HBO News Blog

VICE: “The Line Drawn In The Sand” / “Outsourcing Embryos”

By Jef Dinsmore on Mar 30, 2015 to Vice

VICE_S3 Overview: Cocaine use in Europe has increased dramatically over the past decade, and new routes have evolved to supply the demand. VICE follows the cocaine highway from the streets of Venezuela, to drug smuggling boats in the Caribbean, to the ports of West Africa, and finally to desert territories controlled by Islamic extremists. By exploring the trafficking hot spots of South America and Africa, we find out who is profiting from Europe’s cocaine habit. VICE looks at the boom in one of the world’s newest billion-dollar industries: gestational surrogacy. The cost of surrogacy in the U.S. can be over $100,000, leading many prospective parents to look for affordable options in other countries. VICE heads to India, where commercial surrogacy is legal, to investigate this growing industry. By exploring some of the VICE_BenAndersoncountry’s 3,000 surrogacy clinics, watching doctors deliver surrogate babies, and following recruiters who find prospective surrogates in the slums, we see the true cost of outsourcing reproduction.   Expectations: I’m looking forward to another report from Ben Anderson. Last season he was behind-the scenes in both Yemen and Darfur and now he spent serious time tracking drug traffic across continents. I think this is a great time to say what a massive effort it takes to get some of these reports out. It will all become clearer after watching the segment, but the orchestration and buildup of trust Anderson and crew achieved to get this story is an amazing feat. It all makes for an anticipated segment. The second segment doesn’t really surprise me. You got to know that across the world that this type of business is bound to exist. The surrogacy business is one thing, but the search for and abuse(?) of surrogates seems criminal. It appears by the preview that the crux of this report will be the women who see no option but to become a surrogate. We will have to see how they are treated and compensated. Here is that preview:   Gut Reaction: Up first is “Lines in the Sand” with correspondent Ben Anderson. Okay so, Ben does not literally put himself in grave danger though the entire drug corridor, but he does take some serious risk for his story. His life is in the hands of criminals in Caracas, Venezuela; he goes blindfolded to get a glimpse and a taste of the deadly stash of cocaine. Then he is VICE_BenandDrugTraffickeronboard seeing a ton of coke heading to international waters and on to Africa. Once the story gets us to Africa we get a lot more stock footage of the terrorist cells and drug kingpins involved as opposed to a lot of new footage with Anderson; all that is okay because he is safely talking to experts about the drug corridor and the lawlessness of the land instead. DEA agent Milione hits on all the dangerous aspects of what is truly an unthreatened traffic flow making high dollar and showing no signs of slowing down. Of course, the same kind of flow comes into the United States as well. We know a strong flow of drugs around the world exists, but it is still interesting to see it mapped out. My thoughts, however, lie more on what isn’t being told about this particular report. What danger is Anderson in? How did he even get to see the mother lode as it were? Was it just too dangerous to follow the cocaine trail the whole way up into Europe? I even thought that he would surely involve authority with what he knows? However, upon reflection I deduced that he didn’t know much about who he was with or where he was exactly. Then the notion dawned on me – who was he going to tell?  We heard from two different traffickers continents apart that the governments of both Venezuela and Niger were corrupt and/or paid off, so there is no one to tell. It set my wheels spinning; so much so that I didn’t watch the second segment of this installment until a later time. Some thoughts are still unanswered.     “Outsourcing Embryos’ with correspondent Gianna Toboni takes up the second half of the program. As I suspected once we got a good explanation of the workings of the surrogacy business we learn of the next step in the process. Business is VICE_BabyFarmbooming and the demand for infants rises higher so a quick inventory of child-bearing women must keep up the supply. Though it proves a respectful venture to aid the infertile or same-sex partnerships it exploits the poor caste women of the region. In this case it is India and our correspondent takes us to housing for the birth mothers. As we expected from the trailer many of these women are out of options and desperate for money for their families or themselves. They are, however, as one social worker points out, just “wombs for rent.” I wish I could replay a scene from the segment that would illustrate what happens in this program. I cannot show you because, as I have stated before, it is either feast or famine with VICE. One week they provide extra footage to share and other weeks, like this one, they offer nothing. Anyway, the scene I’d replay for you shows Gianna Toboni watching a typical hurried procedure. It would take too long to have a woman go through full dilation, timed contractions and Lamaze-trained breathing and pushing, so instead a C- section is the only way to go. After the baby is delivered, checked and cleaned, it was whisked downstairs where the intended mother waited. She and her bundle of joy were united and taken away via a van waiting for them. By the time Gianna gets back upstairs another pregnant woman is on the table. The whole rapid moment even had our correspondent a bit rattled. But, it just goes to show that it is a business venture and nothing more. A surrogate recruiter even goes out in search for potential women, employed by the very doctor who insisted that women are never deceived or tricked into being in the program. That proved a blatant lie and proved that running a ‘baby farm” is a seedy, nasty business.   Bonus: Again, no bonus video clips this week but I did find from VICE an interview with the producer that worked on the piece with Ben Anderson. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Alex Chitty (pictured).

VICE: What was the genesis of this story?   People_AlexChittyAlex Chitty: We went to Venezuela, where we got driven out to one of the nastiest bits of Caracas, which is one of the murder capitals of the world. We walked into this drug storage house where this guy was like “You guys have balls of steel. You could be leaving here feet first! But I like you guys.” He showed off his load of coke, and said “We have ten more houses like this one.” That house had 120 kilos, which is worth about ten million dollars.    VICE: Then you followed the cocaine to Africa?   AC: We went to Niger, and there’s an illegal trafficking boom happening in this town called Agadez. There’s also a bunch of hidden camera footage from the DEA that shows the crazy lengths the DEA will go to catch people smuggling coke that could end up funding Jihadis. They put up these super-elaborate stings and we got exclusive footage of those. You see these FARC guerrillas in West Africa trying to get a guy to smuggle coke through al Qaeda-controlled territory and confirming that he would then pay al Qaeda money to do that. Therefore, supposedly, this proves there’s a link between cocaine-smuggling and jihad.

See the piece in its entirety here which includes discussion of footage that did not make the final edit.   In Conclusion: The former Secretary General of the United Nations summed up the drug trafficking piece best. He said, “The war on drugs isn’t working.” This piece proves that he is unfortunately correct. As for Gianna’s surrogacy program in India; there is no reason this cannot be a legitimate business for the benefit of all. It is a shame the lower caste women are exploited yet again. Evidently, though we have two segments only the top story gets the Debrief. I guess it all depends who is in the Brooklyn offices to have the sit-down and not out in the field. VICE_DebriefS3 I’m in luck. Ben Anderson did manage to answer some of my burning questions that I listed earlier. I like Anderson’s reporting and hope he has more this season.     Next Week: VICE SPECIAL REPORT: KILLING CANCER has an encore.  On Friday, April 10 in Episode # 05 of the season we get reports on the future of recreational drugs and sex change surgery in Iran. Here is a preview. Peace.  

Find Episode # 25 here.
Find Episode # 27 here.

  • Eleonora Iafano

    When I read that there are women who are so poor that they feel there is no other choice but to turn to gestational surrogacy to help pay down debt or just to earn money to eat and survive, this is a damned shame. The fact that we are in the year 2015 and the poorest people are still being victimized at every turn is something to be ashamed of. While I am in favour of seeing couples (same sex or infertile) being able to adopt or have children via surrogacy, the abuse of the these women has to stop. The women who do this should be compensated properly. I know, I probably have my head in the clouds when I wish for equal rights, no more violence against women and that poor people would be treated with more respect and dignity. It’s a long shot, I know. Sigh.

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