How Should We Deal with the Drug Cartels?
Use our military might
by Kimberly Lightbody
It was probably a political misstep when Rick Perry, speaking at a town hall campaign event on October 1, said that he would consider military intervention in Mexico were he elected president.
“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with [the Mexican government] to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border,” he said.
I’m a left-leaning person, not usually one to side with a conservative from Texas. In this case, though, I’ll swallow my liberal pride and say that Perry has a damn good point — political misstep or not.
For far too long, U.S. policy towards Mexico has been terribly misguided. Our government’s main focus has been to avoid the spillover of immigrants and drugs into our country, rather than stopping the drug cartels altogether. But immigration and drugs continue to be a problem, and cartels remain in control of Mexico. If we really want to win the so-called “War on Drugs,” we have to change our tactics.
Military intervention is never the most desirable solution — no one wants to see more troops die in combat or our government increase military spending. And there are, as always, those who argue that the U.S. shouldn’t be getting involved in other countries’ affairs at all. But as long as the U.S. remains a powerful country with one of the world’s strongest militaries, it’s doubtful that our policy of interventionism will end — so let’s intervene where we’re most needed.
When we sent troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, it was under the pretense of fighting for democracy and freeing millions from the rule of dictators. But in Mexico, the problem isn’t an oppressive government. It’s just the opposite: The Mexican government is so weakened by the drug cartels that it is essentially powerless. The country has devolved into a free-for-all; there is no barometer of what is right and what is wrong, no indication of what will get you kidnapped or killed and what won’t. People in Iraq and Afghanistan lived in fear of their government, but Mexicans live in fear of each other.
About a year ago, I went down to visit a friend who lives in Chihuahua City, three hours south of the American border. I flew into El Paso, Texas and drove into Mexico through Ciudad Juárez which, in 2009, had the highest murder rate of any city in the world — 130 murders per 100,000 residents. While I was in Chihuahua, someone in the neighborhood — a middle-class section of the city — was kidnapped and held for ransom. My friend’s cousins were held at gunpoint while gangsters stole their car. Neither of these incidents were reported to the police; that would only be cause for retribution. Instead the news was passed along quietly, as a mere whisper. Every time we left the house, my friend’s mom said the same thing: “Ten cuidado.” Be careful.
No one deserves to live in a constant state of fear. The drug cartels in Mexico are the same as the terrorists in the Middle East — faceless groups with no real location. They have ruled Mexico for far too long, unafraid that anyone will challenge their violent power. The Mexican government isn’t strong enough to face them on their own, but we have the ability to help. If we’re willing to send troops halfway around the world to fight for democracy and basic human rights, we should be willing to send them down to our southern neighbors to fight for the same causes.
Let legalization lead the way
by Joey Mulkerin
Let’s put aside the political folly of Rick Perry suggesting another war, when he already bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain other Texan warmonger. The idea of a U.S. military adventure in Mexico would be disastrous. While it’s true that the number of drug-related crimes in Mexico is staggering, a far more effective solution would be to legalize drugs altogether and regulate the market, thereby cutting off the drug dealers’ revenue.
The illegality of marijuana and other drugs in the U.S. has hardly benefited anyone except for the cartels themselves. They arose to serve the same function that the mafia did during Prohibition in the 1920s — to supply a demand which wasn’t allowed on the open market. Since the late 1980s, when the Mexican drug trade divided into regional cartels, violent turf wars have broken out across the country. The violence has only gotten worse since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón implemented a hardline policy and deployed the Mexican military against the cartels. This led to a full-scale civil war that, to date, has resulted in an estimated 40,000 deaths.
Trying to bring down the drug cartels by fighting fire with fire clearly doesn’t work — it only makes them more violent. Were the U.S. to embark on another costly military adventure, which would either involve sending in large numbers of troops or employing drone strikes, there’s no evidence to show that the drug cartels would respond any differently. And let’s not forget that when the U.S. employed drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they led to civilian casualties. That generally doesn’t make you popular in the eyes of the people you’re supposed to be helping.
But legalizing drugs in the United States would greatly weaken the power of the cartels, and therefore decrease violence in Mexico. If drugs were no longer on the black market, they could be regulated; drug lords would no longer be underground thugs, smuggling illegal products back and forth. They would dry up, replaced by a perfectly legal and transparent drug industry.
This isn’t a particularly radical argument; 16 states have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and even a few politicians, like Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, have called for legalization. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be political hurdles — there will, of course, be plenty of people opposed to legalization. But the idea is slowly gaining popularity and acceptance; with some time and effort, the push for legalization could snowball into a full-fledged movement for reform.
Mexicans are getting behind the idea of legalization, too. After his son was murdered by gang members in March, Mexican writer Javier Sicilia began a movement to end the drug war as a means of stopping violence. Thousands of protesters in over 40 cities have joined in; in June, Sicilia led an anti-violence caravan from his home city of Cuernavaca to Ciudad Juárez.
The last thing Mexico needs is more bloodshed and violence. If we want to help our neighbors to the south, we should do it by ending the War on Drugs — not embarking on another exercise in American jingoism.