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Death in La Frontera – Courtesy USA

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Death in La Frontera – Courtesy USA

The AP report very clearly illustrates why the USA policy of the prohibition of recreational drugs is such a really, really bad idea and the policy’s effects on other nations, and not just on Mexico. There are many Latin American and Caribbean nations rife with organized criminals engaged in supplying the USA demand for such drugs.

Market forces are irresistible. Where a market demand exists that demand will be supplied, whether legally or otherwise. The difference being that supplying the demand for an illegal good is much more lucrative, as its prohibition has radically raised the price beyond its real cost. So much more lucrative, in fact, that folks are willing to risk their freedom and lives to supply the market. So much more lucrative that those engaged in supplying the market are willing to eliminate their competitors with extreme prejudice. So much more lucrative that many Mexican military special forces troops forsook the military life to join the “Zetas”, first as “enforcers” for drug trade criminal organizations; and these days hostilely taking over those criminal organizations by executing their proprietors.

That’s what’s going on in Mexico these days, most prominently in the “frontera”, the Mexican/USA border region.

Prohibition of alcohol, we of the USA should remember, resulted in criminals organizing to make lots of money supplying the market demand for liquor and beer. With so much money at stake some of the organized criminals decided to disorganize and began killing their competitors to garner a larger share of the market, thus greater personal profits.

Again, it’s perfectly legal in the USA for folks to wig out daily on pharmaceutical psychotropic drugs, but one may not smoke pot grown in the back yard to get through the day. Why?

The only explanation I am able to fathom is pharmaceutical industry profits.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, you see, don’t kill their competitors in pursuance of greater market share. They, being very well organized, have found it much more cost effective to lavish money on legislators and then suggest legislation they’d like to see enacted to increase their market share, often writing the legislation they suggest.

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Drug Trafficking Key Component in “Failed State” Headlines

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Drug Trafficking Key Component in “Failed State” Headlines

Every day, recently, the USA media herd echo chamber carries reports that Mexico is falling apart into an “an epidemic of drug-related violence“, as in this McClatchey piece. This ABC story, citing a “a confidential federal law enforcement assessment obtained by ABC News,” even goes so absurdly far as to ask, in its headline, “Mexico: The Next Iraq or Afghanistan?

The reports are largely nonsense, but the ABC comparison of Mexico to Iraq or Afghanistan is just utter silliness, the suggestion of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s that drug gangs have taken control of portions of Mexico notwithstanding. Enrique Krauze explains in his NYT commentary just how silly the comparison to Iraq or Afghanistan is.

“AMERICA’S distorted views can have costly consequences, especially for us in Latin America. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Mexico this week is a good time to examine the misconception that Mexico is, or is on the point of becoming, a ‘failed state.’

This notion appears to be increasingly widespread. The Joint Forces Command recently issued a study saying that Mexico — along with Pakistan — could be in danger of a rapid and sudden collapse. President Obama is considering sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border to stop the flow of drugs and violence into the United States. The opinion that Mexico is breaking down seems to be shared by much of the American news media, not to mention the Americans I meet by chance and who, at the first opportunity, ask me whether Mexico will ‘fall apart.’

It most assuredly will not. First, let’s take a quick inventory of the problems that we don’t have. Mexico is a tolerant and secular state, without the religious tensions of Pakistan or Iraq. It is an inclusive society, without the racial hatreds of the Balkans. It has no serious prospects of regional secession or disputed territories, unlike the Middle East. Guerrilla movements have never been a real threat to the state, in stark contrast to Colombia.

Most important, Mexico is a young democracy that eliminated an essentially one-party political system, controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, that lasted more than 70 years. And with all its defects, the domination of the party, known as the P.R.I., never even approached the same level of virtually absolute dictatorship as that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or even of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Further, reports that Moody’s investor’s Services has declared that “Mexico’s investment-grade credit rating is safe….”, saying in its report.

“Despite heightened anxiety about the escalation of violence and organized crime activity, Mexico does not fit the general profile of countries identified as failed states,” Moody’s said in a report released today. “The general foundations of its investment-grade rating remain solid.”

Look, Mexico is a nation of 111 million folks, the eleventh most populous nation in the world. Likewise, Mexico represents the eleventh largest economy in the world. Mexico has a literacy rate of 91% amongst those over fifteen years of age and 95% of the population enjoys electrical service. Mexico has a political system that every six years results in an orderly election for president and an orderly transition from one administration to the next. Mexico is a modern nation.

Every breathless news report of Mexico’s dire straights will tell you that there have been “7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico since January 2008”. There is no doubt that the drug gang killings of competitors and of police officials hunting them is a serious affront to both Mexican and USA domestic tranquility which must be addressed. But the murder in Mexico statistic must be taken in perspective, in terms of both its magnitude and its causes.

