Mexico's Felipe Calderón Admits Drug War Is Failing

Mexicans were especially rattled by last week’s fire-bombing of a Monterrey casino. Including the numerous mass graves that have been discovered along the border, and the 25,000 to 40,000 people who have been killed since 2006, the casino fire is the single deadliest and most shocking incident in Mexico’s drug war. Fifty-two people died in the blaze, many of them old ladies. 

Mexican President Felipe Calderón called the Zeta cartel members who started the fire “true terrorists who have gone beyond all limits.” Yet having already destroyed nearly $13 billion in cartel “assets,” which in a saner world we would call “exports” and not destroy; and captured and/or killed two-thirds of Mexico’s most-wanted list, it seems like there’s not much else Calderon and his handlers in the U.S. can do: Keep burning them drugs, keep arresting them baddies, and pray--in the words of Obama-nominated DEA Chief Michele Leonhart--that the “caged animals” keep “attacking one another.”

But the BBC notes that Calderón is losing his gusto for being a drug-war lapdog. Shortly after the casino fire, he told a group of reporters that

"If [the Americans] are determined and resigned to consuming drugs, they should look for market alternatives that annul the stratospheric profits of the criminals, or establish clear points of access that are not the border with Mexico....But this situation cannot continue like this."

The Buenos Aires Herald is also reporting that Calderón seems ready to try something new:

Calderon has begun to soften the hard-line rhetoric that won him allies in Washington, stressing his readiness to discuss the merits of drug legalization.

"I'm completely open to this debate. Not just on consumption, but also on movement and production," he told a meeting with victims' families in Mexico City yesterday. But he added: "This issue goes beyond national borders. If there's no international agreement, it doesn't make sense."

Calderón’s creeping awareness of just how destructive prohibition is for his people is a damn good thing. But as the Herald notes, “Resistance is firmly entrenched in the U.S. government and analysts say Mexico is very unlikely to liberalize its drug laws without Washington's approval.” Perhaps anticipating that Calderón would go soft, a high level State Department functionary insisted last month that the anti-cartel Merida Initiative would continue regardless of who Mexicans elected president in 2012. Hopefully Calderón grows a conscience and a spine between now and then.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "If [the Americans] are determined and resigned to consuming drugs, they should look for market alternatives that annul the stratospheric profits of the criminals, or establish clear points of access that are not the border with Mexico..."

    Sounds like Calderón should consider fencing off his northern border.

  • ||

    As a lifelong gringo, I can honestly say that my hunger for drugs is nigh insatiable and I'd scale any wall those bastards put up.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Not when I sell them my anti-jonesing spray. I call it the Harrumphy Bogart Fogger (formerly the Merck Spritz).

  • 2O||

    a 20' wall calls for pedro's 21' ladderz !

  • Gaming Mouse||

    lol, what? Why scale a wall for some can get them around the corner dirt cheap! This won't affect things, trust me.

  • MWG||

    "Hopefully Calderón grows a conscience and a spine between now and then."

    I'm guessing he won't.

  • ||

    What's the death of several thousand mexicans against the possibility a single teenager gets high...amiright...

  • Hugh Akston||

    Mexicans were especially rattled by last week’s fire-bombing of a Monterrey casino. Including the numerous mass graves that have been discovered along the border, and the 25,000 to 40,000 people who have been killed since 2006, the casino fire is the single deadliest and most shocking incident in Mexico’s drug war. Fifty-two people died in the blaze, many of them old ladies.

    Jesus Christ. Is there anything more destructive than the US governments hardon to control other people's behavior?

  • Joe M||

    I'm sure those little old ladies in the casino were glad to make the sacrifice for teh childrunz.

  • squarooticus||

    Come on, people: where are the complaints about no ALT text?

  • ||

    If [the Americans] are determined and resigned to consuming drugs,

    No "if" about it.

    The rest follows QE fucking D.

  • mofo||

    We just need moar execution is all. Thats what that is.

  • GSL||

    Resistance is firmly entrenched in the U.S. government and analysts say Mexico is very unlikely to liberalize its drug laws without Washington's approval.

    At this point, what could the US do to Mexico that would be bad enough to offset the benefits of ending its involvement in our Drug War?

  • Spoonman.||

    Well, we could ban their major money-making exports to us.



  • Hugh Akston||

    Relocate the White House, Congress, and Pentagon to Mexico City?

