“Mexico’s southern border awash in crime and violence” reads a headline in the Miami Herald. The article examines the alarming spread of crime and violence inspired by Mexican drug cartels into Guatemala and beyond.
The Mexican-Guatemala border is one I crossed myself back in 1999. We entered Guatemala via one of the more remote border crossings along the Usumacinta River, enroute from the Mayan ruins of Palenque in Southern Mexico, to the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala (both should be considered a “must see” for anyone who enjoys exploring ancient ruins).
I recall arriving at the border crossing fairly late in the evening, intent on catching the early morning “chicken bus” to Flores, the jumping off point to get to Tikal. When we arrived at the Guatemalan – Mexican border, the solo border control officer was asleep at his desk. He wasn’t embarrassed when we woke him up, he was annoyed.
So while the headlines about violence in Southern Mexico are alarmist by nature, it’s not hard to see why this remote area has become a trafficking point for drugs, humans, guns, and whatever else anyone feels like smuggling.
The problem is growing at a time when the bulk of Mexican security and military might is concentrated near the U.S. border, with ever fewer resources are being diverted to the southern border with Guatemala.
The big question is how far and how deep will the problems created by the Mexican drug cartels spread, not only within Mexico but elsewhere in the region.
Alvaro Colom, the President of Guatemala, claims that “either the countries of Central America join together to fight [the Mexican drug cartels] or they will defeat us and finish off our democracies”. This statement does not exactly exude confidence… in a world where most politicians usually promise “everything is under control”, Guatemala’s president is sounding the “Code Red” alarm bells.
The reality is, most of the population in Central America is still struggling to eke out a life of poverty, and security forces in the region are underfunded when compared to the financial prowess of the drug cartels.
Unlike China or India, where vast economic expansion has helped millions of peasants move off the farm and into better paying city jobs, most Central American businesses cannot compete with ultra low production costs on a global scale. It’s probably cheaper to make a pair of tennis shoes in China and ship it to the U.S. than it is to make a pair in Guatemala, even though it’s only a stone’s throw away by comparison.
Unfortunately, Mexican drug cartels are one of few groups who offer a “way out” for a lot of struggling Guatemalan youth whose prospects for a stable, well paying job are slim to none. In Guatemala and throughout Central America, there are a lot of people looking for a “way out” of poverty and underemployment, so it is easy to see how this situation plays into the hands of the cartels.
To demonstrate how lost our politicians are on deriving an effective policy to deal with this situation, the Clinton administration declared a war on drugs back in the 1990s, but targeted Colombia as the battlefield. By many measures, they won the battle… Colombia has enjoyed a sustained bout of stability and prosperity. But the war rages on… the guns and violence associated with the drug trade has simply shifted north.
The new battlefield for the war on drugs is much, much closer to home, just south of the U.S. border. Moving the battle closer to home can hardly be considered a success.
Of course, government war mongers would never look at the demand side of the equation – it’s easier to ignore the glaring reality that the majority of illegal drug consumers are inside the United States.
It’s also ironic that most of the guns found in possession by the Mexican drug lords and their minions are made in the USA.
So let’s get this straight… the drugs are consumed in the U.S., the guns are made in the U.S., but the bloodshed is the fault of insufficiently funded Mexican and Central American security forces. And the farmers in South America who grow these plants – they aren’t really drugs yet like the ones our doctors prescribe – is it THEIR fault for growing a product to sell to a willing consumer?
To complete the irony, we have the USA – a country on the verge of bankruptcy, one that cannot pay its bills, and must continue to raise its debt ceiling to be able to afford the interest payments on its massive and growing debt. A country where the single biggest issue splitting the government into two warring tribes is how to get its financial house in order to stave off bankruptcy… a country where the best solution the politicians have found so far is to print enough money to (hopefully) inflate away the debt (while simultaneously erasing the value of its citizens savings and the purchasing power of their pension receipts).
The solution could not be more clear – the U.S. should legalize and tax the cocaine industry, and the marijuana industry, effective immediately. Not only would south of the border hostilities end, but the U.S. government and the U.S. tax payer would receive a much needed windfall in the form of tax revenues.
This new tax revenue from the real economy (not money merely printed by the FED) could be used to move government spending from deficit to surplus, with the proceeds re-invested in education and health care prevention and other areas that require reform.
For those of you who think our society would deteriorate into chaos caused by drug-using maniacs as a result of drug legalization, I strongly disagree. First, because we already have those maniacs around us today anyway, and second, because the drugs Big Pharma legally panders on national TV and over the counter at pharmacies are equally detrimental.
Under a drug legalization policy, irresponsible people will still be irresponsible, and responsible people will still be responsible, but least the American tax payer is being compensated for tolerating irresponsible people. As it is now, our society actually pays for the tracking and jailing of drug using criminals, and the typical prisoner is more expensive to maintain than welfare payments to a struggling but law abiding family of four in inner city Detroit.
But until something radical changes at the political level, the problems in Mexico and Guatemala will get worse, and they could easily spread deeper into Central America.
And the U.S. debt problem will get worse too, until the debt ceiling Congress is unable to impose, is imposed by the markets instead through higher interest rates. If we keep the status quo, the middle class of America “loses”, with the only winners being the drug cartels, and the dealers on the streets of U.S.A.
The other winners, of course, are the banking elite who siphon illicit gains by gambling with billions of dollars in free Federal loans that are pumped into the system to keep us out of recession and our debts to China paid in full.
Whenever I’ve seen this debate on public television, most people outright dismiss the idea of legalizing drugs as a solution of any sort. Politicians are terrified of even considering the subject for fear of losing credibility and destroying their career forever. I’m curious to hear your opinions… feel free to comment below…