Time for an Alternative to Mexico’s Drug War


in Drug Policy Library,Global Policy News,Opinion

Time for an Alternative to Mexico’s Drug War

Picture courtesy of the Cato Institute

by Jorge Castañeda

If we do not ask why Mexico got into an aggressive fight against the drug cartels, it will be very difficult to understand how to get out of it. A lot of my colleagues in Mexico and the United States say, “Well okay, whatever reasons President Felipe Calderón had for getting into this war, the fact is now we are in it and we have to do something about it.” Yes, but it is not an idle exercise to go back and see to what extent this war was declared, more than five years ago, on false premises.

False Premises for Launching the Drug War

First false premise: violence in Mexico had been increasing, and something had to be done about it. Absolutely false. Violence in Mexico had been declining by any indicator, mainly the most important and reliable one: willful homicides per hundred thousand inhabitants. From the early 1990s through 2007, violence in Mexico declined from around 20-odd willful homicides per hundred thousand a year to about 8 per year in 2006 and 2007. That is still higher than the rate in United States, but it is one-third the rate in Brazil, one-tenth of what Colombia saw in its worst years, and one-third of what we have in Mexico today. Violence in Mexico had been declining for 20 years, but then spiked from 2007 onward. The year 2011 saw violence in Mexico reach Brazilian levels.

 Second false premise: drug consumption in Mexico had been rising to an alarming level. Mexico had shifted from being a transit country to a country of consumption. Something had to be done about this. Absolutely false. Mexico has among the lowest rates of consumption of drugs in Latin America—much lower than those of Central America, Brazil, or Colombia—and even lower than those rates of places such as Chile and Uruguay. And the increases, while very significant in purely statistical terms, were from such a low baseline that they were insignificant.



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