By Eugenio Weigend
The United States has been one of the most active players in the fight against drugs in the world. Its drug prohibition policies started as early as 1914 and became more “relevant” in the decade of 1970 when President Nixon declared the so called War on Drugs. Since then, drug policies have acquired more importance not only in the United States but also on the international level as US agencies such as the CIA and DEA have become involved in drug production and trafficking countries.
The rationale has been simple: if the production in other countries diminishes, the traffic of drugs to the US decreases and domestic consumption diminishes.
Organized Crime, particularly in the case of transnational criminal groups known as cartels in Mexico, is one of the most creative innovative “business enterprises” I have ever seen. These concerns have been able to easily adapt to new border security, tighter controls, and technology with new smuggling innovations and routes. We have seen smuggling tactics that go from underground tunnels to volleyballs.
Fighting the supply side of the drug market has been an utter failure. And the reason is simple. There is no incentive for organized crime to stop smuggling. The eventual interdictions of drugs or eradications are mere costs of doing business and are not likely to increase drug prices in a significant way. Kevin Jack Riley, an analyst for the Cato Institute made the observation that “using source country price increases to create domestic scarcities is similar to attempting to raise glass prices by pushing sand back into the sea”.
Impressive budgets, the latest technology, unprecedented border security and equipment have caused that the flow of illegal drugs across the US border to remain exactly the same over the years. Not surprisingly, drug consumption rates in the US have also stayed the same.
The traffic of drugs by transnational criminal organizations has affected both the US and Mexico. However, Mexico does not have a drug consumption problem. In fact, it has one of the lowest levels of drug consumption in the world. This means that, in spite of being intertwined, the issues caused by organized crime in each country are different from one another. In the United States, drug consumption is known to have an impact on accidents, crime, illness, lost opportunities, low productivity, etc. In fact the number of drug related incidents represents around 2% of the total deaths.
To show an example of the contrast with Mexico, we can look at the number of deaths caused by drugs. In Mexico, drug related deaths were 0.1% of the total deaths for the year 2010. The number is not very significant; especially if we compare it to the alarming number of deaths under the name of “executions by Organized Crime” we have seen in the last years that have represented around 2% of the total annual deaths.
Long story short, Mexico and the US have undergone a massive war against drugs, in both countries to sever the famous chain of production, traffic, and consumption. By tackling organized criminal groups on the Mexican side of the border, we have seen an incredible increase in violence as these groups have intensified their use of violence to protect their activities and maintain their profits, particularly in regions near the border with the US. As "compensation" for that violence, we have the same amount of drugs trafficked into the US and the same amount of drug consumption in the US.
We clearly need a change on how we address the issue of drugs in the region. The US-Mexico “spirit of collaboration” is not enough if we cannot see that we are fighting two different issues regarding drugs -- one being consumption and another being violence.