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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2011 > June 2011 > Drugs & Justice

Drugs & Justice

America’s role as a catalyst for chaos in the Mexican drug wars

Wednesday 1 June 2011, by Davide Mastracci

In the last couple of weeks the outcry aimed at the war on drugs in Mexico has been massive, with tens of thousands descending upon the streets of Mexico City in protest. The desire amongst the masses is a unified one: justice. The Mexican people will no longer be butchered for the purpose of a draconian war which they believe cannot be won. The Mexican people will not accept America’s tendency to spend billions of dollars overseas to fight terrorism while largely ignoring a war it has spawned in its own backyard. As Americans snort and shoot, Mexicans suffer.

Since current Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, declared open warfare on drug trafficking organizations four and a half years ago, thirty-seven thousand Mexicans have been brutally murdered. The casualties range from cartel foot soldiers to government officials, police officers, and even innocent children. All are sacrificed in the struggle to control the flow of illegal drugs to the United States; a lucrative market that provides highly organized drug traffickers with an estimated profit of $39 billion annually. This amount is nearly equivalent to five percent of Mexico’s total economic output. The overwhelming demand for drugs in America suggests that the American government is losing its highly publicized "war on drugs."

Destroying or drastically reducing the demand for drugs in America is one of the three potentially feasible solutions to the drug crisis which Mexico and the United States can jointly undertake. Attacking the demand for drugs would undercut the business interests of the cartels while saving a great deal of lives on both sides of the border. Unfortunately, this option is also the least likely to be successful considering the American tendency to treat drug addicts as criminals rather than patients. Alternative approaches to drug addiction exist, and are being used to mitigate global drug traffic. For instance in Portugal the personal possession of small amounts of any drug is legal with the option of therapy for addiction instead of jail time. This policy, enacted in 2001, has reduced the use of once illegal substances by twenty-five percent according to a CATO Institute report. The CATO institute is a public policy organization devoted to the protection of civil liberties and restriction of government power. In the last forty years, over one trillion dollars have been spent on the American “war on drugs” in the form of threats, jail time, and destruction. Yet these expenditures have not altered the motivation of drug users to inject euphoria.

The second potential solution, which has dominated the joint efforts of Mexico and the United States, is the improvement of border security to prevent illegal narcotics from entering America. While essential to slow down the cartels, heightened border security cannot be a standalone solution. Border security manages to intercept just over thirty percent of would-be smuggled narcotics, with two hundred metric tons of cocaine, one thousand five hundred metric tons of marijuana, and fifteen metric tons of heroin still being imported into America annually. Furthermore, even if the drug routes from Mexico to the United States were completely closed, though Mexico currently feeds the majority of the drug demand, others like the Medellin cartel have held the role before, and with such an ideal product and customer, others would quickly attempt to fill the void left by Mexican traffickers.

Border regulation reform also tends to focus too narrowly on northbound traffic overlooking what is smuggled into Mexico. According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, more than ninety percent of guns seized after raids and shootings in Mexico have been linked back to America where, in states like Arizona, a lethal arsenal of firearms are easily accessible. Although Obama declared in 2009 that he would increase the enforcement of laws which seek to prevent assault weapons from being brought across the border, he has not sought a reinstatement of the ban on the sale of assault weapons. The policy banning the sale of assault weapons was instated by Clinton in 1997 but expired under the Bush regime in 2004. This ban is one which Calderon has strongly pursued in order to reduce the fire power of groups like the Sinaloa cartel which have wrested control of Northern areas of Mexico from the government. The Sinaloa cartel is responsible, according to the U.S. Attorney General, for importing two hundred tons of cocaine and relative amounts of heroin to the United States.

The third solution consists of capitalizing off of the present drug use by legalizing the production and sale of drugs. The general framework of this argument calls for Mexico, as well as the United States, to legalize the sale of drugs in addition to the United States also legalizing possession of small amounts of drugs - something Mexico accomplished in 2009. Advocates of this method claim it would allow for competition amongst producers and sellers of narcotics thereby reducing the power of the cartels while allowing for a portion of the money generated through the market to go to the government.

This approach has been largely ignored by Calderon as well as U.S. officials, who insist upon continuing the costly war on drugs. However, Calderon’s two predecessors, Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo, have openly endorsed the approach. Fox went as far as to say that Americans benefit from the drug war due to the large amount of money invested in their country from the laundered drug money, and therefore ending the war is not a priority. While the cartels would still need to be pushed from power for drug legalization to succeed, legalization could ease the process of displacing the cartels. Fox explained in a statement that, “Legalization does not mean that drugs are good...but we have to see [legalization of the production, sale and distribution of drugs] as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits.” Fox’s pragmatism appears to make paramount the safety of Mexican citizens. “The question is not what is going on in Mexico, but what is going on in the United States,” Fox stated this May, referring to the large system drug trafficking that exists as much in America as in Mexico. Repeatedly pegged as a Mexican issue, the production and importation of drugs will only perpetuate if the American demand for cocaine, heroin and marijuana stays at its all-time high. As a multitude of laws and security reinforcements have failed to reduce Mexican-American drug trafficking, it is time for an innovative approach to ending the “war on drugs.”

Photo: Fronteras Desk