Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

7 Reasons to Legalize Marijuana

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On this April 20th, the case to legalize marijuana is a no-brainer. There are at least 7 things that could be accomplished by legalizing it:

  1. Stabilize Mexico. The drug cartels are waging a war against the Mexican government and each other funded mainly by the profits from marijuana sales in the United States. Legalizing marijuana would create an opportunity for the current government’s attacks on the cartels to succeed – as the cartels would need to scramble to find alternate sources of revenue while fighting a war against a military bolstered by American aid.
  2. Stop wasting money on a failure. Barack Obama called the war on drugs “an utter failure.” Since he took office, he has vowed to cut the fat from the federal budget and eliminate failed programs. At a time when our tax dollars are at a premium, why should we continue to waste money on a failed government program?
  3. Protect the legitimacy of our laws. Almost half of all Americans admit to have tried marijuana – including 3 of our past 3 presidents – which means that they all broke the law. Such flagrant law-breaking undermines respect for the Rule of Law – and more important, once Americans break the law they can see how distorted the government propaganda campaign against marijuana is – further undermining respect for the government. America is currently waging a war on its citizens the likes of which have rarely been seen in history – as we imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other nation on earth and continue to militarize our police as they stop enforcing community standards and instead impose federal policies using extreme force.
  4. Stop aiding terrorists. According to a 2004 Congressional report, the illegality of drugs has incentivized a vast system of money laundering, smuggling, and corrupting of government officials – as well as created failed states and lawless regions – all of which aid terrorists seeking to carry out attacks on the United States. The criminalization of marijuana creates the biggest incentive on all of these fronts.
  5. Reduce crime. The War on Drugs has been militarizing America’s police forces and eating up resources which has led to a statistical uptick in non-drug related theft and violent crime synchronous with this shift. As police resources are spent enforcing federal drug laws – arresting, testifying, surveiling – and as the police become more militarized and distant from the communities they are charged with policing – serious non-drug related crimes increase. One report quantified this by explaining that every additional drug arrest leads to an increase of 0.7 Index (serious) crimes [page 6 of the pdf].
  6. Stimulate the economy. Obama may have tittered at the question, but there is precedent – the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol when FDR took office during the Great Depression. 
  7. I’ll let Tim Meadows make the final point for legalization by explaining why not to smoke marijuana:

[Image by Torben H. licensed under Creative Commons.]

 

(more…)

The Soft Underbelly of the Modern State

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

In other periods of history, opponents of a state would assassinate leaders to force changes in policy. The leader was invested with such power that removing him or her from his position would create an opportunity to change a government’s policies and overall posture towards the world. Today, although assassination is still a tool, the focus of opponents of the state – who are mainly identified as terrorists today – is to attack the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law – the primacy of laws over all individuals, including those in power, a principle which prevents authoritarianism, the arbitrary use of power, and anarchy – is perhaps the most valuable and vulnerable asset a state can have. Without it, there can be no democratic discourse or free elections and no free market. Yet the Rule of Law is especially vulnerable as it relies upon a wide range of institutions and conditions – all of are required to achieve the public trust needed: an independent judiciary; a professional police corps; a relative peace; the transparency of laws and law-making; the right of every individual to be given a fair hearing if they are being held by the state; a sense of basic justice within the society. A single rogue cop, a corrupt judge, or an unjust law undermines the Rule of Law – and if it is not well-established, can destroy it.

Reading about Mexico and Pakistan – the two major nations the U.S. Joint Forces Command listed as major nations that could suddenly collapse in the next year – one is confronted again and again with what each has in common: the Rule of Law is being deliberately subverted by major groups within these nations. If either nation is not able to maintain some semblance of the Rule fo Law within it’s borders, they will have effectively collapsed.

In Mexico, the Rule of Law has been undermined for years but is perhaps now finally reaching a tipping point. As Marc Lacey reported in the New York Times:

The cartels bring in billions of dollars more than the Mexican government spends to defeat them, and they spend their wealth to bolster their ranks with an untold number of politicians, judges, prison guards and police officers — so many police officers, in fact, that entire forces in cities across Mexico have been disbanded and rebuilt from scratch.

