Resurrecting a Failed War on Drugs


In 2008, a disturbing trend developed in mainstream media regarding Mexico. While Mexico's President Felipe Calderón began his aggression against the Cartels roughly two years ago, the resulting uptick in violence was of no real interest to mainstream media. But when the U.S. Joint Forces Command report Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008) was issued in November, 2008, and declared Mexico and Pakistan nations in danger of a "rapid and sudden collapse," mainstream news outlets and certain politicians began broadcasting fears of violence spilling over into the US. Coverage quickly snowballed into a cycle of reporting grounded in unsubstantiated fear, which led to calls to further militarize the border. Democracy Now! highlights how President Obama's readiness to deploy the National Guard to the border is directly linked to the sensationalized mainstream coverage. In an interview with host Amy Goodman, Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program for the Center for International Policy, says: When we started to look at some of these articles talking about spillover of Mexican violence into the United States, what we found is that there’s no evidence of that whatsoever at this point. … In the case of using statistics, like there’s a lot of talk about the number of kidnappings in Phoenix, it turns out that many times those statistics are spurious, and they have no backup. They’ve been invented, or they’ve been twisted in many cases. This is a real warning sign for us, because when we see an exaggerated threat assessment, as we’re seeing right now in terms of spillover of Mexican violence to the United States, it’s generally a prelude to militarization. And it is: Truthdig reports on "a crime-fighting operation targeting Mexican drug cartels on a scale not seen since the battles against the US mafia" in F.B.I. Runs for the Border. The War on Drugs has returned, via aid/force packages like Plan Mérida that simply recycle failed plans (like Plan Colombia). Under increased militarization, drug production actually goes up, as does the body count, but the seizure of drugs decreases. In the interests of full disclosure, the increasing exploitation of the Mexican people and militarization of border towns like Ciudad Juarez and El Paso—my father's birthplace—affect me on a deeply personal level. My father was the first of Herreras in my family to be born here. I am a citizen. He makes sure to remind me that my abuela (grandmother) gained her green card legally. I read of harm done to people like my grandmother—legal and undocumented and citizens alike—in jails teeming with neglect and hatred and it disturbs me. Immigration must be discussed as a human, not military issue. In the below video from GritTV, Rosa Clemente, Immigration Campaign Director for Amnesty International USA, talks about the lack of response from the Obama Administration on immigration, even though ICE is predicting 400,000 arrests in 2009 and our 2009 budget allots 6.1 billion to the construction of new prisons. How many of those prisons will be detention centers? Opponents of immigration reform (and often immigrants themselves) often imply that they really do adore legal immigrants. Joshua Holland makes it clear how very tenuous that line is in AlterNet's I Married an Illegal Immigrant. Holland writes that "the difference between legal and illegal is often a matter of simple chronology rather than a reflection of the character of the person in question." Disguising undocumented "aliens" as an unwanted, criminal horde, rather than productive members of our own society runs counter to American ideals of freedom and equality. It becomes easier to simply lock down the border and take a harsher stance, even if many of those who migrate were displaced by our own government's actions in the first place. The Drug War model is a failed method of dealing with immigration, even though Obama seems intent to resurrect it. Writing for The Progressive, Yolanda Chávez Leyva says: For more than twenty years, those of us who live on the border have witnessed the increasing militarization of the border. The border wall is a daily reminder of this, as are the helicopters that fly over our neighborhoods, the checkpoints manned by the Border Patrol and local law enforcement, as well as the daily harassment of citizens who happen to have darker skin. We are frequently the target of various “wars” —against undocumented migration, against terrorism and now against drugs. I am tired of living in a war zone. The model of “war” has not worked, and it will not work. President Felipe Calderón—who Democracy Now! reports was elected in "the most controversial election in Mexican history"—is spoken of glowingly by our politicians, who are full of praise for his violence against the Cartels. Elena Shore details some of this language for New America Media. Going back to Lauren Carlsen's interview with Democracy Now!: "It's completely unacceptable to ask a society to accept higher levels of violence as a sign that we are winning the drug war." She's right. We will never "win" the "drug war." The body count is growing. More prisons are being built. People of color are the primary victims. And now, President Obama talks of sending the military down to meet Mexico's military at the border. But what about the people caught in the middle? What about the people suffering in ICE's custody today? What about the 400,000 more that ICE plans to capture in 2009? We need better solutions than more guns and more soldiers. Militarization simply leads to more violence. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration. Visit for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy and health issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

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