Mexico is rapidly withering. Its very life is being siphoned off by a hopeless war on illegal drugs. If ever there was an abject display of government pigheadedness and stupidity, it is this ridiculous insistence on banning the unbannable.
In the past five years, Mexico tallied 34,600 homicides related to its government’s war on illegal drugs. That’s the official count. The unofficial count – likely the more accurate one – pushes the number past 40,000. Either number is appalling, and more so when considering how many of the victims were dispatched. Forget stabbings, fustigations, gun shots, and stranglings – the quotidian stuff most of us imagine when thinking of a homicide. No, Mexico’s drug-related homicides have pushed all the way past medieval atrocities – decapitations, mutilations, and hangings – to Claudius-era Roman theatrics. Welcome to 10 AD and gladiatorial bloodletting.
The saving grace, for drug lords, is that gruesome murders are resistant to diminishing marginal returns: the more drug lords terrorize, the more Mexicans feel terrorized. The drug lords’ retrograde homicidal stylings have forced many peaceful, industrious Mexicans to recoil and withdraw from society. No society can last without a peaceable, industrious foundation.
Mexicans are suffering no shortage of oppressors: law enforcement itself provides a surfeit. The federal police’s black paramilitary uniforms; machine guns drawn down and across the torso, with index fingers permanently curled around the triggers; and dead-eyed stares instill more insecurity than security. Most Mexicans are no more willing to engage the policeman than they are the drug lord. The fact that the police are viewed as a different strain of thug exacerbates the despair.
Fear, driven by repetition, confusion, and ignorance, never fails to form and mold opinion to political-class advantage. For decades, opponents of drug legalization
have repeated the slippery-slope argument to great effect: if illegal drugs are legalized, the nation will descend uncontrollably into an ineluctable pit of iniquity and violence. The message is concise and provocative, on balance absurd, but overwhelmingly persuasive. War must be declared – that is, a unilateral war favoring the political class.
The political leaders seek nothing more than favorable publicity from their chest pounding. But in Mexico, the war on drugs has been less unilateral than the politicians had bargained: more political heads have rolled – literally and figuratively – over this war than any in its history.
Everything comes with a cost, and dismissing the potential costs of legalizing illegal drugs would be intellectually dishonest. Addiction, joblessness, overdoses, domestic violence, and traffic fatalities are very real, and they could very well increase upon legalizing the illegal.
There is reason to believe, however, that such costs are avoidable. Portugal serves as an intriguing drug-legalization test case. It decriminalized (not legalized) illegal drugs a decade ago; and research from Glenn Greenwald under the auspices of the Cato Institute is encouraging. Greenwald finds that “while drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU states, those problems… have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001.”
Greenwald’s findings are really intuitive: Social norms and mores serve as governors on drug use (and just about all behavior, for that matter).