Do the United States and Mexico Really Want the Drug War To Succeed?
by Robert Joe Stout
Both the governments of Mexico and the United States have demonstrated a need to justify military actions and to portray the “War on Drugs” as a battle between good and evil with no gray areas in between. To make the rhetoric effective it has been necessary to villainize the perpetrators of the “evil” and to ignore the dominant reasons that the evil exists: unabated drug consumption in the United States. Also overlooked has been drug-associated violence in the United States, particularly in city ghettos where gang warfare involving drug distribution has existed since the 1960s.
Until late in the twentieth century heroin and cocaine addiction in Mexico was not considered a major problem. Narcotics filtered to Mexican buyers as a spin off from smuggling, but most production and distribution was focused on getting the narcotics to consumers north of the border who would pay ten or more times what the drugs sold for in Mexico. Governmental sources in both countries consistently denied that U.S. military intervention into Mexican territory was being planned; nevertheless several governors of states on the U.S. side of the border have requested permanent military “protection,” including armed patrols and battle-ready commandos.
Many of the groups that distribute narcotics in the United States are linked to specific Mexican corporations just as U.S. auto, livestock, cosmetics, and computer exporters are linked with importers in Mexico. Gangs in the United States clash primarily over obtaining drugs for street sales, but the majority of imported narcotics passes into the hands of white-collar distributors with regular clients who can afford the prices established for purchasing cocaine and other drugs.
Although many journalists and editors would like to deny it, newspapers and television which rely financially on readers, viewers, and advertisers profit more from graphic reports about beheadings, drug raids, and high-speed chases than they do from features about controlled or casual use of narcotics. Attitudes towards drug use in both countries run a gamut between “drugs are a sin” to “I enjoy them, why not?” That they can be detrimental to one’s health, just as the consumption of alcoholic beverages, cigarette smoking, overeating, driving a car at excessive speeds, or long-term exposure to direct sunlight can be detrimental, is grounded in fact.
Unfortunately facts and politics do not go hand in glove. Nor do facts and marketing. Newspaper wire services and television reports designed to stimulate interest and sell sponsors’ products (and/or comply with ownership political biases) influence public opinion and public opinion influences the decisions of legislators and Congressmen. As Laura Carlson insists: “These claims and others like them, although unsubstantiated, accumulate into a critical mass to push a public consensus on implementing dangerous and delusional policies…. Like the model it mimics—the Bush war on terror—the drug war in Mexico is being mounted on the back of hype, half-truths, omissions and outright falsehoods.”
Unfortunately, major questions that need to be answered are shunted aside by policymakers on both sides of the border and preference is given to partisan stances that have less to do with the drug trade or the war against it than they have to do with maintaining economic and political power. Neither government seems capable of asking: Can Mexico really afford to end the production and exportation of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, and designer drugs without its U.S.-dependent economy collapsing?
In many respects, the drug organizations operating in Mexico exemplify what “free enterprise” is about: developing and marketing a product that satisfies willing consumers. Their armed components make their competition deadlier than competitors in other industries, but their methods of operation duplicate those of legitimate corporations: they seek (or buy) government support, network a well-organized retail trade, and invest their profits in condominiums, the stock market, and high-visibility consumer items. Their corporate structures, divided into distinct operations and with well-defined chains of command, enable them to replace any executive who is arrested or killed without that materially affecting production or sales.
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