JAIL ONE CARTEL KING, UP RISES ANOTHER
After Imprisoning “El Chapo,” Critics Demand Legalized Drugs in the States
By Maxime Devillaz
As Jorge Mario Bergoglio departs for his weeklong stay in Mexico on Wednesday, Feb. 17, the first Latin American pope can cross one of his announcements off the agenda: speaking out against the violence of the Drug War.
Determined to shine a light on drug trafficking, Pope Francis prompted a call to action in a video released by the Vatican prior to his departure from Rome: “The Mexico of violence, corruption, drug trafficking [and] cartels is not the Mexico our Mother wants.” Despite the 80 percent Mexican population in the Italian city, what can be done now is, rather, up to the U.S.
“El Chapo” and the Drug War
Mexico’s price tag for peacekeeping has, as of late, reached over $172.7 billion, according to Dolia Estevez at Forbes, which she explains is well doubling that of Mexico’s foreign debt. Yet the brutality is flourishing like weed by cause of corruption at all levels; what Estevez describes as an “institutional weakness.”
Part of this money comes from the U.S, who delivers assistance through the Mérida Initiative — a counter-drug aid package introduced in 2006. Washington has spent roughly $2.5 billion on Mérida since 2008, according to Jesse Franzblau at The Nation. U.S. laws undeniably ban any foreign aid involving systematic human rights violations; however Franzblau says, “institutional connections to organized crime are consistently overlooked, ignored or kept hidden from public scrutiny as counter-drug money continues to flow.”
Yet, Washingtonian money and combatant assistance recently lead to the imprisonment of ruling drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, long-wanted by both countries. Captured for the third time on Jan. 11, the instant reaction among news outlets spurred celebratoty victory lines — Mexico and the U.S. had finally done it.
Although critics are afraid that such tactics cause a setback, one that is not in favor of the local population. Research conducted by the Cato Institute shows that seizing a municipality kingpin such as “El Chapo” results in an escalation of a city’s homicide rate by 80 percent, according to Jeffrey Miron, professor of economics at Harvard University and director of economic studies at the Cato Institute. The violence likely endures over one year, and affects nearby cities involved with the same cartel.
“When the financial news reports the current price of an oil barrel or value of bullion, it ought to add the day’s rating for a kilo of pure cocaine, if we are to know what is really going on in the global economy,” said Ed Vulliamy for The Guardian. As for Guzmán, he is no less of a businessman than those who deal other commodities, according to Vulliamy. Too much of our society is dependent on his drugs, much like it is on oil, and any dwindle in the coming years seems out of the question.
“Narco-cartels are not adversaries of global capitalism, nor even pastiches of it: they are its role models,” Vulliamy said. “Free trade across the Americas was invented not by Bill Clinton and the presidents of Mexico and Canada, but Escobar.”
Much like Pablo Escobar — the infamous narco-leader of the Colombian Medellín Cartel in 1975-1993 — many locals in the Mexican Sinaloa region idolize Guzmán for his Robin Hood-like distribution of investments to the poor. Whether tactics or genuine consideration, Escobar and Guzmán are both from a generation of grand local patronage, one that is on the verge of dying out. New cartels arise with no regard for the local population; they rule ultimately from having forged outright terror within communities, according to Vulliamy.
“In the world of narco-genealogy, which is no different from the generational evolution of any corporation, new cartels like the Zetas set the scene for our world of pure, unfettered capitalism in the wake of the now outdated patrician corporate model,” Vulliamy said. “They are leaner and meaner, with a more appositely brutal understanding of the vicissitudes of the cocaine market, and the many others in which they operate on cocaine’s slipstream.”
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Paradise or Hell?
The warm breeze hurled onto our ghostly faces as we walked through the glass doors at Acapulco International Airport. Finally; a spring break feel. The New York thermometer had remained frozen below the 30-mark for weeks, inches of snow still covering the ground. Here, the Mexican midnight laid tranquil over the city inhabited by well over half a million people, a coastal pearl traditionally known to magnetize both domestic and internationals alike.
But serenity persisted. The 30-minute taxi drive in the old, blue-white Wolksvagen Beetle heading into the metropolis was awfully tense: a desolate road, minimal traffic — barely any people at sight. Suddenly, while driving on the main boulevard that cuts through the city centrum, there were guns everywhere.
“There are state police with black masks in trucks with gun mounts,” Joshua Partlow and Gabriela Martinez write for the Washington Post. “Roving pods of armed federal gendarmerie on souped-up three-wheelers. Assault-rifle-toting Mexican marines on foot patrols with armbands that read ‘Tourist Protection’.”
In 2014, former Mayor Luis Walton installed the federal police force to supervise the local works, as internal investigations lead to more than 50 percent of the city’s local police having to quit for ties to cartels.
A year earlier, Acapulco had seen 142 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, about 28 times that of the U.S. rate as a whole, according to ABC News. At the time, it was listed as second of the world’s most dangerous cities.
Ironically, Acapulco once epitomized luxury, a place that attracted none other than Hollywood stars and the Nixons — the same president who, in 1971, declared the U.S. in a war on drugs, according to NPR.
A Legal Route to Change
With an outlawed market, there is enough room for organized crime to take charge. If drugs were legalized, the market instead would work as in other industries. Drug lords’ financial authority is compromised whereby they cannot simply buy off politicians, recruit youngsters or buy the guns they need to freely function.
“Prohibition likely reduces drug use to some degree, but available evidence suggests a modest impact,” Miron said. “The Netherlands and Portugal, for example, have far [more relaxed] drug laws than the U.S., but use rates that are similar or lower.”
In a similar approach to that of medical marijuana, Miron believes a state-by-state liberalization of drug laws is necessary. But this reform would require the abolition of federal drug prohibition only to leave it up to the states to determine their own drug policies. “This approach would de-escalate the drug war dramatically, but [would] allow for the differences in perspectives across states – that is the core of our federalist system of government,” Miron says.