As it pertains to war, whenever the United States says jump, other countries always seem to say how high. No, I’m not referring to Iraq. I’m not even speaking of Afghanistan which America now sees (going on nine years) as their longest ongoing conflict in their country’s history; in fact it’s not by a long shot.
In 1971 Richard Nixon was the first president to declare war on drugs. Nixon’s main goal at the time was to stop the flow of drugs coming into the U.S. through Mexico. The effort grinded traffic at the border to a virtual halt and as a result lasted for only 20 days. That was the beginning.
In the decades since, the United States and various partners have spent untold billions on law enforcement, incarceration and border patrolling all in the name of prohibition. In the 1980s, the U.S. took it a step further by using “the war on drugs” as mere propaganda to justify Ronald Reagan’s paramilitary operations under the guise of a righteous cause, mainly fighting leftist insurgencies in central America, namely Columbia & Nicaragua. The end result was the death of tens of thousands.
Over the last ten years the war on drugs has not gotten any better, especially in Mexico. On December 11th 2006, the newly elected president of Mexico, Felipe CalderÃ³n, promised to crack down on the dozen or more drug cartels running the Mexican drug trade and sent sixty-five hundred federal troops to MichoacÃ¡n. Over the next few years the number of troops involved has multiplied to roughly forty-five thousand.
CalderÃ³n’s efforts have paid off to a degree despite all the inside corruption. The Mexican army has severely cut the ability of the cartels to move its drugs into the United States and Canada. The army and federal police have also arrested or killed several high profile cartel kingpins.
Unfortunately, the decrease in trafficking has led to skyrocketing prices for cocaine and other drugs. Cocaine prices in some areas have jumped as much as forty percent making gang territory that much more valuable, valuable enough to murder and die for, which is why we are now seeing an upsurge in violence in some areas of Canada and the United States.
The total chaotic violence we are now seeing in Mexico is due to a huge power vacuum created by the arrests and killings of cartel leaders by the Mexican army and police. So chaotic in fact that it makes Iraq and Afghanistan look like a family picnic. Since CalderÃ³n’s crackdown, an estimated 22 000 people have died in less than four years, many of them innocent women and children caught in the crossfire.
In 2008, the American congress passed the Mérida Initiative to help Felipe CalderÃ³n and certain Central American countries combat drug trafficking. They were given a billion and half dollars over three years on top of what they were getting already and naturally the violence since has only increased.
The cartels in Mexico are better armed and organized now than at any time in history, employing new weaponry and tactics. In fact, the first car bomb of the conflict was used as recently as this past weekend.
While the United States provides money to Mexico to clean-up trafficking drugs into the U.S., 90% of the weapons used to fight the bloody turf war in Mexico are smuggled in from the U.S., a vicious circle indeed. These armaments include military grade assault rifles, hand grenades and grenade launchers (there has even been a submarine used to smuggle cocaine).
Most of these weapons coming from inside the United States are untraceable due to the lack of a state or national gun registry as well as the fact that there are seventy-two thousand gun stores in the country. Virtually all cartel or gang related murders in Mexico are going unsolved.
Former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have all said that the U.S. led war on drugs is pushing Latin America into a downward spiral and they have recommended to Barack Obama new policies such as decriminalization of marijuana and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem.
Canada’s Stephen Harper unfortunately does not feel the same way. In his four years in office he has thrown out the liberal plan to decriminalize marijuana, he has tried to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and he has tried repeatedly to close down the only safe injection site in Vancouver. Like Felipe CalderÃ³n, he’s just another partner.