All Talk, No Action on Drug War Violence

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Oh, the political hand wringing over border violence. It’s as if the problem had just surfaced this week.

U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson want a “concrete plan” according to a (much publicized) letter to President Obama  yesterday.

Governor Perry wants a predator drone. Yeah, that will help.

More political grandstanding and no action in changing a disastrous U.S. drug policy that tore Colombia apart and now has Mexico on the brink.

I agree with the El Paso Times editorial today: Ya basta with the border conferences. We’ve had enough of conferences – the current one being the 14th Annual Border Issues Conference in Washington, D.C. “Nothing like a border-issues conference a couple of thousand miles from the problem area,” the EPT editorial writer sarcastically notes.

When will elected leaders approach anything close to reality? It’s been 40 years since Tricky Dick Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” What do we have to show for it: “a taxpayer bill of more than $1 trillion,” according to a Wall Street Journal article that lays out the cold hard facts of our failed drug war.

But that’s just money. What about the estimated 16,000 dead in Mexico, since Mexican President Felipe Calderon embarked in 2006 on his disastrous “drug war” to make his powerful North American neighbor happy.

Marijuana accounts for 50% to 65% of Mexican cartel revenues, according to the WSJ article. “Advocates for drug legalization say making marijuana legal would cut the economic clout of Mexican cartels by half.”

Before you start making jokes about potheads and bongs, consider what kind of impact that would have on the cartels? No helicopters, no predator drones, no bloodshed, folks.

This isn’t an idea being floated by stoners in a pot haze.  It’s being discussed in the Wall Street Journal and by politicians just as conservative as Kay, Rick or John “corndog” Cornyn. Last year three former Latin American presidents, who are conservative, free market types — Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil advised that governments seriously consider legalizing marijuana to fight the drug cartels.

This is only one facet of the problem, I know. Another issue that urgently needs to be addressed is poverty. People work for the cartels because they are poor.

It took the senseless deaths of 15 teenagers in Juarez in January, and the recent deaths of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Juarez, before Calderon admitted the militarization of Juarez was doing nothing to quell the violence. More than 4,500 people have been killed in Juarez since January 2008.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also noted on MSNBC the other day that the military in Juarez “hasn’t helped.”

On March 17, Calderon finally announced a plan to rescue Juarez by decreasing poverty, improving education, and health facilities.  Now there’s an idea.

On the same day Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, was quoted in Business Week, as saying about his country: “What we need urgently is growth, investment and economic activity to fight poverty.”

Slim is the “richest man in the world” according to Forbes magazine. He surpassed gadzillionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet this year. They lost their top spots because they gave a good sum of their fortunes to fighting poverty and disease.  Slim should do the same to help bridge the growing disparities in his country.

Back here in the USA, legalizing marijuana is politically toxic. No GOP or Democratic politician has the backbone to bring it to the policy discussion, with the exception of a few brave souls on city council in El Paso.  And fighting poverty just doesn’t have the same political firepower to it as a predator drone or more National Guard soldiers.

No, we’ll just keep marching down the same path. Blame it all on Mexico, Colombia or whichever country is being destroyed at the moment because of the U.S’ drug habit.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.