Mother Jones and the War on Drugs

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Roque Nuevo
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    I looked at the articles. Mostly they seem OK so far as the information goes. They’re a bit long on the “human” side—too many words about a reporter from Chihuahua for example. The writer has a good grasp of Mexico.

    By the way, I got three questions wrong on the quiz. Somehow I can’t believe that a third of Mexico’s arable land is devoted to drug cultivation. I don’t know where they got that statistic.

    But this brings up another point:

    Now some 45,000 soldiers, nearly 25 percent of the Army, are marauding all over the country, escalating the mayhem that consumes Mexico. [from the MJ articles]

    These soldiers are not marauding all over the country. They are marauding in mostly remote and mountainous regions, where the drug cultivation happens and where the drug gangs are the law, such as it is. These areas have never been integrated into the nation. And I mean never—neither the Aztecs, the Spanish, Porfirio Díaz, nor the PRI ever established a presence in most of these places. It’s tradition that these areas are abandoned to their traditional poverty and customs. They traditionally generate most of the illegal immigration to the States. They traditionally are ruled by local strong men (called caciques here in Mexico). Today these caciques are the narcos. They operate a lot like insurgencies like Hezbollah and Hamas by providing services to the people that the government cannot provide. But they do not aspire to power over the state like other insurgencies. They prefer the reigning chaos because that is their most secure business environment. In any case, since they’re paying good money to campesinos—and especially to the female remnants of the families the migrant workers leave behind—and providing services, the most important of which is public safety, they are probably the best government that the people in these areas have ever known since the dawn of time.

    These are the areas where the Mexican Army “marauds.” Therefore, one can see the risks involved here, which go way beyond the claptrap and hogwash usually associated with the War on Drugs. The Mexican state is essentially invading itself and attacking an insurgency. But there is no COIN strategy beyond simple search and destroy missions, which constitute a direct attack on the livelihoods of the nation’s poorest and most forgotten citizens. The drug crops may be destroyed, but along with them so are the livelihoods of the area’s citizens. They will not recoup their losses easily. For an impoverished campesino to lose his property is a catastrophe way beyond our ability to imagine. There is no insurance, no support from anyone, no way to rebuild anything… no nothin’. It will take another generation to rebuild and even then they’re only rebuilding what we think of as absolute poverty.

    This is why I’m so disgusted by the “courageous Calderón” speeches—the most important of which was delivered by Obama. He’s not courageous. He’s just temerario—reckless. He’s risking the whole nation’s future on a spurious drug war that nobody wants or needs. The risk isn’t limited to the massive death and destruction his “war” has caused to date. It’s that he’s alienating the nation’s poorest people forever. Along with them, he’s alienating the middle class who can see no sense at all in alienating the nation’s poorest people forever. And so forth. The risk here, of course, is that some so-called leftist populist like Hugo Chávez will walk away with the federal elections in three years and align Mexico with Chávez and therefore with Iran and with Russia. That sounds like a much greater security risk for the US than drugs ever were. Three years ago, the so-called leftist populist candidate lost by less than one percent of the vote, which large swaths of the nation still feel were fraudulent (against all evidence, I may add). Next time it won’t be even close, if they can get their act together. The only positive note is that the leftists in Mexico are inherently disorganized and faction-ridden so they probably won’t.

    It seems so obvious to me that the drug war is the most egregious “meddling” the US has ever perpetrated on Latin America. Other episodes will always have “two sides” to the debate (for example, Cold War realities, etc.) But the drug war is simple imposition of US policy and values on people who want nothing to do with them. Criminalization of drugs is a US idea, brought about by temperance fanatics in the Progressive movement with the insight that somehow God wants us to be sober 24/7. The drug war was brought about by naked extortion by the Nixon government back in the ’70s. Operation Intercept tied up the border crossings in needles chaos for days until the government of Mexico agreed to our intervention in their country. This intervention increases every year and the violence and even the drugs themselves get worse [see the blurb on Amezcua and meth in the MJ articles].

    Where are the anti colonialist thirdworlders when we really need them? They’re all tied up right now boycotting Israel or defending Islamic radicals when they have the most blatant case of US colonialism right on their doorsteps. Who gave the US the right to determine that people should value sobriety above all else in the first place? Where is the politician with the guts to stand up an say so?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roque Nuevo
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      says:

      Dude. Thumbs up. Good post.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Roque Nuevo
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      says:

      Seriously – great stuff, here. (FWIW – I actually think most of your stuff, even the stuff I disagree with strongly, is pretty damn interesting if sometimes a bit caustic).

      I had about zero knowledge of any of the material in this comment before you wrote it. One question: would it be a fair statement to say that the US will never significantly curb illegal immigration until it ends the War on Drugs, or is this overstating things too much?Report

      • Avatar Roque Nuevo in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        I’m glad you noticed the link between the drug war and immigration. That shows you read more or less carefully. I’m very grateful for your attention and time. On the other hand, you did ask me a question. That’s risky since I tend to give the long answer whenever I can:

        would it be a fair statement to say that the US will never significantly curb illegal immigration until it ends the War on Drugs, or is this overstating things too much?

        Yes, it would; no, it isn’t.

        For a lot of people illegal immigration is just a way to survive. There’s no way they would take such risks if Mexico offered them opportunities for growth. The only “solution” for the illegal immigration problem is that Mexicans want to stay in Mexico to take advantage of the opportunities they already have. This means improving the Mexican economy. Everything else is just politics: wedge issues chosen specifically to divide and conquer the population and win elections. The economy cannot be improved under such conditions as the drug war generates.

