Pubdate: Wed, 8 Dec 1999
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 1999 Houston Chronicle
Contact:  Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260
Fax: (713) 220-3575
Author: Eric E. Sterling
Note: Sterling is president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy
Foundation in Washington, D.C.


Mass graves in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which may be filled with as many as
100 victims of the Juarez drug cartel, are very shocking, but not
surprising. Even if these suspected graves are not found, the credibility of
this scale of violence and corruption -- in which the Mexican military and
police may be involved -- suggests some important lessons. 

Violence is inevitable in a prohibited business such as the drug trade. In
legal businesses, no matter how profitable or large, even the most bitter
disputes can be resolved nonviolently. When a business is outlawed,
conflicts cannot be resolved in the courts. 

A customer fails to pay on time, but a drug dealer can't sue to collect a
debt. When promised goods aren't delivered, a drug buyer can't sue a drug
dealer for breach of contract. When a trusted employee goes to work for the
competition, the employer can't enforce a covenant not to compete. 

Consider a basic business requirement: security for inventory, receipts and
employees against potential thieves. Cocaine is worth about eight times the
value of gold and is sold only for cash. Traffickers obviously need
protection, but they can't hire Wells Fargo or off-duty police officers
(that is, honest ones) to protect their places of business. The best hires
they can make for protection are people who have a reputation for killing;
second best are those prepared to kill. 

Drug violence can only be curtailed if the drug trade is regulated. The
drug trade can be taken away from the criminal cartels by changing the law.
The cartels cannot be stopped by more force or violence -- that is, more
law enforcement.

President Clinton said Nov. 30 that this violence is one of the
consequences of "a lot of success a few years ago in taking down a number
of Colombian drug cartels." A lot of success? Simply eliminating drug
organizations opens the market to new organizations to meet the demand and
to make the profits. Our strategy has been as effective as a royal edict
commanding the tide not to rise.

The president urges that we "work with the Mexican authorities to try to
combat" drug dealing cartels. Who can we work with? Not long ago, a new
Mexican drug czar, Gen. Jos de Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, was arrested for
being an employee of the Juarez cartel. When he was appointed, U.S. drug
czar Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey called Gutierrez Rebollo "an honest man ... a
guy of absolute unquestioned integrity." McCaffrey, of course, was trying
not to imply what is true, that the military and law enforcement
establishments in Mexico are riddled with corruption. Drug corruption
accusations have surrounded the offices of the attorney general, state
governors and even the president of Mexico.

Clinton says the latest suspected killings mean we have to do more to
"protect our border." Yet our current strategy is what makes our border
less safe. We put U.S. Marines on the border to "protect it," but in May
1997, a Marine corporal shot an 18-year-old goat herder within sight of his
home in Redford, Texas.

The traffickers are evil and dangerous, but they are not irrational. They
have heard that the United States has declared war on them. The U.S.
government has imprisoned 80,000 people for drug offenses. In U.S. prisons
are 20,000 Mexicans, mostly for drug or immigration crimes, and 4,300
Colombians. The states have jailed tens of thousands more. How should we
expect the traffickers to respond? It is rational (and completely immoral)
that Mexican drug cartels kill persons whom they suspect are U.S.
government informants.

Mass graves are merely a new twist to an old story. Following our current
anti-drug strategy will not end the violence, it won't end the drug trade
and it won't solve the drug abuse problem. Bringing the drug trade under
the controls of regulation, licensing and taxation will shrink violence and
criminal profits and lead to more effective drug abuse control.
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst