By Jermey Kuzmarov
Covert Action Magazine
In June 2021, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) told U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Mexico City that he wanted to end military cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and to instead promote economic development.
“We don’t want military cooperation,” he said, “we don’t want it to be like it was before when they brought us a helicopter gunship and a photo was taken of the U.S. ambassador with the president,” he said.
Launched in 2008, the Mérida Initiative aimed to combat drug trafficking with U.S. military equipment, technical support, and training for security forces in Mexico and Central America, which have received billions of dollars in aid.
AMLO argues that investing in development projects would help counter not only drug trafficking but also migrant flows.
On a visit to Mexico City last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to replace the Mérida initiative with a new bicentennial framework—though by all indication, the Biden administration remains committed to a “muscular approach to combating drug gangs,” as the U.S. News & World Report put it.
President Biden, a life-long drug warrior, is being arm-twisted into keeping the failed, murderous “War on Drugs” going by numerous U.S. stakeholders to whom he is beholden.
They include: a) the U.S. banks which launder the billions in drug money; b) the weapons makers which get money from the U.S. government, which buys the weapons and gives them to the Mexican army and police, and which also receive money from the narco-gangs which buy huge amounts of weapons on their own; c) the Republicans who will use a U.S. withdrawal from the War on Drugs as a club with which to scare the population and beat the Democrats in coming elections; and d) the huge numbers of U.S. police, border patrols, DEA agents, and a multitude of others whose jobs and livelihoods depend on continuing the drug war.
Defiant Stance Warranted
Benjamin T. Smith’s new book The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade (W.W. Norton, 2021) is the most comprehensive yet in detailing the violence and corruption associated with the War on Drugs in Mexico, a war that can never be won since demand for drugs in the U.S. is too high and wage levels in Mexico are too low.
Rather than halting the supply rate, Smith shows that aggressive counter-narcotics policing causes traffickers to turn on one another while intensifying competition for control over rackets.
The loosening of gun restrictions—exemplified by President George W. Bush’s rescinding in 2004 of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act preventing the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons to civilians—has given cartel members easier access to firearms, resulting in a spiraling murder rate.
Back in the Good Old Days
According to Smith, the Mexican drug trade, until the 1970s, was relatively peaceful—certainly by today’s standards.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, it was controlled by small-scale networks of pharmacists, criminals, farmers, and merchants who were protected by local politicians who adopted a model of cooperation.