The former presidents of Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico write a chilling Op-Ed in the WSJ about how the worldwide crusade to eradicate drug cultivation is wreaking havoc, despite billions of dollars and large amounts of military resources devoted to the "drug war". From WSJ:
Over the last 30 years, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort where the benefits were not proportional to the resources invested. Despite the country's achievements in lowering levels of violence and crime, the areas of illegal cultivation are again expanding. In Mexico -- another epicenter of drug trafficking -- narcotics-related violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past year alone.The state of affairs is truly catastrophic. About the same number of people were killed in Mexico due to drug cartel violence (5,300) last year than all of Iraq's casualties in 2008 (~6,000). If there is a huge refugee crisis and Mexicans are forced to flee the violence along the border, we will have to offer them sanctuary. Who else will? Tiny Belize to the south of Mexico? With a struggling economy, this could be incredibly problematic, much like Thailand with Cambodian refugees in the late 70s or Jordan today with Iraqi refugees. That's not to say we shouldn't be promoting foreign policy in the first place that prevents such brutal bloodshed.
The revision of U.S.-inspired drug policies is urgent in light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics. The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries.
Sam Quinones [Foreign Policy] outlines the rampant violence that has gripped Mexico in the last few years, and notes that the cartels aren't just using your run-of-the-mill assault rifles and 45s anymore. It's RPGs, Night Vision goggles, anti-aircraft weaponry, and other hardware normally reserved for a combat zone. Scary shit, especially since it's right next door.
The WSJ editorial advocates a public health campaign to prevent drug abuse rather than the incarceration method, which has led to a massive prison population in our own country:
If we want to effectively curb drug use, we should look to the campaign against tobacco consumption. The success of this campaign illustrates the effectiveness of prevention campaigns based on clear language and arguments consistent with individual experience. Likewise, statements by former addicts about the dangers of drugs will be far more compelling to current users than threats of repression or virtuous exhortations against drug use.Tobacco is less used because it is much more stigmatized these days. You don't see Rod Sterling chain-smoking on prime-time and Dentists doing commercials for Chesterfields anymore. But narcotics have always been stigmatized, so the effect of an awareness campaign will probably be a dud. Also, America's youth was bombarded with anti-drug PSAs during the 80s (remember Pee-Wee's PSA against crack) and that didn't really slow down drug use among that generation. So, with all due respect to the former heads of state, I don't understand what they're getting at. As long as people are disillusioned with society and looking for an escape from reality, there will be folks getting high. Unless we can create a utopian society where this angst doesn't exist, the best we can hope for is making narcotics available in a way that doesn't allow the rise of black markets, cartels, failed states, urban decay, and all those other unintended consequences.
Such educational campaigns must be targeted at youth, by far the largest contingent of users and of those killed in the drug wars.