Tag: drug violence

A Look at the OAS Report on Drug Policy in the Americas

Last Friday, the Organization of American States released a groundbreaking report on the future of drug policy in the Americas. The OAS received the mandate to produce this document at the Summit of the Americas last year in Cartagena, Colombia, where some presidents aired their frustration with the war on drugs and even suggested legalization as an alternative to fight the cartels.  

The document is based on solid premises:

  1. Drug violence is one of the greatest challenges facing the Americas
  2. The current approach is a failure isn’t working
  3. New policy alternatives need to be discussed and implemented
  4. Drug use will remain significant by 2025

These premises might seem pretty obvious, but when it comes to drug policy, stating the obvious hasn’t been the norm for those who believe in the status quo: for example, in 1988 the UN held an event titled “A drug-free world: we can do it” (consumption of marijuana and cocaine has increased by 50 percent since then). Or the latest National Drug Control Strategy, which claims that the greatest accomplishment of the Mérida Initiative with Mexico has been “the mutual fostering of security, protection and prosperity” (never mind the 60,000 people killed in drug violence in six years in Mexico).

The OAS report avoids recounting this fairy tale. It also avoids making recommendations, given the lack of consensus among its authors about where drug policy should be headed in the next 12 years. Instead, the document lays out four different interpretations of the “drug problem” and presents the scenarios of what the response should be. The report also presents the challenges facing each scenario (name in bold):

Together: Under this scenario, the problem is not drug laws but weak institutions. It foresees greater security and intelligence cooperation among nations, more expenditure in the security and judiciary apparatuses and tougher laws dealing with corruption, gun trafficking and money laundering.

Latin American countries indeed suffer from weak institutions. The shortcoming of this scenario is that prohibition actually exacerbates the problem since it inflates the profit margins of the cartels to stratospheric levels, thus increasing their corrupting and violent power. In 2010 all seven Central American countries combined spent nearly $4 billion in their security and judiciary apparatuses (a 60 percent increase in five years). And yet that fell terribly short of the estimated revenues of the Mexican and Colombian cartels which, according to a report from the Justice Department, could reach up to $39 billion a year.

The report foresees another challenge with this approach: a disparity among countries in their institution-building efforts, which would lead to the balloon effect of criminal activities. This is perhaps the main feature of the drug business in the Americas: its high capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. For example, in the early 1990s, as pressure grew on coca growers in Peru they moved to Colombia. Now, after a decade of eradication programs in that nation, they are moving back to Peru. Overall the Andean region continues to produce the same amount of cocaine as it did 20 years ago.

Over the years the common denominator of the war on drugs in Latin America has been the attempt to export the problem to your neighbor. Greater cooperation, harmonization of efforts, and same-pace institution building seems unrealistic.

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.

Felipe Calderón’s Arrogant Call for U.S. Gun Control

The blood had barely dried in the tragic Aurora, Colorado, shooting before Mexican President Felipe Calderon put the blame on permissive U.S. gun laws. In a post on his Twitter account, Calderon offered his condolences to the victims, but then added that the incident showed that  “the American Congress must review its mistaken legislation on guns. It’s doing damage to us all.”

It was hardly a new theme from Mexico’s lame-duck president. But his latest statement requires an extraordinary amount of gall. During Calderon’s presidency, more than 50,000 of his people have died in the war on drugs that he chose to escalate. A foreign leader with that awful of a track record daring to lecture the United States on its policies regarding  firearms is not likely to sit well with most Americans.

But Calderon has repeatedly blamed U.S. gun laws rather than his decision to launch a military-led offensive against the drug cartels for the resulting violence in his country. The Mexican government even posted a massive sign on the border with the United States between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso reading “No More Weapons!” The sign was made from recycled guns seized by Mexican security forces.

But the location of that sign undercuts Calderon’s own argument. Juarez has been for the past five years the epicenter of gun violence in Mexico. Yet El Paso has a very low violent crime rate. If “lax” U.S. gun laws were the cause of the carnage in Juarez, wouldn’t El Paso also be awash in blood? Some other factor must account for the extraordinary violence south of the border.

