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Byrd: El Chapo's arrest is no victory

BY MATTHEW BYRD | FEBRUARY 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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In a whirlwind news week that saw the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the ugly repression of Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela come forth, and Sally Mason’s unfortunate opinions on human nature, it’s quite telling that the dramatic arrest of a one of the world’s most wanted criminals seemed to be the least interesting news item as of late.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the head of the Sinoloa cartel, Mexico’s most powerful drug syndicate, was arrested in Mazatlán this past weekend by members of the Mexican Marines. The United States seeks his extradition because his cartel is the No. 1 supplier of illegal drugs into the United States.

So, the head of the largest and richest Mexican drug cartel (whose annual revenues are estimated to exceed almost $3 billion) has been arrested and will, presumably, spend the rest of his life in a prison cell. This should, in theory lead to some sort of decrease in the number of illicit drugs entering the United States or, at the very least, weaken the position of the Mexican cartels in the wider drug war right?

Eh, not really.

In the wake of El Chapo’s arrest, news publications across the country asked drug-war experts the obvious question, “Will the incarceration of Guzmán stem the flow of drugs into the United States?” The answer was a resounding no.

Gregory D. Lee, a former special agent for the Drug Eenforcement Administration, was asked this question by NBC and replied that the arrest will “have no impact whatsoever” on the drug trade.

The reason Lee is absolutely correct is because the main problem of illegal-drug use in the United States is not supply coming up from Mexico but rather, demand from the United States.

At their core, people such as Guzmán are businessmen. Americans crave pot and heroin, and they can’t buy it at the local 7-Eleven, so they turn to people such as Guzmán, who can get it for them.

So, of course arresting him won’t mean a damn thing. There’s too much money to be made in importing drugs into the United States for people to just give up because one lousy cartel boss got arrested. In fact, some experts have predicted that more violence will likely erupt to fill the power vacuum caused by Guzmán’s arrest.

And really, that’s the depressing reality exposed by this whole affair. Not just that the drug war is a miserable failure in terms of actually preventing the flow of drugs into the pockets of American consumers, but in the immense damage done to Mexico and other Latin American countries because of the U.S.’s draconian drug policies. It’s been estimated that around 60,000 Mexicans have died because of cartel competition and the militarized reaction of the Mexican government. The basic institutions of the Mexican government are rife with corruption, infected by the influence of cartel money, bribing their way out of legal repercussions.

There’s a cliché that sums up the U.S.-Mexican drug relationship: “We get high, and they die.” And that’s the real truth. The blood of thousands upon thousands of Mexicans in on the hands of U.S. drug policymakers who refuse to accept that their attitude toward drugs is simply not working and is fueling a level of violence that has degraded Mexican political, economic, and cultural institutions while also have zero impact on drug use in the United States.

If you want to get rid of people such as El Chapo, don’t put them in a jail cell. Change the laws that proliferate their existence.


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