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Drug Cartel Assassins Caught on Camera

This video is freaking people out in Mexico. Most of the violence is occurring off-camera, but it's pretty effective at revealing how openly these guys operate. 8 people were killed in the vicinity of what you're seeing here:

But don't worry, the violence means we're winning the drug war. Soon, all the drug traffickers and innocent bystanders will be dead and then we can all go to Mexico for Spring Break and get wasted without worrying about getting shot by machine guns.

Are There Any Good Guys in the Mexican Drug War?

Once again, what passes for a victory in the Mexican drug war is really just another bloody mess:

Reporting from Mexico City - The dead drug lord lay on his back, blood-soaked jeans yanked down to the knees. Mexican peso notes carpeted his bullet-torn body, and U.S. $100 bills formed neat rows next to his bared belly.

Even in a country where pictures of gruesome crime scenes routinely show up on the front pages of newspapers, the Beltran Leyva images have stirred controversy over who staged the tableau and whether Mexican authorities did so to send a taunting message to the rest of his powerful drug trafficking gang.

"It is the state forces that adopted the basic language of the narco," columnist Luis Petersen Farah wrote in the Milenio newspaper. " 'There's your money,' the photograph seems to say. It's the language of war." [LA Times]

There's something deeply unsettling about watching the Mexican military mimic the intimidation tactics of the drug lords. Finding peace is simply not on the agenda anymore.

A Magical Day in Mexico

This is what passes for good news in the Mexican drug war:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) -- ''Not one person murdered yesterday,'' Ciudad Juarez's leading newspaper proclaimed in a banner headline. It was big news in this border city, ground zero in the drug war -- the first time in 10 months that a day had passed without a killing.

The next day, 9 people were shot. Does anyone still believe that the drug war reduces violence? If so, I've got a condo in Ciudad Juarez I'd love to sell you.

Proof that the Drug War Sucks: Mexico

No seriously, just look at Mexico and tell me that the drug war isn't a complete disaster:

TIJUANA, Mexico — Tijuana's public security spokesman says a fleet of brand new patrol cars has been burned in a Molotov cocktail attack.

Ernesto Alvarez says the 28 vehicles were hit in the predawn attack at a Mazda dealership. Six were destroyed, the rest damaged but possibly reparable. [AP]

Reparable, you say? Yeah, imagine it's your first day on the job as a cop in Tijuana and they give you a new patrol car that's already been lightly toasted by a firebomb.

The Weekly Standard Cheers on Mexican Drug War Bloodshed

Jaime Daremblum at The Weekly Standard uses math to prove that Mexico's drug war is getting results:

But despite the continuing violence--in a particularly vicious attack on September 2, 18 people were killed execution style at a Juárez drug-rehabilitation center--Calderón's efforts have not been in vain. A new report from the U.S. State Department observes that "more than 43,000 individuals connected with the major cartels were arrested between December 2006 and February 2009," including senior members of the cartels. Mexican authorities confiscated 4,220 weapons in 2006 and 9,500 a year later; all told, they have seized "more than 27,000 since the beginning of 2008." Since January 2007, they have also confiscated some 65 metric tons of cocaine, nearly 1,250 kilos of methamphetamine, and roughly 4.2 million kilos of marijuana. These achievements are not insignificant.

He's right. These achievements are significant indeed. They got 7,500 people killed last year.

Don't you understand that the exact activities you're rooting for are the reason people are dying? What is so complicated about this? It's a simple formula: more drug war = more death. It's perfectly incoherent to root for arrests and drug seizures, while simultaneously expressing hope that the violence will subside. It doesn't work that way. Anyone struggling with this concept should just pull up a chair and watch what happens next.

Drug War Violence is Destroying Mexico's Economy

According to a new expert analysis, Mexico's brutal drug war is costing the country a whole hell of a lot of money:

Tobias estimates the economic cost of Mexico’s violence is 2 percent to 3 percent of GDP, and the total cost is $120 billion, or about 12 percent of Mexico’s $1.085 trillion GDP in 2008. The estimate by Bulltick, a Miami-based brokerage with offices in four Latin American countries, includes prevention measures, prison costs, lost foreign direct investment and expenses to victims and businesses. [Bloomberg]

What I just can't understand, no matter how hard I try, is why on earth anyone ever expected a different outcome than this. It is literally the goal of Mexico's chief drug war strategists to reduce violence and save their nation's reputation. That is what they thought would happen if they cracked down on the drug trade. Instead, every single problem they sought to address has gotten worse.

And as bad as things have gotten, you can bet that the leaders of the Mexican drug war will look at this data and say that it shows the need for more aggressive strategies to finally defeat the cartels.

How Many Americans Die Every Year in The War on Drugs?

According to Esquire, it may be as many as 15,000. It's awfully hard to calculate with any certainty, but the author's point is to demonstrate that Mexico's frightening drug war death toll isn't the only one worth discussing. Americans are also paying a great price for our disastrous drug policy and it's time to take a closer look at how those numbers add up and how ending the drug war can bring them back down.

Predictably, Mark Kleiman has a problem with the article's pro-legalization angle and expresses his doubts about the 15,000 figure. My question for Kleiman is this: if that number is wrong, then what's the correct number? How should it be calculated? The bottom line here is that people are getting killed constantly in the war on drugs and we're trying to do something about it.

