Saturday, March 1, 2014

420 Legalization: Getting Real

Getting to the root of drug distributor violence in Mexico, you must go back to the first principle: demand.  For now and for me, it's a question of marijuana demand.  Maybe someday we will all likely address all drugs.  It is a brave new world, indeed. 

Culpability and a Real Solution to Mexican Violence

[W]e accept our share of the responsibility...

We know that the demand for drugs drives much of this illicit trade.
        Hilary Clinton, former Secretary of State, 2010*

Legalizing pot here will allow growing here and reducing demand in MX (not to mention it will spur industry here).  Reducing demand in MX will reduce i) drug business operations, ii) funds for arms and for paying corrupt police and other officials, and iii) ultimately the power of drug distributors.  In the short run, violence might rise as groups fought for a smaller market but overall their position in society will weaken.

Americans are fundamentally responsible for many who have died in Mexico since 2006 and prior.  In the context of drug consumption and demand, this idea is obvious.  In the context of NAFTA, it's a more complicated.  Dr. Peter Watt of Department of Hispanic Studies at The University of Sheffield explains it well.

"[T]the neo-liberal policies brought in during the 1980s basically drove millions of Mexicans into poverty, and so provided a cheap labour force for the drugs cartels.  In the run-up to NAFTA in 1994, the people pushing for it were the big multinationals and big Mexican companies who were funding the PRI.  The process meant a new subordination of the Mexican economy to the US economy.  For example, subsidies were lifted on production of Mexican corn, and then Mexico was flooded with imported corn from the US, where government subsidies were still in place.  This meant that in the first six years of NAFTA some two million small farmers in Mexico left the land. This migration from the land to the cities, to the maquiladoras on the border, and to the US itself has helped produce a flexible labour pool for criminal organizations to employ, a massively cheap labour force."**

Clinton obviously does not accept responsibility in the sense that Watt explains it.  (For the record, I am not anti-'free-market'.  That's a whole other enormous discussion for another day soon.)

Legalizing marijuana in the states and building our domestic industry is the real answer to reducing distributor violence in Mexico and preventing it from transforming our own society; coordinating legalization between nations is even better.  In 2009 (!), The Wall Street Journal did an excellent job outlining some of this thinking. ***  (As Noam Chomsky said many years ago, you can always rely on the financial news writers to assess issues in the clearest terms.)


Distributors, Vigilantes, and Civil Society

They are all the same.
        lime grower in Michoacan re vigilantes and criminals, 2014

We respect El Chapo more than any elected official.
        printed sign at a February event in Culiacan, Sinaloa, 2014

Overall, the situation in Mexico is exceedingly complicated.  Here's an article on how some Mexican citizens are scared of the vigilantes potential future intentions.  And here's an article on how some Mexican citizens support 'Chapo' Guzman's leadership.

The Knights Templar organization - a group that originated in 2011 out of the collapse of La Familia Michoacana - is another interesting story.  According to this interview piece, the head of Knights Templar, Servando 'La Tuta' Gomez, is a former school teacher who points out astutely that the distributors are a 'necessary evil'.  It has taken me a long time hold that view.  I hold it now.  In preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 visit to Guanajuato, this same group put up 14 banners reading "The Knights Templar Cartel will not partake in any warlike acts, we are not killers, welcome Pope."  Supposedly even Los Zetas have begun to reach out people to build a 'social base'.

Obviously, we view this all with deep cynicism but it reveals much about these distributors that many people don't understand.

The distributors in Mexico are a real power source; to the extent that people support them (even if under complicated terms) and to the extent that they have a monopoly on violence, they exhibit some limited aspects of authority and legitimacy.  That is something most establishment politicians in the States will not understand.

To complicate matters further and as an illustrative example, some evidence suggests that Chevron killed people in Nigeria.  Here's my point: I imagine (maybe) drug distributors kill many, many more innocent people than than oil and gas producers (maybe not).  But the fact remains that big economically productive organizations tend to kill people in the process of their operations.  I'm not making excuses; I'm looking for real solutions to violence as it really occurs.

Also, recall that the DEA has worked with the Sinaloa cartel for some time.  And severals financial institutions - such as BofA, Western Union, and JP Morgan - have dipped into the drug game; not to forget HSBC.  All the money is dirty.  Many institutions are involved.  It is the real world of war, money, and power.****  None of these organizations are all that different.*****

Personally I think the distributors, the vigilantes, and civil society organizations in Mexico need to exchange ideas (covertly or not) on how to create functioning, profitable, and safe (albeit illegal) drug markets and transportation and cultivation operations so people can buy drugs safely, learn about rehabilitation, and seek out out public health services.

The distributors may also want to understand two things.  First, they won the war but they haven't yet won the peace.  Winning the peace is generally much, much harder.  Americans have failed to win the peace in every major war we have fought since Korea.  Second, legalization is coming; and if they want to win the peace, they will have to transform their organizations to meet the needs of the Mexican people and to account for legalization.  I can already see a new war and more lawlessness as vigilante groups begin to take shape.  The predicable outcome is that the vigilantes go into cultivation and distribution to fund their efforts - whether it's to maintain order or build their own power.  It would better for everyone to work together now, share the proceeds, and move forward with life.  You can always find time to fight an enemy.  He might win.  You might win.  But there's also always a third option.   It's usually risky but the benefits are also often large.

As a communication of goodwill, the distributors may want to consider devoting monies to orphanages, mental health facilities, and institutions that protect and support Mexican woman.  (Will those organizations accept the money...questions abound.)

For part 3...


* The full quote covers more issues that I do not want to address now.

** Adding insult to absurdity, Watt outlines the nature of President Calderon's failure: "Prohibition of substances has been going on in some form or other for almost 100 years, and has always been a failure.  But the Calderón militarization of this has been an unmitigated disaster.  Look at four measures of this - based on the government's own statistics.  First, the overall violent crime rate had been falling in Mexico before this new initiative.  In the past six years though it has increased by more than 200%.  Similarly with the homicide rate: it had been falling, but has now more than doubled.   Thirdly, it has not reduced addiction rates within Mexico itself.  These have always been low compared to other countries, but if anything, they have now gone up half a per cent, and so the 'public health' argument to support the drugs war doesn't make sense.  And finally, the number of human rights abuses committed by the military during their attempts to control the drugs cartels – illegal detentions, torture, deaths, have shown a six-fold increase."

*** Recall that Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, and Ricardo Lagos - the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Chile - all support a marijuana liberalization bill in Mexico City; Vicente Fox, another former Mexican president supports similar thinking.

**** The preeminence of war, money, and power is not a function of a physical law or law of social dynamics.  Especially now, I believe humanity can re-imagine itself in ways not possible in the past.

***** In an upcoming interview regarding the NSA, my guest Marcy Wheeler makers a very somewhat similar point regarding JP Morgan.  I was so shocked when she made the point I laughed and spit up my coffee.  The idea itself wasn't shocking but rather that she would say it so bluntly.  Here's a preview.