Mexico’s drug war turns ten
Ten years ago Mexico’s then-president Felipe Calderon declared war on drugs. On December 11, 2006, just after taking office around 5,000 troops were deployed in the state of Michoacán which marked the beginning of a militarized campaign against drug trafficking.
Despite being widely supported at first, Calderon’s strategies were criticized as casualties rose and reports of human rights abuses reached the spotlight. During his 6 years in office, murders rose from 10,253 in 2007 to 22,852 in 2011. More so, by 2012 he country’s homicide rate was among the world’s highest with 21 per 100,000 inhabitants.
In this decade more than 150,000 people have been killed and at least 28,000 have disappeared.
In an interview for Al Jazeera, Guillermo Valdez, former Director of the country’s National Intelligence Center said: “[His strategies] failed precisely because the process of breaking up the cartels, which was always going to lead to them fragmenting into violent gangs, wasn't coupled with the rebuilding of state and municipal police who could then have neutralized these local gangs."
Even with this violent law enforcement drugs continued their way to the US, the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. According to the US Department of State, 84%of that cocaine enters via the Mexican border. Between 2005 and 2011, when Calderon’s war was at its height, the US Border Patrol seized around 13.2 million pounds of marihuana and in 2015 they seized more than 2 million pounds of all sorts of drugs.
Also, even if the major drug cartels were weakened and the government claimed victory smaller gangs emerged and diversified their business through extortion and kidnappings and corrupted institutions and ineffective police remained common.
The war has also come at great cost. Mexico has spent at least 54 billion dollars on security defense and counted with US donations of at least 1.5 billon. This includes the Mérida Initiative, a security-based aid agreement that includes special aircraft and training for pilots to fight cartels from the air.
But what role has the US played?
US government has consistently encouraged Latin American governments to use weapons of war to fight drugs with Mexico and Colombia being the most known cases. Even the “war on drugs” doctrine was originated there and is credited to President Richard Nixon who created the Drug Enforcement Administration DEA in 1973 to declare “an all-out global war on the drug menace.” Since then the US has spent more than 2.5 trillion battling this enemy.
Nina Lakhani and Erubiel Tirado, in an article for The Guardian say, “Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs would never have been possible without the huge injection of American cash and military cooperation under the Merida Initiative. The funds have continued to flow despite growing evidence of serious human rights violations.”
Then, President Enrique Peña Nieto continued Calderon’s cartel policy but publicizing it less. He has continued to arrest major cartel leaders but hasn’t significantly changed the drug smuggling business. Today, organized crime in Mexico accounts for nearly 60% of the homicides of 2016 reported a research from Insight Crime.
As President Santos from Colombia said when receiving the Nobel Peace prize award, the war on drugs must be rethought and Mexico should do so too. During his acceptance speech he said the zero-tolerance policy might be “even more harmful” than all the other wars being fought worldwide.
He also said it was time to change the strategy on drugs and that Colombia has paid the “highest cost in deaths and sacrifices.”
"We have moral authority to state that, after decades of fighting against drug trafficking, the world has still been unable to control this scourge that fuels violence and corruption throughout our global community," he said."It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States.
This could also work in Mexico’s case which is now suffering the sacrifices and deaths Colombia did during its war peak.
Latin American Post