Editorial: There's Always Another Drug Cartel...

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
It was the DEA's lucky day, and one drug lord's unlucky one. Notorious drug lord Javier Arellano-Felix, head of one of the world's leading cocaine trafficking organizations, was plucked from the sea near Mexico's coastline by the US Coast Guard. He's now facing life in prison on a 2003 indictment for cocaine trafficking.

There are plenty of reasons besides drug trafficking for putting this guy away -- his cartel is a major party to the drug trade violence plaguing the Tijuana region that has already claimed some 1,500 lives. Some of the murders have been unspeakable in their sheer gruesomeness. The organization was responsible for the infamous 1993 assassination of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo as he waited to meet an arriving papal official in Guadalajara airport.

Though we don't lament Arellano's loss of freedom, there is much to lament in the system that made him possible, a system that in its impact if not intentions has claimed so many lives and will continue to in the future. Cocaine traffickers and their henchmen are not killing people because they are high on cocaine; they are killing people because that is a part of business -- making money -- in this lucrative criminal enterprise. We know from long experience that taking out one drug lord, even dismembering an entire trafficking organization, only leads to the growth or establishment of a new one, with no reduction in the amount of cocaine getting taken to market. DEA officials acknowledged this even as they celebrated their high-profile capture -- they even predicted violence would result from it, as rival traffickers fight to fill the void the capture has created.

The most notorious drug lord, perhaps, was Medellin, Colombia cartel builder Pablo Escobar, taken down in a hail of bullets by government forces acting under the leadership of attorney general Gustavo de Greiff. De Greiff's public commentary was infinitely more enlightened than we should ever expect to hear from the DEA. De Greiff explained in the media that nothing would happen to the flow of cocaine, the Medellin will just be replaced by another cast of characters, the answer is... legalization. Of course the DEA and their bosses at the Dept. of Justice didn't like that. But he was right. (Click here to hear what de Greiff had to say at our 2003 Mexico conference.)

So while DEA's chieftains will undoubtedly continue to savor the afterglow for weeks or months to come, in the meanwhile the victims of drug prohibition will continue to needlessly suffer and die. Because there is always another cartel, another leader waiting in the wings, another vendor or middleman willing to sling a gun to get his share.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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