Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jun 2007
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2007 Times Argus


For years, the United States has been waging a war on drugs, but the 
war is not being won and in fact, it isn't even showing much 
progress. Also, it can't grab eye-catching headlines because there 
are two other issues - the war on terror and illegal immigration -- 
that for now command more immediate attention.

If there's a path to success in the war on drugs, politicians and the 
police will surely have their roles to play. But the solution must 
also involve a dramatic change of behavior by the drug users among 
us. As long as there are consumers willing to wink at the law and 
provide a robust market for the drug dealers, terrible things will 
continue to happen. Those who blithely purchase and use illegal 
narcotics must be made aware of the indirect consequences of their 
acts and accept some personal responsibility for the widespread 
violence of the drug trade.

Consider the current situation in Mexico. Last Saturday's Los Angeles 
Times described a wave of particularly brutal murders there that are 
directly connected to the illegal sale of drugs. The report noted 
that one particularly violent drug cartel had recently split into two 
rival factions, each determined to force Mexico's already beleaguered 
law enforcement apparatus into full retreat.

"They are trying to create a climate of intimidation and fear ... in 
order to gain operational advantages," one Mexican official observed. 
He described the one huge advantage they seek: If citizens believe 
the drug traffickers cannot be defeated, out of sheer fear they will 
refuse to cooperate with the authorities, thus creating a "social 
space" of silent support for the traffickers.

According to the newspaper's report, last Wednesday authorities found 
a decapitated body left with a message that accused police of 
protecting rival drug traffickers and saying the dead man sold street 
drugs for a rival group. Four others were killed in the same area on 
the same day. One was a funeral director who had transported the body 
of an assassinated gang leader to a cemetery. The body later was 
stolen from its crypt.

Also last week, a business owner was kidnapped after being released 
from a hospital where he had been recovering from wounds suffered in 
a May 31 attack. He has not been seen since. The next day, there were 
grenade attacks on two police stations and an army barracks in the 
state of Guerrero. Seven people died in the apparent drug-related 
attacks, authorities said.

Last Friday, the Web sites of Mexico City newspapers reported that, 
nationwide, as many as 20 people were killed in drug-related violence 
during the previous 24 hours. Three of them were shot on a highway in 
the northern state of Durango.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, argues that American consumers 
of illegal drugs must share the blame for the growing crisis (roughly 
1,200 drug-related violent deaths in his country this year), and he's 
absolutely right.

"I have argued that this is a shared problem between the United 
States and Mexico," he told reporters while on a trip to Italy to 
meet Pope Benedict XVI. "The principal cause ... is the use of drugs. 
And [the U.S.] is the prime consumer in the world."

As long as otherwise law-abiding citizens are willing to buy drugs 
illegally, the present strategy is doomed to fail. Our government, 
and other governments, must urgently explore alternative solutions, 
including raising the consciousness (and awakening the consciences) 
of consumers about their part in the tragic consequences of illegal 
drug consumption, wherever it occurs.
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