A chilling report in the New York Times yesterday provided the latest evidence of the futility of America's so-called war on drugs. Thirty-three murders occurred over a single January weekend in the world-famous tropical paradise of Acapulco. While Mexican and American government officials cite numbers of high-profile arrests and a dip in drug-related killings in the fourth quarter of 2010, more than 70 percent of respondents in a poll released last month by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics said they felt that the country’s security had worsened since 2009. The 15,273 deaths last year are the most since Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched the war against the drug cartels in 2007.
Says Denise Dresser, a political analyst in Mexico City:
“There is a disconnect between what the government thinks it is achieving and what the public perceives as happening. [President Felipe Calderón] made the war the center of gravity of his term; he is now being evaluated on whether he is winning it, and the public perception is he is not winning.”
The good news is that the Obama administration is changing its course a bit in terms of its support for Calderon’s efforts. Support that’s basically bankrolling all those efforts. Last year it was reported that the U.S. strategy would shift its focus toward the public health aspects of domestic drug use and addiction. Last week it was announced that the $500 million that would be allocated to Mexico in 2011 would go more toward shoring up corruption and inefficiency in the Mexican justice system than for things like helicopters and high-tech surveillance equipment. It will still probably be a great waste of money, but it’s a step in the right direction—addressing the deeper root causes rather than the end-of-the-chain effects.
Because the problem, of course, lies with some basic truths about human behavior. There is a strong demand for drugs in America. As long as those drugs are illegal, there will be great financial reward to anyone who can provide them. In countries as impoverished as Mexico, this incentive will trump any risk involved. As John Murray reported in a series last year for the website The Awl, the drug trade has become as powerful a force in the Mexican economy as any legally sanctioned one. Powerful enough, it seems, to overwhelm any attempts the government might make at cracking down on the collateral effects.
The efforts need to be aimed at root causes. We should be moving towards the legalization of all drugs, and working on ways to regulate and tax them. For the sake of America. But even more so, in even greater urgency, for the sake of our neighbors.
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