Steve Fainaru and William Booth reported in the Washington Post that:

The government is attempting to vet and retrain 450,000 officers, most at the state and municipal levels, employing lie detectors, drug tests, psychological profiling and financial reviews to weed out corruption and incompetence. Nearly half of the 56,000 officers vetted so far have failed.

Police corruption is clearly endemic in Mexico. It is for this reason that President Felipe Calderón has tasked the military with taking on the drug cartels – and it is also for this reason that many local police forces are now run by former military officers. But as the Lacey article makes clear, even the military is compromised – both from within by informants paid off by the cartels – and by the army-sized force of former soldiers that works for the cartels:

Although Mexico’s military is regarded as significantly less corrupt than the country’s police forces, defense officials estimate that 100,000 soldiers have quit to join the cartels over the past seven years.

As evidence that Mexico is even more compromised, Lacey reports that:

The reach of the drug kingpins has even the army fearful. Many soldiers cover their faces while on patrol to avoid being identified and singled out by the drug cartels. The army also recently began allowing soldiers to grow their hair longer, because military-style crew cuts were believed to be putting off-duty soldiers at risk.

Sam Quinones writing for Foreign Policy described how thoroughly Mexico had changed in the past decade, recounting anecdotes about the flagrancy of the cartels’ violation of laws.  Mayor José Reyes Ferriz of Ciudad Juárez lives across the border in Texas because he is not safe in the town he was elected to govern. The cartels have brought Mexico almost to a breaking point because they have undermined the Rule of Law through large portions of the country. The law is obviously a barrier to their illegal activities. Fainaru and Booth reported a senior advisor to President Calderón explained the motivation behind the desire to use the military to attempt to combat the cartels:

The executions, the decapitations, the confrontations between the drug gangs. There was a perception in society of lawlessness, that there was no state.

This perception is enough to destroy a nation – which is why the Mexican government has taken such drastic measures to combat it. At the same time, the steps taken by President Calderón – using the military – have themselves undermined the Rule of Law. As Monte Alejandro Rubido, a senior public security official explained the tradeoff:

It can be traumatic to have the army in control of public security, but I am convinced that we don’t have a better alternative, even with all the risks that it implies.

It is good that Calderón realizes that there is a tradeoff. His judgment remains that this is the least worst option – and his goal is one that we in America must share – the restoration of the Rule of Law in our neighbor. 

Similarly, in Pakistan, the Rule of Law has been undermined by the central government – as former President Musharaff disbanded the Supreme Court, as President Zardari refused to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for a time and seemed to use the Court for partisan purposes – while at the same time, the Rule of Law is being directly attacked by the religious extremists who have now taken to attacking police academies.

The Rule of Law is a nation’s most valuable asset – and unfortunately it is also most vulnerable. It faces threats from government overreaction, from rogue forces within the government, from unjust laws, from corruption, and from extremists who violently oppose the state itself. Mexico and Pakistan are becoming destabilized because large groups are attacking the Rule of Law – and each government’s own reaction to these groups additionally undermines the Rule of Law.

The Price of Prohibition I: Propping Up The Mexican Cartels

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

We are keeping the finger in the dike.

Sgt. David Azuelo of the Tuscon, Arizona police force as quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times.

I’ve been arguing for some time that the War on Drugs and the prohibitionist policies underlying it must be ended for the sake of our national security. I’ve made the argument from a civil libertarian point of view; I’ve made the argument that the War on Drugs is interfering with the fight against terrorism; and I’ve made the argument based on the fact that this war is destabilizing our neighbors

Here’s a parallel argument:

The Pentagon listed Mexico as a country that might collapse suddenly into a civil war between the central government and the cartels. A top cabinet official in Mexico claimed that “unless [the cartels are] confronted, ‘the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.” The levels of violence in the country now are astounding – with higher rates than those in Iraq in recent months – and they are continuing to spill over the border into America. We are currently supplying both sides of this conflict with weaponry and funds – and the conflict is escalating. Mexico is now following the route of Colombia by militarizing it’s approach to the problem of drugs. For decades, war raged in Colombia to stop the drug smugglers – inflicting an enormous cost on the country as they – in the words of an influential and prestigious report by former Mexican, Brazilian, and Mexican presidents, “implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved.” The report explains that the “traumatic Colombian experience” should teach other nations “not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies.”

