Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More on the US's Drug Problem

Piggy-backing on the El Universal reports mentioned below, Jorge Luis Sierra argues that while drug trafficking in the United States is a growing danger, official attention lies firmly focused elsewhere. I don't entirely agree with the premise that drug-trafficking is more of a menace now than, say, the late 1980s, but there's no question that there is an incongruity in the intensity of American diagnoses of the problem in Mexico, and its willingness to look in the mirror. There is also a lot to agree with here:
Drug-runners are also exploiting the extreme poverty that dominates both sides of the border area. They have found that the lack of development is the ideal context for cultivating control of border populations, corrupting their police, recruiting their adolescents, increasing their drug sales, and developing routes of transport. Twenty-one out of 23 border counties in the US are considered areas of economic crisis. Close to 432,000 people are in these circumstances, many of them undocumented, who live in the 1,200 "colonias" in southern Texas and New Mexico.

President Obama's new anti-drug strategy includes more security, but not more development along the border. It's still too early to know how far that policy can go. For now, we can say that the idea that drug trafficking is an external evil that has to be contained predominates. The new circumstances indicate that drug traffic is also an internal evil that is growing inexorably.


jd said...

Yeah, a lot of good quotes and some interesting information, but really nothing at all shocking and all a bit breathless. The series is more interesting to me as a manifestation of Mexican sensitivities about the issue. As was discussed here last week, there are good reasons to be annoyed by the coverage of Mexico, but it seems to have led El Uni to misinterpret the state of the current drug debate within the US. Basically, it's quite low-intensity, especially in comparison to the 80s heyday, and to the degree that there's ferment it's in the direction of change (and resistance to that change, of course). Moreover, pretty much every sentient American has at this point been exposed to information about how badly the drug war has failed. I think the headline of yesterday's editorial was "El arte de culpar al vecino" or some such...I guess so, but I think Americans are plenty aware that drugs are a demand-driven phenomenon at root (though I admittedly have no polling evidence).

Ye, there's lots of coverage of Mexican drug violence, but as I think we agree, that's because...there's lots of cinematic Mexican drug violence that sells well. And the alarmism about narco expansion throughout the country is still pretty sporadic and driven by the bureaucratic imperatives of local, state, and federal police forces rather than some full-on national panic.

El Uni can also take solace in the fact that there are simply way too many Mexicans all over the US living perfectly normal lives for the image of Mexicans to become synonymous with narcos, as happened to the Colombians.

pc said...

The series is more interesting to me as a manifestation of Mexican sensitivities about the issue.

I think that's pretty much dead-on.

The one thing I think the media could do a better job of is putting the spotlight on dirty cops in the States, just because that's such a destructive element and we tend to ignore it. So kudos to El Uni for putting the spotlight on some of that. At the same time, it's hard to watch Serpico and think cops are dirtier now than they were forty years ago.

I also think it's true that the spectacular nature of the drug crime gets it more attention than it probably deserves otherwise. In Nuevo Laredo in 2004-2006, they talked about it as if it were Baghdad because there were machine gun battles in the streets, but the city was not much less safe than Washington, even at its peak of violence.