Ending the Mexican Drug War: An Activist’s Advice

Escalating drug violence in Mexico isn't just a Mexican issue. Fighting rampant corruption with citizen action—there and in the U.S.—is the key to peace.
Mexican drug war, photo by Wikimedia Commons

Mexican troops operate a random drug checkpoint in March 2009.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Alfonso de Jesus Garcia Perez is the general secretary of AMECA (Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies), one of Mexico’s leading drug-reform NGOs, created in 2000 by specialists and advocates. In this interview for YES! Magazine, he proposed alternative solutions to curb the wave of drug-trafficking violence (23,000 people killed since 2006, according to Senate estimates). Among other topics, Garcia Perez expressed his views on the new U.S. National Drug Control Strategy, an AMECA proposal to regulate marijuana, and challenges faced by activist groups and NGOs to openly debate drug issues amid one of the worst security and economic crises in recent Mexican history.

Erich Moncada: What factors contribute to the violence in Mexico?

Alfonso de Jesus Garcia Perez: I blame the Mexican and American armies for any group or armed band participating in organized crime. There is no other source of illegal weapons. Whenever there are weapons confiscations from criminal bands and we check their weaponry, if it is not American-made, it is foreign-made. We are immersed in NAFTA, and geopolitically, all the strategic control belongs to the intelligence services of the United States. This violence is caused by an illegal arms trade. Who is selling these weapons? There is always an American or a Mexican public servant involved.

Erich: What measures can civil society adopt to fight this phenomenon?

Alfonso: If we want to reduce violence, we need to apply some control measures over our armies, our public officials, and our police officers—both from Mexico and the United States. Citizen control is possible. There’s been a lot of buzz about the model of citizen supervision or accounting, in coordination with local and federal congresses, to evaluate and follow up on police and military activities. This is just one option. Another option is to stop attacking consumers, who are only used for extortion purposes and, at the same time, stimulate police corruption. If we reduce police corruption, violence will decrease. A crime-prevention strategy is also necessary. We need to educate our society to deal with our governments’ authoritarian behavior and the actions of organized crime.

Erich: What is your opinion of the Mexican government's strategy to fight drug-trafficking organizations?

It is progress to acknowledge that drug use is not going to be reduced by waging a war against consumers.

Alfonso: It is outrageous that so many people have to die to prohibit marijuana usage. This is an utter failure. Prohibition has never been successful in reducing drug consumption. (Author’s note: Drug use in Mexico grew from 3.5 million in 2002 to 4.5 million people in 2008, according to the 2008 National Addiction Survey.)

There is no democracy, nor citizen participation, to control police and government. Therefore, corruption is rampant. If there is impunity, fighting crime is almost impossible. Corruption and impunity rates remain untouched.

Erich: What do you think about the 2010 National Drug Strategy presented by the White House? What strategies could the U.S. government put into practice to fight the drug problem at home and help Mexico at the same time?

Alfonso: It is progress to acknowledge that drug use is not going to be reduced by waging a war against consumers. It is a positive step forward, but more needs to be done. Why? Because American democracy protects personal decisions and freedom of choice. As long as consumers are not affecting other people’s rights or physical integrity, they should not be persecuted. We are preparing a request to the Mexican Senate to talk to our other two NAFTA partners (Canada and the U.S.) about opening the debate. We demand activists and consumers vent their points of view in a public tribunal. If representatives are willing to search for new solutions, we need to be heard. From the U.S. I expect an open debate, the disposition to adopt new scientific perspectives, and different ways to understand reality. We need to listen to each other with no prejudgments and disqualifications.

Erich: AMECA has attracted public opinion by proposing to regulate marijuana. What can you tell me about this initiative?

Alfonso: Cannabis prohibition is mandated by the Federal Health Code. It is not a criminal justice issue; the law never explains the reason or main argument behind prohibition. We propose cannabis be declassified from the harmful drugs schedule to regulate its consumption, and we want to set up an educational and health process instead of criminal prosecution. It is a human rights issue. First, we want to repeal criminalization policies. Police officers have nothing to do with consumers. Second, the state’s relationship with consumers could take the form of (drug) educators and health specialists—like psychologists or doctors—and provide a monitoring process of the user’s health and social integration. This must be voluntary, not compulsory. Most consumers are recreational. Supervising users is justified because our society is still uneducated. Consumers and members of our movement agree that this monitoring process should be done by an educational or health council.

Erich: Suppose your proposal is passed. What might be the immediate effects?

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Alfonso: First effect: Underage consumption will drop a great deal. Drug dealers or corrupt police officers—to me, they are pretty much the same—would no longer profit from this lucrative market. All their business is underground. They don’t care if they are selling drugs to a kid or a grown-up. Once cannabis is regulated, there will be no buyers or sellers willing to risk their freedoms to sell drugs to a kid. Another positive effect is harm reduction. Education and prevention policies will be viable because drug use will no longer be taboo. Consumers could come out in public without fearing police harassment. If, during the monitoring process, health consequences are discovered, a harm-reduction public policy can be implemented. This type of policy is impossible under the double standards of prohibition. Another benefit is a considerably lower level of violence and fewer dead people. But the greatest business is designer drugs, and that will require us to come up with solutions.

Erich: What is the biggest challenge facing reform?

Alfonso: I believe this or any other initiative on the subject may prosper if we are allowed to express our opinions. So far all the debates in Mexico have been conducted by the government…they have never allowed a bilateral debate. Whenever we organize events, festivals, or write a press release or a legislative request, our proposals have been ignored. We are never invited to Congress to participate in debates on these issues. When we arrive at Congress they never give us the chance to speak at the stand; censorship is exclusively imposed on the debate. But the day will come when they finally give us a space to challenge their views.

Erich: Some American citizens are horrified by the rampant violence in Mexico. What can they do to help us out?

Alfonso: It would be nice for them to be critical like us with our own government and armed forces. They must be conscious that the weapons used in Mexico are coming from their country. American citizens should be open to dissenting opinions and in favor of ending the global censorship. It is really important to raise our levels of information and conscience.

Erich: What comes next for AMECA?

Alfonso: We are going to reinforce our initiative with signatures. Another festival will take place on July 4th in Mexico City to celebrate citizen support for reform. Then there is our next stage: A referendum. It will be organized in Mexico City to raise 4,000 signatures to request an official ballot without depending on the politicians.

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