At a Republican house party this week, presidential candidate Rick Perry advocated a larger government role in the Mexico drugs war stating “it may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks.” Is this simply talking tough to maintain his position as favourite for Republican nomination or a more sinister delusionary belief in the efficacy of military intervention as a solution?
Perry likened the situation to Colombia 20 years ago where the government accepted American military intervention and had success in making Colombia a safer country against attacks from leftist guerrillas. However as a drug control strategy the plan failed; despite the continued presence involved in training, logistical support and intelligence back up at a cost of billions of dollars Colombia still provides over 90% of cocaine found in America.
A crude similarity between the situations in Mexico and Colombia exists in the weakness of the state allowing the proliferance of violent, organised gangs to a level which threatens political and social structures but the parallels end there. Last week five severed heads were found on the steps of a school in Acapulco along with handwritten messages against the local government and local drug lords. Atrocities such as these are increasing despite Mexico’s own ‘Plan Colombia’ style war on drugs since 2006 where Calderon has used the military to attack the traffickers. Yet where Colombia has become safer Mexico is bleeding; between 2009 to 2010 drug related killings increased 60 per cent. A Hydra situation is occurring where the military ‘victories’ only serve to fragment the gangs, creating more power vacuums leading to more violence in the scramble to control the traffic.
The other key difference is the Mexican cartel’s recent switch from cocaine and heroin to methamphetamine as its primary commodity. Due to the purely synthetic composition of the drug its production sites are much easier to create and more dispensable than heroin and cocaine. Thus the drug is generally more impervious to current law enforcement methods than its predecessors. Furthermore the drug is cheaper and more addictive than cocaine and heroin making it the most popular hard drug in the Midwest and the West according to the DEA. All of which means immense profits for the cartels.
It is this demand that according to Calderon needs to be addressed. He claims that whilst he lives next door to the largest consumer of drugs in the world there will be a problem. He also claims that the expiry of a ban on Assault weapons in 2004 has made it much easier for the cartel to acquire firearms. While Calderon is likely to refuse US military deployment and feel patronised by Perry’s comments he is receptive to US help, taking part in the Merida initiative, a US funded 1.7 billion dollar programme to help Mexico and other Central American countries deal with drug trafficking. But if Calderon’s own war on drugs is failing and the cartel are outperforming the US government economically in the war how can it be won with Perry’s short-sighted suggestion of further military intervention?
In June this year the Global Commission on Drugs a body including former UN Chief Kofi Anaan, former US Secretary of State George Schulz and past presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil concluded that world drug policy should take a non criminal approach. They declared emphatically that the war on drugs has been lost with huge collateral damage.
Without this strategy of non criminal legislation in place any tactics we employ whether military based or not are futile. Ultimately wars on drugs whether In Mexico or Colombia are fed by the economics of drug prohibition as essentially low cost commodities have their prices vastly inflated and criminals fight to control the traffic. Unfortunately the moral crusade which Nixon embarked upon forty years ago has become so entrenched in the contemporary western political weltannschaung that the debate on how to legislate a more non criminal approach, if we ever have it, seems an eternity away. If Perry doesn’t “… know all the scenarios that are out there…”, he should refrain from making suggestions just in case they are actually implemented.