The moon, though shrinking fast, was still bright enough to trick me into thinking it was closer to day than night, which is why Koko and I were out walking under a smattering of stars this morning.
The clouds were just beginning to turn pink when we returned home, my thoughts already on the cup of hot, honey-sweetened Earl Grey tea that soon would be warming my body and focusing my brain.
Caffeine is one of the drugs that is lucky enough to be legal, despite reports that it is ”mildly addictive.” The same cannot be said for the two other highly addictive drugs — alcohol and nicotine — that are widely and legally consumed by Americans.
But all the other substances that folks like to use are not only banned, but the focus of a brutal and expensive war, much of it waged on Mexico and other Latin American nations. And now a Latin American panel is saying that war has not only failed, it’s pushing their societies “to the breaking point." According to an article in The Wall Street Journal:
The report, by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, is the latest to question the U.S.'s emphasis on punitive measures to deal with illegal drug use and the criminal violence that accompanies it. A recent Brookings Institution study concluded that despite interdiction and eradication efforts, the world's governments haven't been able to significantly decrease the supply of drugs, while punitive methods haven't succeeded in lowering drug use.
The report warned that the U.S.-style antidrug strategy was putting the region's fragile democratic institutions at risk and corrupting "judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces."
The report comes as drug violence is engulfing Mexico, which has become the key transit point for cocaine traffic to the U.S. Decapitation of rival drug traffickers has become common as cartels try to intimidate one another.
A journalist friend of mine, who has been living and working in Tijuana for the past two decades, confirmed the failure of America’s policy. He called me a week ago, tense and anxious, saying that for the first time he is considering leaving that border city because the violence has become so extreme.
The city’s official murder count for 2008 was 843. Nearly all of the dead were either innocent bystanders or directly linked to Mexican and Columbian drug trafficking organizations, which gross an $19 billion to $34 billion annually, according to the 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment, a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center.
The actual number of murders is thought to be much higher, he said, because many of the victims simply disappear. In one particularly chilling account, a man confessed to being paid $600 per week by a drug cartel to liquefy some 300 corpses in barrels of acid.
In 2007, the Mexican government seized some 10,000 automatic weapons involved in the drug trade, he said. Some 95 percent originated in Texas, Arizona, California or New Mexico and were brought to Mexico illegally.
“It is the evil-doings of Americans who consume drugs and have no qualms about selling these guns that have no purpose but to kill people as quickly as possible,” he said. “What’s going on in Tijuana wouldn’t be possible without what’s going on in the U.S. We’ve got drugs going north, and money and guns going south.”
Ironically, once the money is counted and laundered — a process that involves a vast number of ordinary people and legitimate businesses, thus sucking them into the drug cartels’ web — much of it returns to the U.S. as legal bank deposits, he said.
He sent me the draft of a story he’s working on, which I’ll link to once it’s published, that included these paragraphs:
Life in Tijuana goes on. The buses run, people go to work, kids go to school, traffic still sometimes jams the city’s major arteries. But something has changed dramatically in the last year or so: most of the city’s residents go about their day-to-day business with a gnawing apprehension, haunted by an unpleasant feeling that something horrible may happen at any moment. The sensation is similar to what you feel when you narrowly avoid a car crash, or catch a child just in time to avoid disaster -- relief that it did not happen, distress that it almost did, dread that next time you may not be so lucky. The Tijuana state-of-mind has become popularly known as “the psychosis.” Anyone who lives in Tijuana knows what you’re talking about when you use the term.
While Tijuana has yet to descend into chaos, the situation is so stressful – almost unlivable – for ordinary people who just want to live their lives and raise their families that some have begun calling on the government to call a truce with the narco cartels, or to allow one cartel to win control with government help.
My friend has another suggestion: “Legalize drugs.”