo Opportunity Staging Area.” With a few exceptions \(notably the San to the officially approved journalism sites the arrivals of the presidents, President Bush’s toast to his fellow summiteers, Barbara Bush’s staged appearances at anti-drug events, a few uninformative press conferences snapped their photos, posed a few bland questions, munched the free food, reported the government’s official line on the “drug problem” and went home, leaving their audience as ignorant of the reality of the WOD as ever. It would have been too much to expect discussion of certain sticky issues, such as the role of the U.S. government in drug proliferation; after all, American covert operations had financed heroin production in Turkey, Southeast Asia, and Afghanistan and cocaine trafficking in Central America. But the basic assumptions of the WOD went unchallenged, and the root questions went unasked: Why do people take drugs? What are the economic and social causes underlying the drug trade? Why are some harmful drugs legal and others that are proven less dangerous forbidden? What is the cost of the drug war in weakening of civil rights, undermining of foreign nations, and crime and corruption? What are the best methods of solving the problems of abuse of legal or illegal intoxicants? The most-reported incident, the firing of local TV newsman Brian Karem, only confirmed the total absence of substance of the dreadful affair. Karem, the obnoxious reporter who was briefly jailed last year for refusing to disclose a source to police, probably did push protocol by pressing Bush to answer criticisms that his drug war was a failure, when politesse dictated that the final press conference be used only to convey rosy images of 12 MARCH 27, 1992