Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jan 2013
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2013 San Antonio Express-News
Author: O. Ricardo Pimentel


The change was telegraphed - in with the new with a new Mexican
president and out with the old. And it still amounts to glaring
admission of error.

Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, recently announced a change in
strategy in that country's deadly struggle with drug cartels.

Notable in his six-point plan is the creation of a 10,000-member force
to bring law to municipalities and states that are without effective
enforcement against organized crime. This new effort will reportedly
target gangs and cartel criminals - not top cartel bosses.

Here's what Mexico got from its previous strategy of targeting the
top guys under former President Felipe Calderon: a few really nasty
guys dead or behind bars.

This, however, has represented a cure as bad as the disease. Removal
of cartel heads created vacuums that spun into bloody competition for
leadership and territory, innocents and not-so-innocents in the crossfire.

The death toll from Calderon's offensive against the cartels has been
placed at between 50,000 and 60,000, but some estimates far exceed
that. The cartels have been killing each other and anyone else in the
way, including those who have nothing to do with the drug trade.

Calderon's blunt instrument was the Mexican military, viewed at one
time as less corruptible and more effective than local and state law

The arrest last year of four generals sorely tested this notion of
incorruptibility. And effectiveness has come to depend on whom you
asked - notable drug seizures and high-profile arrests stacked up
against that rising death toll, human rights abuses and a drug flow
that seemingly didn't even break a sweat to keep U.S. users supplied.

But Pena Nieto is on to something. Effective police - local, state or
federal - are better suited to bring down cartels.

The key word is "effective." And with so many U.S. drug dollars
remaining in the mix, there's just no guarantee that this new force
won't be corruptible or any guarantee that there won't be 10 would-be
cartel soldiers to replace any one taken out.

Here's the U.S. admission that should be forthcoming: We can't
imprison our way out of this problem and U.S. appetites feed this
collateral damage in Mexico.

A book - "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness" - makes the case that the drug war has been
substituting for the laws of old to keep Americans of color down. But
you don't even have to go there. If a large percentage of your
population, no matter the color, is in prison rather than working or
in college, a massive national knee-capping is taking place. Self inflicted.

Nearly 18 percent of all prisoners in Texas - which has the second
highest incarceration rate in the nation generally - are serving
sentences for drug offenses, according to the state Department of
Criminal Justice's 2011 stats. And drugs are connected with a whole
lot of other crimes.

We've substantively chosen criminalization over treating drug use as a
public health issue. And it's not working.

The U.S. "war on drugs" is a guarantee that a U.S. profit center will
continue in black market perpetuity and that Mexico's war will
continue to be bloody, helped along by U.S. guns.

It's great that Pena Nieto admits error on Mexico's behalf but we're
still waiting for the United States to do the same. This would be a
dandy resolution for 2013. 
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