Focus on U.S.-Mexico Cooperation Ignores Differing Interests in Drug War

Focus on U.S.-Mexico Cooperation Ignores Differing Interests in Drug War

TORRÉON, Mexico -- The Merida Initiative is a billion-dollar anti-drug aid package that only a kindergarten teacher could love: The results are not important, just the mere idea that the United States and Mexico are cooperating makes it worthwhile. The focus on the two countries overcoming their prickly past and learning to play nice ignores the fact that their interests in the war on drugs are not the same. What solves Mexican problems won't necessarily work on American ones, and what works for Washington could make things a lot worse south of the Rio Grande. The increased commitment and cooperation promised by the Merida Initiative can't change that.

The Mexican drug problem lies not in the consumption of cocaine, marijuana, or meth (though drug abuse is rising here), but rather in the incredible influence American users have indirectly bestowed upon the Mexican cartels, and the latter's tendency to solve problems and send messages with dead bodies. The United States has the opposite problem. There are no scandals about the nexus of political power and drug traffickers. Drug gangs are a general nuisance, a lethal danger in some communities, but the state is not threatened by cartels. Americans snort, smoke, and inject too much, but the nastiest symptoms of the drug wars rage south of the border.

The number of drug-related killings in Mexico has steadily increased over the past decade, topping out last year at around 2,500. Drug dealers wage war openly in border cities like Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana. Ricardo Ravelo, the dean of Mexican journalists on the narco beat, has estimated that half of the nation's cops are allied with the drug cartels. (Half!) With the possible exception of the mid-1990s, Mexico has never seemed so vulnerable to drug traffickers as it has over the past two years.

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