In Mexico, a drug war of choice?

May 21, 2010

Here is a short history of Mexico’s drug war, as told to a joint session of the U.S. Congress by President Felipe Calderon on May 20.

In 2004, a U.S. ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians was lifted. High-powered firearms started flowing south across the 2,000-mile border. Violence increased. “One day criminals in Mexico, having gained access to these weapons, decided to challenge the authorities in my country,” he said.

Calderon did not say what happened on that “one day,” by implication the day the president had no choice but to fight back.

There is another version of history, which goes as follows: Calderon won elections in 2006 with a margin so thin (0.58 percent) that it prompted cries of fraud, persuaded his left-wing opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to declare himself the real winner, and gave Mexico the unusual and embarrassing spectacle, for weeks on end, of two men claiming they were the legitimate president.

So, ten days after eventually being sworn in, Calderon announced that he had ordered the army into his home state of Michoacan to make war on Mexico’s drug cartels.

One of Calderon’s most vocal critics, former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, loses no opportunity to say this was a war of choice, not prompted by any specific outrage but by a perceived need to legitimize a contested presidency.
Calderon badly misjudged the strength of the criminal mafias, the alternative version goes, and now is stuck with a war he cannot win, not even with U.S. support. The death toll in the wars the cartels are fighting against the state and against each other stands at around 23,000 and is rising by the day.

To staunch the bloodshed, Congress should consider reinstating the assault weapons ban, Calderon told Congress.
“If…you do not regulate the sale of these weapons in the right way, nothing guarantees that criminals here in the United States, with access to the same weapons, will not in turn decide to point them at U.S. authorities and citizens.”

Calderon’s remarks all but guarantee that the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States, will redouble its efforts to prevent the ban from being reinstated. While the Obama administration is in favour of doing so, the chances of that happening in an American mid-term election year are remote.

The NRA launched a pre-emptive counter-attack weeks before Calderon’s arrival on a two-day state visit, with an essay on its website saying that Mexico’s crisis was being used as a pretext for restrictions on gun ownership. Whatever one might think of America’s lax gun laws, it’s probably safe to assume that Mexican drug criminals by now have enough weapons to keep murdering each other and the forces of law and order for a long time before needing resupplies from the north.


Unless, of course, the Mexican army of criminals is growing very fast, which would be evidence that Calderon’s frontal assault is failing and help explain why a majority of Mexicans, according to opinion polls, think the traffickers are winning.

Nobody knows just how many people are involved in the drug trade — as foot soldiers, runners, lookouts, accountants, money launderers, communications experts and a wide variety of other functions. Cartel recruiters have a deep pool to draw from — Mexican unemployment stands at around 2.5 million and at least 15 million people work in the “informal sector” made up of street vendors and other casual workers.

Add family members of cartel criminals and officials lured by the generous bribes the cartels can offer and the number thrown out by Ismael Zambada, a fugitive leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, begins to look more than a mere figure of speech.

Zambada, for whose capture the U.S. has offered a $5 million reward, said in a rare interview with the Mexican news magazine Proceso in April that there was no way the cartels could be defeated.

“Millions of people are involved in the narco problem,” he said. “How can they be overcome…this is a lost war.” The interviewer asked, “Why lost?” Zambada: “The narco has roots in society (just) like corruption.”

Another estimate on the strength of the trafficking organizations has come from the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper with good contacts in the military that last year quoted an unnamed senior defense official as saying the Pentagon believed the number of cartel foot soldiers matched that of the Mexican army – about 130,000.

In Washington, policymakers have begun to wonder aloud how vigorously the war against the cartels will be fought once the conservative Calderon, who has been a close U.S. ally, leaves office (Mexican law provides for a single six-year term).

Judging from present polls, the left-wing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has a good chance of winning back the presidency in 2012.

And then what? Possibly an end to the extradition to the U.S. of wanted drug lords, considered an affront to national sovereignty under the rule of PRI presidents. Even worse, from a U.S. point of view, would be a return to greater tolerance of moving drugs into the United States as long as the cartels keep the peace at home.


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One thing we can do is legalize cannabis. We produce much better quality plants here in the US than they can in Mexico. It will add dollars to our economy and cut down on illegal trafficking from Mexico.

Sure, go after cocaine. Go after heroin. Go after all of the hard drugs that bring nothing but death and mental breakdown. But bring cannabis into the realm of acceptable options. It is safer than alcohol or tobacco. It is impossible to smoke yourself to death. It is VERY possible to drink yourself to death. Tobacco kills you slowly over time. Cannabis does not. Ending the war on cannabis also frees up billions of dollars to after drugs that really do pose a problem for our people.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

I realize it’s a rhetorical question, but of course this drug war’s a war of choice. All wars are somebody’s choice. Question is, who benefits from going to and remaining at war?

In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t any wars being won anywhere these days. Wars aren’t about winning. They’re all about losing, throwing more money at the [insert name here] problem, fortunes flowing directly into the pockets of the suppliers of war materiel who never met a war they didn’t like, legal or not, as long as it never ends.

Mexico is no different from the Middle East, Chechnya, Thailand or Northern Ireland in this regard. War is making the wrong people richer and the poor people dead. That’s the game of war in a nutshell.

Banning weapons hasn’t helped. Banning drugs hasn’t helped. Banning religion doesn’t help. Lifting bans and promoting education might, because wars – like any chronic drug addiction – only ever propagate in climates of prohibition, ignorance, repression and flash-bang sham enforcement.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

I really agree. And prostitution. And why not heroin and Cocaine? The government knows that the problem cannot be solved without getting rid of demand. Expand gambling by creating multiple casinos so that people aren’t forced to drive a long way to gamble. There is a long list of social behavior that the government cannot control, but as tobacco has shown, there is a handy profit to be made once this commerce is removed from the hands of criminals and put where it belongs – in the hands of the government. And oh, yes, let’s not forget a tax on Tea. These Tea people have been getting away with a free ride for too long.

Posted by sandy12345 | Report as abusive

Lets assume that you are right, the Wars on Drugs was the war of choice. But now Mexico has no choice – Mexico State must win and repair her institutes. If State loose the rest of the Mexico will sink into chaos. You have experience with lawless countries. I think you will agree, that for most people – bad state is better than no state at all.