  • Paul R.||

    fucking A I'm getting tired of all these goddamn wars

  • daveInAustin||

    CNN's headline "Calderon vows to push forward with Mexican offensive against cartels"

  • anonymous||

    So if I give in to your wishes on drug policy the terrorism will stop? How silly of me not to have seen the superiority of your moral position.

  • Jordan||

    Drug warrior douche spotted.

  • anonymous||

    Good reading comprehension, but that retort doesn't testify to the rightness of your position. In fact it rather suggests a fundamental weakness. You see what the argument is. Engage it. For your own sake.

  • BigT||

    On what basis do you claim the right to deny people from partaking in something they enjoy and does you no harm?

  • anonymous||

    25,000 to 40,000 bodies. I'm bearing witness.

  • BigT||

    That's a reason to grant more freedom - turf wars would be eliminated. Recall 1933 in the US. Alcohol turf wars ended.

  • anonymous||

    That's a pretty hypothesis. As things are, however, the drug trade is deadly. If you choose to participate in it you're supporting murder; you're valuing getting high above human life.

  • Kat||

    First, not everyone who supports the end of drug prohibition is a drug user, so that's kind of a non-sequitur.

    Second, almost all the violence associated with the drug trade is, at its core, black-market related. Eliminate the black market and going to literal war with competitors will lose its value.

  • anonymous||

    Though you are correct that many who advocate legalization of drugs do no use drugs, you are wrong to say it's a non-sequitor to point to those who buy drugs on the black market when the issue of apportioning blame for 40,000 deaths is raised. You are so fabulously wrong, I feel that you must be doing something with your mind other than grappling with the issue at hand. Stop it. Wake up.

    As for your second point, I've already addressed that. The people participating in the drug trade have a responsibility for ending the black market that's far greater and more obvious than the responsibility of governments whose (unquantified) influence on drug prices purportedly induces people to murder.

  • Kat||

    Still a non-sequitur. And I still have no idea what you're trying to say there, so I'll just call it "drug warrior logic" and leave it alone.

    All the PSAs, "Intervention" shows and high school anti-drug education have done nothing to abate drug use, so tackling the issue from the supply/demand angle, i.e., convincing people to stop using drugs, has proven to be useless.

    While drug prohibition does make selling drugs lucrative, the price alone doesn't explain the violence. You'll need to go back to Econ 101 to get a grasp on that one; if you can't understand why illegal markets are violent, I can't help you.

  • burnt||

    My understanding is that what you are calling terrorism is a combination of cartels fighting over territory/profits, and a criminal insurgency that's striking back at the gov't forces to create room to make those profits. Take away the profits and you take away the cartel's ability to sustain fairly major military operations. Likely some of it will continue in the short term if the policy is ended, as the cartel's attempt to establish other fiefdom's, but I doubt that it is sustainable without the river of cash from the drug trade.

  • anonymous||

    "Take away the profits." Okay. You first. Libertarians claim buying illegal drugs is a victimless crime, then, when the bodies start to pile up, they point fingers at the laws before pointing fingers at the drug users who directly hand money over to the criminal organizations. That's twisted and, honestly, it smacks of psychological denial. The laws may have an influence on prices, but they in no way mandate that anyone buy drugs.

  • BigT||

    The illegality, not the drug use, causes the violence. How many stoned people are reported in fights or attacking innocents? Almost never happens.

    And has the drug war actually reduced drug use? No.

  • anonymous||

    Those are transparent rationalizations. Your dealer probably doesn't advertise the fact that people have been killed to bring you your product, but you know better.

    If your favorite tennis shoes were half as bloody as your dope would you still buy them? If you would eschew blood tennis shoes but not blood dope, how is that an argument in favor of legalization? It would suggest on the contrary that drugs lead people to moral degeneracy and irrationality, i.e., they cause harm.

    There are many reasons why rates of drug use fluctuate. I suspect in general they're more apt to go up than down because drugs are addictive. Furthermore they impair judgement. The fact that most drug users want to continue using drugs even when the drug trade involves murder as well as personal suffering testifies to the truth of the proposition that drugs impair judgement. If drug use is rising, then, that would hardly be an argument in favor of legalizing drugs. On the contrary it underlines the perniciousness of drug abuse.

