U.S. needs to re-examine role in drug war

Freedom New Mexico

Officials say the death of Jaime Zapata could lead to a reassessment of U.S. policy for its residents, particularly government employees, in Mexico.

That’s probably little comfort to the families of dozens of U.S. citizens whose trips to Mexico have proved fatal, or David Hartley, a Texas resident who is presumed dead after he reportedly was shot at as he rode a personal watercraft on Falcon Lake in September.

At least Zapata, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, knew and accepted the risk. The Brownsville, Texas, native was assigned to the ICE office in Laredo, but was on assignment in Mexico City. He and another agent, Victor Avila, were driving through the state of San Luis Potosi Tuesday afternoon when they stopped at a roadblock. Zapata, the driver of the agents’ SUV, reportedly showed his U.S. credentials and a person at the roadblock, apparently a drug cartel member, shot the agents several times. Zapata died, Avila survived.

Let’s hope that reassessment actually takes place. Many questions need to be answered regarding the level of violence in Mexico, and the U.S. involvement that many refuse to recognize.

For starters, what will it take for U.S. and Mexican authorities take active steps to adequately inform travelers into Mexico about the dangers, and what they should and shouldn’t do? Quiet postings on Web sites that most travelers don’t bother to visit aren’t enough. If pharmacies can issue personalized printouts about medications when they’re ordered, why can’t government officials spit out specific information on a person’s destination when permits are issued?

U.S. officials are locked in a dilemma regarding Mexico. We’ve pledged support as Mexico’s government fights the cartels, as Zapata’s and Avila’s presence in Mexico shows.

Some suggest that the U.S. might respond to this incident with an increased presence in Mexico. Could that spur cartels to retaliate by bringing more violence north of the border?

Sadly, people focus on the violence and ignore the cause. Too many Americans refuse to recognize the link between U.S. demand and those in Mexico who are fighting over the supply.

What will it take to convince people that interdiction is a lost cause? Billions of dollars and thousands of lives have been lost, with little effect on the drug trade. Spending even a fraction of that amount on treatment, to lessen the demand, could be a much more effective investment.

Most importantly, what will it take for people to recognize that the drug war itself is a major contributor to all this carnage? We tried the same experiment with alcohol in the 1920s, and saw the same results. Remember Capone, Dillinger and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? Today’s crime in the streets of Mexico merely echo of what happened in Chicago and other U.S. cities 90 years ago.

Within 15 years of banning alcohol, officials recognized that prohibition itself contributes to the violence by raising the price of the product and ceding control to those who, by definition, are willing to break the law. It didn’t work with alcohol, it isn’t working with other drugs.

What will it take for officials to see the futility of their policies, and replace them with something more sensible?