People tend to change their opinion on drugs once they have kids :). Most countries that once had relax drug law like Holland, Germany etc now put more and more restriction because drugs tax society. The bottom line that drug addicts cost society more than they contribute. You sound like England supported during Opium wars with China :).

Posted by sk_usa | Report as abusive

sk_usa: Good point – a bad state is better than no state. But if you start a war you cannot win, you risk ending up a failed state. Pity its citizens!

Posted by BDebusmann | Report as abusive

Since when is the PRI considered a left-wing party?

Posted by Charlie570 | Report as abusive

The drug war is caused by the demand of our people here and the refusal of the religious fundamentalists to allow the people to commit so-called victimless so-called crimes. Yes, legalize marijuana and immediately. Put the cartels out of business. Take the money out of it.

And reduce the deficit by blanket pardoning every convict whose root crime was marijuana related. Our imprisoning these people is not only shameful, it is stupid. Not to mention OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive.

Now opponents will say sure, let’s legalize murder, robbery, fraud (is that illegal here??), some other stupid tea party garbage. Just rhetorical bull.

Want to stop the drug wars? Take the profit out by legalizing. And outlaw financial derivatives! That is far, far more evil and damaging. Let the druggies out of prison and put crooked bankers in.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

This is a timely article and an all important situation for the United States. Forget the noise coming from Mexican politicians. Let’s not spend too much time evaluating the causes of how and why this country has spiraled into anarchy. Let us begin to get ready for a bad situation that is likely to turn worse and spill into this country. Lets us be weary of our own politicians who will likely try to steer us into thinking that we must use our money to ameliorate Mexican social and political problems. As a naturalized American citizen I can say that the most disconcerting part of this well done article is the current morale of Mexican citizens who seem to have lost all hope. When civic spirit falls to such depths it may signal inevitable collapse.

Posted by usbychoice | Report as abusive

look america likes the drugs that flow north if drugs were legalized what would we do with all the empty prisons and all the unemployed correction officers,attorneys,etc. the war on drugs is also a big welfare program.

Posted by dhommes4 | Report as abusive

sk_usa: I believe you are mistaken about Holland and Germany. Germany recently legalized prescribing heroin to addicts so as to bring the addict into society and take away the black market eliment and Berlin recently increased the personal use amount of cannabis to a level higher than in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has not really moved to restrict drugs anymore than they have in the past. They started forcing coffee shops in Amsterdam to comply with their 500 gram in store limits during the 1990’s so maybe thats what you are refering to (but thats not really a change in law). Two years ago they moved to ban mushrooms after a french girl jumped off a roof, but the law is not being enforced at all (perhaps that is what you were refering to).

Anyhow, I think we should legalize cannabis and adopt a harm reduction approach for all the other drugs. Obviously it would be irresponsible to have a day when anyone can walk into a 7-11 and buy heroin, but we could prescribe it to addicts as a form of opiate maintenance like we do with methadone now. This the addict won’t have to steal to support his habbit (since free market heroin is SUPER cheap), his dealer will be trying to get him to quit instead of buying more, and hopefully it will starve out the blackmarket providers of heroin since they won’t have any repeat customers (especially since they will never be able to compete with super cheap 100% pure heroin provided by a doctor). One city in England adopted this approach and found within a year street heroin availability dropped 75% and crime itself dropped another 66%

Posted by ecweiss6041 | Report as abusive

Mexico is the twelfth largest economy in the world with a very corrupt government pocketing money from the Cartels for their own greed, there is no excuse for the U.S. to give them one peso to fight their drug problem. It has been estimated that Mexico’s economy receives about $40 billion dollars a year from the drug Cartel sales and brought back into Mexico. Right, the Mexican government never did a thing about their Cartel problem for years until the Cartels started killing innocent civilians with no remorse I am a retiree living in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. This week the Governor stated he did not have any faith in the states public police force and instructed the state residents to contact the Army or Navy to report any conflict. We have had 65 incidents here since the first of the year and residents say there are more but is not being reported by the news in fear of the government. The situation is out of control and is wide spread all over Mexico, not just the border states I can assure you. We anxiously await everyday for the next incident to take place, one of our friends with two children packed it up and returned to the U.S. She said it is just to dangerous to try and stay here. The locals due believe the cartels are in full control. It seems the police only arrive 20 to 40 minutes after a shooting just to pick up the bodies in fear of getting into a shoot out with the Cartel and they never seem to be able to catch anyone that is involved. There is a great deal more death and conflict than the U.S. news is aware of. Since Calderon took office in 2006 approximately 81 news reporters in Mexico have been killed by the Cartels for reporting the killings here in Mexico. They have killed priests and padres for preaching to their congregations condemning the Cartels for their misdeeds and murders. It seems that the laid back tranquil days of living in Mexico is no more.

Posted by jaraus1966 | Report as abusive

It’s amazing how the media magnified the importance of this problem and how many people are influenced by stereotypes and racism in his vision of a crime in Mexico. If you do not know the situation first hand, I think it is unwise to issue opinions.

What war?

Mexicans live and work normally in the north of our country. The crimes and murders usually occur on the outskirts of the city and do not affect the population. I have never seen or heard of anyone affected by these criminals. I do not see a war, but the gradual establishment of the rule of law, after years of cowardice and apathy on the part of our past presidents. I strongly resent the fact that they do see Mexicans as if they were frightened by “the narcos.”

Is President Calderon stuck?

Calderón is the best president Mexico has had in decades. He knows what he is doing. His purpose has never been to completely abolish the crime. His plan is to prevent the expansion of power of these criminals before the problem gets out of control, as well as combating drug distribution among children and young people in Mexico. I do not understand people who say we should stop this fight against crime. If we do this, we will obtain hundreds of thousands of addicts and the infiltration of our institutions.

