Recognizing the root of the problem

On March 16, President Obama, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security sent unarmed and unmanned drones to Mexico to assist with surveillance in Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war on drug trafficking.  While we have been assisting the Mexican government in various capacities for years, this development represents a large expansion of U.S. entanglement in the war on drugs in Mexico. Since president Nixon coined the term “War on Drugs” in 1971, our government has been involved in an “all-out offensive” to stem the flow of narcotics from Latin America into the U.S.  We’d all like to see a reduction in rates of drug abuse in the U.S. and abroad, and we’d all like to see an end to the drug-related violence that has taken 35,000 lives in Mexico since 2006. A major divide exists within the war on drugs movement over whether to target the suppliers or the consumers. Targeting the consumers means running public service announcements that attempt to scare children away from trying crack cocaine, funding drug treatment programs to help drug abusers kick the habit and increasing the penalties for buying, using or possessing illegal drugs. Going after the suppliers means increasing the penalties for distributing, growing or importing illegal drugs. Because the drug trade is highly international, efforts to regulate the supply-side frequently turn U.S. drug crime problems into other countries’ problems.  If we don’t blame them for being the providers and ask them to clean up the mess themselves, we at least demand to bypass their national sovereignty to combat the problem within their country. This is exactly what is going on in Mexico now. Associate Professor of Spanish John Waldron argues, “Our policy toward Mexico has always been one of destabilization or creating a good environment for U.S. business rather than for democratic reforms.” After implementing policies that advance our own interests at the expense of the international community, it seems wrong to blame them for attempting to make a living through the sale of illegal substances to the only kids on the block with the money to pay for it. The paramount obstacle in combating the cartels is that Americans are funding both sides of this conflict. At the same time the United States government is spending millions to fight the cartels, American citizens are spending millions buying their product. 70 of marijuana in the United States and 90 percent of heroin is imported from Mexico. Mexican drugs flow north, American arms and cash flow south. We are willing to lend the Mexican government aid in their efforts to curb the narco-violence within their country because we believe it will obstruct the flow of drugs into the U.S. from up-river, just as we are willing to ruthlessly defend our border to ensure no illicit substances enter our country, but we are uninterested in taking major steps to curb the flow of American weapons into Mexico. The New York Times reported last year that more than 90 percent of firearms confiscated from cartels were purchased in Texas, Arizona, and California. “By sending Calderón, money really what’s going on is that we are arming both sides of the war,” Waldron says, which makes American arms manufacturers “happy because they get to sell guns and bullets to both sides.” And it is important to note that both sides are plagued by corruption and guilty of immoral wrongdoings. While sending our $38 million surveillance drones to hover over the hills of Sinaloa probably won’t change the course of history, I have to wonder if that money would be better spent trying to decrease the supply of American arms to the cartels, educating our public on the dangers of drug use and engaging in meaningful efforts to help addicts turn their lives around. The latter would recognize our guilt in this global problem rather than blaming our impoverished neighbors to the south.