        To explain: First, you should consider that Mexico has been rising (or falling…) on failed-states indexes

        there is a consensus for analytic and operational purposes that some countries’ policies, institutions, and governance can be defined as exceptionally weak when judged against the criterion of poverty reduction, especially with respect to the management of economic policy, delivery of social services, and efficacy of government. World Bank

        The WB analyzes stability of states based on six criteria: voice and accountability; political stability; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law; control of corruption. As the pro-business party, one would expect the PAN to at least improve the rubrics of government effectiveness and regulatory quality but they have remained more or less where they were under the PRI. On all other indicators, Mexico has been falling since Democracy took hold here and the [Christian-Democratic] PAN got power over the state. They have presided over unprecedented chaos and destruction here.

        Here are two WB charts to illustrate this: Mexico governance; US governance I put the US chart in there for comparison.

        May I quote a Mexican analyst here? Thank you:

        Si el conjunto de los temores de la población pudiera reunirse en un indicador macroeconómico, el gobierno de Felipe Calderón podría exhibir urbi et orbi su gran logro –el único en tres años– en foros internacionales, spots televisivos y anuncios espectaculares: la multiplicación del miedo.
        En las zonas del país que han tenido la desgracia de ser seleccionadas por el régimen espurio para exhibir músculo y determinación, la gente vive aterrorizada por el poderío de los càrteles, pero también por un “estado de derecho” que se expresa en cateos, arrestos, torturas y hechos peores, perpetrados sin orden judicial alguna, las más de las veces, en retenes y “controles” en los que no es fácil distinguir si el enemigo a vencer es el narco o la población civil, en un aparato policial y militar que actúa libre de escrúpulos legales y humanitarios. Pedro Miguel, Navegaciones

        [If the set of the nation’s fears could be gathered in one macroeconomic indicator, Calderón’s government could show urbi et orbi its great accomplishment—the only one in three years—in international conferences, in TV ads, and on billboards: the multiplication of fear.
        In the areas of the nation that have had the bad luck to be chosen by the spurious government to show its muscle and determination, the people live in fear of the power of the carteles, but also of the “rule of law” expressed in searches, arrests, torture and worse, perpetrated under no legal warrant, mostly in military roadblocks and “controls” where it isn’t easy to tell if the enemy is the narco or the civilian population, in a military and political apparatus that acts free from legal and humanitarian scruples.]

        With this way-too-long introduction, then, the answer to your question lies in the link between good governance and economic progress. One can’t expect much progress to happen under such a “set of fears” as is presided over by the PAN-Calderón government.

        Without economic progress immigration will continue as it has been, only worse. To achieve economic progress, the government needs to reform vast swaths of the regulatory structure here. Under the conditions produced by the drug war—the “set of fears”—the government lacks the power that derives from legitimacy therefore it lacks the power to reform the economy. A good example is the new oil law passed last year. It was effectively gutted of all effectiveness by opposition politicians who fought their political battles on the street instead of in the congress and so intimidated the government into backing down. The government simply lacks the bandwidth to deploy the military throughout the Mexican mountains and border cities in the drug war and at the same time take care of opposition politicians with their street gangs. Without reform of the nation’s oil industry, the government will be impoverished and therefore unable to provide social-net services. You can see how this will lead to more chaos—and more illegal immigration.

        But the point is that from the point of view of US national security, a failed state on our southern border, with an authoritarian leftist caudillo in charge and allied with Hugo Chávez/Russia/Iran is a nightmare. The drug war is leading us right there.

        The only rational plan is for the US to call off the drug war. Just say no. Then apologize for the wanton destruction of their societies we have presided over. Then announce a reconstruction plan for Latin America, funded by the US, similar to the Marshal Plan—LA nations get the funds if they cooperate on how to use them. This would be a “Bolivarian Dream” that Hugo Chávez could stick up his a**. Then the US would gain true allies instead of allies extorted into cooperating. If Obama did this, he’d be a hero all over the continent. People would have his picture next to the Virgin in their home altars and be praying for his safety until he dies.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Roque Nuevo
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          says:

          “On the other hand, you did ask me a question. That’s risky since I tend to give the long answer whenever I can…”

          This is the LOOG! We expect nothing less than long answers to short questions – it’s what we do best!

          And thanks – as good as the previous comment was, this may be even better.

          One additional thought…there’s something tragic (in the classical sense) about the idea of hard-left authoritarians drawing a large amount of their strength from their least authoritarian issue, with the US drawing a lot of its greatest weaknesses in the region via its most authoritarian issue (whatever my thoughts on the prosecution of the GWOT, at least I can see how the use of the term “war” is justified there).Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Mark Thompson
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            says:

            This is the LOOG!

            If you say that out-loud it almost sounds like you’re talking about an art museum in France….Report

          • Avatar Roque Nuevo in reply to Mark Thompson
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            says:

            Here’s another so-called thought: Is it also ironic/tragic that the only official justifications for the War on Drugs and criminalization of drugs in general are that drugs damage society and that they constitute a national security risk and that the war on drugs/criminalization damages society far more than the drugs ever did or will do and that there is now a much more serious national security risk generated by the war on drugs than the drugs themselves ever posed?

            Is it ironic/tragic that official pronouncements never even touch on these areas, even though they are the only way to justify the prohibition/war on drugs? Is it ironic/tragic that when the government tries to justify its insane policy, they switch the debate and discuss their statistics on how many people are getting high, as if the government should be in the business of making people stay sober?

            Is it ironic or “classically tragic” that anti imperialist thirdworldists define their so-called struggle by their opposition to Israel/Zionism/War on Terror and ignore the imperialist “meddling” going on in Latin America under the rubric of the War on Drugs?

            Where does ironic/tragic end and simple stupidity begin?Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Roque, you need to go here:
    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/134880.html

    And drop some science on the reason folk.Report

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