DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mexico and a Failed Drug War

Somebody blow taps. The American war on drugs has been lost. This year, $25 billion was spent on enforcing the failed drug war, and that total doesn't include money for prosecutions and incarceration. Yet, as 2012 ends, and after decades of such expenditures, the U.S. finds itself with drug use levels ready to exceed the former highs of the 1970s. One of every 3 black males between the ages of 18 to 35 are either in prison, awaiting trial, or on parole. If you removed non-violent drug offenders from that total, the number would plummet by 80 %.  Finally, just this week, a new Rasmussen national poll shows that only 7% of  Americans believe that we are winning the war on drugs, while 82% are sure we are losing it.

And if you think conditions are bad here, you should look to our neighbors to the south. In Mexico, 50,000 people have died from drug violence in the last 10 years. Last year, Guatemala seized $12 billion in drugs, money, and weapons, a figure which represents 2 years of that country's budget. In Honduras, there is genuine concern that the country might be turned into a Narco state. In fact, the ultra-violent drug cartels in the Latin American countries are being labeled a fast-growing national security problem for the U.S.

"There are bribes, intimidation, terror, torture, and killing," says Cato Institute Latin American policy expert Ted Galen Carpenter. "The cartels have a saying plata o plomo. Silver or lead. Go along or die. The drug war started by (President Richard) Nixon hasn't worked and there have been drastic consequences."

Carpenter appeared at the Cato Institute this week to discuss his new book The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and Its Danger to America.

The root of the problem, Carpenter says, is that there are such vast sums of money to be gained in the illegal drug trade. Last year, drugs brought in an estimated $100 billion worldwide, with $40 billion of that in Mexico.

And no group better demonstrates the futility of the drug war than the Zetas. Several years ago, special elite army forces were financed by Mexico and given special training from the U.S. military. However, once dispatched to combat the drug cartels, the Zetas quickly discovered they "could make a lot more money taking their skills to the other side," Carpenter said. The Zetas began providing protection for the very cartels they had been created to destroy. Then they realized they could make even more money if they took over entire operations. Today, the Zetas are Mexico's 2nd largest cartel.

When possible, the cartels use money to cement protection for their operations. Some government officials in Mexico City were caught taking $400,000 a month bribes to look the other way. Of course, when money doesn't work, intimidation and killing are introduced. Beheading appears to be the most popular form of  execution. Both the violence and the extreme nature of it are increasing, Carpenter said. For example, police recently found a headless body. Nearby they found the severed head. But the head had no face. The face, sewn to a soccer ball,  was found in another area a short distance away. "It's sadism run amok," Carpenter said.  "You're seeing the kinds of things you have never seen before in economic killings before. These are the kinds of things you see in wars from an ethnic, religious, or racial basis." And the cartels don't just target opponents; they go after entire families. "You have black SUVs  trailing school buses and armed toughs at basketball games," Carpenter explained.

So what is the answer? Carpenter says there really is none if the U.S. continues to outlaw the use of drugs. "Prohibition didn't work in the 1920s and it doesn't work today. Prohibition only empowers gangsterism. There is a tremendous demand (for recreational drugs). I'm not saying they are good. But would you rather have all that in a legitimate government bureaucracy or in the hands of violent criminals?" Carpenter posited. He said he believes marijuana should be treated just as alcohol is now. Other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and meth could be treated the same as legally prescribed drugs. "Those other drugs are tougher, but we need to debate what to do," Carpenter said.

Citing the just-released national poll showing the failing nature of our current policy and the victories for legal marijuana use in Colorado and Washington, Carpenter said public opinion on drugs is shifting. But why will no politicians acknowledge that the drug war has failed and legalization may be warranted? "Politicians want to follow. They want to know where the crowd is going before they lead the parade," Carpenter said.

Carpenter saved some of his harshest words for President Barack Obama, who has remained silent on the drug issue. Obama has admitted that he smoked marijuana and used other drugs as a young man. "What if he had gotten caught?" Carpenter asked. "Would he have gone to college? Would he have gone to law school? Would he have become president of the United States? I don't think so. But to his shame, Obama has shown no aversion to seeing others suffer severe criminal penalties for things he did in his youth."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Carpenter is not alone in his call for legalization as a way to end a failed drug war. Time magazine printed an article this summer offering 10 reasons why the U.S drug policy should be revisited. You can read that article by clicking here.

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