Mexico Brags About Killing a Drug Kingpin, But It Won't Be Long Before Someone Takes His Place

The Mexican government is still confused over the difference between "drugs" and the violence in the battle to gain control of the unregulated drug market.

The Mexican government is hailing the death of an especially brutal and high-ranking drug cartel leader as “a resounding blow” in the nation’s bloody battle against organized crime. Forty-seven-year-old Beltran Leyva had a $2.1 million bounty placed on his head by Mexican authorities. He was killed Wednesday, along with six bodyguards in a shootout that lasted 90 minutes in Cuernavaca, an hour south of Mexico City. Local television footage showed helicopters and military vehicles circling the site while hundreds of gunshots rang out.

The raid came several days after the U.S. taxpayers gifted Mexico with five helicopters to aid its fight against organized crime.

Drug prohibition advocates are rushing to add their congratulations on this “victory,” saying it represents a huge coup for the government of President Felipe Calderon.

What they’re really doing is advertising a job opening, because that’s what they’ve created: A fantastic business opportunity.

Take, for example, another of Mexico's most wanted men, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman. Blamed for thousands of deaths in the drug war, Guzman made it into Forbes Magazine’s list of the world's richest people last March with an estimated $1 billion fortune.

Guzman, who is just five feet tall, escaped from prison in 2001 and set off a wave of killings across Mexico in an attempt to dominate the country's highly lucrative drug trade into the United States.

"He is not available for interviews," reported Luisa Kroll, senior editor of Forbes, "But his financial situation is doing quite well."

Of course he is. If imprisoning (or killing) drug cartels, drug dealers or drug users were an effective method of stopping the flow of illegal drugs, the U.S. would be a drug-free society. It’s taken Calderon’s military three years, 45,000 troops and the lives of 14,000 people to “take down” someone with this high-ranking status in the drug war. Is this a way to measure success?

Every time a drug dealer is arrested or killed, it creates a job opening. Likewise, sending in soldiers and policemen to combat the turf wars fought in the streets will not be effective. It escalates, not diminishes the violence. Just like during alcohol prohibition.

Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan admits the drug war isn’t going so well. Last April he told CBS's Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation that the U.S. should take the debate over marijuana legalization seriously.

"Those that suggest that some of these measures need to be looked at understand the dynamics of the drug trade; you have to bring demand down and one way to do it is to move in that direction [towards legalization],” Sarukhan told Schieffer.

But instead, President Felipe Calderon uses Mexico’s military to fight the drug cartels. His proposed solution to the increased drug war violence is more money, more soldiers and more guns, which will produce more death, more job openings and more violence surrounding the fight to control this lucrative black market.

In Mexico, police are commonly targeted and the engagements between cartels and the authorities are getting more grisly by the day. This is like pouring gasoline on a fire. It escalates the violence and increases the profits of drug cartels.

Is there a solution to the problem of drug cartel violence in Mexico (and, increasingly, in the U.S.)? Absolutely. We’ve done it once before and we can do it again by ending drug prohibition. By legalizing and regulating all illegal drugs.

This month we mark the 76th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition. It is the perfect opportunity for us, as a nation riddled with violence created by drug prohibition, to reflect on the wise choice our nation’s leaders made in the midst of the Great Depression.

Legalization will not be a cure all for the problems of drug abuse. What legalization can do, however, is take a $500 billion a year industry away from the control of gangs and international drug cartels, just like we did 76 years ago when we took back control of the alcohol market from Al Capone and his gangster cronies.

We can do the same today with our currently illegal drugs. We repealed a failed prohibition policy once before to help solve economic, violence and crime problems. We can do it again.


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Neill Franklin, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, has been police officer for more than 32 years and has served as a commander for the Maryland State Police’s Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, as well as a trainer with the Baltimore Police Department.