Friday, June 3, 2011

The Global Commission on Drug Policy: "Break the taboo on debate and reform"

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a kind of who's who think tank of Latin American politicos, intellectuals and other folks from around the world thrown in for global street cred (see the roster here and note the presence of three former LA presidents and two of the region's most famous living writers), has issued a report condemning the drug policies currently embraced and pursued by most nations on the planet. In short, they recommend decriminalization with respect to users and those at the lowest level of the trade and the provision of education and treatment services to those at risk or already using. They are not incorrect to point out that the victims of the international drug economy, whether one means the addicts or those coerced into participating in the production, transportation, and commercialization of such products by the dearth of viable alternatives for economic sustenance, have paid the greatest price over the course of the so-called war on drugs. The cost has been no less than their personal freedom, security, and health, with their respective societies footing the bill for prisons and expanding penal systems, to little or no avail in terms of overall drug use. And the authors are also sadly right to point out that there's a pretty strong historical record suggesting that a strictly law enforcement approach to the problem generates more rather than less violence. Interestingly enough, Mexico, the most obvious contemporary example of that tendency, is not mentioned until nearly the end of the report (p.15), but in a rather sweeping condemnation worth quoting at length:
"...[P]oorly designed drug law enforcement practices can actually increase the level of violence, intimidation and corruption associated with drug markets. Law enforcement agencies and drug trafficking organizations can become embroiled in a kind of 'arms race', in which greater enforcement efforts lead to a similar increase in the strength and violence of the traffickers. In this scenario, the conditions are created in which the most ruthless and violent trafficking organizations thrive. Unfortunately, this seems to be what we are currently witnessing in Mexico and many other parts of the world."
Predictably, the Mexican left is having a field day with this one. La Jornada picked up the story late yesterday and pushed it again today (check it out here), as it serves their continued attack on President Calderon's policies. I hate to take the cliche copout of an historian on this one, but only time will tell if his choice, to pursue the narcos rather than let them be, a la the so-called pax narco of the PRI era, was the right one or not. The death toll of Mexico's drug war, running in the tens of thousands, is damning, but so would have been allowing the narcos to operate at will, as they did before the rise of the PAN. And who is to say that the cartels would not have splintered anyway, or faced the challenge of new rivals not unlike the Zetas, who are the most notoriously violent upstarts?
What the report does call attention to in the case of Mexico, is the lopsidedness of the current policy, which is almost exclusively dedicated to law enforcement. And sadly, what Mexico will, I predict, find itself regretting ten years from now, is the failure to address the question of addiction among its own citizens. In Guadalajara, we are witnessing the creation of a domestic market for meth at the same time that the city becomes a point of production and transportation for that drug and others. Pass by any of the busier intersections where the window washers and street vendors work, and the numbers among their ranks who show the wasted bodies, crumbling mouths and hollow eyes of a meth user grows daily. The cheapness of a fix will make it (although it's likely already a fait accompli) the drug of choice among the un- and under-employed in the ZMG's colonias populares and all over Mexico, with devastating effects for all involved. And, given what a disaster Mexico and many other countries are facing in terms of the drug problem, it wouldn't hurt to start talking about alternatives to just putting more patrols on the streets.