Kleiman hypocritically attacks both sides in the drug war debate for failing to use what he considers "factually and logically sound arguments," while simultaneously insisting – without any proof -- that legalization will create catastrophic spikes in drug use. He could be right, but we don’t really have any way to find out other than by doing exactly what he says we shouldn’t do. Personally, my gut instinct is that Kleiman is partially right, but that the benefits of reducing the collective harms of prohibition will decisively outweigh the new harms he anticipates. Again, there's only one way to find out.

Moreover, it's just crazy to accept the current body count based on the assumption that alternatives can't possibly work. LEAP's Neill Franklin nails this point:

But what about the argument that drugs will spread like wildfire if we don't keep bringing down the hammer?

"First, there's no concrete study to support such a belief — it's all completely speculation," Franklin insists. "So in my left hand I have all this speculation about what may happen to addiction rates, and then I look at my other hand and I see all these dead bodies that are actually fact, not speculation. And you're going to ask me to weigh the two? Second, if the addiction rate does go up, I'm going to have a lot of live addicts that I can cure. The direction we're going in now, I've got a lot of dead bodies."

Regardless of how legalization might impact addiction rates, it's just a fact that people are presently getting shot to death over drugs on a daily basis. If you think it has to be that way, you're wrong. People do not have to be murdered in the streets constantly. We can change that, we really can, and then we can do some more number crunching and decide if regulating drug sales is worth it or not.

Drug Traffickers Plot to Kill Mexico's President

I've had a creeping feeling for a while now that the cartels might try to take things to the next level:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has captured a drug smuggler believed to have been plotting to assassinate President Felipe Calderon in revenge for the army's crackdown on trafficking, a senior police official said on Monday.

Dimas Diaz, a mid-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel in northwestern Mexico, was arrested on Sunday in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan with four other traffickers, said Ramon Pequeno, head of the federal police's anti-drug wing.

"Government intelligence reports led us to find out the threat was from the Sinaloa cartel, with Dimas Diaz entrusted with the details of a possible attack," he told reporters. [Reuters]

The magnitude of all this is quite incredible to behold. We've reached a point where anything is possible in Mexico (anything, that is, except victory in the bloody war on drugs). The prospect of a Presidential assassination is a deeply unnerving reminder that the situation in Mexico could actually become considerably uglier than it already is.

I shudder to think what effect such an event would have on the already problematic level of U.S. involvement in Mexico's disastrous war on drugs. Please, let's just stop this now before it literally destroys everything there is to destroy.

Mexico's Drug War is Eventually Going to Collapse

President Calderon's epic drug war escalation is rapidly becoming an unprecedented exhibit in the absolute futility of everything drug prohibition stands for. The harder you fight, the more you lose, and that realization is increasingly beginning to sink in:

There are now sustained calls in Mexico for a change in tactics, even from allies within Calderón's political party, who say the deployment of 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels is a flawed plan that relies too heavily on the blunt force of the military to stem soaring violence and lawlessness. [Washington Post]

No kidding. How are soldiers supposed to "stem soaring violence" when their deployment is causing it? Violence is what soldiers do for a living.

U.S. officials said they now believe Mexico faces a longer and bloodier campaign than anticipated and is likely to require more American aid.

They didn't anticipate this. Seriously. Anyone who's surprised by this outcome has no business working on international drug policy, let alone allocating American tax dollars towards programs that do the exact opposite of what they think.

U.S. and Mexican government officials say the military strategy, while difficult, is working.

What does that even mean? You said you were trying to reduce violence and you increased it. Unless your goal is to eventually kill everyone in Mexico, it's not working.

"This battle is a full frontal assault," Monte Alejandro Rubido, Calderon's senior adviser on drug policy on Mexico's National Security Council, said in an interview. "There are no alternatives."

Yes there are. And the only rational and humane choice you have is to begin discussing them now before thousands more lives are needlessly lost. There is only so much the Mexican people can tolerate and it's really just a matter of time before the war has to be stopped. This plan didn't work last year and it won’t start working next year.

It's not hard to understand the reluctance of so many who bear responsibility for this to admit that they've been wrong all along. The countless lives lost and destroyed are not something anyone wants on their conscience and the human mind is a powerful tool for shielding desperate people from uncomfortable truths. Still, the battlefield that smolders before us is obviously here to stay as long as we continue down the hopeless path our governments have chosen for us. As long as this has gone on, it nonetheless stands to reason that it cannot continue forever.

It is vastly nobler to admit failure in the name of progress than to continue it out of fear and shame.

The Mexican Drug War is Losing Public Support

In a report on the latest massacre of federal police in Mexico, the Los Angeles Times points out that the Mexican people seem to be losing faith in President Calderon's escalated campaign against the cartels:

"We cannot, we should not, we will not take one step backward in this matter," Calderon said Tuesday.

Mexicans seem skeptical. In a new poll, more than half of respondents said they believe the government is losing the war. Only 28% said it is winning, according to the survey, published Tuesday in the daily Milenio newspaper.

That frustration is becoming a big problem for Calderon:

MEXICO CITY - President Felipe Calderon suffered a setback in midterm elections yesterday when the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party unseated his party as the largest force in Mexico’s fractured Congress in a vote that turned on the global economic crisis and the government’s crackdown on drug traffickers. [Boston Globe]

And it's only going to get worse. Calderon's crackdown has produced the opposite of its intended effect, which is exactly what one should always expect from aggressive tactics in the war on drugs. Violence and corruption will only continue to escalate and Calderon will inevitably be fighting for re-election amidst daily episodes of horrific street violence brought about by his own policies.

Calderon's predecessor Vicente Fox is now advocating discussion about legalizing drugs and it's probably just a matter of time before that debate becomes the central question in Mexican politics.

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