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Friday, July 19, 2019

Guest Commentary

The U.S. brings drugs and crime to Mexico

The United States is bringing drugs and crime to Mexico, and not the reverse. Yes, you read it correctly.

Circa 20 months ago, President Donald Trump opened his presidential campaign with his assertions toward Mexicans: They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime etc. 

The crime claim has been refuted by numerous research studies and articles (with links to many posted on Facebook) showing that immigrants (including Mexicans) have lower crime rates.

To his assertion that they’re bringing drugs, nobody has seemed to ask the question: to whom are they bringing them? Too often ignored is the fact that a line of white powder and a straw has become the paraphernalia for the recreational drug of elite groups who can afford it. Including many who live in expensive dwellings such as Trump Tower.

I was involved in the Caribbean in the 1990s when water transportation involving speedboats and even specially built submarines was the route of choice for drugs from Colombia via small Caribbean islands to be smuggled to the Florida coast. Some of these islands were devastated by the relatively large amounts of cash to be used for bribery and the deaths that often resulted. It was fair to say at the time that the drug problems in the U.S. – the demand for drugs – created the drug problem in the Caribbean and not the reverse.

It was the Cali cartels that drove the illegal drug trade through the Caribbean. With the demise of the Cali Cartels but the survival of the hard drug production areas in Colombia and further South along with the continued demand in the U.S. for them, a new land route had to be found for these drugs. Even so, the drug trade, including transit to Europe remains a problem in the Caribbean.

It is a fundamental axiom to most economists that if something can be produced and/or is already being produced then a way will be found to get it those who are willing and able to pay all the costs – legal or otherwise, peaceful or otherwise. Mexico’s great sin was to have the long border with the U.S. as the only land route for smuggling became dominant.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: Pobre de México, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos which means, “Poor Mexico. So distant from God, so close to the United States.”

In the abstract, virtually all economists would agree that the blame for illegal substances is shared by those who produce it, those who traffic it and those who buy it. Meanwhile those who happen to occupy the areas where it is transited are the real victims. But without buyers at the end of the stream, the flow doesn’t happen. In our current polarized political climate, the politics of a particular situation might alter or at least modify the belief of some economists that demand drives activities such as the drug trade.

Following the logic of the argument that I have presented, Mexico is the victim of our drug habits and they have paid an enormous price for it. Estimates for the death toll over the last decade vary with some so large, I hesitate to repeat them since I cannot verify them. Even without numbers, we can all agree that the death toll from the drug trade has been horrendous. The sizeable amounts of money involved make it possible for the gangs to acquire an array of lethal weapons.

Though most of the deaths are gang members (or so it is claimed), the loss of life by law enforcement officers and innocent civilians is significant and has become a national tragedy. The sums of money involved make it inevitable that there will be sources of corruption.

The concentration of resources fighting the drug trade has strained the law enforcement resources making crime and violence in other sectors more difficult to control. And how does one even begin to measure the impact that this senseless violence has had on the everyday life of Mexico’s citizens?

Mexico has paid a heavy price even though they have cooperated completely with the U.S. to try to stamp it out. The continuing and escalating attacks against them and insults to their dignity are totally unwarranted. If relations between our two countries break down and the cooperation on the drug trade ends, our border problems in the U.S would be multiplied many times over and no wall would keep them out. 

As far as I can learn, Mexico historically did not have a major hard drug problem. I stand ready to be corrected on this point. Whenever drugs pass through an area, it is inevitable that some of the drugs are peddled in the transit areas. I have no data for this but I would be surprised if Mexico does not now have a hard drug problem in its own country. If our language and songs have any validity, Mexico does have a history of growing and using marijuana as we do. Especially where there are now increasing number of states where it has become legal.

I hope that this piece allows some to see another side to the standard arguments on the drug trade. Even if you disagree, I further hope that you recognize that there is another side on this issue.

Guest columnist Thomas R. DeGregori is a professor of economics. To submit a guest column, contact [email protected]

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