The war on drugs and its Mexican quagmire

All the reasons that are given for drug prohibition or, for that matter, gun prohibition are reasons for prohibiting the consumption of alcohol.

The Centers for Disease Control say that alcohol abuse is the third-largest cause of preventable death in the United States.  More than 75,000 deaths a year are attributed to alcohol.  It is involved in 39 percent of highway fatalities, one-third of suicides and 37 percent of rapes and sexual assaults.   Each year there are 3 million violent crimes in which the victim says the offender was drunk.

Given these facts, it was understandable that the United States in 1919 would try prohibiting alcohol.   The prohibition laws did not stop people from consuming alcohol, but they did stimulate the growth of organized crime to a much more powerful place in American life.

But when the Noble Experiment was repealed in 1933, things did not return to the way they were in 1919.  Organized crime did not go out of business.  It sought other activities, and is an important part of American life to this day.  All the evils that Prohibition was intended to alleviate continue to this day.  But no reasonable person wants to restore Prohibition.  It is a cure that is worse than the disease, even though the disease is very real.

carteldrugterritoriesroutes1After reading a report in the Washington Post by Dana Priest on the current state of the war on narco-traffickers in Mexico, I think drug prohibition will end in the same way.   She told how the CIA spearheaded the drug war and developed such close ties with CISEN, the Mexican intelligence service, that it became virtually part of the Mexican government.  The George W. Bush administration stepped up arrests of drug kingpins and attempts to shut down drug smuggling routes.  The druglords responded savagely.

CISEN discovered from a captured videotape and a special analytical group it set up that some of the cartels had hired former members of the U.S.-trained Guatemalan special forces, the Kaibiles, to create sociopathic killers who could behead a man, torture a child or immerse a captive in a vat of acid.

Anxious to counterattack, the CIA proposed electronically emptying the bank accounts of drug kingpins, but was turned down by the Treasury Department and the White House, which feared unleashing chaos in the banking system.

As the Mexican death toll mounted, [President Felipe] Calderon pleaded with Bush for armed drones.  He had been impressed by the results in Iraq and Afghanistan, two former U.S. officials said.  The White House considered the request, but quickly rejected it.  It was far too likely to result in collateral damage, they said.

By 2009, President Obama’s first year in office, horrific scenes had become commonplace throughout Mexico: severed heads thrown onto a dance floor, a half-dozen bodies hanged from a bridge, bombs embedded in cadavers.  Ciudad Juarez, a stone’s throw from El Paso, was a virtual killing zone.


… … Success against the cartels’ leadership had helped incite more violence than anyone had predicted, more than 60,000 deaths and 25,000 disappearances in the past seven years alone.

Meanwhile, the drug flow into the United States continued unabated.  Mexico remains the U.S. market’s largest supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine and the transshipment point for 95 percent of its cocaine.

via The Washington Post.

On Dec. 1, a new President, Enrique Pena Nieto, took office.  According to Priest, he is less interested in the U.S.-backed policy of arresting druglords and more in drug abuse prevention and keeping Mexico’s streets safe.  In other words, he cares more about Mexico’s problems and less about helping the United States solve its problems.

She reported that U.S. officials are worried about President Pena Nieto’s priorities.  I think we in the United States would be wise to adopt these priorities for ourselves.  The roots of the U.S. drug addiction problem are in the United States, not in Mexico, Colombia or any other foreign country.

I think the war on drugs is going to end in the same way as Prohibition.  I don’t think that will be a good result, but I think it will be an inevitable result.  In this, as in many other things, I will be pleased if events prove me wrong.

There are two wise sayings that apply here.  One is Stein’s Rule, by Herbert Stein, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Nixon.

If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

The other is one of Rumsfeld’s Rules, by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush.

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.


Click on U.S. role at a crossroads in Mexico’s intelligence role on the cartels for Dana Priest’s complete article, which is well worth reading in full.

Click on Mexico Is Ready to End Failed Drug War—Why Isn’t U.S.? for Conor Friedersdorf’s thoughts about her article.

Click on Alcoholism series: Alcohol and crime statistics for background on the alcohol problem.

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5 Responses to “The war on drugs and its Mexican quagmire”

  1. monaoconnell Says:

    Great article!


  2. Notes To Ponder Says:

    Some thoughts in no particular order….

    I agree that organized crime is here to stay. Nip one bud; another will bloom.I agree that alcohol is every bit as problematic, though the government profits from that sin rather than organized crime.

    I live in Vancouver where the problem is viewed a little differently. We recognize addiction as an illness. North America’s one and only “safe injection site” is in Vancouver.(addicts bring their drugs to a government staffed facility, given clean needles and a sterile environment to inject under the watchful eye of a nurse.Counselling is available, as is immediate medical attention should there be an overdose) Vancouver (dubbed – Vansterdam) has Hemp Cafes – they don’t sell pot, but bring your own and smoke freely. Light a joint on the street in front of a police officer and he wouldn’t even bat an eye.

    The Marijuana trade is controlled mainly by the Hells Angels in Canada. Pot is the currency used to trade south of the border for cocaine.Legalize marijuana and half the organized crime tentacles will be chopped off.


  3. tiffany267 Says:

    Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog.


  4. Richard Brown Says:

    Many people believe that legalization of pot is “right around the corner.” Same people need to revisit what happened the last time this belief circulated in 1979. Very educational is the documentary “Square Grouper”. This movie could only be made in 2011, because the subjects of the film were only released from Federal Prison around 2007 and were not free to talk before then. In 1979, several states had “legalized” or decriminalized pot and there was talk within the beltway that the DEA would be defunded. The DEA had to make a splashy event to secure their sinecures. See the movie. The resulting prosecutions were under Carter, long before Reagan had his “awakening” and launched the “Mr. T.” wave in the War against Drugs (1986) which has continued essentially unto this day.

    the Drug Wars are profitable to a large class of people, especially small town law enforcement. There is a vast “private prison” network which rents out prison labor for profit. The economy of West Texas is virtually dependent on hapless outsiders who drift through with small amounts of drugs, get arrested and are sentenced to long terms laboring for townships and private corporations. While Nazi comparisons have become trite, this really is modeled on the National Socialist pattern of using convict slave labor to work factories and civic projects. While “chain gangs” were supposedly ended by 1960s prison reforms, the practice has been renewed, quietly, but extensively.

    Between the entrenched political power of the DEA and the private prison gulags, do not expect “legalization” anywhere in the near future. Even with the internet, “populist” campaigns cannot bring to bear comparable political strength. Current state “Legalizations” and medical marijauna movements are being temporarily tolerated as safety valves. In the meantime, the DEA has been actively mounting effective campaigns to put providers out of business and some unlucky ones are still getting long Federal sentences, even in California.


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