By Walter Walle
Just say no? It is not only a viable statement to make; it should also be imperative when seeking alternatives for the drug-trafficking problem. Countries’ national spirits have been asphyxiated due to drug violence. In some instances, a number of towns and cities throughout northern Mexico exist under a near perpetual state of siege, with drug cartels serving as the arbiter of the rule of law. Nonetheless, as long as the demand for drugs exists, there is always a provider.
For instance, in the early 1990s, the slaying of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar did not eliminate the problem. Today, narcotrafficking is alive and well in Colombia. In addition, the yawning void Escobar left was filled by the Mexican cartels, which have become the main suppliers of illicit drugs in the hemisphere. To counter this, in 2008 the American and Mexican governments signed the Merida Initiative, a plan that would provide Mexico with predictable amounts of economic and military assistance. However, the current administration in Washington believes that killing or capturing drug lords, as such an example shows, does not automatically eliminate the problem. As your article indicates, “Mexico’s strategy of taking out capos, or bosses of cartels, does not have much backing from the United States,” drawing a complete contrast from Presidents Bush and Calderón’s Merida Initiative, a strategy many consider futile.
This should be sufficient reason to look for an alternative strategy to cope with the problem. The issue draws parallels with the violence inflected and the power wielded by criminal organizations manifested during the prohibition era of the 1920s. Prohibition banned alcohol, but a black market emerged due to a demand for illegal alcohol that resulted in an unprecedented level of violence and the spread of state corruption, just as the current drug prohibition has. Nevertheless, drug legalization would only apply to “recreational” drugs like marijuana. For instance, if marijuana were privatized, this could help boost the creation of jobs, and in the long run could promote economic growth. Additionally smarter policies should be enacted as a backup to undermine state corruption, as fighting fire with fire is far from the solution.
As politicians debate whether certain drug policies would benefit society, the population of drug-controlled countries is facing horrific consequences. In August 2010, for instance, approximately seventy migrants were found dead in the town of San Fernando in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. And in August 2011, a casino was torched in the city of Monterrey, resulting in the deaths of about fifty innocent bystanders. Not to mention, the many incidents where the population has been caught in the crossfire between rival cartels. To just say “No” may mean the same as just saying “Yes,” as operating under extremes rarely provides the best results. But a middle ground, between legalization and criminalization, could provide an apt solution in countries where people are forced to pay the ultimate price.
Walter Walle, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.