Drug Legalization Debate Heats Up in Mexico

By Dialogo
December 14, 2012


Even when a feared drug lord lied dead in a funeral home, Mexican authorities could not prevent the cartel kingpin from slipping away. Mexican marines scored big against the powerful Zetas criminal gang when they killed their boss Heriberto Lazcano in a gunfight in northern Mexico on October 7. But instead of basking in a key victory in the drug war, authorities faced a new embarrassment when gunmen stormed the funeral home hours later and spirited away the body.

The death-and-disappearing act summed up a year of successes overshadowed by failures in Latin America’s drug war, which took more capos off the streets but was unable to stop trafficking to the United States.

Lazcano was among 25 of the 37 most wanted drug capos who were either killed or captured during Calderon’s administration. The government also dealt a huge blow against the once powerful Gulf Cartel when it caught its leader, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias “El Coss,” in September. But Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the country’s most wanted man and chief of the most powerful gang, the Sinaloa cartel, remained on the run a decade after he escaped from prison in a laundry basket.

The death toll surpassed 60,000 in Mexico over the past six years, experts say, with cartels dismembering enemies or hanging them from bridges. At the same time, a debate heated up across the region on whether governments need to change the US-backed strategy, or even legalize drugs. “I think we are headed toward full-scale legalization, at least of marijuana, in the long-term, but it will be a slow march,” David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at California’s University of San Diego, said. The US states of Washington and Colorado voted in November to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who opposes legalization, told Time magazine that the votes open a debate “about the course the drug war should be taking.”

The US military stepped up its involvement in the anti-drug battle, deploying vessels and aircraft to stop trafficking along Central America as part of the multi-national Operation Martillo (Hammer). Around 200 Marines were sent to Guatemala to provide communications support and aircraft.

While cocaine, crystal meth, heroin and marijuana continued to flow into the United States, the cartels maintained their campaign of terror, cutting their enemies to pieces and hanging men and women from highway bridges. In another example of the brutality in May, authorities discovered 49 dismembered bodies in black plastic bags on a roadside near the northern industrial city of Monterrey. A note signed by the Zetas was found at the scene. But the Trans-Border Institute said violence fell in key parts of the country, notably in Ciudad Juárez, once known as the world’s murder capital, which could translate into a drop in the overall number of drug-related murders this year.



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