Posted by Arenas | Report as abusive

I totally agree with Benny_Acosta further down in the comments. See(sorry Reuters, you don’t have the story): canada/10134872.stm Further proof of wasted time and resources. Democracy and the laws are supposed to be in line with public opinion. The laws will catch up some time. Hopefully

Posted by Russian_Comrade | Report as abusive

If you think legalizing weed would make a noticeable difference alone, you are smoking. The mafia will easily switch to poppy growing and coke trafficking, and the money will keep coming. Legalizing all drugs would make a difference, but it will never happen. Not under liberal Dems, nor under conservative GOP. Republicans would never allow that because its against their moral (given a choice, they’d enshrine all of their so-called moral in law, and narcotics are to them right there with abortions and prayers). Dems wouldn’t do it because drug abuse much more affects their core constituencies (both poor minorities and affluent liberals) than the population at large (among GOP voters you more often find alcohol abuse than narcotics).
Absent legalizing all drugs, the only way is closing the border shut. Not some symbolic fence, but something like Berlin wall, complete with coils of razor wire, robotic machine guns, mine fields, and constant patrolling, both air and land. That, with enforcement of immigration laws even stronger than the recent AZ law stipulates, may diminish the flow of drugs north and the counter-flow of cash and guns. Not totally eliminate because nothing is full proof, but at least making it much more difficult and expensive, so that it would cut into the narcos’ profits.

Posted by An0nym0us | Report as abusive

Two events dshould occur concurrently if change is to be hoped for; 1. The USA should legalize small amounts of user possessed drugs, including all types, just as Mexico
has already. 2. This should reduce the street price, as it has for pot in CA already making the risk reward ratio for smuggling no longer attractive. Then the Mexican Gov’t can offer an amnesty to the cartelistas for 60 days in return for investing ALL of their illgotten gains into Mexican FideBonus, treasury bonds, guaranteeing an interest rate comparible to the prevailing one. This could fund a huge public sector initiative in affordable housing, healthcare and education, all designed to enhance the competitiveness of a Mexican value added component to the global marketplace. The re$ources are there, they just need to be directed towards la bienestar de La Republica.

Posted by SyLentz | Report as abusive

The war is a result of economic pressures, placed on the cartels, by the Mexican government. Total eradication of drugs is not possible presently. I would suggest the Mexican government join with Sinaloa cartel to eradicate competitors. Mr. Guzman would then be given exclusive power, with provision violence be terminated immediately and halted in the future.

Posted by zabol | Report as abusive

@Benny_Acosta: “One thing we can do is legalize cannabis… Sure, go after cocaine. Go after heroin. Go after all of the hard drugs that bring nothing but death and mental breakdown. But bring cannabis into the realm of acceptable options. It is safer than alcohol or tobacco.”
– I’ve seen the effects of cannabis. It causes psychosis. It is rather like alcohol in its effects – people take it to make themselves feel “better”/ indifferent to their sorrows. But in fact it leads them deeper into depression. It destroys lives.

This suggestion that cannabis is harmless? It’s a LIE, being promoted by the narcos. I’ve seen it dozens of times – people whose lives have been destroyed by cannabis (whose psychosis is FAR worse than anyone who has taken only alcohol and tobacco); and they don’t even seem to understand it – they always seem to blame their troubles on somebody else.

And this is not to mention the fact that the narcos are deliberately cultivating stronger forms of cannabis, in order to more effectively trap people into addiction.


Posted by compsci | Report as abusive

The largest prison population on the PLANET is an indication of how effective prohibition is. Mostly tied to drugs being illegal and severely punished. Then we have the cartels and gangs. And the AK47’s. Not to mention the drug money in our *OWN* political system.

I can tolerate prohibitionists as long as they no longer run this country! They, on the other hand, can hardly tolerate anything. They spend too much time having conversations with burning bushes. They simply do not care what they do to their fellow citizens “for their own good”. Repeal prohibition again.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Legalize and tax it to take the money out, it will destroy the cartels. Really? Just what 9-5 working stiff jobs do you think these cartels transition to? They are accustomed high income and zero civility, please I am all ears.

The mexican government spends how much effort trying to stop guns and money coming into the Mexico. They don’t have to fight drugs, they have to fight guns and money. Oh wait legalize guns and tax free money…….

Oh I wish the answer was simple, I really do. But it isn’t. Mexico didn’t get to this situation overnight, it is indeed full of corruption, the transtion “back” to civil society will indeed be painful. In the beginning it will be more painful than just “going along.”

The war isn’t on drugs, it is criminals and corruption (which is criminal so perhaps is just criminals)

It seems to me it is two pronged effort.
First, dramatically lower expected value of being a criminal. Raise the price of being a criminal – EFFECTIVE jail time, just not relocating the crime boss. (this means cleaning up corruption). If this is a war, then the assymetrical aspect needs to be largely, NOT completely mitigated, declare the criminals “internal enemy combatants” and treat them as such. GO TO WAR! and take few prisoners.

Second, cut off the supply of foot soldiers. Raise the expected value of civil society with children. Teach, lead children with civility, raise our expectation of them, their parents, their “village” etc.

This is not a war on drugs, it is a war on criminals and chaos.

Posted by humble | Report as abusive

A good article and even better commentary. My congrat’s to all.

One small point, I recall reading a on a story published about Hillary Clinton’s declaration a year or more ago that “90% of the guns are coming from the US”. This has been reiterated by the President, others in the Administration, as well as the news media to promote their anti-gun agenda. What is, in fact true, is that 95% of the traceable guns (i.e. guns with serial numbers required for sale in the US) are traced to the US. No surprise there!

What this statement neatly avoids saying is that the majority of guns coming into Mexico come from sources other than the US. According to, at best only 36% of guns come from the US. So nearly 2/3 of the guns come from other sources. But once again, this argument is merely misdirection and misses the point.

The violence in Mexico is widely acknowledged to stem from systemic greed and corruption on the part of the few, who in turn take advantage of a large population of uneducated and impoverished people by providing them with money from drugs to work in Mexico’s drug industry in varying capacities. The real linchpins of change, here, are holding these South of the Border governments accountable, while providing incentives for them to improve the educational and economic opportunities for their own citizens, such that they have an option for a better life besides working for the Cartels or traveling North to find work in the US as illegals.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have any chance of achieving these foreign policy goals until we take control of OUR OWN country back from ALL the crooked politicians on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

I’m sure that America will find a way to retake control of itself, just as I’m equally certain that the current power elite won’t go quietly. Should be interesting to watch.

