The political economy of Mexico's drug war


The political economy of Mexico's drug war

8 January 2014

By Helen Redmond

The Mexican drug war is a killing machine. The level of violence and slaughter is similar to conventional warfare. In just six years, 70,000 people have been killed, but some estimate the number is a staggering 120,000.1 More than 20,000 people have disappeared and a quarter of a million have been displaced. 2 A major investigation into narcofosas (mass graves) in Mexico by the magazine Milenio found the corpses of 24,000 people. 3 Entire cities and towns have erupted into war zones chock-full with military checkpoints and drug cartel roadblocks.

This bloody war, ostensibly to rid the country of illegal drugs and drug trafficking, has been a grisly failure. Mexico continues to be a major exporter of heroin and marijuana and a central transshipment point for cocaine from Andean South America bound for the United States. Drugs cross the heavily fortified US-Mexican border far more easily than do migrants seeking work in the United States. The power of the drug cartels to kill, corrupt, and elude capture has grown exponentially as have their profits.

Former president Felipe Calderón unleashed la guerra contra las drogas upon his inauguration in 2006. For six years as the death toll climbed and drugs flowed unimpeded through the country, El Presidente insisted that the war was being won. Calderón had no sympathy for those murdered in drug war violence.

The drug warriors in Mexico are junior partners in the war on drugs. It is on the other side of the border, thousands of miles away in Washington, DC and Langley, Virginia where the senior partners call the shots. The drug warriors in the White House, the Congress, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have blood on their hands, too. For almost a century, American politicians and federal antidrug agencies have dictated drug policy to their neighbor. Coercing Mexico to enforce total drug prohibition has been a central and enduring source of tension between the two countries.

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