  • Atanarjuat||

    You're confused. No one on here said drug use was necessarily good. We are advocating ending the black market. That will greatly reduce the profit margin on drug sales, for one thing.

    To turn your argument around, you use bridges don't you? Many involved the death of workers during their construction. "NO MORE BLOOD BRIDGES!!!"

  • anonymous||

    If you want to know what confusion is, reflect a little.

    Okay, advocate ending the black market. There's almost an admission there that you're morally opposed to the killing that's going on. The problem with your argument, then, is that you don't seem to recognize that people who participate in the black market bear a responsibility that's far greater than people such as myself who advocate that nobody should participate in the black market. Not buying drugs at all will reduce the profit margin faster, more effectively, and by a wider margin than any plan of legalization. Refute that.

    Bridges? Are you kidding me? Actually, it is something I've thought about with respect to mining accidents and construction site accidents. I'm generally in favor of regulations that improve safety for workers. I suspect that's not a popular predisposition among libertarians. Truthfully, though, it's not a good analogy at all. Bridge builders don't deliberately kill people as part of the business of making bridges. Drug dealers do deliberately kill people. That's a moral problem for anybody who buys drugs.

  • ||

    Okay, advocate ending the black market.

    To end the black market, you need to legalize drugs.

    The black market is entirely due to prohibition. But the rest of your rant kind of indicates you're to dumb to understand that.

    Drug dealers do deliberately kill people. That's a moral problem for anybody who buys drugs.

    Yes, but the killing is due to prohibition, not to the buying of drugs, per se.

    The moral responsibility for the killings belongs, besides to the killers themselves, to the prohibitionists and the self-righteous busybodies like you that support them, not to drug users.

  • anonymous||

    "To end the black market...." So you've been saying. There is another way, which has the advantage of being more direct.

    The black market is not entirely due to prohibition. Only its status as a "black" market may reasonably be attributed to prohibitions and controls, but even then the issue of responsibility is not as clear as you pretend. For instance, would you argue that illegal drug dealers are, as a class, agents of the state? Once you recognize their agency, pinning their crimes on the legal code is rather a dubious proposition.

    As for the rest, I suspect you may be engaging in a kind of wishful thinking. In any case, it isn't rational.

    Let me ask you, what in your view is the primary influence of government policies on the drug trade which would explain why people are killing each other? If your answer involves in any way an effect on the price of drugs, I submit to you that logically those who pay for drugs bear a greater and more direct responsibility for those killings than anybody who doesn't buy drugs, much less those who advocate that people shouldn't buy drugs.

    A lot of business men say they answer to their customers. Sometimes advocates of legalization say as much about drug dealers. They answer to their customers. If that's true, how is it that their customers avoid responsibility for the practices of the drug trade? If only conditions were different they would make different choices? No, by and large they are not offering their choices for scrutiny. Why not? If libertarians are so big on personal responsibility, why do they always seem to point to the contingencies of action, and never the action itself, when it comes to the morality of the drug trade?

  • Atanarjuat||

    Not buying drugs at all will reduce the profit margin faster, more effectively, and by a wider margin than any plan of legalization. Refute that.

    I won't refute that. How would you make that happen? Kill all drug users? Reasoning with addicts won't work, and for recreational users (eg, potheads), there are already pretty harsh penalties.

    Ending the black market, however, would simply involve reversing some legislation.

  • anonymous||

    What to do about the problem is a vexing question.

    I disagree with you about the social costs of smoking pot. In light of the mayhem in Mexico, society is far too lenient on potheads and other drug users.

    I suspect marijuana may be legalized soon enough. We'll see then, after a period of years, what costs are associated with that.

    Honestly, though, we should be debating legalizing cocaine or heroin, because those are the extreme cases when it comes to damage inflicted, and many libertarians favor legalization of all drugs on principle. If you can make the case for legalizing cocaine, the case for legalizing marijuana will logically follow.

  • Atanarjuat||

    Here's an article about decriminalization of "hard" drugs in Portugal. For the drug users, the change was drastically for the better, even though selling drugs remained a criminal violation. I and probably most libertarians here at Reason are for complete legalization.

