Mexico can only be saved if we give up the war on drugs

Children hold up a photo of their father, Fernando Quisar, one of 27 farmers massacred by a drugs cartel in May (CNS photo/Rodrigo Arias, Reuters)

Luke Coppen, our editor, drew my attention in his Catholic must-reads to this rather sad story from the Brownsville Herald.

Brownsville, which is a place little mentioned in the British media, is a Texas town on the border of Mexico, on the Gulf coast. Just over the border is Matamoros. The glory days of Matamoros occurred in the American Civil War, when, thanks to the Unionist blockade, all Confederate imports and exports had to be re-routed through the Mexican port. Nowadays Matamoros, like most of the towns that sit up close against the US border, is a place tourists do well to avoid. All these towns have a symbiotic union, but not in a good sense, with their American counterparts. The most notorious of them is Ciudad Juarez, which is the Mexican part of El Paso, Texas, an ugly industrial place, making things for export, and the serial killer blackspot of Mexico.

I have never been to Brownsville, but I assume it is much like the rest of America, quiet and law-abiding, and to the people who read the Brownsville Herald, a world away from what goes on in Matamoros, specifically the violent death of an innocent priest caught in the crossfire of the never-ending war on drugs. Yet Matamoros and Brownsville are contiguous places, separated by a border fence, economically interdependent. This drugs war is happening on America’s doorstep.

Poor Mexico, as they say, so far from God, so close to the United States! Poor Mexico indeed. The continuing drug war – summed up here – is costing it dear.

Casualty numbers have escalated significantly over time. According to a Stratfor report, the number of drug-related deaths in 2006 and 2007 (2,119 and 2,275) more than doubled to 5,207 in 2008. The number further increased substantially over the next two years, from 6,598 in 2009 to over 11,000 in 2010.

This is such a depressing story, it is not surprising that it hardly ever makes it into the British papers.

Most people take it as read that every government must make war on drugs. But this tends to overlook the fact that the war on drugs is being lost, and those caught in the crossfire are paying a terrible price for it. Mexico is headed, not irreversibly perhaps, towards failed statedom, thanks to the war on drugs which it is certainly not winning. There are some sane voices who think that we need a change in policy, but these tend to be among retired politicians.

The current policy is not working, but of course a serving politician would commit electoral suicide if he or she were to admit this. The Church, not in the market for votes, can, however, afford to be honest, and I am surprised that we have not heard more from the Church about this. Or perhaps the Church is speaking about it, but it is not getting reported.

My own view, which has developed over the years, is now this: all drugs should be decriminalised, and should be freely available with a doctor’s prescription. If people want to take drugs they should be free to do so, after medical consultation, which would make the dangers clear to them. Moreover, I think that this is a position in keeping with Catholic moral teaching.

In the inter-war years, the United States introduced prohibition. Did this stop people drinking? No. Did it lead to a huge growth in organised crime? Yes. When drink was decriminalised, who benefited? Almost everyone – except the criminals. As with booze, so with drugs. It is time to take this trade out of the hands of the cartels. That is the only way to put them out of business. Meanwhile, while our politicians, who know this to be true, dither, Mexico dies.