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

David Borden, Executive Director

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.

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

[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.CanadaThis is the way the drug war is fought.People are eaten up and spit out and the drugs just keep on flowing.As long as the connection remains unseverd there are more than enough people waiting to step in and there are always enough addicts ready and willing to support their habit by dealing if they can keep it together and by steering if they can't.Here,in Vancouver we have seen the arrest of the heads of the two largest gangs in the city and several of their henchmen and it took about three to six months before the bodies began to appear once again.In my day if there was going to be a change of order it came with virtually no fanfare and usually no body.I made inquiries as to how the flow of drugs had been altered and found that there was a shortage of customers,although the south slope where I live has only just recovered as one gang was killing off all the competition and no one wanted to come into the area.How soon they forget.Take a walk at night and you will probably be approached,tenuously.Drug dealers are greedy but not stupid.The big problem now is that the dealers all have burner phones so if you don't use a lot chances are they might forget you when the phone gets tossed.The drug war is getting more bloody and the violence is rising from the south.As soon as the Mexican mafia gets too big we may actually see some reform in the drug laws.Whatever is holding the war together,I doubt it will like the Mexican Mafia.

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