Extensive research on restrictive gun laws in both U.S. and foreign jurisdictions shows no correlation between tough laws and a decline in homicides and other crimes. Mexico’s own experience confirms that point. Following sometimes violent radical leftist challenges to the government in the late 1960s, Mexico enacted some of the strictest gun-control measures in the world. Today, it is nearly impossible for a civilian to legally possess a handgun or rifle in that country. Yet such tough restrictions have done nothing to disarm the drug gangs. In fact, those measures may have made it easier for cartel enforcers to terrorize portions of the country, since they don’t have to worry much about law-abiding civilians being armed and able to defend themselves and their families.

Conversely, the trend over the past decade or so in various jurisdictions throughout the United States toward conceal-carry and other permissive policies regarding firearms has not produced the surge of killings that gun control zealots predicted. To the contrary, the rates of homicides and other violent crimes in most of those jurisdictions have actually gone down.

Calderon should have had the decency not to exploit the Aurora tragedy to push his misguided gun control agenda for the United States. During his remaining months in office, he should instead focus on easing the suffering that his policies have caused in his own country.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

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.

New Study on Mexico’s Drug Cartels and the Global War on Drugs

Yesterday, Juan Carlos Hidalgo pointed out that Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos became the latest world leader to recognize the need to rethink the prohibitionist policies that allow powerful drug traffickers to flourish. Santos called for a new approach to “take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking” and that governments around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, need to debate legalizing select drugs, such as cocaine.

From Colombia to Mexico, the drug war rages on. Despite two decades of U.S.-aided efforts to eradicate drug-related violence in Colombia, the problem persists. Indeed, the trickle-down effects from Mexico southward now threaten to engulf Guatemala. Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador are all experiencing alarming homicide rates at least partially related to drug trafficking. To address these spikes in violence and stem the flow of drugs, the United States has spent billions of dollars in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Sadly, there is little evidence that this policy has been successful, and the evidence mounts that it has been an outright failure.

A new policy is needed to stem the violence and consequences of the Mexican drug cartels pervasive power. In a new study released today, Ted Galen Carpenter, senior fellow, argues that the only lasting, effective strategy for dealing with Mexico’s drug violence is to defund the Mexican drug cartels. “The United States could substantially defund these cartels,” says Carpenter, “through the full legalization (including manufacture and sale) of currently illegal drugs.”

The new study, “Undermining Mexico’s Dangerous Drug Cartels,” is available here.

A Dubious Record in Mexico’s Drug War

In 2008, there were some 6,300 drug war killings in Mexico, double that of the previous year. El Universal newspaper in Mexico reports that deaths related to the drug war have just surpassed 7,000 since the beginning of 2009, with more than 1000 of those homicides in the last 48 days. That’s a daily rate of 21.3 deaths for the year.

Drug traffickers have long operated in Mexico, but the rise in drug violence is a direct result of President Calderon’s all out war on the drug trade, which he announced upon coming into office December 2006. Annual drug war deaths have more than tripled since then. As Washington starts to spend the bulk of the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative to help Mexico fight drugs (Washington has spent $24 million so far), we can expect the violence to continue increasing. (For a review of Mexico’s futile war on drugs, see Ted Carpenter’s study.)

Drug Related Gun Battle in Acapulco Leaves 18 Dead

A wild shootout over the weekend in Acapulco indicates that the drug-related violence in Mexico is spreading.

The Washington Post reports:

Suspected drug traffickers trapped in a safe house fought a furious gun battle with Mexican soldiers early Sunday in the beach resort city of Acapulco. As terrified residents and tourists cowered in their rooms, the firefight raged for two hours, leaving 16 gunmen dead. Two soldiers were also killed and several bystanders were wounded.

The gunmen, suspected members of one of Mexico’s major cartels, threw as many as 50 grenades at the advancing soldiers, and both sides fired thousands of rounds from assault rifles.

Mexican officials have long argued that while there has been serious turmoil in some cities along the border with the United States, the main tourist resort areas are safe. Even before the Acapulco incident, though, events over the past year had cast some doubt on such complacent assurances. A few months ago, a retired general who had just been appointed to direct anti-drug efforts in Cancun was assassinated, and there have been other troubling developments. The main Gulf coast and Pacific resorts are certainly safer than the war zones in such places as Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, and Ciudad Juarez, but American tourists should not be lulled into thinking that those areas are immune from the drug violence.

President Felipe Calderon’s decision nearly three years ago to launch a military offensive against the drug cartels has backfired. The strategy has not stemmed the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, it has merely caused a spike in the violence and made Mexico a more turbulent, dangerous place for everyone.