Yet, that is what Mexico is doing. For decades, America has waged a war on the suppliers of drugs and on drug users at home and abroad. The casualties have been high – but no matter the body count or the number of arrests has gone, the War on Drugs has remained “an utter failure.” This failure has allowed the reach of the Mexican cartels to extend far into America:

United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors.”

As Stephen Walt explained in Foreign Policy:

[O]ur policy helps enrich drug lords and make it possible for them to destabilize whole governments, as they are now doing in Mexico and Afghanistan. 

As The Economist reported:

[P]rohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before…[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless…

At the same time, the harm reduction strategy of the European Union, while mitigating the effects of drugs locally, has exacerbated the effects of drug production and smuggling elsewhere.

The failure of both the War on Drugs and the harm reduction strategy has created an enormous market incentive for smuggling, for money laundering, and for corrupting government officials. Together, these and other effects of the Drug War create a sense of lawlessness which is exactly where the cartels thrive. The cartels are able to thrive in part because the scale of their operations and the enormous profits generated give them both incentive and means to experiment with different methods of smuggling, money laundering, and corrupting officials. If there were a way to reduce these profits, it could undercut their successes in all of these areas and undermine the incentives that drive them to take these steps. The cartels might no longer be able to acquire military-grade weaponry; they might not be able to afford to buy subs to smuggle items in; they might not be able to afford to buy off the top Mexican drug enforcement official

We have reached the point that The Economist has characterized as a choice between “A calculated gamble, or another century of failure.” The calculated gamble is to legalize drugs, or at least marijuana.

People have asked me if legalizing marijuana would really make a difference in undercutting the Mexican cartels.

Marijuana represents 60 to 70% of the profits that fuel the Mexican drug cartels. Legalizing it would take away one of the main props holding them up – just as legalizing alcohol helped rollback the gangs that dominated American cities in the 1920s.

Violence in Mexico stemming from the drug war is destabilizing the country and spilling over into America. With a single move, we could remove the monopoloy which gives them 60 to 70% of the cartels’ revenue – in a single move, we could take away their “king crop.” Without the enormous profits of marijuana propping up the rest of the drug market, the costs of smuggling would increase. The distribution network would be pressured. The cost of bribing officials would likely increase as harder drugs would be the only things being smuggled and enforcement could focus more on these drugs. The pressure on our criminal justice system that is currently imprisoning a higher percentage of our people than any nation on earth would be eased. Border guards would be able to focus more on harder drugs, or even on serious threats to our security, rather than searching teenagers for pot. All of this would undermine the cartels – most of all, taking away 60-70% of their profits.

We have reached a point where one of our most aggressive drug czars has publicly stated that he “wouldn’t care” if marijuana were legalized! Where another former drug czar has acknowledged that marijuana “pose[s] no significant public health problem.”  These are men who led the fight against drugs. A massive propaganda campaign, $40 billion a year, millions of arrests, and untold casualties and – and the price of drugs has remained the same and the extent of drug use has barely been affected.

Why are we continuing a failed policy that only serves the interests of the Mexican cartels it is propping up?

The Unintended Consequences of a War on Drugs

Monday, March 9th, 2009

American libertarian Alan Bock at Antiwar.com:

The most efficacious approach [.pdf] to stemming the violence in Mexico is to recognize that just as what most newspapers blithely call “drug-related crime” is actually drug-law-related crime or even drug-law-caused crime, the wave of violence in Mexico is not caused by the inherent viciousness of the Mexican underclass or the physiological properties of drugs deemed illicit, but by the set of perverse incentives that arise when governments treat adults like children and dictate what they can ingest, attempting to prohibit plants and substances that are easily grown and formulated and for which there is a steady demand. The violence in Mexico is not “drug-related” but “drug-law-related” or even caused directly and indirectly by the laws attempting to prohibit the use of some substances.

