Mexico bears the brunt of our failed war on drugs

February 28, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Posted in Drugs, International | 5 Comments

For a politician, I’m not sure there’s anything more humiliating than defending your own failures. A few days ago the President of Mexico was forced to deny that he was presiding over a failed state. As his country prepared to send two thousand more troops into the troubled city of Ciudad Juarez, Felipe Calderon insisted that he wasn’t losing control of his country and that victory was just around the corner – contrary to growing fears in the United States that their neighbour is close to becoming a narco-state.

In a technical sense, Mr Calderon is correct that Mexico isn’t yet a failed state, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t failing. Since assuming office in December 2006 and immediately escalating the doomed ‘war on drugs’, there have been over 8,000 drug-related executions. Thanks to the wealthy, powerful and vengeful cartels, there are towns and cities plagued by corrupt police forces, widespread extortion and untramelled violence. Just a week ago, gunmen killed a police officer and prison guard and left a note by their bodies promising to kill an officer every two days until the police chief resigned. He quit before they ever had the chance to carry out their threat.

This is what the war on drugs buys you. In its long and undignified history, Presidents have come and gone; cartels have risen and fallen; street dealers have become rich, been shot or imprisoned; millions of addicts have killed themselves and many millions more have been exploited at every stage of the supply chain. Meanwhile, cartels have infested the law enforcement of Latin America; West Africa has become a vital part of the illegal trade route and the people of Afghanistan are caught up in a war where both the sale and destruction of opium crops can help strengthen Taliban insurgents. All these millions dead, all these billions spent, and both supply and demand remain as strong as ever.

Earlier this month a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state called prohibition the failure it is and suggested that the continent should treat narcotics as a public health problem, rather than a problem for law enforcement. But even if Mexico, Columbia & Brazil were to legalise drugs overnight, it still wouldn’t diminish the power of cartels to erode civil society, as they would still have to break national & international law to smuggle their products to overseas markets. No, the only way we could effectively end this cycle of violence, corruption and exploitation would be for the drug cartels’ biggest export markets – the U.S. and Europe – to agree to some kind of controlled legalisation. The drugs trade is only filled with such violence because it’s illegal, and whilst decriminalising wouldn’t exactly bring immediate peace, it would at least make it possible for that peace to emerge.

If the bloody, anarchic events in Mexico and throughout South America were instead happening in Britain, ending prohibition would be the great moral & political cause of our time. For decades these countries have been waging a futile war on our behalf, and only when we call a truce will they be able to mend their fractured societies.

Image by Flickr user Latin Snake (Creative Commons)



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  1. The squandering of Mexico’s natural resources and rampant corruption throughout every level of government have led to the squalor and desperation of the Mexican people.
    This is a third world nation at the doorstep of the worlds most prosperous. Is it any wonder that tension exists?
    Mexico must stop blaming the U.S. for its problems and MUST reform, create a healthy economy, and clean house politically so that the drug cartels will lessen their influence.

  2. […] the failure of our war on drugs, we can highlight the lives that have been claimed everywhere from Mexico to Guinea-Bissau, and we can make some rational assumptions about how ending prohibition would […]

  3. […] night that whilst my last two posts on the topic (the disastrous consequences of prohibition in Mexico and the benign effects of decriminalisation in Portugal) were tangentially related to ending […]

  4. […] sinister: Crime, drugs, even brutal killings.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Mexico bears the brunt of our failed war on drugsNarcoGuerra Times–Obama Drug War UpdateDrug cartel violence reaching “saturation […]

  5. […] of human rights abuses levelled at the Mexican military in pursuit of an expensive, bloody and failed war on drugs. As well as rape, the allegations include enforced disappearance, torture, arbitrary […]

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