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The Elephant in the Room with Obama and Calderón

By Moravia de la O International Team – Mexico Witness for Peace

Amid rising tensions between their governments, yesterday Presidents Obama and Calderón addressed the small problems while ignoring the elephant in the room: the U.S.-backed war on drugs is failing. The presidents reiterated their commitment to continue current anti-drug strategies.

From the beginning of his presidency in 2006, President Calderón has deployed thousands of soldiers to the streets to fight the drug cartels. Since then, nearly 35,000 people have lost their lives. Thousands more have seen their communities torn apart by fear and insecurity. The U.S. has played a large role in this conflict, providing Mexico with millions of dollars in military equipment and training since 2007 through the Mérida Initiative.

In the last four years, the number of human rights abuses in Mexico has also skyrocketed. Since 2007, over 5,000 complaints of human rights violations by the military have been filed with the Mexican National Human Rights Commission. Among the most common complaints are disappearances, rape, torture and excessive use of force.

Despite continued pressure from civil society organizations and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Mexican government has failed to implement comprehensive reform to prosecute human rights abuses by the military in civil courts.

There is little evidence that the current anti-drug strategy is producing positive results. In fact, the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released by the State Department this week, estimates that drug production in Mexico has increased dramatically in the last few years. Impunity is also at an all-time high.

But you didn’t find either Calderón or Obama acknowledging that yesterday. Instead, they eased tensions by addressing a trade dispute that prevented Mexican trucks from operating on American highways. Since the signing of NAFTA in 1994, the U.S. has refused to abide by a provision that granted Mexican trucks these rights.

Although the advancement is small, it points to the grey cloud that hangs over the failed drug war in Mexico: the fact that U.S. economic policy, in the form of NAFTA, has done much to facilitate poverty and drug violence in Mexico.

“We are very mindful that the battle President Calderón is fighting in Mexico is not just his,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s also ours. We have to take responsibility, just as he’s taking responsibility.

His statement rings true. Although there are no easy fixes to the drug trade, the United States could take some important first steps by redirecting funds away from a military strategy in Mexico and towards policies that control the sale of assault weapons and significantly reduce demand for drugs in the US.

The United States is the biggest consumer of illegal drugs in the world. However, the Mérida Initiative does not allocate any of its funds to reduce drug consumption. Neither does it focus sufficiently on poverty-reduction.

About 90% of weapons used by cartels in Mexico come from the United States. In fact, the weapon used to kill Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata last week was purchased in Texas.

It is time for both the governments of the U.S. and Mexico to reevaluate their unsuccessful drug war policy and chart a new path for anti-drug cooperation.


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