The discovery at the U.S.-Mexico border of possible mass graves of persons killed in drug trade violence has horrified residents and families of missing persons -- while raising important questions about our national drug policy.
According to the New York Times, Mexican officials have files on at least 100 persons who have disappeared in and around Juarez, a city immediately across the border from El Paso, Texas; the El Paso-based Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons has a list of 196, mostly from Juarez, though the missing are thought to include 22 Americans.
Six bodies have been found on a Juarez ranch, and cars riddled with bullets have been found on other properties. Authorities believe these may be mass graves containing the bodies of hundreds of victims, and massive searches have been underway for the past week.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, many but not all of the victims are thought to have had associations with the drug trade. However, many were seen being abducted by what appeared to be corrupt police officers or military, possibly under the pay of the drug cartels. Victor Clark of the Tijuana-based International Commission on Human Rights pointed out, "The bodies (of those) killed by the mafia are always found. It's their way of sending messages."
Last month, several members of Congress urged the Clinton administration to create a "Border Czar" position to coordinate drug control efforts along the Southwest border. The members wrote, "If we are going to regain control of our Southwest border and meet the National Drug Control Strategy's fourth goal -- shield America's air, land and sea frontiers from the drug threat -- we need a Southwest Border Coordinator with some real authority to make decisions and be responsible for coordinating the overall national effort."
But drug reform advocates say the fight to keep drugs from entering the country is futile, and compare the Juarez killings with Alcohol Prohibition-related incidents such as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Al Robison, former chairman of the UT Dept. of Pharmacology, now Executive Director of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, told the Week Online, "If you can't keep drugs out of our maximum security prisons, how do you think you're going to keep them off one of the longest borders in the world?"
Robison added, "We should all be trying to discourage drug abuse, but a "drug free America" is an insane goal because it's never going to happen. And trying to make it happen has caused an enormous amount of misery and violence -- including the mass murders in Juarez."