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April 15, 2009
No room for optimism in Mexico’s war on drugs

Police corruption is one problem facing Mexico. Photo: Megan Thompson

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to venture to Mexico on Thursday for talks with President Felipe Calderon. Officials from the Obama administration say the president will work to curb the flow of U.S.-made firearms to Mexican drug traffickers.

Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner writes to argue that unless political leaders are willing to commit to real change and take the resulting flak, it will be impossible to alleviate Mexico’s drug problem. See more on our coverage of Mexico’s Drug War.

When President Obama meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico on Thursday, how many people will be thinking about the history of efforts by the two countries to deal with drug trafficking? Anyone who does will have to be listed as a skeptic about possibilities for real change.

Mexico has been stuck in the middle of modern drug trade ever since the rise of the Colombian cocaine and marijuana cartels more than three decades ago. But the United States preferred to look elsewhere. The Reagan administration declared a war on drugs and spent billions of dollars on eradicating crops in Colombia and Peru; the first President Bush invaded Panama, and imprisoned Manuel Antonio Noriega claiming he was a drug dealer. The United States also helped hunt down and kill Pablo Escobar, and even blamed Fidel Castro and Raul Castro for the drug trade. Cynicism abounded and little, if anything, was accomplished.

All the while, the Mexican narco industry was thriving and growing, and no one came up with the key to change the reality –- drug dealing and the associated violence in Mexico operates with impunity. The Mexican drug business is successful because of corruption, weak justice and police structures in Mexico, and because of the driving market right across the border.

Consider this report from the Washington Office on Latin America, prepared in the leadup to Obama’s one-day trip:

The ability to identify, prosecute, and punish drug traffickers is a key element in containing the drug trade. There were over 10,000 drug-related killings in Mexico in the past three years. As staggering as these numbers are, it is noteworthy that the majority of these murders may never be solved. The Mexican Citizen Institute for Research on Insecurity (INCESI) found that initial investigations are begun for only 13 percent of the reported crimes and in only 5 percent of these crimes are the alleged perpetrator brought before a judge. (1) The same institute estimates that of every 100 investigations, only 4 cases result in sentencing the person responsible.

What are the real prospects for change? Well, the American president is stymied by mistrust from the Mexican side –- where officials and the public always feel the United States is trying to bigfoot Mexican government policy. And at home, there’s no possibility on the horizon of ever decriminalizing drugs to puncture the market.

Meanwhile, what American politician would ever get away with curbing the sale of guns, which Mexican traffickers can easily haul in and use in their murderous business? Without meaningful change brought on by officials who see the reality and are willing to take the political flak, there isn’t much room for optimism.

– Peter Eisner

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Legalizing makes sense. Americans will never kick the drug and alcohol habit. Let’s sell them the products in a business-like and professional manner. It’s not Mexico’s fault that the U.S. consumes more than half of all the narcotics in the World.


the gov better suck it up and change the drug laws, or all these deaths, and all the blood will be on their hands, because its the failing drug laws that are causing all of this, if the gov didn’t try to control peoples personal choices this wouldn’t be an issue. The Federal Government needs to stay out of peoples lives, and do what they were created to do, and nothing more. Their just looking out for their own greed and couldn’t honestly care less about the American people, which is why they only pretend to listen to us before elections, then they do as they please.


I have been saying forever that for the drug laws to change it will take a Statesman, not a politician.

As long as you have people who are more concerned with appearances and popularity and are looking forward to the next election it will not happen.

For there to be REAL change we need to have political reform. Make a law that elected officials can ONLY serve one term, then maybe they will do what is right instead of what they think will get them re-elected.



The idea that we can somehow wipe out the Mexican drug cartels with force is a laughable joke. We can kill and jail as many Mexican mafia members as we want and somebody will just step up to take his place. The only answer is legalization. All drugs should be legal. A group of 20,000 very serious policemen, prosecutors and attorneys have formed a group to legalize ALL drugs, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition ( ) They see what happened when we legalized alcohol in 1932 as a good example of how drug legalization would work. We can’t stop drugs. They’re sick of chasing drug users and sending innocent people to prison for decades just because they like to get high. This foolish war on drugs has lasted 37 years and cost us over a TRILLION dollars and we are not an inch closer to stopping drugs. How many millions of Americans are we going to lock up in prison for decades? Legalize ALL drugs now. Mark Montgomery

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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