Posted by jjenco | Report as abusive

The author of this article knows nothing about this subject, and he does not understand anything about Mexico and the War against drugs. And many of you are ignorants too. First, NOTHING, but NOTHING justifies that a bunch of people kills inocent people and/or their adversaries criminals. Americans don’t realize that mexico is fighting a war for the USA! How many people in mexico are involved in drugs? 130 000 people? Even if there were 50 million mexicans doing busines with drugs, We, the honest mexican people will fight them without merci, because drugs is a criminal offence. But how many american citizens are using drugs? 130 000? Not at all. There are millions, yes many millions of americans using drugs, possibly as many as 50 million. And all of them have their hands stained with the blood of innocents that were killed by the drug dealers in mexico and other parts of the world. YOU AMERICANS, you are fully responsible for the crimes commited in Mexico. And you still dare to criticise the noble task of our president Calderon. Damned you who prefer business instead of a human life. Since when your saying ” IN GOD WE TRUST”, was changed to “IN DRUGS WE LIVE”? Shame on you americans, the people number one in drug consume. THat is, you are a bunch of drug addicts.

Posted by max-2010 | Report as abusive


You do have a point about the psychosis. But that only happens to people who are bipolar or have other hormonal imbalances that THC would have an adverse effect on. It’s the same with alcohol. Some people are just not genetically equipped to safely metabolize it. Native American Indians for example cannot process alcohol in their systems without severe effects.

So in truth. Cannabis is VERY safe. Not one single person in all of recorded human history has EVER smoked themselves to death. It is very true that anything can be abused. But it’s a lot easier to abuse alcohol than cannabis.

Also, if safety was the real issue, alcohol and cigarettes would also be illegal. But they are not. So once again, this is an issue of understanding. We must be responsible in our choices. And we must also have the resources we need to help those who have fallen into addiction.

And please don’t compare me to the narcos. I grew up around street drugs. Crack, heroine, ice, tar, cocaine, and the list goes on. I have seen first hand what these things have done to childhood friends. But I’ve never met a stoner who’s life was destroyed by cannabis. They could be considered lazy or unmotivated perhaps. But that’s the worst anyone can say. And that only happens because people don’t use it correctly.

In ancient times drugs had a place in spiritual development. They were used to help people reveal their inner condition, and begin an ascent into greater awareness. But God is no longer an acceptable word these days. And so, the experiences that drugs bring are simply sought for the pleasure they bring without any conscious intention to develop the inner world. They chase the high and end up addicted and powerless to escape without help.

Ending the drug war will allow people the chance to begin understanding the role that psychoactive substances play in the human condition. It’s time for us to grow up.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

Also, consider the fact that our own “royal family” in the U.S., the Kennedy’s started out as bootleggers. They trafficked the cannabis of their day, which was alcohol.

When that was legalized they were able to legally earn (and pay taxes on) a considerable income from their alcohol operations. They then went on to become the very people who make the laws the rest of us live by. Alcohol manufacturers no longer have to have shootouts with police, or risk drug wars with other producers, killing innocent bystanders, in an effort to claim territory. Alcohol is a regulated, legal, and job creating business.

So really. End the drug war.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

[…] is the original post: In Mexico, a drug war of choice? | Analysis & Opinion | Tags: cartels, economic-pressures, government-join, not-possible, sinaloa, the-cartels, war […]

Posted by In Mexico, a drug war of choice? | Analysis & Opinion | | the world | Report as abusive


Posted by chevenez | Report as abusive

It would be an incredible thing if Mexico ended its term limits for presidents, since there could be continuity which would lead to a stronger government. A six year term is a long time, but perhaps not so long in a country beset with authoritarian cartels.

Posted by ogobeone | Report as abusive

Part of the problem is seeing all so-called drugs as one thing, which is how many North Americans have become politically conditioned to regard them seeing as how most so-called controlled substances cannot be come by freely, legally or other than through contagion with criminalized elements of society. Sweeping the problem under the carpet may seem like the biggest risk to take, but overgeneralizing and criminalizing it has done visibly more harm than doing next to nothing about it at all.

Criminalization produces its own set of problems on top of whatever perceived or actual damage use of the drugs themselves may be accused of causing. The most acute problematization results when jingoist “zero tolerance” dogmatists get on board with their readiness to go to war about anything, drugs, whatever… the situation then escalates with potentially devastating social consequences such as may now be seen happening on both sides of the border.

With so much profit at stake up and down the line, greater than any that could be conceived under less intolerant circumstances, more and more ingenious and potentially violent criminal elements prevail. These people may be a lot of things including thoroughly amoral, but they’re not stupid. Like the predators of Wall Street, they know full well how to make money from escalated tension in the marketplace. From their perspective, tension’s rather good. It tends to keep less violent competition out of the action.

Of all recent North American responses to the drug situation, the least enlightened has been “let’s go to war” directly leading to more violence and ever greater profits for the supply cartels. Prohibitionists (presumably unwittingly) are the criminal’s best friend, having guaranteed results which simply could not be more socially damaging or perverse.

Meanwhile, anyone who thinks for a minute that marijuana which is bulky and cheap compared to other so-called narcotics is being exported from (in this case) Mexico other than as a distraction to tie up customs agents while the more profitable stuff sneaks by in the slipstream of marijuana “discovery” is quaintly mistaken. But not as sadly mistaken as those who believe a war, or a wall, is the correct way to fix anything.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

ogobeone: Good point, but it won’t happen. The Mexican revolution began in 1910 as a rebellion against a dictator, Porfirio Diaz, who clung to power for 30 years. One of the slogans of the rebels was “effective vote – no re-election” and that has been dogma ever since.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

Read the article. Calderon won by less than 1% after a protracted fight. Then he turns around and starts an all-out war on the cartels. Why? For the same reason we see the war here between left and right. Maintain and justify power and position. Take him out, let the cartels do their thing, then Mexico can have some peace. The drugs will more into the U.S. or whereever regardless. So what not in a more peaceful, less violent manner. I do not codone drugs and the drug trade, however,it is a sad part of modern world

Posted by GoodAmerican | Report as abusive

Legalizing all drugs would make the Mexican and American economies flourish. A people that feel least constrained perform the best. That is why ever since US won independence it has been at the forefront of all societies. The most free are the most prosperous. Netherlands, (the most tolerant society) has a 3.6 unemployment rate. There is no reason to believe that if drugs are legal everyone will do it and become junkies. Beer is legal and I enjoy it, but due to my own goals and ambitions, I restrain myself from drinking chronicly. I believe that drug laws should fall under the Rowe v Wade argument, of my body my choice. Drugs are readily available to anyone who seeks them anyway. I would much rather have if my child was experimenting with cocaine or ecstasy it came from a gov’t approved vendor so you know whats in it, then going down some shady ally to meet some shady hoodlum.

