You know something is going mainstream when prime mainstays of public discourse take it up, like The Economist, The Miami Herald, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, and the former President of Mexico, Vincente Fox, a conservative who was such a buddy of President George W. Bush. I refer, of course, to the question of legalizing drugs. The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has found favor here and there, and California is actually going to vote this November on the question of legalizing the sale and use of marijuana by adults. The big shocker, however, is that Mexico’s sitting President, Calderon on 3 August called for a debate on the legalization of drugs, followed a few days later by a blunt demand for such legislation from former President Vincente Fox, who said that legalization
“Does not mean that drugs are good… rather we have to see it as a strategy to strike and break the economic structure that allows mafias to generate huge profits in their business, which in turn serve to corrupt and to increase their power….”
Mr. Fox should know; he was a former close ally of the US during Bush’s presidency, when Bush compelled him to drop any talk of de-criminalizing drugs and to cooperate in the so-called drug war. Interestingly, three other former heads of state (Ernesto Zedillo, Mexico’s President 1994-2000), Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brasil, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia) issued a joint report in 2009 calling for legalization of marijuana; Cardoso later included cocaine. The drug war the United States has been waging in Latin America, principally in Colombia, Ecudaor, and Mexico, has relied mainly on force and violence to bludgeon the drug cartels into abandoning the lucrative drug trade, a trade which primarily delivers drugs to users in the United States. Calderon continued the drug war, putting the Mexican Army on the streets in an effort to halt the rising blood bath between drug cartels.
Andres Oppenheimer, who wrote the article in The Miami Herald, interviewed former Presidente Fox, who said that “Prohibitionist policies have hardly worked anywhere,” citing the failure of Prohibition in the US, which, he said, had triggered violence and crime. So far, in Mexico, the cartel inspired violence has taken 28,000 Mexican lives. In July in the northern Mexican state of Durango, The Economist reported that 18 prisoners were released from jail for one night to murder 18 partygoers in a state next door; shortly thereafter, 14 inmates in a Tamaulipas prison were murdered, and a car bomb was exploded in the border town of Ciudad Juarez in what Stratfor (a Texas-based security-analysis firm) considers an apparent effort to draw the United States into the conflict as a “neutral referee.”
Each time the Mexican Army kills off one drug lord or another, or one cartel scores a body count on another, the horrifying violence increases, rather than diminishing. The result, says Daniel Robelo, writing AlterNet in “Mexico’s Presidents Are Considering Legalizing Drugs – Will the U.S. Join the Debate?” is that there is a new recognition that
“the cartels are not just killing each other, or members of the government, or innocent civilians- they are openly challenging the Mexican state and eroding its democratic institutions.”
The power and influence of the cartels exceeds that of the Mexican government itself in certain areas, where the criminals have, through assassinations and bribery, intimidated not just the press (which only publishes what the cartels allow) but the local courts and law enforcement officials (so the drug lords operate with impunity). On the other side, the Army, in its struggle, has frequently violated the human and civil rights of the citizens they seek to protect.
In my opinion, it is a spiraling descent into barbarism and tribal warfare, the sort of violence and insecurity that inevitably ends in establishment of an authoritarian strong man, probably one of the criminals himself, who restores order and security for the average citizen—- at the expense, of course, of any pretense of democracy. Populations will always, always choose security without freedom over freedom with no security. Mexico must get a handle on what amounts to a criminal state within the state which the drug cartels have established, before that narco-state subsumes the real government… and then begins to work on the main drug market, us, the consumers here in the United States.
Vincente Fox told Oppenheimer that
“What I am proposing is that, instead of allowing this business to continue being run by criminals… that it be run by law-abiding business people who are registered with the Finance Ministry, pay taxes and create jobs.”
That sounds like an economic stimulus plan, now, doesn’t it? Pay Taxes, Create Jobs. Mr. Oppenheimer has his doubts; he says
“I am not convinced that a blanket legalization… would work because government regulation of the cocaine and heroin businesses in countries that already have high corruption rates would result in greater official corruption.”
The Economist points out that even legalizing just marijuana would take up to half their income away from the gangs, so obviously the gangs will oppose any kind of legalization (and, oddly, most Latino voters in California oppose legalization of marijuana as well). I am reminded that it was the gangs who opposed the end of Prohibition as well, in a curious alliance of the crime lords with the self-righteous preachers.
It would be almost impossible for Mexico to de-criminalize any drugs successfully without the active support of the United States- and that support is not coming, according to what the White House Drug Czar, R. Gil Kerlikowake told Oppenheimer that “legalization is a ‘non-starter’ in the Obama administration… legalization is “not even part of his or President Obama’s vocabulary,” added Robelo in AlterNet.org. Kerlikowake went so far as to deny that Prohibition drove up crime in the US (personally, I think he is crazy, certainly when it comes to crime and violence perpetrated by organized criminals, which almost was non-existent until Prohibition, IMO). He also claimed that the Netherlands, which has extremely lenient laws allowing public marijuana “cafes,” is now dismantling many of them “because of problems,” i.e., he’s against de-criminalization, period.
So, where do we go from here? It hardly seems sensible to continue on the present path of blood and guts which has done nothing really but create more blood and guts, and if anyone thinks the violence won’t make its way into the US, then they are living in a fantasy la-la land. As I recall, under Reagan’s Ollie North Iran-Contra caper, the United States did involve itself in the drug trade to help finance the supposedly anti-communist guerrillas in Central America; and there is no doubt that the principal customers using the drugs that provide the basic income of the narco-lords are residing today in the United States- so we are intricately involved in the whole mess, and it is absurd to pretend it can be solved without our involvement. That is especially true since it is obvious that the drug war’s punitive methods have not decreased drug use, not decreased the drug trade, have not reduced violence, and have not made ordinary citizens safer, and have not prevented the unraveling of the very structure of democracy in Mexico. Ergo, time to try something different.
Oppenheimer suggests that we take a step-by-step approach and start a serious debate about passing laws that would regulate legal production of marijuana, alongside massive education campaigns to discourage people from using it.” He wants to start eating the elephant a bite at a time. I’m not so sure, myself; marijuana is not really the problem, it’s cocaine and heroin, and there’s a whale of a lot of money involved, so baby steps may never become a giant leap forward. I think this whole mess is far more troublesome and dangerous than any fuss over immigration. We need to talk.