Saturday, October 30, 2010

Recover and Be Killed

[Originally published 29 Oct 2010 on]

Trying to get clean and sober is a pathway to a new life in most places, but in some cities of Mexico it’s a ticket for getting killed.  Gunmen believed to be narco gangsters this week stormed into a drug rehab center in Tijuana, found 13 patients watching a movie, lined them up on the floor, and murdered them with machine gun fire.  

A few days later, masked gangsters invaded a car wash in the central Mexican city of Tepic, not far from the tourist destination Puerto Vallarta.  They sprayed employees and customers with automatic weapon fire.  Most of the murdered car wash workers were recovering addicts.

The border town Ciudad Juarez has seen a streak of massacres in drug rehab centers.  Minutes after the mass murder in the rehab center in Tijuana, a narco voice was heard on the police radio saying that this was “a taste of Juarez.”

Public speculation as to the narco gangster’s motives in targeting people in recovery ranged widely.  A New York Times reporter guessed that the rehab centers were used as a refuge by former gang members trying to get away from the criminal syndicates.  A Mexican official speculated that the Tijuana attack was retaliation for the authorities’ seizure and burning of 134 metric tons of marijuana the previous week.  El Blog del Narco, the semi-clandestine online kiosk for narco-related information and disinformation, is silent on the topic of motive.  

A more likely explanation is commercial.  One has to remember that the drug business is a business, and a business depends on customers.  From the narco standpoint, people who seek recovery from drug use are dissatisfied customers who not only step outside the market but stand as living testimony, human Yelps, for the defects of the product.  In the supercharged atmosphere of the Mexican drug war, that’s reason enough to kill them.  

I write this in Oakland, California, a city whose city council this year approved a far-reaching measure to regulate and tax medical marijuana.  City leaders are also on record in support of Proposition 19 on the California state ballot, a measure that would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana possession and cultivation, medical or not.  The measure has drawn worldwide attention, including notably in neighboring Mexico.  

Both the Mexican government and the U.S. administration under President Obama have come out against Prop. 19.  Obama’s position appears to be part of his general unfortunate slide toward appeasement of the conservatives.  Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s position is an understandable reluctance to make a 180 degree turn from his efforts at military suppression of the wars between his country’s drug cartels.  If one of the major export crops he is trying to stamp out suddenly becomes legal in its primary market across the border, he will look at first like a fool.  

Legalization of marijuana in circumstances like these has never been done before, and nobody can say with assurance what will happen.  Political leaders prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t.  But many analysts believe that legalization in California will deal a harsh commercial blow to the Mexican cartels.  California already grows its own marijuana, said to be of much higher potency and quality than the Mexican variety. If the local cultivation is legalized, the Mexican product may become practically unsaleable here.  The Mexican president may find that the passage of Prop. 19 puts him for the first time in the driver’s seat.  

For myself, I have long ago made the choice to abstain from alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and other addictive drugs, and I persist steadfastly in that decision.  In my experience, the vast majority of people who have personal experience with these drugs have gotten free of them, or wish they could (and they can).  Nevertheless, in the upcoming California election, I will cast my vote in favor of Prop. 19.  The prohibition of marijuana has not worked.  Young people can score marijuana more easily than alcohol.  Prosecutors have used the laws not to break the distribution networks, but to persecute minority youth for petty infractions resulting in major prison terms.  The “war on drugs” has been a scandalous waste and abuse of taxpayer resources that would be better devoted to education, prevention, and treatment.

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