February 14, 2015

Former President Bill Clinton apologized to Mexico during a speech there last week for a backfired U.S. war on drugs that has fueled spiraling violence.

Former President Bill Clinton apologized to Mexico during a speech there last week for a backfired U.S. war on drugs that has fueled spiraling violence.
“I wish you had no narco-trafficking, but it’s not really your fault,” Clinton told an audience of students and business leaders at the recent Laureate Summit on Youth and Productivity. “Basically, we did too good of a job of taking the transportation out of the air and water, and so we ran it over land.
“I apologize for that,” Clinton said.
Clinton was referring to U.S. drug enforcement policy that began under his predecessors, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who invested heavily in shutting down the Caribbean Sea as the favored trafficking route between the U.S. and South America and Central America. That effort pushed smuggling west, over land in Mexico.
Clinton made his own contribution. Opening Mexico's border with the U.S. encouraged land-based trafficking, and enforcement efforts that broke up Colombian cartels empowered Mexican drug gangs, who until then had largely been middlemen. With more power came more money. With more money came more violence.
Mexico, home to about a half-dozen extraordinarily powerful and violent cartelswhose influence reaches well beyond narco-trafficking, has since the 1990s been a major focus of the U.S. war on drugs. Last month's discovery of 43 missing college students from rural Mexico, all found to have been killed and incinerated after being seized by state law enforcement, exposed a shocking level of Mexican government corruption.
The U.S. government spends roughly $40 billion to $50 billion each year fighting the war on drugs around the globe. The battle has taken a particularly devastating toll in Mexico. In recent years, at least 60,000 to 100,000 people are believed to have been murdered in Mexico, many in drug-related violence.
Despite -- or, more accurately, as a result of -- years of fighting against the narco-traffickers, 90 percent of the cocaine that arrives in the U.S. travels through Mexico and Central America, according to a recent State Department report. Cartels also continue to deliver a significant amount of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the U.S.
"Of course, one wishes he and his counterparts would have done the right thing when they wielded the power to do so," Daniel Robelo, research director at the anti-drug war advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in a blog post responding to Clinton's remarks. "But it’s better to apologize than pretend he did nothing wrong at all. Yet we need much more than apologies -- especially from those who currently hold office, or who might in the near future."
While Clinton expanded the drug war during his presidency, it’s not the first time he has criticized it since leaving office. In an interview for the 2011 documentary “Breaking The Taboo,” chronicling drug policies around the globe, Clinton flatly said the policy was a failure.
“Well obviously, if the expected results was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narcotrafficking networks -- it hasn’t worked,” Clintonsaid.
During the first year of his administration, Clinton made free trade a top priority, pushing for the passage of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement. It wasn't an easy task. Having helped Democrats take the White House for the first time in 12 years, organized labor was in no mood to see manufacturing jobs shipped to Mexico. The debate was difficult enough without having to talk about the sprawling Mexican drug trade and its attendant corruption and the fact that the agreement would also end up benefiting the cartels.
And so he ordered his people not to talk about it.
“We were prohibited from discussing the effects of NAFTA as it related to narcotics trafficking, yes. For the godfathers of the drug trade in Colombia and Mexico, this was a deal made in narco heaven,” Phil Jordan, who had been one of the DEA’s leading authorities on Mexican drug organizations, told ABC News reporter Brian Ross four years after the deal had gone through.
The agreement squeaked through Congress in late 1993 and went into effect Jan. 1, 1994, the same day that the Zapatistas rose up in Southeast Mexico. With its passage, more than 2 million trucks began flowing northward across the border annually. Only a small fraction of them were inspected for cocaine, heroin, or meth.
The White House, in a 1999 report, estimated that commercial vehicles brought roughly 100 tons of cocaine into the country across the Mexican border in 1993. With NAFTA in effect, 1994 saw the biggest jump in commercial-vehicle smuggling on record -- a 25 percent increase. The number of meth-related emergency-room visits in the United States doubled between 1991 and 1994. In San Diego, America's meth capital, meth seizures climbed from 1,409 pounds in 1991 to 13,366 in 1994.
The opening of the border came at an opportune time for Mexican drug runners, who'd recently expanded their control of the cocaine trade and made major investments in large-scale meth production. Both were unintended consequences of U.S. policies in the '70s and '80s aimed at crushing meth and cocaine with a militarized, enforcement-heavy approach. The return of meth across the Mexican border was one more sign that the get-tough policies of the '80s had backfired.
Meth production had been driven underground and pushed into Mexico in the late '60s and '70s as a result of federal legislation. It fell into the waiting arms of a drug-smuggling establishment that itself had also been created by U.S. drug policy. The 1914 U.S. law that banned opium had created a situation in which the drug was illegal on one side of the border and legal on the other, where it had been grown since the 1800s. The Mexican government was in the midst of a revolution and unable to stop northward smuggling. Sociologist Luís Astorga, in his study "Drug Trafficking in Mexico: A First General Assessment," cites Los Angeles customs officials claiming that Baja California's then-governor, Esteban Cantú, a Mexican army colonel, was suspected of playing a major role in the drug trade by reselling product seized from other traffickers.
Mexican smugglers got another boost when the United States banned alcohol with the 18th Amendment. It took them decades, though, to get into the cocaine business. In the '70s, South American cocaine producers were running almost all of the cocaine imported into the United States through the Caribbean, into Miami, and then out to the rest of the nation. The feds brought the hammer down on the mound of coke that was Miami and the Caribbean smugglers in the '80s. While the government focused on the powder that then began to waft across the country, Mexican meth smugglers seized a perfect opportunity.

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