Migrant Eradication in the Mexican Drug War

Criminalizing drugs generates other crimes, often making innocent people’s lives more violent or unsafe. A classic example of drug war collateral damage is the US Mérida Initiative (2007) that prompted Mexican President Felipe Calderón to militarize Mexico’s drug war.

By 2008, migrants traveling from or through Mexico to cross over into the US were being scapegoated as drug traffickers, making it easier for the two governments to dismiss their deaths or disappearances—more than 32,000 so far. The Mérida Initiative, championed and extended by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, set drug cartels free to exploit migrants, kidnapping them, robbing them, demanding ransoms from contacts in the US, or torturing people to recruit them into smuggling 80-pound bales of marijuana across the border—and worse. Twelve-year-old migrants have been abducted, asphyxiated, and their organs harvested for transplants. People deported to Mexico from the US face worse survival odds than migrants. Jeremy Slack’s 2019 book, Deported to Death: How Drug Violence is Changing Migration on the US-Mexico Border, exposes the corruption at much risk to his own life:

…corruption has acted as a buffer, with clear ties between drug traffickers and politicians serving to lessen the public nature of violence, as targeting the population at large is avoided in return for being allowed to traffic drugs openly and with impunity. [Kindle 954]

Mexico’s political system has often been referred to as the “perfect dictatorship,” because the one-party system was able to remain in power for almost seven decades…subtle forms of oppression, intermixing extreme violence and corruption with government handouts, a populist front, and media-savvy politicians—all combine for a particularly sophisticated form of pseudo-authoritarianism. [Kindle 1209-10]

What is clear is that the movement between places becomes a commodity, something to be prized, nurtured, understood, and controlled…Recruitment of migrants by drug cartels has become a polemic topic, as the anti-immigrant Right has for years conflated migration with terrorism and cartel violence spilling across the border, while the pro-immigrant Left will not touch the topic. [Kindle 1546, 1942]

Drug cartels work as a kind of pyramid scheme, with those on the streets making very little money, taking on most of the risk, and often dying quickly. Those at the top, with real power and influence, need hordes of people working for them, and replacing them can be a challenge. This has, broadly speaking, led to increased reliance on blind mules, and on those trafficking drugs under duress. [Kindle 1974]

…the idea that it is completely natural for the government to kill drug traffickers has provided unique cover for the same type of atrocities committed during the dirty wars, with even less scrutiny. The military still runs rampant in Mexico, frequently using torture and even sexual violence as a method of interrogation. Yet, internationally, there is no outcry. “This is not a ‘dirty’ war; it’s a drug war” is a common refrain. What is wrong with combating drugs? [Kindle 2456]

What’s wrong is the drug war. Effective control of drugs can be achieved with decriminalization and regulation, as cannabis legalization recently illustrates.

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