Thursday, December 24, 2009

The forever war

Just a few hours after Melquisedet Angulo Cordova was buried with military honors Monday, his mother and three other relatives were executed by members of a drug cartel in the Mexican state of Tabasco. Cordova was a marine and he died taking part in a raid that killed a top drug lord. His family was gunned down in revenge, part of the more than 14,000 people killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon escalated his country's war on drugs in 2006, sending in federal troops. The latest violence, however, would seem to breach new levels of insidiousness.

Across the border, the American city of Phoenix has averaged one drug-related kidnapping a day for the past two years, as the battle in Mexico -- some have called it a civil war -- spills into the United States. Meanwhile, 350,000 Americans are imprisoned at the moment for drug offenses, while more than 22,000 overdosed using drugs last year. Federal and state governments will spend about $50 billion in our war on drugs this year.

Here in East Boston, most of us have a family member or friend who has struggled with addiction problems. People who passed through the Boys & Girls Club as kids or through my classroom as teens have died from using or been arrested on drug charges, including Johnny Forbes, recently all over the news. Of course, all of these cases are tragedies, and we feel for the families.

While people must be held accountable for their actions, I hope we all understand the precariousness of each of our lives. Addiction doesn't just happen to the ignorant or poor or damaged. We're all flawed individuals with our own shortcomings and weaknesses. We each have to live our own lives surrounded by a multitude of factors that no one else sees. I'm reminded of a verse from a song called "Courage" by a Canadian band, The Tragically Hip:
There's no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yet the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.

While it would make sense to rethink public policy as it relates to drugs, with much more money spent on treatment, people aren't going to stop looking any time soon for ways to fight off the blues, to forget the past or to alleviate physical pain, and as long as Americans will seek out illegal narcotics there will be someone trying to make some money getting the stuff to market and others willing to kill or to go to jail in order to get a piece of the action.


OrientSee said...

With drugs turning various countries into failed enterprises and with no sign of anybody loosing their taste for illegal drugs, it's time to declare victory in the war on drugs and legalize it all. Nothing has been gained but more violence and pain. Prohibition should have taught us all that outlawing a substance doesn't work. It just makes better criminals. Although opium may have harmed China, it didn't drag the whole world down as well. (The opium trade was nearly as immoral as the slave trade.) Let people get high and then deal with the results as best we can. The legal system isn't working. Who wants Mexico to turn into Somalia?

Jim said...

I'm not ready to advocate complete legalization of all narcotics, but I don't discount it either. I would like to see an honest and broad national discussion that takes into account the realities we're faced with, the experiences of other countries and the scientific research at hand, and then to rethink public policy from there.

James said...

I'm in Mexico now and although it was pretty shocking to hear about the family of the marine who were killed, it is does not really feel like a civil war for those not involved in the drug trade. I am in the state where most of the traffickers come from and there is plenty of violence between themselves but not much spillover inot the public realm like what happened over the last many years in Colombia.

The border region is much different and I understand that border towns are dangerous for everyone. I just don't want people to think the rest of Mexico is a war zone.

Having said that, it is completely unfair that the Mexican people have to suffer under what is entirely a construct of US demand for drugs. There was and continues to be very low domestic drug usage in Latin American drug producing countries. They only manufacture the product to supply the demand in the foreign market. If there was no foreign demand, they would not be producing drugs in quantity because there is little to no domestic demand.

I think there is a growing consensus in Latin America that drugs are not their problem and that Latin countries must legalize drugs in order to turn traffickers into businessmen and bring them into the mainstream which will end the violence. Let the US deal with the consumption problem, but don't punish the innocent for a problem created by others.