Tag: drug cartels

Mexico’s Drug War and U.S. Policy: New Cato Video

Since President Felipe Calderon took office six years ago and decided to aggressively fight Mexican drug cartels, Mexico has seen some 60,000 drug-war-related deaths. That’s “more than the number of Americans who died in Vietnam, but in a country with one third the U.S. population,” says former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda.

In a new Cato video released during President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington this week, Ted Carpenter explains why the U.S.-backed drug war has been a disaster and urges an end to prohibition. For an in-depth look at the issue, read Ted’s new book, The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America.

You can read more Cato scholars’ writings on the War on Drugs here.

Can You Spot the Difference?

The Republican National Platform on the War on Drugs in Latin America:

“The war on drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise. We salute our allies in this fight, especially the people of Mexico and Colombia. We propose a unified effort on crime and terrorism to coordinate intelligence and enforcement among our regional allies, as well as military-to-military training and intelligence sharing with Mexico, whose people are bearing the brunt of the drug cartels’ savage assault.”

The Democratic National Platform on the War on Drugs in Latin America:

“We have strengthened cooperation with Mexico, Colombia, and throughout Central America to combat narco- traffickers and criminal gangs that threaten their citizens and ours. We will also work to disrupt organized crime networks seeking to use the Caribbean to smuggle drugs into our country. As we collectively confront these challenges, we will continue to support the region’s security forces, border security, and police with the equipment, training, and technologies they need to keep their communities safe. We will improve coordination and share more information so that those who traffic in drugs and in human beings have fewer places to hide. And we will continue to put unprecedented pressure on cartel finances, including in the United States.”

I can’t. It appears both the Republicans and the Democrats will seek to maintain the status quo in the war on drugs. They agree that if we double-down and refocus our efforts, perhaps we can help Mexico make a small dent in the violence engulfing their country.

My colleague Ted Galen Carpenter has a piece today in the Huffington Post on how Obama and Romney are foolishly ignoring the issue and avoiding a serious debate about the war on drugs. While the violence in Mexico becomes a greater threat to U.S. national security, the candidates seem content to maintain the same failed policy that has seen 57,000 Mexicans perish.

More Pyrrhic Victories in Mexico’s Drug War

The New York Times reports today that Mexican authorities have arrested a major operative of the Sinaloa Cartel, adding to a string of significant blows against Mexico’s most important drug organization. The Felipe Calderón administration now boasts that since 2009, it has arrested or killed 22 of the 39 most important drug kingpins.

Is this significant? Not according to official documents of the U.S. government. The Office of Intelligence and Operations Coordination of the Custom and Border Protection agency looked at drug seizure data from January 2009 to January 2010 and matched it with the arrest or death of drug operatives (11 capos in total). It found that “there is no perceptible pattern that correlates either a decrease or increase in drug seizures due to the removal of key DTO [drug trafficking organization] personnel.”

And, as the latest National Drug Threat Assessment report by the Justice Department puts it, “The overall availability of illicit drugs in the United States is increasing. Heroin, marijuana, MDMA [ecstasy], and methamphetamine are readily available, and their availability appears to be increasing in some markets.” [p. 24]

The truth is that for every drug kingpin arrested or killed, there are many others waiting to take his job. As long as there is demand for drugs in the United States, there will be a supply. The question is whether that business should be in the hands of legal entrepreneurs—as in the alcohol and tobacco industries—or in the hands of violent criminals.

Feds Palling Around With Mexican Cartels

Two years ago the Washington Post reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency brought dangerous Mexican drug traffickers to the U.S. who, while continuing their criminal activities in Mexico and the U.S., also served as informants to the federal authorities in their war on drugs.

In June, Operation Fast and Furious came to light where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed suspicious straw-purchasers of firearms to buy weapons in the U.S. and smuggle them into Mexico. The purpose was to track the guns all the way to the ultimate buyer—a Mexican drug trafficking organization. Overall, the ATF facilitated the purchase of hundreds of guns by Mexican cartels. Many were later found in crime scenes in Mexico, including one where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was assassinated.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Drug Enforcement Agency has been laundering millions of dollars for Mexican cartels. The goal of the undercover mission is to follow the money all the way up to the top ranks of the criminal organizations. However, as the NYT notes, “So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain.”

So there we have it: in the name of the war on drugs, the federal government has provided safe havens to Mexican drug traffickers, facilitated their purchase of powerful firearms, and has even laundered millions of dollars for the cartels.

