Thursday, February 27, 2014

420 Legalization: A Perspective

You can find many reasons to support marijuana legalization; the medical applications are quite provocative.  As long as alcohol is legal, I cannot find a single rational reason to not support legalization even for the most conservative thinking of people.  It simply makes no sense.  In a booze legal world, criminalizing and not legalizing marijuana is irrational.

For me, the kicker is violence in Mexico - in particular violence against innocent people, poor people, Brown people, journalists, and activists.  In simple terms, this blog advocates for some form of marijuana legalization on both sides of the border as a way of reducing violence in Mexico and keeping it from spilling over further into the US.  The sub-texts of this blog is the crucification of people under globalization and the question of femicide in the Americas.*

I started this blog in May 2012; I left some of that earlier voice below.  When I wrote it then I was certain that whenever published I'd find new stories of mass graves.   The old links are included with the new.

Blood and Death

We have a generation of individuals that are willing to take some body's life for 50 dollars...100 dollars.
        Former undercover DEA agent, Celerino Castillo III, 2012

Last week - in early May 2012 - I read an article about on how Mexican authorities had found 15 dismembered bodies in Jalisco.  I debated whether or not the subject was 'timely'.  Then Sunday - again in early May 2012 - I read of an even larger discovery involving 49 torsos in Nuevo Leon.

More is a new story from February 6 in Michoacan, another with 64 people found in Jalisco from December, yet another involving 17 people in Jalisco from February 22, and yet new story I found with 500 sets of remain scattered across 11 municipalities in Coahuila.  I truly believe some people probably could care less about these deaths.  I care.

Either way Americans eventually are going to figure out this issue is an American issue. The two of the three biggest graves above are close to the US border.  Furthermore, to quote 'Senor X', a Chicago drug trafficker, regarding the Sinaloa organization's influence in Chicago, "It's very strong and it's getting worse.  There's people in Chicago who have a relationship with gang members.  The cartel is, the cartels are, have direct contact now with the gang members...  The cartels, for example, Sinaloa cartel recruit the gang members and now they have direct contact with the gang members in the United States.  And the worst part of it is that they're armed.  It's only a, it's a time bomb."

The body count of the Mexican drug war now exceeds the Human Rights Watch estimate of more than 60,000 people since late 2006. I've seen more recently the figure of 80,000. Some place the death toll far higher at 150,000. Wikipedia indicates 90,000 to 106,000 deaths and 1.6 million people displaced from 2005 to 2012.  Not to forget: 26,000 disappeared.

As you likely know, many, many violent act sit on sites such as Liveleak.  Some have the death edited out.  Some do not.  I've watch one.  I felt it was necessarily to complete this blog with authenticity.**

The Life of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

This struggle is not only for my daughter.

Let's not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city.

        Ortiz, 2010 (referring to Juarez)

However, with the death of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, much is different.  First, it's on Youtube.  Second, she did not die in a field on her knees giving up names and addresses after having gotten caught up in the game.  She died an activist demanding the truth and justice for her own blood and daughter Rubi Marisol Frayre.  When I watched her get shot in Plaza Hidalgo in Chihuahua city, I felt an immediate clarification in my thinking about marijuana in America - and probably drugs more generally.  In my opinion, people who care about human rights, Christian values, human values, reducing violence, and a 100 other issues have an obligation to re-evaluate marijuana legalization very seriously.***

Ortiz had a deep insight into the nature of modern protest.  My understanding is that in one protest she walked from Juarez to Mexico City partially naked.  In protesting naked, I believe she communicated at least two deep truths to us.  First, average people will ultimately have to face the darkness of our times with the truth and the truth alone; the street is devolving into madness; and, as I've argued, the modern administrative state is failing.  Second, the murderousness of her daughter's death exhibited a vulgarity that nakedness in one way or another helps to communicate.

She was a warrior.   Such people will go into history among the mothers of global renewal.   As with woman globally, women in the Americas - especially women of indigenous descent - carry an enormous burden on behalf of our societies.  My belief is that this debt will not go unpaid.

If I offend the family of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz in recalling her story or activists south of the border in any way, I apologize.  I do not mean to politicize her death.  I believe it was political before I learned of it.  I speak from the heart and this was my experience when I saw what happened.

Pathological Killings

They would show a new recruit how to kill.