    There might be a moral case to make regarding the effect your drug purchase has on Mexicans (admittedly it's not something I've thought much about since I don't use any drugs that are illegal; I prefer poisoning my liver). I disagree that there is any legal liability because drug users are not responsible for the War on (some) Drugs or how it's prosecuted, or the specific violent actions of cartels they indirectly purchase from. That's like saying I'm guilty of manslaughter because a coal miner died, and I use electricity. Would you also argue that alcohol drinkers during Prohibition should have been held responsible for the mayhem caused by their demand being supplied by a black market? Just wondering, would you also criticize men who pay for sex for the crappy lives many prostitutes have? Would you exempt a marijuana user who grows his or her own personal supply from any responsibility for deaths in the WoD?

  • ||

    If you would eschew blood tennis shoes but not blood dope, how is that an argument in favor of legalization? It would suggest on the contrary that drugs lead people to moral degeneracy and irrationality, i.e., they cause harm.

    If that didn't look as stupid, not to mention self-righteous and tyrannical, in your head as it does on the screen you really aren't worth talking to.

  • anonymous||

    The fact that you commented says otherwise.

  • Robert||

    1. Man has the right to live by his own law--
    to live in the way that he wills to do:
    to work as he will:
    to play as he will:
    to rest as he will:
    to die when and how he will.

    2. Man has the right to eat what he will:
    to drink what he will:
    to dwell where he will:
    to move as he will on the face of the earth.

    3. Man has the right to think what he will:
    to speak what he will:
    to write what he will:
    to draw, paint, carve, etch, mould, build as he will:
    to dress as he will.

    4. Man has the right to love as he will.

    5. Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.

  • anonymous||

    That's a recipe for a lot of killing, pilgrim.

  • Jennifer||

    Problem is, if the Mexican government ever legalized or decriminalized drugs, the US government would declare it a rogue state and send in the Army and the kill-drones to liberate the Mexican population into worm-food.

  • cynical||

    That's why they need to declare a huge military push against the cartels, start building things up, and bribe Congressmen with defense contractor buddies to start giving away a ton of swag. Then, once they've gotten a shitload of free high-end military equipment, tell the U.S. to fuck off.

  • ||

    Nope. Country's too darn big. US armed forces prefer to work in smaller areas, typically a (roughly) 200x200 mile box. Mexico would be too darn complex for them to bite off.

  • Little Jerry Seinfeld||

    Why doesn't anyone take Jennifer seriously?

  • ||

    Sure, just like we did to the Netherlands and Portugal.

  • ||

    Because you stubbornly choose to remain in some strange parallel universe, one where prohibition actually works, all you despicably ignorant prohibitionists have blood on your hands!

    Prohibition does nothing but bankroll dangerous criminals, corrupt whole law enforcement agencies and generously arm international terrorists. Alcohol prohibition (1919-1933) was a casebook example of such dangerous folly. Today, alcohol is taxed and regulated and the shoot-outs over turf and the killing of innocent bystanders are no longer a daily part of the alcohol trade. So how come so many of us lack the simple ability to learn from such an important historical lesson, and are instead intent on perpetuating the madness and misery that prohibition has always invariably engendered? 

    It is clearly our always-doomed-to-fail policy of prohibition that is causing this intense misery. We need to fix ourselves (start thinking clearly) and in doing so, we will not only help rid ourselves of this terrible self-inflicted curse but also help to heal the whole planet.

    Are we really such an adolescent nation that we can expect neither maturity nor cognitive thought from either our leaders or our populace? This is not a war on drugs; it's an outright war on sanity!

    Colombia, Peru, Mexico or Afghanistan, with their coca leaves, marijuana buds or their poppy sap, are not igniting temptation in the minds of poor weak American citizens. These countries are merely responding to the enormous demand that comes from within our own borders. Invading or destroying those countries, creating more hate, violence, instability, injustice and corruption, will not fix this problem. We need to admit that It is ourselves who are sick. Prohibition is neither a sane nor a safe approach. Left unabated, it's moronothonic, puritanical flames will surely engulf every last one of us!

  • ||

    Nice rant, malcolm, but if you'd read any of the comments here you'd realize that everyone agrrees with you.

    Did it not occur to you that that tone, "all you despicably ignorant prohibitionists have blood on your hands!", might be a trifle grating to people who have spent the better part of their lives opposing the Drug War?

  • ||

    Kreel, did it occur to you that my message was solely directed at prohibitionists?