After spending millions of dollars toward fighting the drug war in Mexico, the United States has little to show for its efforts. It seems Washington is becoming more desperate each year to produce new leads and results. These three incidents display a stunning lack of foresight and borders on the federal government aiding the Mexican drug cartels, with little to show in return. The unintended consequences of these programs aimed at dismantling the cartels would be laughable were it not for the thousands that have died in Mexico’s drug related violence.

It is time for the United States to rethink the war on drugs and consider policies that will successfully undermine the Mexican drug cartels.

Drug Violence in Mexico

The apparent drug gang killings of U.S. consular employees this weekend in Juarez, Mexico are a bloody reminder that President Obama is getting the United States involved in yet another war it cannot win. Drug gang killings also occurred in Acapulco, with a total of 50 such fatalities nationwide over the weekend.

Unfortunately, Obama has responded to the latest incident by following the same failed strategy as his predecessors when confronted with drug war losses: a stronger fight against drugs.

Though the deaths are the first in which Mexican drug cartels appear to have so brazenly targeted and killed individuals linked to the U.S. government, illicit drug trade violence has killed some 18,000 people in Mexico since President Calderon came to power in December 2006—more than three times the number of American military personnel deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

The carnage only shot up after Calderon declared an all-out war on drug trafficking upon taking office. After more than three years, the policy has failed to reduce drug trafficking or production, but it is weakening the institutions of Mexican democracy and civil society through corruption and bloodshed, which are the predictable products of prohibition.

The 29 people killed in drug-related violence this weekend in a 24 hour period in the state of Guerrero sets a dubious record for a Mexican state. And an increasing number of Mexicans, including former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, are calling for a thorough rethinking of anti-drug policy in Mexico and the United States that includes legalization. Legalization would significantly reduce drug cartel revenue and put an end to an enormous black market and the social pathologies that it creates.

More Anti-Drug Aid to Mexico?

The Washington Post reports that despite reports of widespread violence and human rights abuses since Mexico increased its fight against the drug trade, the U.S. government is considering pumping more money to their failing efforts:

The Obama administration has concluded that Mexico is working hard to protect human rights while its army and police battle the drug cartels, paving the way for the release of millions of dollars in additional federal aid.

The Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion assistance program passed by Congress to help Mexico fight drug trafficking, requires the State Department to state that the country is taking steps to protect human rights and to punish police officers and soldiers who violate civil guarantees. Congress may withhold 15 percent of the annual funds – about $100 million so far – until the Obama administration offers its seal of approval for Mexico’s reform efforts.

…In recent weeks, after detailed allegations in the media of human rights abuses, the Mexican military said that it has received 1,508 complaints of human rights abuses in 2008 and 2009. It did not say how the cases were resolved, but said that the most serious cases involved forced disappearances, murder, rape, robbery, illegal searches and arbitrary arrests. Human rights groups contend that only a few cases have been successfully prosecuted.

Sending additional anti-drug aid to Mexico is a case of pouring more money into a hopelessly flawed strategy. President Felipe Calderon’s decision to make the military the lead agency in the drug war–a decision the United States backed enthusiastically–has backfired. Not only has that strategy led to a dramatic increase in violence, but contrary to the State Department report, the Mexican military has committed serious human rights abuses. Even worse, the military is now playing a much larger role in the country’s affairs. Until now, Mexico was one of the few nations in Latin America that did not have to worry about the military posing a threat to civilian rule. That can no longer be an automatic assumption.

Washington needs to stop pressuring its neighbor to do the impossible. As long as the United States and other countries foolishly continue the prohibition model with regard to marijuana, cocaine, and other currently illegal drugs, a vast black market premium will exist, and the Mexican drug cartels will grow in power. At a minimum, the United States should encourage Calderon to abandon his disastrous confrontational strategy toward the cartels. Better yet, the United States should take the lead in de-funding the cartels by legalizing drugs and eliminating the multi-billion-dollar black market premium.

Kristof: Drugs Won the War

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof’s latest column is about the failure of the drug war.  Excerpt:

Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:

First, we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that’s because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries.

Second, we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.

Third, we have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment. (Of people with drug problems in state prisons, only 14 percent get treatment.)

I’ve seen lives destroyed by drugs, and many neighbors in my hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, have had their lives ripped apart by crystal meth. Yet I find people like Mr. Stamper persuasive when they argue that if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better.

Good stuff.  Jeff Miron is a Cato senior fellow.  Here’s a link to Cato’s new study, “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal,” by Glenn Greenwald.  More Cato research here.