Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The State Department on Drug Trafficking

The State Department's annual Narcotics Control Strategy Report has been released, and although it struggles to flatter Mexico, it's hard to ignore a few alarming facts. One, as Malcolm Beith points out, is the striking increase in poppy and marijuana cultivation in Mexico during Calderón term, coupled with a corresponding decline in eradication. This certainly contradicts the image of Calderón's government as going all out on all manner of drug trafficking.

I think it's worth pointing out that, as jarring as these numbers are, eradication is a suspect approach that has never yielded great results. All things being equal, it's better to focus on limiting the government-corrupting aspect of drug trafficking than the drug-producing aspect of drug trafficking. If these numbers existed alongside other concrete improvements, they wouldn't be particularly worrying. (Of course, they don't.) They are interesting for a couple of other reasons as well. First of all, one big story over the past year or so is that American marijuana growers are supplying an ever greater share of the American market, and thus squeezing out the Mexicans. If that's true, why is cultivation in Mexico jumping? Do the hectares dedicated to cultivation automatically indicate more marijuana being produced, or could it be that the 12,000 hectares are being divided among different crops in order to hide the marijuana plants? (I've read about that being a counter-eradication tactic in Colombia.)

Also, the report suggests that the greater cultivation is a result of greater vertical integration of Mexican gangs. That may be true, but there is no evidence to support it and it goes against pretty much everything I've read about the broader industry trends in the past five years. It's also not clear to me why greater vertical integration would automatically lend itself to greater production.

More on Part 2 later.

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