Thousands of Mexicans in 25 cities marched last week against the U.S.-guided Drug War which has claimed 35,000 lives since 2006, when the right-wing government of Felipe Calderon took power. U.S. police, military and drug enforcement agencies are deeply implicated in the expanding war, which threatens to continue for years and is spilling over into the U.S. (Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2011)
Employing a military model instead of a medical one, former U.S. drug czar Robert Bonner recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, “if the drug cartels succeed, the United States will share a 2,000 mile border with a narco-state controlled by powerful transnational drug cartels that threaten the stability of Central and South America.” Bonner calls the rising death toll a “sign of progress.”
The U.S. war-on-drugs paradigm rules out any form of legalization as an answer to illegal narco-trafficking, despite the urgings of many Mexican and Latin American leaders. Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet whose son Juan Francisco was tortured and killed on March 28 in Cuernavaca, has proposed cease-fire deals with drug gangs, an idea immediately rejected by the drug warriors. There is no progress in checking the massive supply of weapons purchased in the U.S. for illegal distribution south of the border.
Meanwhile, the Drug War inside the United States has created the largest system of mass incarceration in the world. Thirty-one million Americans have been arrested for drug offenses since the Drug War began under Ronald Reagan, most of them for possession of marijuana. Over one half-million people are in prison or jail for drug offenses today, compared to 41,100 in 1980. These numbers are from Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow (2010) In Alexander’s analysis, the Drug War is the chief means of implementing the “new Jim Crow” in the U.S., because of the penalties and stigmas attached to drug convictions, such as felony disenfranchisement laws, barriers to employment, and denial of jury participation. Its chief targets have been youth of color and, since the war in Colombia, Latin Americans and immigrants.
Alexander describes the rising militarization of law enforcement at home due to budget incentives provided by the Drug War. Paramilitary SWAT teams have appeared in virtually every city. Paramilitary drug raids have jumped from a few hundred per year in the early Seventies, to forty thousand per year in the past decade. In Minneapolis, for example, raids grew from 35 so-called no-knock warrants in 1986 to 700 yearly a decade later. In a single year in the Nineties, the Pentagon responded with military equipment to 3.4 million orders from 11,000 police agencies. The orders included 253 aircraft, UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-1 Huey helicopters, 7,856 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets, and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles. (“SWATs Under Fire,” National Journal, January 1, 2000)
These official forms of militarized law enforcement are supported and often complemented by unofficial militia units claiming “sovereign” rights to guard the borderlands of Arizona, California, and wherever drugs and immigrants may be crossing. Many Tea Party candidates and officials and members espouse these pro-militia and “sovereignty” views. For example, the Tea Party Republican opponent of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2008, Jesse Kelly, ran on a platform of sending 10,000 U.S. troops to the Mexican border in an “active enforcement mode.” For another example: the first Tea Party Republican elected to the California Assembly, Tim Donnelly of San Bernadino, is a Minuteman founder who personally patrols the border. Donnelly says “In my district, people are on the verge of war. They are on the verge of literally shooting.” (Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2011)
On his recent trip to El Salvador and Latin America, President Obama agreed to an expansion of the Drug War, which is funded under Plan Merida, to Central America. Counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, and counterinsurgency are taking root on our borders under the guise of the Drug War—which fails to reduce American drug consumption but results in funding of a massive border security apparatus between the U.S. and Latin America.