Mexico City has duly responded to the criticism in full force this week by mobilizing a coordinated response to placate the wave of negative press. In an interview with the AP, President Calderon attempted to diffuse the idea of a failed Mexico by claiming, “To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false, I have not lost any part — any single part — of the Mexican territory.” Alongside Calderon was Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora who, while acknowledging the severity of the situation, tried to downplay Washington’s alarmism. Mora believes that cartel related violence is peaking and that the savage violence is not reflective of the government offensive’s failure but “it is reflecting how they [the cartels] are melting down.”
Belated U.S. Reaction
In response to the continuing escalation of violence and lawlessness in regions close to the U.S. border, American officials are beginning to recognize the gravity of the situation. Earlier in the week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that the nation’s assistance to Mexico requires the “utmost attention” of American officials. Though the Mexican government claims to be capable of handling the situation, top U.S. officials are worried that the increasing violence could spill over into border states such as Arizona and Texas. The Senate recently announced that it would hold a panel in Washington and Arizona to discuss the growing violence. Last week, the State Department issued a travel advisory warning American tourists to avoid areas of Mexico known for prostitution and drug-dealing. These recent developments throughout Washington demonstrate that the U.S. considers the Mexican situation to be an extremely serious matter, or perhaps even considers it an opportunity to further extend its influence over a newly weakened Mexico. The U.S. is currently exploring all options regarding national security, none more extensive than the prospect of sending the National Guard to directly defend the border, a proposal the Senate will discuss at its panel. Such a move, of course, will certainly prove to be a sensitive subject, considering Mexico’s proud sovereignty.
While there is no prospect that the U.S. will directly intervene in Mexican affairs to ensure safety at its borders, it will be conducting a comprehensive and critical review of domestic affairs that are fueling the violence. In the process of doing this, a lot of dirty linen will be exhibited. Washington cannot hide behind the fact that a multitude of assault weapons and cash is currently flowing from the U.S. into Mexico. The State Department released its 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report late Friday, which states, “U.S.-purchased or stolen firearms account for an estimated 95 percent of the country’s drug-related killings.” The fact that American firearms were responsible for the deaths of almost six thousand Mexicans in 2008 alone is a brazen cause for concern and an indication of the Bush administration’s neglect of the issue, fearing that it might negatively affect its ties with the N.R.A. Attorney General Eric Holder made clear that the Obama administration must honor its campaign promises to strengthen and make permanent the ban on assault weapons in the U.S. This statement followed a successful raid of domestic cells of the murderous Sinaloa cartel in such disparate states as California, Minnesota and Maryland. The raids were part of the DEA’s Operation Xcellerator, a campaign that has resulted in the arrest of over 750 cartel members and the seizure of 23 tons of narcotics; a development Calderón celebrated.
Though the operation has accomplished much over the last year or two, it only reveals how deeply the cartels are embedded in the American underground. International drug-trafficking organizations will certainly continue to operate in the U.S. as long as there is continued demand for drugs. The controversial debate over the legalization of drugs, namely Marijuana, can no longer be avoided.
A Growing International Consensus
Former Presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia, and Zedillo of Mexico, point to Colombia’s thirty-year struggle, and have jointly proposed that an alternative solution – consistent with a nation’s history and culture – should be developed by educators, health professionals, spiritual leaders and policy makers. This proposal is founded in the international community’s need to view drug abusers as patients rather than criminals and a need to reform the prison system that breeds even more criminals than it rehabilitates.
The former presidents provide an educational approach, similar to that of past anti-tobacco campaigns, that utilizes individual experiences, arguments and clear language co-opted into a medical and educational format rather than a punitive approach to sway consumer demand. This tactic has proven far more effective in curbing drug consumption and recidivism. The preliminary plan proposed by the former presidents requires the circumstantial decriminalization of illicit substances to effectively combat the drug trade. The program may also lower the deficit of an involved state with a tax on the substance, thereby appropriating funds towards other related initiatives such as anti-drug education and anti-addiction services.
Legalization of cannabis is the initial step proposed by the presidents, a step which is also supported by numerous U.S. state governors and mayors of major cities to comprehend and act upon the impact on society of the costly and destructive status quo. The needed reforms would allow police and other law authorities to focus greater attention on more substantial crimes and begin to effectively fight the crime wave presently besieging most of the Americas. Although the adverse health effects of cannabis consumption are similar to that of tobacco products, cannabis is not an addictive substance and is a potential ally in a successful long-term solution.
The three former presidents who proposed an alternative policy to the current Prohibitionist method now supported by the United States and the United Nations are neither ignorant nor naïve. They understand the situation and acknowledge that the violence, crime and corruption associated with drug cartels transcend borders, and disregard the well being of the populace in every country in the region. The drug conflict has reached such unimaginable heights of violence, chaos and societal breakdown that it has supplied the necessary volume of pathology to produce a number of failed cities. The U.S. has just begun to experience the depth of the crisis as the crime and mayhem characteristic of the drug wars in other countries is beginning to pour over into every along the Mexican border, which is becoming the entry point of most of the destructive forces now at play in the region.
The reach, influence, and militarized strength of the drug organizations often surpass that of regional governments combating the production and trafficking of narcotics. There is simply too much money, influence, and corruption involved in order to compensate for the risk drug cartels take in supplying their product for the current conflict to simply go away. According to an annual report released by one organization, illegal drugs have created a $300 billion industry versus the $19 billion the U.S. spends on enforcing prohibition.
Corrupt or fearful security and government officials are permitting violence to devastate communities throughout Latin America. In the U.S., local and federal authorities handle approximately 1.5 million drug-related cases annually. It is also estimated that 50 percent of federal prisons’ housing capacity is devoted to accommodating nearly 500,000 individuals on drug-related offenses, inadvertently influencing users to become serious criminals as they emulate their more senior and experienced jail mates. Demonstrating the increasing abuse and availability of drugs, a recent study shows that 82% of high school seniors have – for nearly forty years – found it relatively easy to obtain marijuana, while coca cultivation has increased by 15%. The prohibition of drugs is as ineffective and illusory today as the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. was before its repeal in 1933.