Posted by apacheguns | Report as abusive

The drug war did not begin with Calderon .. drug violence and cartels existed before him. The failure of escalation shows exactly how deeply rooted the cartels already were. A failing war perhaps, but to imply Calderon created the entire problem and it would go away if only one appeases the cartels is foolish. A lot of the violence is turf wars between the cartels.

As for legalizing, good idea – but what you really have to do is legalize the sale, not the use. Indeed, put the sale in government stores, cheap. The goal is to put the cartels out of business and nothing is quite so good at erasing private enterprise as cheap undercutting by government. But, what you do NOT do is make the consumption easy. Make folks get a license. Register with their doctor. Have a maximum use per month. Just enough to be happy, not enough to keep criminals rolling in cash. The overdosers will cadge from their buddies, the price in the black market will still be low. So the result is you treat addiction as a disease, and you starve the gangsters of their loot.

Legalizing the use while keeping the supply criminal is insane, exactly the way to make the mafia stronger. Just look at places like Amsterdam, which ended up with an entrenched revenue stream for criminals.

Oh, and yes, get the druggies out of prison. Sure it is a mess, but no point prolonging the pointless misery. For any druggy who had no other record, give them a 1 year suspended sentence and erase their record so long as they stay clean to give them a chance of going back to normal life.

In other words, let’s do some sane, obvious fixing of a very badly broken system.

Posted by ExLoony | Report as abusive

Oh, and while we are at it, send government agents in to buy the poppy crop in Afghanistan and the coca crops in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia. It is easy to offer the farmers more than the terrorists and criminals – especially after you collapse the price of the end product in the USA. Then figure out other crops they could grow, and teach them.

Posted by ExLoony | Report as abusive

Drug usage whether involving narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, aspirin…it makes little difference
what sort or whether one chooses to take them or doesn’t insofar as the question is really completely exterior to, is completely outside justice proper
if one restricts the meaning of justice to its limited narrow definition as simply the means by which to publicly settle private disputes. That is, implicit in and necessary to any act of justice is the existence
of two disputants. There are no such disputants in the case of drug usage, and so the question arises as to how and why what really amounts to an application of discipline has came to insinuate itself into the system of justice. How did discipline manage to colonize justice ? I believe the explanation traces back to the French Revolution and the consolidation that followed under Napoleon. Napoleon was really the first to conceive of an entirely new relationship between citizens and the state, to put forth the view that citizens
of the nation state were subjects of, resources the state could draw on as it deemed necessary. This particularly concerned Napoleon
in his expansion of war which he managed to spread
across the whole of the Continent. And so all the young men of France were to be drafted and trained as soldiers; married men would be required to work
in munitions factories; women would have to staff hospitals and make equipment ; children reprocess lint for new material. With the arrival of Napoleon, the population is viewed as the possession of, as a resource of the state to be made use of in waging war. Commensurate with this view is right of the state to discipline its population at various levels and stages; in the schools, in military service, in factory work, in hospitals, and finally in prisons. The entire
society is organized under a disciplinary apparatus designed to produce docility. This is really a fundamental transformation of the preceding idea of the nation as had been conceived of just a few years previous by the constitutional framers of the United States. Such figures as Jefferson and Madison saw the nation as a very limited, very restricted power whose sole duty was to safeguard citizens seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By the time of Napoleon however this idea is completely inverted. Citizens are now subjects of the state whom the state may discipline as it sees fit. And yet this French transformation of the American conception of a nation, spread to and was taken up by most nation states and of course ultimately the United States which became and remains the leading proponent of the nation so conceived.

And so we arrive at the present moment and the
phenomenon of drug criminalization, something which is the purest act of discipline of a population by a state one might imagine, and yet which by now has become a practice so deeply embedded, so deeply ingrained as to now be something no longer even questioned, so completely accepted as normal and necessary , that both state and citizenry alike tend to badly misunderstood such an exclusively disciplinary practice as constitutive of the exercise of justice, to which it bears no relation.

Posted by philo2000 | Report as abusive

to > compsci: Cannabis only causes psychosis in those already prone to psychosis. I have many, many friends that have smoked for 40+ years who are highly productive and successful members of society who now in retirement give time to helping those less fortunate. I also have a son who is prone to psychosis and cannabis calms him, not makes him worse. Obviously you have some experience with someone who has been affected and has been told that the ‘evil weed’ caused it. But I feel pretty sure it did not. I am sorry for your suffering.

Decriminalization of drugs is the only way to stop the black market drug trade and the human suffering that being an addict causes. Treating addicts with dignity and with real help rather than sending them to the streets to seek out a ‘dealer’ and then into our prison system would help all of society.

Posted by MargaD | Report as abusive

‘drug criminalization’ has essentially criminalized “citizens seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (albeit, not in the form of making money and buying up indian land). the so called, ‘drug war’, is just more usbs for creeping authoritarianism and police brutality (i.e., the state disciplining its subject-citizens as it sees fit).

now, we allow corporation-persons to commit all sorts of financial and ecological crimes with no one held responsible (in most cases). we allow all sorts of political fraud with no one held responsible (in most cases). the bush iraq war and calderon’s drug war (as made clear in the opinion piece) are two cases in point. but, when a subject-citizen seeks ‘escape’ in a little plastic bag, he is deemed to have committed a ‘crime against the state’ no less than an outright act of ‘terrorism’!

while speaking of terrorism, it is interesting to note the relationship between the NRA and the drug cartels: essentially, the NRA does the lobbying for more guns for the cartels and the cartels don’t even need to pay the NRA for their services! the NRA is just, naturally, in the pockets of the cartels as the NRA believes it’s ‘the right’ of ANYONE (even terrorists) to have all of the weapons they need to comprise a militia. but there’s a very short semantic hop from armed militia to drug cartel as the cartels are defenders of certain freedoms and ‘free enterprise’ for hundreds of thousands of people in this hemisphere alone. you can’t be more american than in the defense of freedom and ‘free enterprise’ can you?

anyway, in the end, we can clearly see that ‘drug criminalization’ has turned our logic to mush and our way of life to pure idiocy. consider a twisted analogy (with some foundation in contemporary neurology): drugs is our brain…’drug criminalization’ is our brain on drugs! my only question, now, is: are we doped up enough to let ‘drug criminalization’ destroy our societies? in the case of mexico, we can clearly see the answer is: ‘just say yes!’

