Pubdate: Sat, 09 Apr 2011
Source: Tribune, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011, Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Gwynne Dyer


Something remarkable happened in Mexico last Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans gathered in the main squares of cities
across the country to demand an end to the "war on drugs." In the
Zocalo, in the heart of Mexico City, they chanted "no more blood," and
many called for the resignation of President Felipe Calderon, who
launched the current war by deploying the army against the drug
cartels in late 2006.

Some 35,000 people in Mexico have been killed in drug-related violence
since then. Even as the crowds chanted, news came in of another 59
bodies discovered in mass graves in Tamaulipas state. In the words of
poet-journalist Javier Sicilia, who inspired the demonstrations after
his own son was killed last week, the war is "tearing apart the fabric
of the nation."

But what does he know? In fact, the United States and Mexico are on
the brink of winning the war on drugs. We know that because Michele
Leonhart, the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said
so on the very same day, at an international conference in Cancun. "It
may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a
sign of success in the fight against drugs," she said.

True, drugs have become cheaper, stronger and more easily available in
the United States over the past 40 years, despite annual claims by the
DEA that victory is at hand. To go on doing the same thing every year
for 40 years, while expecting that next time will have a different
outcome, is sometimes seen as evidence of insanity, but we shouldn't
be judgmental. We could, however, try to be rational.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox has been doing well on the
rationality front recently. Last August he wrote in his blog: "We
should consider legalizing the production, sale and distribution of
drugs. Legalization does not mean that drugs are good. But we have to
see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that
allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn increases their
power and capacity to corrupt." This would mean that Mexican
drug-users could get any drugs they want, of course. Just like now.
The only differences would be that the drugs, being state-regulated
and taxed, might cost slightly more, and that there would be fewer
deaths from impurities and overdoses. But it wouldn't actually break
the power of the cartels so long as drugs remain illegal in the huge
U.S. market.

Former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria addressed this issue head-on
in a recent interview with Time magazine: "U. S. drug policy has
failed. So please, change it. Don't force us to sacrifice thousands of
lives for a strategy that doesn't work simply because American
politicians lack the courage to change course." Well said -- but why
did these men not act when they had the power?

Because they were afraid of the American reaction. The United States
has repeatedly made it clear it will inflict grievous economic pain on
any Latin American country that defects from its war against drugs.
That is becoming an empty threat, however, for U.S. economic power is
nothing like it used to be, even in Latin America.

That's partly due to the recent near-collapse of the U.S. economy, but
it's also the result of the rapid growth of the Latin American
countries. Mexico, for example, is a rising industrial power with tens
of millions of educated middle-class people and an economy that's
growing at 7% a year. It can now say no to Washington without being

Ending the war on drugs in Mexico would not instantly stop the
killing, most of which is between cartels competing for control of the
routes by which drugs transit Mexico on their way to the United
States. But just ending the army's involvement would greatly lower the
level of violence, and legalizing drugs in Mexico would diminish the
epidemic of corruption, too. You don't need to bribe officials if the
drug trade is legal.

The current wave of demonstrations against the drug war is only a
start. The policy won't change so long as Calderon is president, for
too many people have been killed for him to repudiate it now. But by
the end of 2012 he will be gone, and his successor, from whichever
party, will be free to change the policy.

One of these days, Mexico will just say no. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.