By Mike Whitney
Fifty one people were killed over the weekend in drug-related violence across Mexico.. In the beach resort of Acapulco, a gruesome record was set when the bodies of 15 men were found in a local shopping center all of who had been decapitated. Their severed heads were clumped together nearby. The flurry of homicides add to the more-than 30,000 deaths since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006. The daily death toll in Calderon’s failed drug war now exceeds that of Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Ciudad Juarez has become the murder capital of the world, a fact that is omitted in the US media because its casts doubt on US/Mexico drug policy. President Barack Obama could put an end to the bloodletting by simply changing the policy, but he won’t do that because he supports the militarization of the drug war as enthusiastically as did George W. Bush. So the killing continues unabated.
The uptick in violence can be traced back to the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion US/Mexico program aimed at fighting narco-trafficking. Plan Mexico–as Merida is also called– was signed in 2007 by President Bush and his Mexican counterpart, Calderon. It led to the deployment of more than 50,000 Mexican troops to areas where the drug cartels carry out their operations. Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City, says that the Obama administration has increased its funding of Merida even though 200,000 civilians have fled Juarez, business and tourism have dried up, and the city has devolved into a Mad Max, free-fire zone. Here’s what Carlsen said:
“The Obama administration has supported Plan Mexico and even requested, and received from Congress, additional funds beyond what the Bush administration requested. In the three years since Calderon launched the war on drugs in Mexico with the support of the US government drug related violence has shot up to over 15,000 executions and formal reports of violations of human rights have increased sixfold…..Washington recognizes serious problems with the drug war model and yet continues to claim, absurdly, that the rise in violence in Mexico is a good sign–it means that the cartels are feeling the heat…..”
Washington hawks continue to support Merida despite its clear record of failure. Here’s a short clip from a speech by the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger F. Noriega which explains how hardliners view the present policy:
“The violence that Mexico’s antidrug offensive unleashed is tangible evidence that President Felipe Calderón ended the unwritten policy of past Mexican political leaders who kept the peace with “narcos” by turning a blind eye to their criminal activities……While it may be fair to liken Calderón’s initial tactics to swatting a hornet’s nest, it is impossible to estimate the costs of the past policy of tolerating criminality….
Congress should show more support for the Mexican government’s courageous campaign. …..Calderón can reassure the United States of his seriousness if he redoubles efforts to secure his northern border from the illegal crossings that are a major part of the illicit drug trade and an irritant to security-conscious conservatives in Congress…
As Congress reviews the drug-trade problem, it will likely recognize that additional funds, hardware, and technical support are desperately needed in Central America….The Obama administration has conceived a follow-up program of roughly $500 million for Mexico and Central America. But that level of support is not commensurate with the challenge of preventing these Central American states from becoming ungovernable territories where criminals operate with impunity.” (“Latin American Action Agenda for the New Congress”, Roger F. Noriega , American Enterprise Institute)
In other words, the policy is only failing because of lack of funding, not because it is the wrong policy. But that’s clearly not the case. Plan Mexico has been in operation for four years now and the violence is getting worse not better. More than 30,000 civilians have been killed already. So, what is the benchmark for failure; 60,000? 120,000? 1,000,000? The fact is, the military is not the right tool for fighting crime. Anyone can see that.
Take a look at some of the recent statistics and see what a mess Calderon has made of things. According to Stop the Drug War: “The city and the surrounding Valle de Juarez ended the year with 3,111 murders. Of these, 304 were women, 149 were members of the various law enforcement bodies that operate in the city, and 187 were minors. The most violent month in the city was October, during which time 359 people were murdered.” (“Mexico Drug War Update”, stopthedrugwar.org)
Many of these lives could have been saved if traditional investigative and policing tactics were used rather than hamfisted military force. How many drug kingpins are nabbed at army checkpoints anyway? Zero.
In truth, the Merida Initiative is just a smokescreen. The real purpose of the War on Drugs is to keep poor people in line. Counterpunch editors Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair sum it up as well as anyone in a 1998 article from their book “Whiteout”:
“Domestically, the ‘drug war’ has always been a pretext for social control, going back to the racist application of drug laws against Chinese laborers in the recession of the 1870s when these workers were viewed as competition for the dwindling number of jobs available….
“President Nixon was helpfully explicit in his private remarks. H.R. Haldeman recorded in his diary a briefing by the president in 1969, prior to launching of the war on drugs: ‘Nixon emphasized that you have to face the fact the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.’
“So what was ‘the system’ duly devised? The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, with its 29 new minimum mandatory sentences, and the 100-to-1 sentencing ratio between possession of crack and powder cocaine, became a system for locking up a disproportionate number of black people.
“So to call for a ‘truly open and honest dialogue’ about drug policy, as all those distinguished signatories in the advertisement requested, is about as realistic as asking the U.S. government to nationalize the oil industry. Essentially, the drug war is a war on the poor and the dangerous classes, here and elsewhere. How many governments are going to give up on that?”
The war on drugs is a fraud, but its costs are quite real. Just ask any of the family members of its 30,000-plus victims.