Posted by jborrow | Report as abusive

If Mexico has a problem with something being transported illegally across it’s borders, perhaps is should patrol its borders better instead of telling its neighbor what to do.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

Enough already.
• Decriminalize.
• Legalize.
• Blame the USA for firearms directly and/or indirectly entering Mexico.
• The Mexican government can’t win the war against the cartels.
• America’s propensity to consume nose candy and weed is the problem.

And on and on and on.

Mexico’s biggest problem is corruption. Somebody is looking the other way.

Corruption is stalling and ultimately preventing the Mexican government from winning their “War” against the Mexican dope cartels.

Firearms and mass quantities of dope are moving in and out of Mexico along the corruption route. Someone is greasing the skids.

Corruption, more than a lack of capability or will, is the key component that weakens the government, and its ability to be covert.

Somebody is looking the other way.

Since the cartels are so deadly, a very unpopular approach to combating the cartels may be the necessary next step.

If they are not doing so already the Mexican government has to go covert, deep covert.

Remember, this problem is described as a “War” and this means that the Mexican government has o adjust its force posture in order to prevail.

Its going to get ugly, so buckle your seat belts.

Target cartel leadership for assassination. Yes, this sounds extreme, however, if the cartels are as deadly as advertised, and apparently they do not hesitate to kill their opponents, a higher price has to be paid to remedy the problem.

Posted by rror | Report as abusive

This article raises a situation of immediate concern because the storm has finally reached our border. I have read the article’s many comments about legalization of drugs and the few Mexican nationals laying blame on the north that reveals their innocent frustration. But a few comments do shine on the reality of the moment and of the potential disaster looming ahead. Mexico is a country with a larger than life history that dates back further than most in the Americas. If one were to rank a country’s greatness by the blood shed by its citizens then Mexico indeed would be at par with the greatest countries of the world. Mexico’s struggle for liberty is marked by the longest and cruelest civil wars in the history of the world. For this reason alone the current situation there is one of great concern to the rest of the Americas. The groups that currently threaten Mexican security may at the moment be considered simple criminal cartels but could likely transition to something much worse. They are creatures of consequence of Mexico’s instability and the inability of its government to provide basic needs for its citizens. They could eventually usurp total control from the Mexican people and then through factional wars lay waste to what left of the land. We may be witnessing the development of criminal organizations into parallel governments, sustained through illicit trade, that will carry political messages pretending to be proper counterparts to legal governments much like what we have witnessed in Colombia in decades past. We need to be proactive and concentrate our political will here and now even more so that around the world in a far distant desert.

Posted by usbychoice | Report as abusive

Talk about the US-supplied weapons! The Mexican soldier in the photo is holding a US M-249 SAW (squad automatic weapon) machine-gun, belt-fed, 5.56 mm, with the collapsible stock. Why doesn’t he have a state-of-the-art optical sight on it? What’s wrong with our military-industrial complex, losing a sale like that?

Posted by chrisrushlau | Report as abusive

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

For the pro-drug morons commenting, I suggest they learn the history of CHINA, how the world’s strongest civilization for fifteen of the last twenty centuries was destroyed with DRUGS. America is not exempt from the fate that befell Chinese Civilization.

Long live, Lin Zexu! (For the pro-drug morons who don’t know who he is, look it up in Wikipedia)

Posted by roberto2002 | Report as abusive

Yes, we do a lot of drugs in the US, which is a nice indication of how ineffective the laws are. But the one thing that all the high-consumption-rate countries have in common is a population with more discretionary income. We have to live with the fact that a lot of people like to get high, and will do so if they have some spare money. It’s the price of economic success. Is this a bad thing? Humans have lived with drugs in society for thousands of years. And somehow through all this time, our societies did not completely collapse. A few decades of prohibition are a drop in the pan compared to our full history with these substances.

This is not a Mexican problem alone. This is OUR problem. The USA promoted the policies that went into the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (the treaty to which we have bound ourselves and the policies of which are implemented in the Controlled Substance Act). The drug trafficking to the USA is currently in Mexico because the US government cracked down on trafficking in the Caribbean. We created this problem. It is our responsibility to put a stop to it, not tell them they have to deal with it and act like they created it.

If we ended prohibition tomorrow, would you all go out and buy all those drugs and start taking them? I didn’t think so. So why do people think everyone else will and cause our society to collapse from high addiction rates. This is fear based and has no basis in reality. Even the alcoholic monkeys at the beach resorts on the island of St. Kitts (google it) have the same rates of addiction, and that’s without a government protecting them from themselves. Coutries that have relaxed drug laws have actually seen consumption go down. See the Cato Institue report on Portugal’s handling of the situation to see what I’m talking about.

We need to get smarter in how talk about drug usage. There is a lot of nuance lost in our zeal to demonize the user. We seem to recognize that there is a whole range of users of alcohol, from casual drinkers with a holiday meal to daily binging alcoholics. The current polical environment has us demonizing all users. People talk about drug users as being a drain on society and not contributing any value. Just as with alcohol users, drug users fall within a wide spectrum of usage, from casual to true addicts. A very small fraction of users (like 1%) are actually physically addicted to the substances that they consume. That certainly doesn’t warrant spending billions of dollars annually brutalizing our people and militarizing our police. It costs $30K+ to lock up a user. It costs $5K to put them through treatment. More importanly though, is it is simply a question of human rights. It is barbaric to lock up someone for consuming, or even being in posession of a substance that they will put in their own body. If you think comsuming drugs is immoral, how can you possibly justify locking up another human being simply because you disagree with what they put in their own body? In the US, we have 5% of the world population. And yet, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. Blacks make up 14% of of our drug users and yet, they make up 74% of those incarcerated for the behavior. What is going on here?

