U.S. Drug Policy Feeds Violence in Mexico

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U.S. Drug Policy Feeds Violence in Mexico

Dunya Cope

The soldiers burst into Fernanda Hernández's house at eight in the morning. There were 39 of them. Fernanda was with her two young children.

"I told them we don't have any weapons," said Hernández (not her real name). "They barged right in and rifled through everything--throwing everything on the ground--clothes, papers, even the food in my kitchen. My house is poor, made of corrugated metal. There is no security. I asked them if they had a search warrant and they didn't. They were there for a half an hour. They said we had guns and drugs but they found nothing, of course. My children are still scared."

Fernanda's experience has been replicated hundreds of times since the United States began paying Mexico to militarize its anti-drug efforts through the Mérida Initiative.

And this March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top diplomatic officials traveled to Mexico to announce a "new phase" of U.S.-Mexico cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking. In her address, Clinton referred to increased funding for drug treatment programs in the U.S. and anti-poverty efforts in Mexico. Unfortunately, these positive developments were paired with a failure to recognize the inevitable outcome of any program that intends to crush drug violence with more violence: failure.

The "new phase" is a continuation of the Mérida Initiative, former President George W. Bush's three-year, $1.4 billion military aid package to Mexico and Central America. The Obama administration has requested $300 million in aid to Mexico for the upcoming year, primarily to be used to fight drug traffic.

A valid evaluation of the Mérida Initiative's few successes and many failures should lead to making drug treatment and poverty-fighting programs bigger priorities than military aid. The meager adjustments to the policy in its second phase are insufficient. Clinton's lip service to program modifications doesn't address the tragic human consequences of the failed "drug war" model, or the policies that keep people poor and vulnerable to the influence of drug trafficking and drug use.

Both drug use in the United States and drug trafficking in Mexico are born from deep-seated problems like poverty and the lack of economic opportunity. And since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, 2 million Mexican farmers have been displaced from their land, unable to compete with artificially cheap imports from the United States. How many days of not being able to feed your children would it take for you to be tempted by the drug trade?

Now Mexico is facing the consequences of trying to blow these problems away with military might. The Los Angeles Times reports 22,700 drug-related killings in Mexico since 2006. Murder rates continue to rise in Ciudad Juárez, despite the presence of over 10,000 troops in that city alone. Many other Mexican cities are dealing with the same problem.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released reports detailing the harassment, torture, and murder of human rights defenders throughout the country. Reports of human rights abuses committed by police or military have increased six-fold during Calderón's term. Police officers and personnel accused of human rights abuses are tried in martial court, and in a country where most murders are not prosecuted or investigated, victims rarely receive justice.

Considering these trends, and with no decrease in drug supplies reaching the United States, why are we pursuing the same policy?

Presidents Obama and Calderón need look no further south than Colombia to see the future of the Mérida Initiative. Ten years, $5.6 billion, and countless fumigations later, more coca is grown in Colombia than ever. As long as there is high demand for drugs in the United States, the illicit drug trade and all its bloody consequences won't stop.

The State Department's new agenda includes building "strong, more resilient communities" among its strategies for fighting the war on drugs. But if this goal is merely tangential to the Mérida Initiative's military aid policy, the drug crisis will continue on both sides of the border.

Dunya Cope is a member of the Witness for Peace International Team in Mexico. www.witnessforpeace.org

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