The aggregate murder rate in Mexico, as of 2006, was almost 11 per 100,000 population. For comparison purposes the murder rate in Chicago during the alcohol prohibition years of 1920-1933 was 10.5 per 100,000 in 1920; 14.6 per 100,000 in 1930; and by 1940, seven years after the end of prohibition, the rate dropped to 7.1 per 100,000.

What must be remembered when reading USA media reports of violence in Mexico is that it is largely confined to those working in the black market, trafficking in drugs and/or Cubans hoping to place a “dry foot” on USA territory so they may stay. Most, by far, of those 7,000 Mexican murders occurred in cities abutting, or adjacent to, the USA border; and, to a much lesser extent, in the Yucatan peninsula where the Mexican branch of the Cuban mafia is headquartered.

Black marketeers, prohibition era bootleggers, modern day Mexico drug gangs, and the Cuban mafia human/drug traffickers for instance, are not nearly so reluctant to eliminate their commercial competition with “extreme prejudice” as are their legitimate counterparts.

What also must be remembered is that the Mexican drug gangs are armed primarily with weapons obtained in the USA. The gangs run drugs North and bring cash and guns South, a fact I was pleased to see Obama acknowledge during his press conference yesterday. Secretary of State Clinton also acknowledged such in a statement upon her arrival in Mexico City today.

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the death of police officers, soldiers and civilians,” Clinton told reporters during her flight to Mexico City.

“I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility.”

The USA market demand for drugs is of immense value, valued in the tens of billions of dollars per year. Market forces can not be resisted, a demand will be supplied whether legally or otherwise, as was amply demonstrated during the days of USA alcohol prohibition. All prohibition really accomplishes is to raise the value of the prohibited product to a level so as to enable black marketeers. That is, the value of the prohibited product becomes so great that to some folks the attraction of lucrative returns out weighs the risk of the legal consequences.

So what can be done? It’s pretty simple, really. Scrap the wet foot, dry foot policy and accept Cuban immigrants upon the same conditions required of the residents of every other nation on earth. And, since, reportedly, 60% of the Mexican drug gangs’ revenue derives from smuggling marijuana to to the USA, the USA must legalize the personal production and use of marijuana. USA marijuana users with green thumbs may grow enough in the backyard to supply their personal needs and the less intrepid may buy their personal stash the same place they now buy their alcoholic libations.

USA legalization would almost immediately reduce the price of marijuana so as to put the black marketeers out of the marijuana trafficking business, as it would no longer be a profitable enterprise. The reduction in the gangs’ revenues would reduce the numbers of weapons purchased in and smuggled from the USA.

Then, adopt the Swiss model and provide for government distribution of pharmaceutical heroin and cocaine at cost to users.

If significant numbers of folks insist upon upon using heroin or cocaine, whether prohibited or not, (the Harrison Act has had little effect upon the rate of heroin use) shouldn’t we see that they are provided in a manner that ensures the users’ safety, greatly reduces the need for users to steal to support their habits, reduces disease transmission, and which doesn’t involve criminal gang distribution networks ?

The economic meltdown once again has illustrated that there are folks who will do anything in their pursuit of self enrichment, bring the world economy to its knees or murder and behead a drug or human trafficking competitor. It is time to remove the drug trafficking profit incentive. Once the drug gangs are out of business we may turn our attention to reigning in the pirates of Wall Street.

Note: This article originally appeared in Expatriate Ruminations, and is reprinted here with permission.

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There’s No Business…

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There’s No Business…

Last evening I was lounging on one of the lacy wrought iron chairs that decorate the drinks patio at our local playhouse. The Lakeside Little Theatre is a community endeavor that’s been producing plays in English for 44 years, more than enough time to have been the beneficiary of some of our local Sunset Boulevard types, thespians who got their big break on the LLT stage. And then died. As a result, our little theatre is an oasis of opulence. Actresses often wear real fur and 1950s Balenciaga that’s been bequeathed to the wardrobe department, and the prop department is full of Bierdemeier antiques, with an art collection like Sotheby’s.

The chimes had been rung and the house manager, decked out in a sequin /palazzo pants number that would have been perfectly appropriate at the Kennedy Center, was shooing in the audience; gay couples in skin tight shirts, ancient widows in mink stoles being pushed by their Mexican attendants, the tanned and platinum haired gang from the view properties up on the hill, and the tourists who innocently earn their derision by showing up in shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

I had a bit of time to kill before heading backstage to help change the costume of the lead actress in our production of Kiss Me Kate, and I always like the patio in the evening. Some combination of its location on the side of the mountain and lighting makes the sky look purple, and when it’s clear and starry, to look up through the palm trees and bougainvillea and giant saguaro cactus into the dark orchid sky is impressively romantic.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had received yet another squawking call from a potential client who was watching the Glenn Beck show on the Fox News Channel and wanted some inside information on the escalating violence in Mexico. He was worried and thinking maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to retire down here after all, because according to Glenn Beck the country is imploding and the Mexican government is going to collapse within a year.