We also need to get smarter in how we talk about the drugs themselves. Just like prescription drugs, they have a range of effects, some desirable and some not. Even cocaine and heroin aren’t purely evil as some would make them out to be. According to the CDC, deaths from all illicit drug use in 2006 resulted in 17,000 deaths. However 32,000 deaths are attributed to “adverse reaction of prescription drugs.” 7,600 people died from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin). Those are big numbers but legal drugs have nothing on alcohol and tobacco which killed 85,000 and 435,000 respectively. If the problems caused by illegal drugs are so small in comparison to the problems caused by the officially condoned drugs, why do we wage war on our own people, and cause other countries like Mexico to do the same to stop the sale and use of drugs?

It is an ineffective and grossly inhumane policy. Drug abuse is bad. The drug war is worse.

Posted by semillabuena | Report as abusive

We’ve been here before. An illegal substance that society wants. Gangs, violence, tommy guns. It all happened until alcohol was legalized again by constitutional amendment. Now it’s happening again. The war on drugs is long since lost. Of course, it’s not a war on drugs. It’s a war on people. It’s time to decriminalize, tax and treat drug abuse as a medical problem (e.g., alcohol and cigarettes). Educate people, let them make the choice and help them out if they make bad choices and get hooked. If they drive stoned or sell to children, punish them (and get serious about punishing drunken driving). Will there be bad effects on society? Yes. Will they be worse than the abysmal drug war? Not even close. I’d rather have a junkie get free heroin than break into my house or resort to prostitution.

All you right-wing alcohol drinkers, look up prohibition on Wikipedia. Think about what you would do if alcohol was made illegal again. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And we have.

Posted by UtahPaul | Report as abusive

Just some observations and/or points. I am a former member of the US Army, have been educated, and live in Reynosa (which is a war zone)

1) Mexico has already lost this war. The cartels are better funded and have soldiers that are better trained with better weapons than the general Mexican police and most of the Army.
2) This country is in fear. In my city I hear Nato rounds almost every day. One night I counted over 30 grenades that went off in a 30 min span.
3) Legalizing drugs would create a criminal state in Mexico. These people have the power and the money. Give them an ounce of legitimacy and you will have Drug lords as governors.
4) This isnt Americas war. But is a war we caused with our addiction.
5) America has got to help, a crippled Mexico that loses this war on drugs puts a prison shackle on the US’s growth.

These are just my opinions. Glad to see coverage. I live in a city where American journalists are under orders not to cross the bridge and report because of fear. The local media doesnt even pretend to touch this. This problem is far worse and far advanced than 80% of america realizes.


Posted by ArmyofNobunaga | Report as abusive

To begin with, America’s “War on Drugs” is one of the most misguided use of resources imaginable. We fight marijuana like it was matter of life and death and the true “life and death” DRUGS are manufactured by the LEGAL DRUG COMPANIES in the United States and are protected by law. Prescription DRUGS, sold in a market protected by law, consistently have PROVEN themselves FAR more dangerous than all of the “illegal” drugs put together. Marijuana and even its totally benign and HIGHLY USEFUL brother HEMP is BANNED for no reason other than the fact that the DRUG companies do not want a effective and free solution to compete with their patented chemical cocktails which are FAR more dangerous. The American people need to pull their collective heads out of the sand and DEMAND that we focus our tax dollars on the true villain in our “war on drugs” – the DRUG companies. Hemp is literally the most useful plant on the planet and we BAN it in the United States due to our IGNORANCE. EDUCATE YOURSELF AMERICA – hemp can be used to make SUPERIOR paper products, textiles, plastics, composites, body care products, construction materials, livestock feed, livestock bedding, nutritional supplements, essential oils, MEDICINES and food. If we promoted the planting of HEMP instead of megatons of inedible corn, America would see a resurgence in commerce and renewable energy beyond belief. Why hemp is BANNED is crystal clear – established competitive industries are the reason – NOT ANY “THREAT” to our society like we are brainwashed to believe…..

Posted by concerned_Amer | Report as abusive

Countries routinely blame their drug problems on the huge USA demand for drugs. Ever wonder why our government doesn’t attack the demand end for drugs? Because drugs are a black thing and our government is scared to death of blacks. So don’t expect anything to happen regarding stemming the demand.

Posted by NowYouKnow | Report as abusive

Listen to the residents of Mexico – our saturated, gluttonous, addicted society is going to be our ruin…many lives have been lost due to greed! I cannot believe the parent who lets his son smoke pot?! Wow, we can never legalize drugs – wake up from your dope haze or move to the Netherlands…the USA cannot afford your habit.
How about the northern half of the USA become a socialist drugged (alcohol, pot, etc.) country and the south remains a capitalist sober country? You know which one will thrive and prosper? Yes.

Posted by TexanGirl | Report as abusive

“Wow, we can never legalize drugs – ….” You guys just REFUSE to see the truth – PRESCRIPTION DRUGS are THE problem, not Marijuana – a totally harmless (and I challenge you to prove otherwise) natural drug for which our brain actually has specific receptors for THC). The brain does NOT have receptors for the thousands of poisonous, LEGAL DRUGS that we get forced down our throats every time we visit the “doctor”. EDUCATE YOURSELF regarding the very simple subject of health. LIFE COMES FROM LIFE – eat a diet consisting of a MINIMUM of 51% raw fruits and vegetables and DRINK PURIFIED ALKALINE WATER as your ONLY beverage and you will NEVER need the DOCTOR OR his DRUGS…