While I do not agree with the moral aspects of Bock’s approach – which attribute the moral failings of individuals to government policy – and place the moral blame for these actions on the government – his policy analysis here strikes me as fundamentally sound.

Funding Both Sides of Mexico’s Drug War

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

We’re supplying the weapons and funding to both sides in the civil war between the Mexican drug cartels and the central government.

Republican state senator from Arizona, John Paton, is quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times summarizing our relationship with Mexico:

They send us drugs and people, and we send them guns and cash.

Though he probably didn’t intend it so, this remark works on several levels, illustrating how some of our current policies are the largest factors contributing to the destabilization of Mexico.

On the one hand, as Rick Perry, Republican governor of Texas, recently acknowledged:

Many of the guns aimed at Mexican law enforcement passed through our state, as did so many of the dollars funding those violent gangs.

It is estimated that $12 – $15  billion dollars is funneled to Mexico through the illegal drug trade and as James C. McKinley, Jr. in the New York Times reported:

A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.

In addition to weapons from legitimate dealers, some significant number of weapons have apparently been stolen from U.S. military bases and gotten into the hands of the Mexican cartels, which are now more heavily armed than the local police and in some cases, the military. Many members – and indeed, some entire police forces – have been coopted by the cartels through a combination of bribery and violence. Mexico’s former drug czar was arrested for taking bribes from the cartels; the Juarez police chief resigned after the cartels began systematically killing police officers until he resigned; just last week, a top investigative police officer was killed along with 10 members of his family.  More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Mexico’s war. Even allowing for politically expedient exaggeration, the fact that a top Mexican cabinet official would claim that the power of the drug cartels has grown to such a level that “the next president of the republic [could] be a narco-trafficker” demonstrates how serious a force the drug cartels are.

At the same time as American dollars and American guns have been powering the cartels, the America government has been funding the Mexican government’s war against the cartels. Most recently, with the Mérida Initiative, American has begun to funnel almost half a billion dollars a year to the Mexican government – most of it in the form of weaponry. A local television station described it as:

a plan to give 1 point four billion dollars in weapons and training to Mexico called the Merida Initiative is still under fire. Critics say arming Mexico could backfire…like it has in the past with other countries. But Kilburn says this plan seems well thought out.

“You are talking about buying heavy equipment, machinery, surveillance helicopters, airplanes and these things are less likely to get in the wrong hands.”

The cartels have taken to smuggling drugs in submarines; they have stolen U.S. army equipement; they often outgun the Mexican police; former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey described the situation:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

But these items we are giving now are “less likely to get in the wrong hands.” I’m relieved.

The violence in Mexico is escalating. The San Francisco Chronicle recently called Mexico:

the latest and most sweeping test of the “too big to fail” imperative as White House policymakers try to steady a shaky world…

Given our current situation – funding and supplying weapons to both sides of this war on our border – it’s hard to see how can prevent Mexico from failing. The gun laws – and enforcement of laws preventing gun smuggling across the border – can be tweaked and made more effective. But this is not enough. We are contributing $400 odd million to combat the cartels and supplying the cartels with tens of billions of dollars at the same time. Yet, we cannot allow these violent gangs to take over Mexico – and we should not countenance their undermining of the rule of law in Mexico. Our prohibitionist approach is failing; our war is failing; what we must do is take a step back and evaluate our Drug War policies from a strategic perspective and see what changes we can make that might help stabilize our neighbor. 

Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, is careful not to suggest he supports the decriminalization of marijuana, but the facts he offers do suggest a course of action:

Right now, the item that’s fueling the violent cartels, the murders in Mexico, the cartel wars that are going on right now that have resulted in over 1,000 deaths this year, I think we need to take a very aggressive stand on that and marijuana is the number one producer for the cartels. Sixty to 70 percent of their gross profits comes from marijuana. So, I think we need to look very hard at something we haven’t looked at for years.

As the report recently issued by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia stated:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. 

The report went on to suggest what is beginning to look like the consensus, common-sense approach: if we can’t win while funding both sides of this war, we should try to dry up the source of funding and decriminalize, perhaps even legalize, marijuana.