They would give them a machete.  If not, they'd give them a sledge hammer and they'd tell them to kill the people they had tied up.
        Wenceslao Tovar, sicario in Tamauliplas, 2012

Killing has become a practical and commonplace exercise in parts of Mexico.  Killing is something that distributors practice and refine.   It is not a crime of impulse, revenge, or war.  Killing has become an exercise of business and has for some I suspect become an addiction.  For some not all, killing has become pathological in Mexico.  It is in the nature of pathology that you cannot confront it with ordinary incremental measures that address symptoms.  You must go to the root and remove what created the pathology - namely demand.  You could try to stop distributors at the physical level such as with a drug war but is impossible in practical terms and ridiculous in moral terms.

Ending the Mexican Drug War

In drug trafficking, as long as there is demand, there will be a supply.  It's like energy.  You can't create or destroy it.  It only transforms.

        Javier Valdez, journalist and co-founder of Riodoce, 2014****

See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel.  That's literally true.
        Milton Friedman, Nobel economist, 1991*****

Regarding the practical, unless people lose interest in drugs - which will take at least two centuries - you will never stop the drug trade; it is a fool's errand.  The distributors have won and have done so decisively.  They will continue to win.  The drug trade is effectively a protected industry with highly inelastic demand; it doesn't require sophisticated technology as with Apple and IBM or deep physical capitalization as with Exxon and BP.  And the drug trade is illegal so you don't have to report the income.

The money, the soldiers, and the arms required to fight it out are phenomenal.  The entire Mexican military budget for 2014 is possibly $12B and in 2012 was $7B.  The Columbian and Mexican institutions of drug distribution make $18B to $39B from American consumers each year.  You do the math.

People in the drug trade will always win as long as drugs are illegal because people in the so-called straight world (i.e. the non-black market realm) will always ultimately condone the the drug trade so they can dip into the drug world for cash.  (Both presidents Bush, 41, and Clinton have likely done just that.  I am referring to the Iran-Contra Affair and the Mena Cover-up where each president in one way or another dip into the drug world for cash to fund personal or political endeavors.)

Even if no one in the straight world condoned the drug trade, the drug consumer would still always keep distributors awash in money and arms.  Demand will always keep the distributors ahead of the regulators.******  Even if you somehow by a miracle beat the the distributors in one generation, you have no assurance that the same saga will not re-emerge in the next generation or in a neighboring country.  When Nixon declared the American War on Drugs in 1971 perhaps we did not have all this experience.  But we have it now.

Ending the drug war in Mexico or here in the states is simple; we just have to let go of it.  To paraphrase Will Rogers, if you're in a hole, stop digging...


* I neither support nor abhor globalization.  It has begun.  It's on us to understand it and direct it as gracefully as possible.  Globalization presents opportunities and risks that deserve attention.

** Viewing them is at some level a form of participation.  Growing up I remember knowing about the Faces of Death series.  I never watched.   Killing has become a part of the music and consciousness of Mexico and the US.  For instance, Breaking Bad - among the greatest American TV shows - showcased a narcocorrido in 2009 called Negro Y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg by Los Quates deSinaloa.  These are all scary trends.

*** I had earlier named this blog "Legalization and the Life of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz". I changed it out of respect.

**** I love this quote. It harkens back to conversations I had at policy school regarding immigration. A few of my friends and I agreed on how American policy-makers simply do not understand the biological and economic drivers of immigration between Mexico and the US. Despite the periodic slowdowns as during the Great Recession, nothing will stop immigration between these countries. No wall is big enough. No penalty stiff enough.

Free market thinkers always talk about 'free trade' and the free movement of capital but they almost universally fail to regard the free movement of labor in discussions of globalization. I do not support global consolidations such as with the so-called North American Union but culturally the US and MX are intertwined as no other nations in the Western hemisphere.

***** Great related quote from US District Judge James C. Paine in 1991: "Alcohol didn't cause the high crime rates of the '20s and '30s. Prohibition did. And drugs do not cause today's alarming crime rates but drug prohibition does." "Trying to wage war on 23 million Americans who are obviously very committed to certain recreational activities is not going to be any more successful than Prohibition was."

****** Even if a single distributor in MX falter under some sort of failure of leadership, which people are saying might happen because of the recent arrest of Joaquin 'Chapo' Guzman, the power of drug distributors - even on a downward trajectory - will continue for at least decade or two.  And I don't buy even that argument.

To quote David Shirk of the Justice in Mexico Project, "As long as these other structures remain in place, all things being equal, Sinaloa will be able to continue to operate if not as normal, at least as the most powerful criminal organization in Mexico.”  After the Colombian National Police killed Pablo Escobar, his organization fell apart but the drug trade in Colombia moved forward.  In fact, Mexican distributors are in a perfect situation to continue to rise in power as an intra-competitive oligarchy.