Failed Fronts In The Drug War

Jonah Engle believes that if “Colombia can’t win the war on drugs, no one can”:

As drug-related violence engulfs parts of Mexico and Central America, Washington has touted Colombia as a rare drug war success story. “Colombia has served as a model of success for the entire hemisphere,” says Rafael Lemaitre, communication director for the U.S. drug czar’s office. But up close, Colombia’s drug war successes appear far more meager — and the country’s top politicians are beginning to realize it.

At the end of 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos became one of the first sitting heads of state to come out against the war on drugs. “A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking,” Santos told the Observer newspaper. “If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that’s the solution, I will welcome it. I’m not against it.” Santos’s words have yet to translate into policy changes at home. But they have both reflected and fuelled a growing challenge among Latin American leaders to the cornerstone of U.S. security policy in the Western Hemisphere. By saying what a half-dozen recent Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian, and Chilean presidents waited for retirement to say, Santos broke a taboo — and other politicians soon followed him out of the closet.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Frydl declares the war on drugs in the US to be a “total failure,” and looks for lessons:

One of my takeaways was reinforced when I read Dana Priest’s piece in The Post on Sunday, which is that these complex security regimes, like the war on drugs or the war on terror, have essentially produced their own feedback loops, and we’ve forgotten how to step back and ask “Is this even working?” Priest noted that the very close ties between the U.S. government and the just-ousted Mexican government produced no effect in terms of the production, price or potency of drugs, but U.S. policy officials are bemoaning the loss of those ties nonetheless.

It’s time to step back and look at the forest. In 1968, a dime bag of heroin cost $5 and was about 15-40 percent pure. Today, without adjusting for inflation, it costs $5 and it’s 15-40 percent pure. That’s a crude measure, but that’s the definition of failure, right there. … It’s time to step back and recognize that these expenditures have performed a lot of functions for state, be it policing inner cities or justifying certain kinds of international engagement. But the one thing they have not done is control the price and purity of drug–the reasoning which ostensibly justifies our costly drug war.