The best thing that can be said about the 23,000 people who have been killed during Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s campaign against drug cartels in the last three years is that it proves that the war on drugs will never work.
President Obama calls Calderon Mexico’s Elliott Ness and is receiving him today in an official state visit. Calderon is surely a brave man, and he is right to fight to curb the power of the drug cartels inside Mexico. His predecessor as head of his National Action Party, former presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallo, has gone missing; the suspicion is that a drug cartel has kidnapped him. The cartels have infiltrated much of the police and government and run many border towns through fear.
But Elliott Ness never stopped illegal liquor. The lifting of Prohibition did. Similarly, the only solution to the drug trafficking and violence on both sides of the border is to legalize drugs.
That, however, won’t be on the agenda in the talk between the two presidents. Rather, the talk will be of improving police intelligence collaboration, of speeding up delivery of promised military aid under Plan Merida, of cutting off the flow of guns and money back into Mexico, of Mexican efforts to clean up corruption and improve its enforcement capabilities. All that is necessary for Mexico’s normal development and immediate crisis, but none of it will put much of a dent in the flow of drugs.
Some in Congress cite Colombia as an example of what can be done with enough Latin guts and American money -- $6 billion under Plan Colombia. But while it is true that there are no longer politically powerful Colombian kingpins of the likes of Pablo Escobar, the amount of cocaine coming out of Colombia has hardly changed. Indeed, we can’t stop the drug trade on the streets of our own suburbs, cities and towns.
Calderon has proved that Mexico has been willing to sacrifice, but there is simply too much money involved. By some estimates, $15 billion a year is sent back to Mexico. And let's be gruesomely honest: all that money comes from Americans who continue to smoke and snort Mexican blood at will. Yet other Americans, such as the governors of Arizona and Texas, want to slap Mexico in the face by sending more National Guard troops to the border. Where does responsibility for the law-breaking lie?
Still, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have gotten in on the act, demanding more border enforcement. Even New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer (D), bless his liberal heart. The grandstanding makes for good domestic politics, but little common sense. It plays on people’s fears of crime and violence “spilling” across the border, fears stoked by the 24-hour news cycle and all of us in the media who use such shorthand phrases. The fact is, however, that there is almost no crime “spilling” across the border. With the glaring exception of kidnapping among cartel members in Phoenix, crime is down in the border states.
Border towns such as El Paso, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, are rated as some of the safest places in the country. Most border mayors from Texas to California oppose militarizing the border. The El Paso city council voted for a resolution condemning Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. Earlier, sensibly, it voted for a resolution in favor of a national legalization of drugs.
Maybe we should move the capital to El Paso.
By Edward Schumacher-Matos
May 19, 2010
Legalizing drugs -- what Obama and Calderon won't discuss