Posts Tagged ‘Randal C. Archibold’

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?

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.