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe: Mexico

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Following up on the continuing crisis in Mexico, William Booth of the Washington Post quotes the Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos who said that the cartels were becoming so powerful that “unless they were confronted, ‘the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.’ ” President Felipe Calderon defended the use of the Mexican army “to confront this evil” of the drug cartels. The crisis seems to be escalating:

Turf battles involving the drug traffickers, who are fighting the army, police and one another in order to secure billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States, took the lives of more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year. The pace of killing has continued in 2009, with more than 650 dead, most in the violent border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.

With 650 people dead due to Drug War violence in Mexico in 2009, it is outpacing Iraq’s casualties in it’s seemingly deesclating conflict which is reported to have 296 deaths this year by IraqBodyCount.org.

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe (cont.)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

I’ve been writing for some time about how the War on Drugs is both undermining our national security at home and abroad. The Pentagon, with their Joint Operating Environment Report for 2008 [pdf], confirmed this:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

The Pentagon understands that the escalating drug gang violence (with casaulty rates higher than Iraq) is destabilizing our neighbor to the south. Sam Quinones, writing for Foreign Policy, describes the changes in the levels of violence in the past four years (when he last lived in Mexico):

When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, commenting on the same situation warned that:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

The situation is clearly dire. Which makes last week’s report by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and other nation’s all the more significant. They see the status quo as unacceptable – and insist that we must decriminalize marijuana and stop treating the problem of drugs as a war lest we end up with nothing but failed states and military dictatorships in Latin America, or as the diplomatic language of the report states, current drug policies have”enormous human and social costs” and are “threats to democratic institutions.” In part, this is due to the “criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime, as well as the proliferation of the linkages between them, as reflected in the infiltration of democratic institutions by organized crime.” But it describes further threats arising more directly from the policies themselves.

The report describes the problem of the status quo in stark terms:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which inhibits public debate. The association of drugs with crime blocks the circulation of information and segregates drug users in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.

This does not mean the outright rejection of [all Drug War] policies…

There are two main strategies for combatting drugs which it describes – both of them critically – the prohibitionist strategy, or Drug War of the United States, which is reflected in Columbia, Mexico, America, and Afghanistan; and the harm reduction strategy of Europe. The report is most critical of the prohibitionist strategy. In the United States itself, the Drug War’s “policy of massive incarceration of drug users [is] questionable both in terms of respect for human rights and its efficiency.” Describing the effect of the Drug War on Columbia, the report is harsher:

For decades, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved…

The traumatic Colombian experience is a useful reference for countries not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies and to move forward in the search for innovative alternatives.

At the same time, the report finds fault with the European method of dealing with the problem of drugs, saying that:

[H]arm reduction minimizes the social dimension of the problem [and] the policy of the European Union fails to curb the demand for illicit drugs that stimulates its production and exportation from other parts of the world.

In other words, the European Union’s approach merely attempts to quarantine the problem as it exists within their own societies while doing nothing about the gang warfare and destabilization the production and smuggling of drugs means abroad. Apparently, at the same time drugs themselves are taking a greater toll on Latin America:

The levels of drug consumption continue to grow in Latin America while there is a tendency toward stabilization in North America and Europe

This collection of prominent Latin American politicians has a number of suggestions to help reverse the destabilizing effects of current drug policies. One of the most prominent is to descriminalize marijuana. While considered “the king crop” by the Mexican gangs thanks to the steady and broad market and it’s cheapness to produce (as opposed to the riskier cocaine and heroin production, sale, and smuggling), the report states that:

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by this drug is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

Another major change in policy the report suggests is to treat “those who have become addicted to drugs” as “patients of the health care system” instead of :buyers in an illegal market.” 

As I wrote before:

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority as well as a civil liberties issue. The former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia all saw hope in the administration of Barack Obama, citing him in the report, hope that he will finally tackle this long-festering issue. He may on his own – and he has made some remarks which constitute progress.

But the issue may be, to paraphrase FDR’s oft-repeated line: Obama agrees with us in principle; now we need to put political pressue on him to do something about it.