Posted by concerned_Amer | Report as abusive

Wow, where do I begin?!?!?
First of all, I noticed most war mongers who call themselves American are nearly illiterate or never paid attention in English class. So I tend to disregard their ignorant comments. Unfortunately, they have loud voices to which politicians tend to listen. Get educated before blasting people from other countries. And to the comment that drugs are a black issue? Grow up and get a clue. White people use as much of the stuff as anyone else (cocaine, heroine, xtc, LSD, shrooms).
I am a child of dual nationality and I lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Just between us, Mexican society ABHORS drug use, seeing it as low class and useless. I adopted my habits stateside. I now live elsewhere and can continue to smoke with little fear of incarceration, which has prolonged my stay in this beautiful country. I love America, but have a serious problem with those who feel inclined to control the behavior of others whom they find offensive. Personally, I find SUVs, fat people and nosy neighbors to be particularly offensive, yet I feel no inclination to put fat people in jail. Land of the free, what a joke, I never felt free in the U.S., only scrutinized by a materialistic and destructive minority with a god complex. I am a man of faith, a constructive part of the international community with a thriving international business selling (legitimate) goods from various countries to various other countries.
That said, I believe the war on drugs has caused widespread destruction on a global scale. I Agree with the Roe v. Wade argument, why is only a woman’s body her own? My wife lies in the “never let anyone use” camp, but she is more verbally abusive with our children than I ever dreamed of being. I believe those who wish to wage war should do so, not in proxy, but personally. Pick-up a gun a go fight, maybe some of you will earn a distaste for the violence you so easily espouse. I also agree that the derivatives dealers should spend time incarcerated with violent offenders and drug users be treated and allowed to be productive parts of society. Greed has destroyed more than any drug can.
To the Chinaman who mentioned the opium trade between England and China, that was opium and England was using addiction to dominate yet another country. Not relevant to today’s circumstances. And yes, your country also brainwashed you (or do you REALLY believe Taiwan is a legitimate part of China?).
Someone near the top of the comments asked for an easy solution. Here it is (not politically easy with ignorant self-righteous ecologically destructive mega-consumers though):
1) Legalize and treat ALL drugs.
Once we get people out in the open, we can deal with abuse, addiction, side effects and the psychological problems which led to the initial desire to withdraw from society.
2) Tax the products and use the resources for education, treatment and drug PREVENTION.
3) Reallocate valuable resources to battle truly dangerous things like dirty bombs and corruption.
With reduced drug income cartels are reduced. Yes, mafias will continue to exist and we can focus on extortion, destruction, intimidation and piracy with the reallocated resources (billions of dollars would be freed for better uses).
4) Instead of forcing other countries to accept our dogma and purchase more weapons from the military-industrial complex, we could help the citizens of those countries produce more constructive products. Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Afghanistan and Indochina would be most appreciative and maybe there would be a reduction in global anti-americanism. We shove our “morality” down their throat and are perplexed that they don’t like it. What is the difference between that and Sharia Law which is consuming ever larger parts of the world to the chagrin of millions of freedom seeking peoples.
We must move away from conflict procurement to conflict resolution. The polarity in the American Congress is symptomatic of the entrenched and immutable perspectives which are what is TRULY tearing our world apart.
Understanding and compassion are lacking. Evidently, it is easier to focus our rage on Mexicans than it is on Bush’s puppet masters that have done America harm for too many decades.
By the way, Rumsfeld’s Halliburton manufactured the cap that was supposed to initially cap BP’s gulf well. It cracked and broke which is why the gulf is now black. It seems Bush’s masters are still trying to destroy America the Beautiful. The war on drugs was just one lynchpin in their attempt to dominate America (anyone remember LBJ?). It’s time to take America back from the haters.

Posted by world_citizen | Report as abusive

Some very interesting comments. The U.S is awash in drugs. 2/3 of the people take prescription drugs every day. 10% take 5 or more every day. The only difference is they are legal prescription drugs. Many of them have the same addictive risk as Mexican Heroin. And once you are hooked you will do anything to get your next fix. In California a user of narcotics is given probation and after completion of some rehab sessions can have their records deleted. If you screw up you go to prison. In other countries certain opiates are available over the counter. Seems like that would offer a partial solution for addicts.

The most popular assault rifle in the world is the AK-47. These are manufactured in half a dozen countries but not the United States. Oh, by the way it is fully automatic and those are absolutely illegal in the U.S. The idea that the U.S. is the only source of weapons to Mexico is simply propaganda.

It seems bizarre that fighting a war on drugs while the drug companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get you to take drugs. And they market directly to consumers: ask your doctor about xxxx. It is hard to know how much addiction is physical. Even after “kicking” addicts crave the drug. So as long a huge profits can be made from the opiate trade drug dealers will fight to the death to maintain their income.

It seems pretty simple. Partially legalize certain opiates. Without massive profits from desperate addicts the drug trade will fade. Without the profits the dealers will have no incentives to fight to the death to preserve their territory.

Posted by kings4a | Report as abusive

I still can’t believe this discussion is still going on, I’m sad to say I’m an American(only because there are too many idiots). The criminalization of marijuana is and has always been about money. Hemp seed oil can and does SUSTAINABLY power vehicles unlike corn ethanol. The fiber makes a cheaper, stronger, more durable, and more salt-resistant rope than nylon(made from oil). With technological advances it can be worked almost to the softness of cotton which is notorious for robbing the ground on which it grows of a laundry list of nutrients requiring the use of heavy fertilization. DRUG companies(we’ll lump alcohol and tobacco companies in here) certainly don’t want marijuana legal, that would cut into their drug sales. Religions don’t want the status quo changed, they seem to only get sheeple to buy into that, as opposed to free thinkers. The majority of black market flow over the Mexican-USA border is cannabis, and the government makes too much in taxing the citizens, I mean imposing fines and locking away. Not to mention all the departments/bureaus/associations that want to keep their budget high to fight this unwinnable “war.” Open your damn eyes. For full disclosure, I do currently and will always smoke cannabis, pigs be damned. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH sheeple.

Posted by talkingpoint | Report as abusive

Hey look some of those sheeple posted above me!

I don’t even have to retort to y’all, your ignorance is all to blatant.

Posted by talkingpoint | Report as abusive

I agree with some comments here that say that there are some drugs who are as addictive as cannabis and which are marketed as “medicines” and sold to us by doctors. It’s all about earning money, a lot of money from us all. Legalizing drugs like cannabis and marijuana is not as profitable as forbidding it. It’s hard to say who would lose more money if cannabis would be legalized, the cartels or those who provide funds and weapons for this drug war:  /Corporations/Who-would-lose-the-most-m oney-if-cannabis-was-not-deemed-illegal- for-most-423672.htm
What is sure is that the money spent into this drugs war could be invested in better purposes.

Posted by markwild | Report as abusive