Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

The Way Forward

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on June 30, 2011

by Jorge G. Castañeda for Time Magazine, June 30th, 2011.

Since time immemorial, Mexicans have argued that were it not for U.S. demand for illicit substances, Mexico would have a manageable drug problem. More recently, we have also contended that absent the U.S.’s laxity on arms sales and its tolerance for the possession of extraordinarily dangerous weapons, the violence in our country would not be what it has become. Lately our leaders have added a new gripe: Americans are hypocrites because they support prohibitionist and costly drug-enforcement policies — yet, through the specious fallacy of medical marijuana, are legalizing drugs without saying so.

Needless to say, these three points are absolutely valid, true, irrefutable … and futile. They are the equivalent of believing that flowers and fruits would thrive in the desert if only it rained. They would, but it won’t. Americans have not, and will not, reduce their overall consumption of drugs; they will not repeal the Second Amendment or reinstate the assault-weapons ban, which was introduced in 1994 and lapsed 10 years later; and the case against hypocrisy has always been overstated.

When Barack Obama met Mexican President Felipe Calderón recently, he is said to have told him that U.S. drug consumption has dropped over the past 40 years and that the U.S. jails more people for drug-related offenses than any other wealthy country, by far.

Unfortunately, on the second point, Obama was right. The first point is more debatable. After Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, U.S. consumption jumped through the late ’70s and dropped slightly in the early ’80s. Since the mid-’90s, overall demand has remained constant.

On weapons, there are two problems in addition to futile Mexican posturing. First, firepower is fungible. Even granting that most arms used in Mexico come from the U.S. (in fact, only the traceable ones do), there is no reason to suppose that if they stopped moving south, other sources and suppliers would not fill the void. Otherwise, the abundance of guns in countries from Brazil to Afghanistan would be inexplicable.

Most important, though, violence in Mexico did not increase when, in 2004, the assault-weapons ban expired and George W. Bush declined to resubmit it to Congress. (Obama hasn’t either.) Willful homicide and every other form of crime had been diminishing in Mexico since the early 1990s and continued to do so until late 2007, precisely when Calderón’s war on drugs went into high gear. As for medical marijuana, it is quite true that its use in most U.S. states amounts to legalization without admitting it. There is nothing wrong with this, although full-fledged legalization of marijuana production, commerce and consumption would be better. But if U.S. society feels more comfortable with the hypocritical regulation of pot and other drugs, so be it. What is the point of Mexicans’ lecturing Americans about this, other than scoring debating points? (continue reading… )

 

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