The United States’ Limited View of the War on Drugs

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “The United States’ Limited View of the War on Drugs”, published on April 6th, 2010.
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1418

Here is a copy of it:

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It took the deaths of two American citizens and the husband of a diplomatic employee—all tied to the U.S. Consulate inCiudad Juarez—for the Obama administration to apparently take notice ofMexico’s drug problem. Still, it seems that even the rhetoric fromWashington will limit itself as much as it can to address this crisis as long as the bloodshed continues to hit outside ofU.S. national borders.

On March 14all the headlines focused on the targeting of U.S. Consulate employees in the border town ofCiudad Juarez, which has become one of the main stages for drug-related violence in the recent years. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quick to respond to these attacks in an unusual address on a topic that had been left off the agenda until recently.

It seems that as long as the victims of drug-related violence did not carry U.S.passports, the Obama administration only cared enough to issue petty warnings to American tourists not to visit our country. Yet when Enriquez, Redelffs and Salcido were gunned down President Barack Obama told the world he was outraged and promised a quick response to the issue. Clinton said that “this is a responsibility we must shoulder together” and subsequently made an official visit toMexico 10 days later. There, she met with key officials in Calderón’s administration to work on a joint solution to the problem.

The promise of a shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration on (in this blogger’s view at least) a problem generally created by the most profitable market for the drug trade filledMexico’s hopes. But we were reminded of former Mexican President Porfirio Díaz’ famous quote “Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to theUnited States.”Clinton’s visit toMexicoturned out to be yet another example of quick and shallow politics to diffuse a media situation, instead of addressing the real problem head-on.

Reminding us of the $1.4 billion investment the U.S. is making over three years in “a thus-far unsuccessful effort to crush cartels who ship $40 billion worth of illegal drugs north each year” Clinton came to Mexico to accept part of the blame of this problem by saying that the U.S. should crack down on gun control. “These criminals are outgunning law enforcement officials […] And since we know that the vast majority, 90 percent of that [weaponry] comes from our country, we’re going to try to stop it from getting there in the first place,” Clinton said. As always, the question ofU.S. consumption was marginally addressed and no specific strategy to decrease it was put on the table.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, President Calderón said that as long as the largest market for these illicit products is not willing to discuss alternative solutions (such as legalization), debate over these strategies in source countries is futile. Both Calderón and Porfirio Díaz’ words hit right on target.

As long as the Obama administration continues to look at the problems brewing south of theU.S.border as something of marginal importance—deeming his attention only when theU.S.media cares enough to cover the death of Americans—Mexicois left alone to deal with this growing hot topic. $1.4 billion and a promise on gun control are just not going to cut it.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Seven Ideas for Defeating Drug-Related Violence in Mexico

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “Seven Ideas for Defeating Drug-Related Violence in Mexico”, published on Feb. 17th, 2010
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1322

Here’s a copy of it:

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As headlines continue to report a tale of horror, violence and massacre in what had seemed to be a peaceful country, a growing debate stirs on whether or notMexico’s government stands a chance to win the war on drugs.

The general consensus is that President Felipe Calderón has inherited a cancer that the Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI regime) had contained through institutionalization of corruption. This is a cancer that former President Vicente Fox was unable to effectively cope with when he took office, ending the PRI’s hold on power. Now Felipe Calderón is trying to get rid of this disease by beating it with a big stick and empowering the military to crack down on criminal organizations such as the Zetas and Beltrán Leyva’s group , but as Ana María Salazar has stated recently, “Mexicans are paying a huge price

Calderón’s war on drugs seems limited if the goal is to effectively address the complex issue of drug-related violence. A recent conversation I had with a group of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Tec de Monterrey postgraduate students proves there are at least seven more ideas that the President should consider incorporating into his strategy:

1. A hard line political and militarily line is needed, but we should recognize this is not the path to a solution. This part of the strategy should be seen as mere containment. Just like the Planarian worms if you try to cut the head off a criminal organization, it will grow back and sometimes even multiply , but you need to keep doing so to prevent the worm from growing stronger.

2. Strengthen the rule of law. Don’t just prosecute dealing. Make possession and consumption outside of tolerance areas punishable by law. Help law enforcement not just by providing better salaries, but by providing the means for officials to get access to credit and health insurance. Bring the police back to your side. Work withU.S.law enforcement and border officials to crack down on arms trading.

3. Accept that the problem is not going to go away entirely. Create drug-use and related industry tolerance zones (relocate casinos and gentleman’s clubs) and tax entry to these areas. Inject the funds allocated though taxation of unhealthy habits into the comprehensive strategy to combat drug-related violence.

4. Create an alliance with the media. Get the national media to understand that its sensationalism is hurting Mexico’s reputation worldwide. Most of Mexicois not facing the level of violence of Ciudad Juarez, but the printed press is making it out to be that way. Responsible, objective coverage is needed to avoid a contagion effect with creative yet less powerful deviants.

5. A comprehensive strategy to strengthen education. This does not relate to the naïve idea that educated people don’t do drugs. However, better schools give children the tools to go out into the world and to have better possibilities of succeeding with an honest job. Investing in education does not just mean a “Don’t do drugs” campaign. It should be seen as a long-term strategy to make it harder for drug dealers to recruit “mules.”

6. Make the economy work for you. Drug consumption inMexicobecame relevant when theU.S.economy dropped and security tightened to the point where profit margins for drug sales plummeted in theU.S.market. It will be way more effective to figure out ways to cut their margins inMexicothan it will be to capture or kill a drug leader and wait for the next one to come along.

7. Make it easier for businesses to become your allies. Instead of overtaxing private enterprise, the government should provide incentives to grow. This creates more jobs. People with full-time jobs that are fairly paid have neither the time nor the need to engage in illicit activity. Help business by running an international public relations campaign. Just like he recently did inJapan, Calderón needs to become a better spokesperson and attract foreign direct investment back intoMexico. Volume drops resulting from the recent crisis have temporarily leveled the playing field with regard toChina. This window of opportunity is closing and Calderón needs to act on it now.

Mr. President, you need to be more intelligent and creative than they are.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.