I promised him I’d look into it, which I did. I stuck my head through the gate in the wall that separates our front garden from the street. As I expected, an old lady with her stockings falling down was inching up the street, carrying a string bag with some fruit in it. My dog was sprawled in the sun in the apron of my neighbors garage. A couple of chickens were lethargically pecking in the yard of Thomas. (Toh-mahs, we say. I used that weird word order “in the yard of Toh-mahs” to avoid the hissing sound of Thomas’s, not because I now speak English as if Spanish were my first language. Although I can’t lie, I do that, especially when talking to Mexicans. For no reason at all, I’ll catch myself saying something like “The juice, can it be that you will put him on the table?”, in the hope that speaking gibberish is somehow closer to Spanish than regular grammatical English) A trio of hummingbirds droned at the orange honeysuckle vine that crawled over and through his fence. The fence of Thomas.

At the bottom of our street, the lake glittered, and at the top, the mountains drifted gold and craggy. I noticed a gringo, easily identified as a visitor, getting what he thought was an art shot of the somnolent beauty of a Mexican village street. When he looked at it later, he would wonder why he had taken a picture of a trashy vacant lot full of broken glass and weeds. It happens all the time. I went back to the phone.

“Um, not too much in the way of violence, Hugh”, I said. “I think it’s probably still pretty safe to come. If you don’t get murdered in the cab on the way to the Houston Airport, I mean.”

When the time came, I went backstage where the volunteer players- mature cupcakes who were delighted with the opportunity to cavort around the stage in racy chorus girl outfits while singing “It’s Too Darn Hot” –were waiting to go on. The stage manager pushed through hissing into her headset, “Goddamit, I don’t want those little brats sprawling all over the furniture,” referring to the adorable adolescent prop girls who were dressed as court jesters and who were prevented by the act of respiration from remaining still enough between acts to satisfy her. Violet and I got into position to change the lead from her opening act cocktail dress into the full Smithsonian quality Elizabethan regalia she wears in Act 2. On stage, a Mexicana with a voice like a bell sang “Hanohther Hoapnin’, Hanohther Cho!”

My friend Violet and I often work together on these shows, although her commitment to the theatre runs deeper than mine. She’s been involved with it since it was just a scratchy blanket slung over a clothesline at the Chula Vista golf club. There is a rumor that “Steel Magnolias” will be staged again, as the ten year period between reprising shows is about to expire for the second time. If so, Violet has a fair shot at playing all three generations of female leads.

I fell under Violet’s spell in my early days in Mexico, when I met her at an open house. She has waist length red hair which she successfully anchors into messy updos by stabbing it with any random office supplies or kitchen utensils that happen to be around, and she wears raffish whorehouse outfits of eyelet and denim with cowboy boots, over which her concha belts , seed bracelets, turquoise, silver, coral and fetish necklaces rattle like marbles spilling on a tile floor. I overheard her suggest in her syrupy drawl that the house would have a better chance of selling if the closets didn’t smell like “twelve mahls of beat up ol’ wolf pussy”, a phrase that so impressed me I’ve been following her around ever since. She is a bit of an iconoclast, and her contempt for tourists, smokers, fat people, dumb people, Mexicans, homos, drunks, old people, Canadians, and other realtors has lent a puzzling mythical quality to her success as a real estate agent. My fascination with her is the reason I’ve ended up with some expertise in the goings on backstage of our community theatre.

She and I talk about the sudden spike in perceived violence here in Mexico, why the coverage up North has increased so much. It’s hard to know how to respond to clients who are freaking out about the news stories they see. When Bruno and I moved into our townhouse in the most banal suburb in Northern Virginia, practically the first thing that happened was some crazy Indian cab driver cut his wife into pieces and put them into a suitcase which was later found in the Food Lion dumpster. In the space of five years we endured 9/11 and the Beltway Sniper, and when my daughter went to Virginia Tech, she had to cope with the massacre of her classmates in her freshman year, a tragedy that makes narco gangs killing each other seem refreshingly symmetrical.

When I walk home from the theatre at night, exchanging greetings with the teenagers who neck in the doorways, waving at Alfonso who runs the taco stand, trying to identify the smell of the evening air–orange blossom? jasmine?–and even nodding at our local drug kingpin, an amiable moonfaced boy who wears plaid cholo shorts and white athletic socks pulled up so high they look like nurses stockings—well. I know that somewhere under our big purple sky there’s a gunfight going on.

But it’s not here.

Note: This entry was originally published here, on March 8th, 2009.

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