    BTW, the following message is meant for the fence sitters:

    Each day you remain silent, you help to destroy the Constitution, fill the prisons with our children, and empower terrorists and criminals worldwide while wasting hundreds of billions of your own tax dollars. Prohibition bears many strong and startling similarities to Torquemada­'s inquisition­, it's supporters are servants of tyranny and hate who's sole purpose is to make the rest of us suffer their putrid legacy of incalculable waste and destruction.

    Prohibition engendered black market profits are obscenely huge. Remove this and you remove the ability to bribe or threaten any government official or even whole governments. The argument that legalized regulation won't severely cripple organized crime is truly bizarre. Of course, the bad guys won't just disappear, but if you severely diminish their income, you also severely diminish their power. The proceeds from theft, extortion, pirated goods etc. are a drop in the ocean compared to what can be earned by selling prohibited/unregulated drugs in a black market estimated to be worth 400,000 million dollars. The immense illegal capital, gifted through prohibition, is what gives these criminal cartels and terrorists power. Power that has allowed them to expand into other areas with near total impunity.

    Millions of fearless North Africans have recently shown us that recognizing oppression also carries the weight of responsibility to act upon and oppose that oppression. Prohibition is a vicious anti-constitutional assault on ALL American citizens by a criminally insane and dysfunctional government, which left unchallenged will end with the destruction of the entire nation.

  • ||

    Right on Malcolm. I am a gringo living in Mexico for the last 20 years.

    Calderon should just legalize (at least) marijuana here in Mexico. Think of the tourism that would be generated by all the dopers coming to visit!

  • ||

    And my point was that there are no prohibitionists here to direct that at so you just come of sounding like the same ignorant fucks that accuse of of being pro-war and cheerleaders for Bush.

  • ||

    Embrace the fire...its cleansing...ethnic style.

  • some nerd||

    Uh, maybe he was just sayin' know, in a place where maybe people can understand the rant?

  • ||


    Thank the good Lord above for clever analytic nerds!

  • ||

    If you only said something like, if only we could get it across to the prohibitionists, yada yada yada, then I'd be fine with it.

    Instead you came off like someone who had ignored all the comments that were anti-WOD and wrote a screed as though your were at a website for cops on the the nation's drug squads.

  • ||

    Calderon is absolutely right, but on the flip side, it's clearly what the majority of Americans want.

    I mean, seriously, if California couldn't vote to legalize pot, what chance is there ever of any meaningful legalization?

    The opposite is happening, people are getting hysterical and banning more and more stuff - cold medicine, bath salts, anything that might remotely be used as a drug or used to make drugs.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, my suspicion is that we will need to wait another 20 years or so for the demographics to change enough for the general US population to tolerate widespread legalization/decriminalization. Country is still too conservative.

  • Little Jerry Seinfeld|| and regulate®!

  • ||

    To the guy posting as "anonymous": you really live in your own little fantasy world don't you? If people would just stop using immoral drugs that would end the bloodshed. Really? That's your solution? How long did it take you to come up with that? Since the dawn of recorded human history there has always been a segment of society that has sought to alter its consciousness through the use of alcohol and narcotics. This will never change! During the alcohol prohibition people paid outrageous prices and willingly risked consuming aldulturated "bootlegged" products because they could not be legislated into "morality". As for bloodshed... pull up a chair my son... the alcohol cartels would kill anyone who got in their way be it the authorities, rival cartels, or innocent civilians. The profits to be made from illegal alcohol were so great that they justified extreme violence and bribery/corruption of the police forces as part of their overhead costs. When prohibition was ended alcohol related gang violence disappeared virtually overnight. This isn't to say organized crime disappeared but it was diminished and reduced to operating in its traditional business of gambling, prostitution, protection, loan sharking etc. You drug warrior types can never seem to get your heads around the idea that there are wants and needs that cannot be eradicated through any means and that WILL BE CATERED TO by someone. The case for decriminalization/legalization isn't to say that drugs are good or that they don't do harm but rather to admit that they are being consumed and will continue to be consumed and would you prefer a strategy of education and harm reduction in conjunction with tight taxation and regulation or shall we go for another 40 years, 1 trillion dollars spent, highest incarceration rate in the world, and countless lives pointlessly ruined? I'm curious to know drug warrior, is your opposition to drugs ideological or religious, or do you simply have a vested interest in making sure that your police department keeps getting those federal drug dollars so you can buy armored vehicles and assault rifles and body armor so you can play at being a soldier without ever leaving home?

  • Nike Dunk High||


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