United States World Politics & Affairs

The War on Drugs is Changing: What’s on the Horizon?

This article has been written by a TYJ Staff Writer, but due to the subject matter of the article, the writer has asked to not have this article listed under their name. This article was reviewed and published by Editing Staff.

A Violent Crisis

In the dead of night, on April 11, several unknown gunmen entered a bar during a family celebration in a town in Veracruz, Mexico. The chaos that ensued ended with 14 killed, including an infant boy. This was just one incident of many this year that have resulted in a total of 682 registered homicides throughout Veracruz alone. The country of Mexico is one in which the law is not controlled by the establishment, but rather by the gangs.

Since the birth of the first major cartel in 1980 by El Padron, violence and corruption has erupted on an unprecedented scale, causing 150,000 homicides since 2006 in Mexico that were directly related to organized crime, and potentially countless more, as 90 percent of crimes remain unreported in the country.

Cartel Violence Graph

For many, living in the midst of cartel violence has become a daily occurrence; finding out which route to work is not in the middle of a gun fight is as common as checking the weather before heading out.

“It doesn’t rain water here, it rains lead.”

A Medical Assistant working in Reynosa

Furthermore, the Mexican population are unable to rely on local police forces to properly enforce the law, due to substantial bribery by the cartels. The local police in Mexico face conditions of low pay and little training, making them easy prey for drug cartels, who offer money in exchange for their direct support, but threaten their lives if they refuse. In many places, local police routinely kidnap and hand over citizens wanted by the cartels.

5 Missing Police
This missing poster depicts 5 adults who were later found to have been kidnapped and killed by corrupt police officers.

More than a decade after President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug traffickers in 2006, the Mexican Government has made little progress in eradicating this issue. The resulting drug war placed the citizens of Mexico between the government forces and an unimaginable number of cartel fighters, and has turned a once prosperous country into a war zone.

A Change in Perspective

The failure of past Mexican administrations shows the need to approach cartels from a different angle, in order to address the root cause of the issue. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) ran his campaign on shifting the societal perspective on non-violent drug offenders from being considered criminals to victims. By proposing the pardoning of all non-violent drug offenders and boosting social programs, AMLO aims to take the failed crime and violence strategy in a new direction.

“We will address the root cause of crime and violence. . . hugs, not gunshots.”

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (“AMLO”), 2018
AMLO speech
AMLO was elected into office on the June 1 with the largest margin of victory in modern Mexican history.

According to AMLO, it is essential that society understands that the only way to stop the cartels is if drug addiction and poverty are addressed, by helping drug users instead of punishing them. With this new path, the citizens of Mexico can only hope that they will see an end to a decade of suffering.

The Role of the United States

The influence of many of these cartels has also spread across the border into the United States, along with their extensive funding, which is worth billions of dollars. As a result of limited regulation in the $65 billion market for illegal drugs and inadequate action in preventing US weapons from being smuggled across the border, the United States has indirectly and unintentionally supported the rise of the cartels’ power in Mexico.

Firearms seized Mexico

The United States has both an incentive and an obligation to assist Mexico in the cartel epidemic. The incentive being that they can reduce the drug crisis that affects Americans on a large scale, and the obligation being that they have indirectly intensified of this issue.

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. . . our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 2009

Since a significant portion of cartel funds come from the United States, changing attitudes in the American population would turn the tides of the drug war in Mexico. Similarly to how perspectives on non-violent drug users are changing in Mexico, a change in the United States would also be required to make a difference.

“The war on drugs has made the government more powerful, citizens less free, and hasn’t helped users or addicts.”

Victor Mitchell

Cartel violence in Mexico has resulted in one of the worst crises of the 21st century. Fighting fire with fire has proven ineffective in the past decade, and so with a change in perspective and policies, the Mexican people can only hope that one day this will be little more than a nightmare in the past.

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