Pubdate: Mon, 28 Mar 2011
Source: Winona Daily News (MN)
Copyright: 2011 Winona Daily News
Author: Sanho Tree, Tree Directs the Drug Policy project at the 
Institute for Policy Studies.


When Washington ramped up its anti-drug efforts through Plan Colombia,
more than 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States came
through Colombia. A decade later, we get about 97 percent of our
cocaine via Colombia.

Amazingly, officials are hailing the program's "success" and want
Mexico to learn from Colombia's experience. While Plan Colombia may
have helped make that country safer from guerrilla attacks, it has
failed as a drug-control strategy. Adapting that program in Mexico
won't staunch that country's bloodbath and isn't likely to produce
better results.

Washington's response to Mexico's increasingly violent drug
trafficking problem has emphasized disrupting criminal organizations
by breaking them up into smaller fragments. Yet there's no evidence
that this strategy of "fracturing" the traffickers ever worked in
Colombia, where we've already tried it for two decades.

Sure, we helped break up the vicious Medellin Cartel and its
successor, the Cali Cartel. But the law of unintended consequences had
the last word. Far from ending Colombia's cocaine trade, we merely
removed the two big monopolies and "democratized" that lucrative
economic space for hundreds of smaller micro-cartels. We can't even
count these new organizations, much less infiltrate and disrupt them.
These crackdowns may please politicians in the short term, but they're
counterproductive in the long run.

In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon launched his ill-conceived,
all-out drug war in late 2006. Since he considered the police forces
too corrupt, he fought the traffickers with the army. Its attacks
prevented the traffickers from settling turf wars, creating a
perpetual imbalance. By weakening one group, the Mexican army created
a vacuum that rival traffickers fought to take over.

This process of "rinse, lather, repeat" has cost some 35,000 Mexican
lives. And it isn't working.

Cocaine seizures have plummeted (Mexican authorities stopped 9.4 tons
in 2010, compared to 48 tons in 2007). Only in Charlie Sheen's mind
could this be considered "winning."

Left alone, Mexico's rival drug kingpins would likely settle their
turf war much sooner and return to a "Pax Narcotica," where the
half-dozen criminal gangs could get back to business. Their fight
would be violent, but much shorter than the current endless quagmire.
Then they would carve out their respective trafficking routes and go
back to making huge amounts of money.

Fighting drug traffickers isn't the same as fighting guerrilla
insurgencies. Fracturing guerrilla groups can help break morale and
encourage individual fighters to desert or surrender. Fracturing
trafficking groups merely creates job opportunities for aspiring drug
dealers who continue their bloody turf war indefinitely.

Moreover, the process of breaking down the large traffickers merely
lowers the barriers to entry for new criminal entities seeking to
expand their market share. Far from breaking morale, the tactic of
taking out the heads of trafficking groups gives junior thugs a shot
at becoming the kingpin-if only briefly. Unfortunately, there seems to
be an inexhaustible reservoir of Mexican criminals who prefer a short
life as a king to longevity as a peasant.

Our practice of repeatedly beating the hornet's nest ensures that the
hornets will never settle down. Our politicians see Mexico in flames,
and their knee-jerk response is to throw water on the fire by
increasing military aid.

But the Mexican fire more resembles a grease fire, because it is
driven by the economics of drug prohibition. The criminals are
fighting over the right to traffic what are essentially minimally
processed agricultural commodities (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.)
that should cost pennies per dose. Prohibition gives these substances
an unintended, astronomical price support. Throwing conventional
"water" on this "grease fire" is disastrous. We have tactics without a
strategy because there's no endgame in this unwinnable war.

President Barack Obama recently admitted that drug legalization was a
valid subject for debate even though he didn't support it himself.

If he's serious, we should stoke this debate before another 35,000
lives are needlessly lost. There are many alternatives in the spectrum
between prohibition and total free market legalization. We need to
stop talking in terms of black and white.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.