Apr 25, 2018

Colombia's Santos Latest to Cite Failure of War on Drugs Model, So Why Does the US Keep Pushing It?


It couldn't be clearer.  Latin America's staunchest drug warriors, the leaders of nations that have invested billions of dollars and thousands of lives into this, are calling for a new approach. 

This time it was Juan Manuel Santos, president of the country that pioneered the drug war in Latin America at the behest and with the support of a succession of US governments.  Despite that it has been his nation's policy for decades, he didn't mince words when he spoke to the UN General Assembly on April 24:
“The war that the world declared on drugs more than 40 years ago has not been won. The strategy based exclusively on prohibition and repression has only created more deaths, more prisoners, more dangerous criminal organizations.”
He echoes something victims have known for years. In Mexico every grassroots victims' organization has called for an end to the war, calling it instead of the war on drugs, "the war on us".

Yet the governments and their allied NGOs continue to support Calderon's drug war, now Peña's drug war, and the US component the Merida Initiative. They say it will win if we just give it more time. They say the "soft side" is really a new approach that will soon produce different results. They say if we´ll just be patient...

Mexico, and especially Mexican youth, are in no mood to be patient. The latest brutal murder of three film students, who were first announced as disappeared and later identified as remains dissolved in vats of acid, has once again mobilized the outrage that is always latent in a nation where disappearances and executions by cartels and security forces are an every day occurrence.

The soft side--police and judicial reform, "building resilient communites"-- is the way the State Department and others justify the drug war model these days, when faith in the model is waning. These bogus programs, ineffectual at best and profoundly interventionist at worst, keep the war on drugs alive when almost no one believes in it any more. The defense of the millions of dollars spent to enforce the model is justified by those who receive the juicy government contracts and the Pentagon, also a major player in its own right, that gets to operate freely in Mexico.

Where are the millions of dollars alloted to build forensic capacity in Mexico as part of the Merida Initaitive over the past ten years? I know a mother who carries bone fragments carefully wrapped in a rag and asks anyone who will listen when, when? When will someone confirm that they are what's left of her son, or someone else's son.

Mexico still sends fragments to Houston or Austria for testing. And that's an example that could be just the beginning of the list. Millions of dollars through the public policy pipeline: Why is the justice system not getting better? Why are police still corrupt and crimes not solved?

The answer to these questions is obvious--the idea was never to solve crimes or find the disappeared.  The problem is not technical and everyone knows it. It's political, it's a lack of political will.  So the arrogant explanation of the U.S. government that they are training Mexicans to be better is not only racist but false.

Before Santos' speech, it was Peña Nieto who declared the war a failure and the security policy basically a trainwreck.  As if it weren't his fault.

The campaigns are raising the debate. But the interests involved seem to assure that no matter how much consensus there is on its failure, the drug war will continue because it serves important interests. Politicians on both sides of the borders and their think tank and NGO echo chambers will say e too want a change in order to avoid a change.

We're the ones who have to call them on it. We're the ones who will have to make the change, by doing exactly what the students are doing now: Standing up and saying ¡Ya Basta!

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