Pubdate: Fri, 22 Apr 2011
Source: Penticton Western (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 Penticton Western
Author: Gwynne Dyer
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Something remarkable happened in Mexico this month. 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, 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.

She presumably means that all the Mexican drug-traffickers will be 
dead soon, and that nobody else will be tempted by the easy money to 
take the place of those who are killed. Americans will then stop 
using drugs because they simply aren't available, or at worst they 
will be so scarce and expensive that only the very rich can afford 
them. And we'll all live happily ever after (except the very rich, of course).

True, drugs in the United States have become cheaper, stronger and 
more easily available 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 that 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 seven per cent a year. It can now say no to 
Washington without being crushed.

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'.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom