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Mexican Drug Traffickers Break Out of Jail Whenever They Want

As if you needed another reason to wince in exasperation at the total failure of each and every ongoing drug enforcement effort in Mexico, here we go again.

Just as Mexican authorities are struggling to put drug traffickers in prison, Mexican prisons are struggling to keep them there. Hundreds of dangerous inmates have escaped from state penitentiaries along the U.S. border in recent months, some through spectacular action-movie breakouts, others by simply walking out the door.

"I lock them up, and they let them out," President Felipe Calderon said in frustration, blaming local officials. [Washington Post]

Honestly, I've run out of words to describe the absurdity of the situation and I can't even imagine the thought processes that guide those who still pretend we're proceeding towards any sort of resolution to this epic fiasco. Apparently, some of those people are getting irritated with Obama for failing to clean up the mess, as though we had these narco-thugs surrounded when Bush left office:

Both Mexican and American officials, who say the two countries have never worked closer in fighting crime, are facing growing pressure to prove that their strategy is working. With Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, the Obama administration will face renewed scrutiny to account for the $1.4 billion, multiyear Merida Initiative, the cornerstone of American aid in Mexico’s drug fight.  [New York Times]

I don't know what anyone expected, but it's definitely time we start scrutinizing our massive drug war budget expenditures, even if such inquiries are initiated merely to advance a partisan political agenda. It really is incredible to witness the redundancy of the drug war dialogue in Washington, but the Merida Initiative's dismal legacy will be difficult to salvage by any measure. When proposals inevitably emerge to double-down on our investment in Mexico's blood-stained drug war debacle, it should become clear to everyone that this idiocy knows no bounds.

Peruvian President Equates Drug Legalization with Barbarism and Euthanasia

Peruvian President Alan García said Monday he is absolutely opposed to drug legalization and warned that legalizing marijuana will take society down the path toward euthanizing the elderly.  He vowed a constant fight "on all fronts" against drug use and the drug trade.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/alan-garcia.jpg
Alan García
Peru is now the world's leading producer of coca, from which cocaine is made. In recent weeks, García has angled for a larger share of US drug-fighting dollars.  The stimulating herb has been used as an energy booster and hunger suppressor since time immemorial in the Andean region.

García said Monday that his anti-drug efforts will focus on eradication and alternative crops, as well as interdiction and money-laundering.  A reinvigorated eradication campaign has already led to renewed strife in the countryside, where tens of thousands of peasant families make a living from coca. Two weeks ago, hundreds of coca growers seized a hydroelectric plant in Ucayali province and blocked highways in the region to protest eradication efforts. Police later regained control of the plant, but the region remains restive.

"The Peruvian government has a firm position: I am absolutely against the drug legalization," García said after opening the 20th meeting of the Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) of Latin America and the Caribbean. Human beings "cannot kneel before their own powerlessness," he said.

"I think this (drug legalization) is like opening the way for the degradation of human beings, because if we legalize marijuana as a soft drug then we will legalize cocaine as hard drugs, and finally we will also legalize the elimination of the elderly, as in the old societies, because they can no longer contribute to the production," he said.

García added that his government's position is firm and will not change before he leaves office next July "even though those who raise the flag of the drug legalization are very intelligent and well-known and noisy." He said he will always oppose advocates of ending drug prohibition because "they represent, without knowing it, the backward step of the human being in his path to freedom, which is basically the way of his conscience, i.e. to use his skills without escapes through drugs."

Not only will drug legalization lead to killing grandma, García said, it will lead mankind down a death spiral to "fascist barbarism" and genocide.

García's sentiments put him out of step with a region that is increasingly amenable to ending the decades long war on drugs. Former heads of state from Columbia, Brazil, and Mexico have called for an end to the drug war, while Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have depenalized simple drug possession.

Lima
Peru

Mexico Drug War Update

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported in August. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, September 8

Sergio "El Grande" Villarreal
In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, police said that the Tuesday killing of 17 people was related to gangs that work for Mexican organized crime groups. Local gangs such as MS-13 and Mara 18 are known to work for Mexican cartels moving drugs through Central America or as enforcers. They are often paid in product, leading to an increase of drug consumption across Central America.

In Washington DC, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Mexico's drug war was an insurgency resembling that of Colombia 20 years ago. Mexican government officials, most notably security spokesman Alejandro Poire, quickly responded to Clinton's remarks, calling them untrue.

Thursday, September 9

In Ciudad Juarez, 25 people were murdered across the city. This makes it the bloodiest single-day total in Ciudad Juarez in its history. The dead included seven females, three minors, and a handicapped man. In one incident, four people were shot dead after witnessing the murder of another two individuals in the Juarez Nuevo neighborhood of the city. In another incident, four people were killed after gunmen stormed a house in the El Granjero neighborhood.

Friday, September 10

In Reynosa, 85 prison inmates escaped after allegedly climbing a fence. Police immediately took over 40 guards and other prison staff into custody. Two guards were reported missing. Prison escapes have become fairly common in northern Mexico.

Sunday, September 12

In Sinaloa, four people were killed in several parts of the state.In Culiacan, a man was found shot dead with had his hands and feet bound. A note left along with the body accused the man of being an informant and a rapist. In Los Mochis, a man was found tortured and shot dead.

Monday, September 13

In Puebla, Marines captured Sergio Villareal, a high ranking cartel figure nicknamed "El Grande". Villareal is thought to be a lieutenant of cartel boss Hector Beltran-Leyva, and was fighting against a faction led by Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez, who was arrested last week. Villareal was arrested in an operation involving dozens of marines backed by armored vehicles.

Tuesday, September 14

In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, three explosions were heard near the international bridge, followed by gunfire between unknown parties that lasted up to an hour.

Across Mexico, security was stepped up for Mexico's bicentennial celebrations, which are to begin on Wednesday. Several cities, including Ciudad Juarez, have canceled celebrations due to security concerns, and many others have scaled back previously planned celebrations. In 2008, a grenade attack at an independence day celebration in Morelos, Michoacan killed eight people and wounded over 100.

Total Body Count for the Week: 134

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,862

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

Ending the War on Drugs

Location: 
Australia
Australian barrister and former political adviser Greg Barns opines on why drug prohibition is bad for Australia and calls for an end to the drug war.
Publication/Source: 
ABC News Online (Australia)
URL: 
http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2998116.htm

If You Think Marijuana Legalization Helps Drug Cartels, Think Again

One of the most enduring disconnects in the legalization debate is the question of what will become of those nasty drug cartels when we end marijuana prohibition. Here's how Tim Rosales of the No on Prop 19 campaign framed it in a debate with Jane Hamsher on CNN:

You would just be giving the Mexican drug cartels a platform, a legal platform, to operate from here in the United States. I don't think that's a risk that a lot of Californians, or even Americans, want to take.

I think he's right insofar as people do worry about this, and stirring up those sorts of anxieties isn't a bad strategy for legalization's opponents to embrace (particularly given how little they have to work with). But the idea itself is about as brain-dead ridiculous as can be.

Here's the thing: criminal drug organizations don't want this "legal platform" you speak of. That's not how they do business. Their product is grown by day laborers and slaves, not master cultivators. Their business strategy is characterized by assassination and bribery, not Facebook fan pages and free massage Fridays. They have no intention of paying taxes or appearing before local zoning boards, and they can't compete with American entrepreneurs who are happy to do the paperwork and can explain where their investment capital came from.

We're going to legalize pot, not thuggery. The murderers in Mexico don't possess a single skill that would give them an advantage in a regulated market. Their only asset is a willingness to break the law, and in the unlikely event that they elected to run a legal business instead, they wouldn't be criminals anymore. We will control the regulatory process and there's nothing about marijuana that invites fraud or extortion to any greater extent than every other taxable commodity on the market.

If you're still not getting this, let me put it another way: Mexican drug cartels don't sell marijuana because they're passionate about cannabis culture or botany, or because they love stacking bricks of mid-grade in the back of a pick-up truck. Absolutely the only reason they're in the marijuana business is because we gave them a monopoly on it. When we take that away from them, they will make less money and their organizations will get smaller.

Those who still can't or won't accept this are entitled to their opinions. But please allow us the courtesy of giving it a try. You had your chance to crush the cartels. Now it's our turn.

Calderon: Mexico drug gangs seeking to replace state

Location: 
Mexico
Drug prohibition can even lead to governments being overthrown. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has warned that drug gangs are seeking to replace the state and impose their own law in parts of the country. The gangs were imposing fees like taxes in areas they dominated and trying to impose their own laws by force of arms, said Calderon.
Publication/Source: 
BBC News (UK)
URL: 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10877156

Mexican President Calls for Drug Legalization Debate

After presiding for years over the bloodiest drug war escalation in history, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is finally ready to discuss legalization.

MEXICO CITY — President Felipe Calderon said he would consider a debate on legalizing drugs Tuesday as his government announced that more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since he launched a crackdown against cartels in 2006.

"It's a fundamental debate in which I think, first of all, you must allow a democratic plurality (of opinions)," he said. "You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides." [AP]

It's just an earth-shattering concession from the man who staked his presidency on a desperate attempt to prove that aggressive enforcement could somehow restore peace and order. Now, with the streets stained in blood and corruption permeating the highest levels of government, Calderon appears poised to confront the crushing reality that there's just no upside to any of this. He needs room to maneuver, and after exhausting every traditional tactic in the drug prohibition playbook, there remains only one conversation left to be had.

Of course, Calderon was careful to clarify that he's acknowledging, rather than endorsing, the legalization argument:

But Calderon has long said he is opposed to the idea, and his office issued a statement hours after the meeting saying that while the president was open to debate on the issue, he remains "against the legalization of drugs."
 

Riiiight. He's a politician and surely realizes that paying lip service to a touchy subject like this serves only to give it momentum. Posturing aside, Calderon knows exactly what happens when you open this door. He can see it already in the American press, and I can only imagine that he's now perfectly willing to witness the emergence of a sizable movement for reform in Mexico. If he weren't, you can bet he'd never dare drop the "L" word with a microphone at his mouth.

Whether he intended to or not, Calderon has spent his presidency performing the most compelling imaginable exhibit in the failure of prohibition. After sacrificing so much, his only chance at redemption may depend on his willingness to take the lead in learning something from the smoldering nightmare that now surrounds him.

Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

The United States has been trying to suppress Colombian coca production and cocaine trafficking since at least the time of Ronald Reagan, but the contemporary phase of US intervention in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. As Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) security analyst Adam Isaacson pointed out Wednesday in a cogent essay, "Colombia: Don't Call It A Model," it was on July 13, 2000, that President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion package of mainly military assistance known as Plan Colombia.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eradication.jpg
Plan Colombia coca eradication scene
Plan Colombia was supposed to cut Colombian cocaine production in half by mid-decade, and while total US expenditures on it have now risen to $7.3 billion, that goal was clearly not met. But, a decade down the road, there has been some "progress." The leftist peasant guerrillas of the FARC have been seriously weakened and are operating at half the strength they were 10 years ago. Violence has steadily decreased, as has criminality. The Colombian state has been strengthened -- especially its military, which has nearly doubled in size.

Still, as Isaacson notes, those gains have come at a tremendous cost. Thousands have been killed at the hands of rightist paramilitary groups aligned with powerful landowners and political elites, and while those paramilitaries officially disbanded several years ago, they appear to be reconstituting themselves. The seemingly endless "parapolitics" scandals linking the paramilitaries to high government actors demonstrate that the price of "progress" in Colombia has been corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.

And the war continues, albeit at a lower level. Some 21,000 fighters from all sides and an estimated 14,000 civilians died in the fighting this decade, and all the while, peasants were planting and harvesting coca crops, and traffickers were turning it into cocaine and exporting it to the insatiable North American and, increasingly, European markets.

While Colombian and US policy-makers have hailed Plan Colombia as a "success," neither Isaacson nor other analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week were willing to make such unvarnished claims. "'Success' has come at a high cost," wrote Isaacson. "Colombia's security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by 'collateral damage,'" including mass killings, other human rights abuses, and the weakening of democratic institutions."

"Success has eluded efforts to achieve Plan Colombia's main goal: reducing Colombian cocaine supplies," wrote Isaacson. Despite years of aerial eradication, coca remains stubbornly entrenched in the Colombian countryside, showing a significant decline only last year, after Colombia switched its eradication emphasis from spraying to manual eradication. "This strategic shift appears to be reducing coca cultivation, for now at least. In 2009 -- a year in which both aerial and manual eradication dropped sharply -- the UNODC found a significant drop in Colombian coca-growing, to 68,000 hectares."

But, as Isaacson and others note, that decline has been offset by increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. In fact, total coca cultivation in the region has remained remarkably consistent since 2003, at about 150,000 hectares per year.

"If you look at it from point of aiding the Colombian government to fight against the FARC and other insurgents, it has worked," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "A decade ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state, with the FARC controlling large swathes of territory and threatening major cities. Today they are terribly weak and on the run, and much of their leadership has been killed," he noted.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
"Due to the widespread use of helicopters and the fact that guerrillas don't have that kind of mobility, the Colombians and Americans have been successful in shrinking the area of operation available to the guerrillas, and that has hurt the guerrillas' ability to recruit," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "A few years ago, there were maybe 16,000 FARC operating in six or seven major theaters, and now it's about half that. But that doesn't necessarily mean the FARC is finished; we haven't seen any sign of that. Their options are fewer, but they are far from disappeared. Plan Colombia has been successful in empowering the Colombian military, but not so much in solving the problem of the FARC insurrection."

"On the military side, the counterinsurgency, there has been definite progress," agreed Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs and counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution. "The situation in the late 1990s was very bad. The FARC was in the hills above Bogotá, and the paramilitaries were highly organized. Today, the FARC is much weaker, land travel is more possible, and other security indicators also show progress. That said, the FARC is still around in substantial numbers and can jeopardize security and economic development in particular areas. And the paramilitaries are back, even if the Colombian government insists they are not the paramilitaries. They are, for all intents and purposes, just like the paramilitaries of the 1980s and 1990s."

"The idea was that if they suppressed the coca, the capabilities of the FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitaries would be substantially weakened," said Felbab-Brown. "They said that if you eliminated coca in Colombia, the conflict would end, but I don't think you can bankrupt the belligerents through eradication. That didn't pan out. In some places, the government was able to diminish at least temporarily economic flows to particular elements of the FARC, but that was the result of military operations, not eradication," she argued.

"A lot of people say the FARC have lost their political agenda, that they are just traffickers, but I don't subscribe to that view," said Felbab-Brown. "If someone wants to conduct a rebellion, they have to have a way to finance it. I don't think the FARC is any different. One of the big accomplishments of the US and the Colombian military was taking out a lot of top FARC leaders," she continued. "Their current leaders have been out in the jungle so long, they suffer from a lack of intellectual imagination. But the FARC are peasant guerrillas, with a few intellectuals and students, and they were never strong ideologically. There is no equivalent of Comrade Gonzalo [of Peru's Shining Path] or Mullah Omar or Bin Laden for the FARC. And I think they've run out of ideas. Times have changed, and the ideological story they want to tell the world and their members is crumbling, but it's not the case they are just interested in money. They still want power, they still believe in narratives of war and conquest, but they don't have anything to frame it with anymore."

"They are about more than just criminality," agreed Isaacson. "They're raising drug money to buy guns and those guns are for something. While their ideology may be pretty stunted at this point, they are driven by a desire to take power -- unlike, say, the Sinaloa cartel, which is driven by a desire to sell drugs. They hate Colombia's political class, and they represent that small percentage of peasants on the fringe. Those boomtowns on the frontier, that's where the FARC's base is. Wherever there is no government and people are on their own, the FARC claims to protect them. They are not bandits -- they are more dangerous than bandits."

The paramilitaries continue to wreak havoc, too, said Felbab-Brown. "They assassinate community leaders and human rights organizers," she said. "In some areas, they collude with the FARC; in others, they fight the FARC over cocaine routes and access to coca production. They are still a real menace, and it is very discouraging that they have come back so quickly. That shows the failure of the Colombian government to address the real underlying causes of the problems."

That has been a serious flaw from the beginning, the Brookings Institution analyst said. "At first Plan Colombia was aimed at root causes of conflict and coca production, but that was dropped, and in the Bush administration it morphed into a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency project. Economic development was a minor component of the plan, and the US never tried to pressure Uribe to take on economic redistribution and the distribution of political power, nor has the US been very vocal about human rights and civil liberties issues."

"When Plan Colombia was first conceived, it was primarily a domestic program aimed at drawing in the Colombian population, which at that time had become totally disaffected from the state," recalled Birns. "It was to emphasize economic development, nutrition, and education. It was the Clinton administration that militarized Plan Colombia and made it into a security doctrine rather than an economic development formula."

That only deepened in the wake of 9/11, said Birns. "Increasingly, Plan Colombia morphed first into a counternarcotics program than again into an anti-terrorist vehicle. The US began to define the FARC, which never had any international aspect, as terrorists. It was a convenience for the US policy of intervention to emphasize the terrorism aspect."

But at root, Plan Colombia was first and foremost about reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production. "It wasn't sold here in the US as a counterinsurgency effort, but as an effort to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market," Cato's Hidalgo pointed out. "If you look at the acreage of coca planted in Colombia, it has decreased, but the production of coca remains the same, and coca production is increasingly dramatically in Peru and Bolivia. Once again, we see the balloon effect at work."

"As the reduction took place in Colombia, it simply moved back to Peru, whence it originally came," concurred COHA's Birns. "Peruvian cocaine production is now half the regional total, so total cocaine production remains essentially the same, even though there has been a reduction in the role Colombia plays."

"One of the best measures to see if the supply of cocaine has decreased is to look at price, but what that tells us is that cocaine was 23% cheaper in 2007 than it was in 1998 when Plan Colombia was launched," said Hidalgo. "It is clear that Plan Colombia has failed in its main goal, which was to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market."

"We've tried everything," said Hidalgo. "Aggressive aerial spraying of fields, manual eradication, as well as softer measures to entice producers to adopt other crops, and it's all failed. As long as the price of cocaine remains inflated by prohibition, there is big profit and a big incentive for producers and traffickers to grow the plant and export the product to the US and elsewhere. The only way to curtail this is by legalizing cocaine. Other than that, I don't see this as a battle that can be won."

Felbab-Brown called the coca and cocaine production estimates "extraordinarily squishy," but added it was clear that Plan Colombia had failed to achieve its goals there. "The plan was supposed to halve production in six years, and that clearly was not accomplished," she said. "It would be false to deny there has been some progress, but it has not been sufficient. I think it was bound not to work because it was so heavily focused on eradication in the context of violence and underemphasized the need for economic programs to address why people cultivate coca. And the larger reality is even if you succeeded in Colombia, production would have moved elsewhere."

Counternarcotics cannot solve Colombia's problems, said Felbab-Brown, because coca is not at the root of those problems. "There is only so much that counternarcotics programs can do given the basic economic and political situation in Colombia," said Felbab-Brown. "You have a set-up where labor is heavily taxed and capital and land are lightly taxed, so even when you get economic growth, it doesn't generate jobs, it only concentrates money in the hands of the rich. The Colombian government has been unwilling to address these issues, and inequality continues to grow. You can only do so much if you can't generate legal jobs. You have to take on entrenched elites, the bases of political power in Colombia, and Uribe's people are not interested in doing that."

But Uribe will be gone next month, replaced by his elected successor, Juan Manuel Santos. That could mean change, said Isaacson. "He's not as ideologically to the right as Uribe, some of his appointments indicate people who actually have an interest in governance, and he is the principle author of the program they're carrying out in the countryside to get the state and not just the military out there," he said. "He could also be more open to the idea of peace negotiations than Uribe was."

That may or may not be the case, but Plan Colombia under whatever president is not going to solve Colombia's drug problem -- nor America's, said Isaacson. "At home, we need to reduce demand through treatment and other options," he said. "In Colombia, as long as you have parts of the country ungoverned and as long as members of the government have nothing to fear if they abuse the population, there will always be drugs. Colombia needs to build the state and do it without impunity. We built up the Colombian military, but there was no money for teachers, doctors, or any public good besides security."

Criminals Aren’t the Only Ones Getting Killed in the Drug War

Via Pete Guither, here's another breathtaking example of the drug war's indiscriminate violence:

President Calderón has sought to make his drug war palatable by asserting that the country’s war dead—estimated at 23,000 since January 2006 for the country as a whole—deserved to die: their deaths implicate them in illegal activities.

When he first learned about what Juarenses have come to call the “massacre at Villas de Salvarcar,” Calderón hinted that the thirteen teenagers who died at the hands of professional executioners were common criminals and city low life. He could not have been more wrong. In fact they were honor students and athletes who had gathered to celebrate a friend’s seventeenth birthday. They had the misfortune of belonging to a football club whose initials, “AA,” were mistaken for the initials of the Sinaloa cartel’s local enforcers, the Artistic Assassins. And so, in the middle of the night, while the teens danced in a room cleared of furniture, they were gunned down. Seven hours later, when the first daylight photos were taken, the concrete floor where they died still glistened with their clotting blood. [Boston Review]

It's sickening that the Mexican President would dare insinuate that these innocent young victims somehow deserved their fate, but misplacing blame is an essential and instinctive defense mechanism when drug warriors are confronted with the consequences of their desperate crusade. None of this comes as a surprise, but it does bother me that this incident happened back in January and I overlooked it amidst the overwhelming number of bloody tragedies just like this one that take place every day in Mexico.

We couldn't ask for a more perfect exhibit in the complete failure of drug prohibition on every imaginable level. At this point, the only thing that still surprises me is that so many among us persist in failing to understand what the problem is.

Editorial: Thoughts on a Drug Lord's Demise (or, Folly's Continuation)

David Borden, Executive Director

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
Jamaica is often rhapsodized by Americans, who celebrate and imitate its Caribbean culture. But goings-on there rarely grab our attention. This year proved a sad exception, when efforts by the US government to bring drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke to trial, and cooperation with this by the long reluctant Jamaican government, sparked a wave of violence that rocked the island nation's capital of Kingston.

This week Coke turned himself in. His attorney read a statement from him at an extradition hearing. He was flown to the US on a private plane. And assuming there are no surprises, that's that.

That's that for Christopher Coke, that is. For the drug trade in which he achieved prominence, it is mostly business as usual. There may be some jockeying for power or turf, maybe some fighting. If the campaign to get Dudus Coke is part of a larger targeting of trafficking, there could even be a shift of routes to some other region. But as many past efforts over decades have consistently shown, the drugs will continue to flow.

The sad fact is that the fall of any one drug lord is just the latest stage in a repeating cycle. Drug traffickers, or producers, choose a region to use as transit for their drug shipments or for growing the crops and producing the drugs, based on profitability and feasibility, like any other business, and set up shop. Eventually it gets the attention of the government, who focus law enforcement resources on that region to try and stop it. Eventually the enforcers succeed, not in stopping the drugs, but in making it more expensive to do business in that particular part of the world than in other places. So the traffickers shift to one or more of those other places, and it all repeats. The UN's annual drug report, released this week, found this once again, in the form of coca production shifting from Colombia to Peru, having moved there from Peru and Bolivia years before.

This is all harmful enough on its own, but the fall of Christopher Coke demonstrates a particularly poisonous version of it. In this version, the drug lord or organization does not have an incentive to relocate -- a Jamaican drug lord would presumably lose out to someone located elsewhere -- and when a government, usually under US pressure decides to take them one, decides to fight. This time it meant the deaths of nearly a hundred Jamaicans. In Colombia during the Pablo Escobar days, hundreds lost their lives to direct cartel assassination. And it is in the tens of thousands already in Mexico, since President Calderon's escalation of the drug war began 3 1/2 years ago.

The solution to the violence, disorder, and instability of the drug trade lies not in more of this defeatist cycle, but in legalization, replacing the illegal trade with a legal trade that plays by society's rules. In the meanwhile, governments have two choices. They can go the Calderon route, or the more recent Jamaican route, and suffer the violence, maybe achieving some short term change, but not reducing the drug trade. Or, they can quietly tolerate an "ordinary" level of crime, still not reduce the illicit trade, but not see their people slaughtered wholesale in the fighting. The idea of tolerating any level of crime is not politically correct to talk about, but it's the approach that usually gets taken, around the world and here in the US too. It's only when zealots in the drug bureaucracies or political offices decide to push somewhere, that the authorities there ramp it up, and then it really gets nasty.

Those zealots need to drop the zealotry and be real, because the power they have does too much harm, in places whose peoples don't want it. But since on some level they have a point -- tolerating crime is not the ideal system -- we should start undoing prohibition now, so future bureaucrats and politicians won't have to make those distasteful choices. It's too late for the dozens of Jamaican victims of the drug war, or the thousands of Mexicans or countless others. But the sunken costs from past follies do not justify the violent consequences of folly's continuation.

Let's be smart -- let's pull the plug on the drug war now.

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