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The Never-Ending Drug War


The Mexican government has just killed a man named Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, who was purported to be the leader of a powerful Mexican drug cartel. According to the New York Times, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency congratulated the Mexican government on a “victory in their sustained efforts to dismantle the drug cartels by targeting the highest levels of cartel leadership.”

It would be difficult to imagine a bigger inanity than that particular statement from the DEA.

After all, during the past several decades how many times have we heard similar announcements from the DEA? Lots of times! Too many to count, in fact.

Recall all the hype about the Medellin Cartel. That was the drug-war cartel de jour during the 1990s. Amidst much fanfare, publicity, and hype, the DEA and the Colombian government targeted that particular cartel, along with its leaders Pablo Escobar and Carlos Lehder.

Well, guess what happened. The DEA and the Colombians destroyed the Medellin Cartel, either by imprisoning or killing its leaders. Escobar, who was called the “world’s greatest outlaw,” was killed and Lehder is now jailed in a U.S. penitentiary.

So, what do you think happened then? Was the drug war over? Of course not. The Medellin Cartel was simply replaced by new cartels, new suppliers, new drug lords, new drug dealers.

It was no different with the Cali Cartel, which the DEA was targeting in the 1990s. Go back and read the statements issued by the DEA when six out of the seven cartel leaders were arrested in 1995, and you’ll see that they were as inane as the one they just issued on current Mexico cartel leader Coronel.

The drug war is a never-ending war. That’s what everyone needs to realize. It will never have a final victory to it. As long as it is waged, it will be waged forever. It’s all just an endless process of arresting, killing, and congratulating.

The whole process is a big bonanza not just for the drug dealers but also for the DEA bureaucracy and the Mexican drug-war bureaucracy. It keeps these people permanently employed. Never mind that nothing ever changes. Drug lords are jailed or killed. DEA agents spend their lives issuing inane statements of congratulations and then retire on their fat federal pensions. Like the Energizer Bunny, the drug war just keeps going and going and going.

Let’s face it: there are three primary groups benefiting from the drug war: the DEA and other drug-war law enforcement officials, the drug lords, and the countless public officials who are on the drug-war take. All three groups know that if drugs were legalized, all three groups would be out of business immediately.

There really isn’t any other argument in favor of the drug war, other than that it protects jobs and bribes. For years, drug-war proponents have cried, “The problem is that they’re just not cracking down fiercely enough!” Those laments have also been inane because the fact was that they were cracking down, with such things as mandatory minimum sentences, asset forfeiture, illegal searches and seizures, planting of drugs on suspects, violations of financial privacy, military invasions, and more.

No one can honestly claim that the Mexican government hasn’t cracked down. It has done so big time, even to the point of using its military forces.

And what has been the result of the Mexican crackdown? Death, destruction, violation of civil liberties, and increased governmental corruption! Imagine: 23,000 deaths in just the past few years! And there’s no end in sight.

The drug war has converted Mexico into an absolute disaster. American tourists are staying away from the border towns, which used to be tourist Meccas. And it’s all because of the Mexican government’s drug-war crackdown, the crackdown that the DEA thinks is great.

There is only one way to get rid of the drug cartels. Let me repeat that: One way only. It lies not in drug-war crackdowns or in the jailing or killing of drug lords. The reason is simple: drug lords who are jailed or killed are immediately replaced with new drug lords. It’s called the law of supply and demand.

The way to get rid of drug lords is simply to legalize drugs. If the drug war were ended today with drug legalization, the drug lords would be out of business tomorrow, if not sooner. Of course, when that day comes, don’t expect any congratulatory statements coming from the DEA because it will be out of business too.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.