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Free markets and captured minds

23 February 2007

I lived a few blocks from a “crack house” in Kansas City several years ago that “mysteriously burned to the ground” within a few hours of the water being shut off for non-payment and the residents evicted.  “Somehow” one of the neighbor’s car was stalled in the street when the fire started and the Fire Department just couldn’t get there in time. 

That sounds like the traditional way these public nuisances used to be dealt with, and still often are in Mexico (there’s an American who posts regularly on Mexico travel boards about the dangers of Mexico City, and talks about his neighbors doing nothing when his apartment was robbed, back when he was an English tutor — though he always claims to have been a “business consultant.”  I know enough people who knew him, and his activities were obnoxious enough to his neighbors, to guess pretty confidently that it wasn’t a robbery so much as a “creative eviction”).

Drug users were traditionally a “public nuisance”… as long as they weren’t a threat to the powers that be, nobody much minded.  Marijuana use was always a lower-class thing, and a stoned naco was no real danger to anyone. And, a lot of folk remedies call for marijuana (just about every Mexican over the age of sixty has a stash — moldy marijuana soaked in rubbing alcohol is used like we use “Ben Gay” — externally, not internally!)

If your local stoner was a nuisance, his neighbors or granny took care of the problem.  Most other drugs were just “passing through” to the consumers north of the border.   

Between new border security, the on-going “War on Drugs” north of the border and the sometimes unfortunate tendancy of the Mexican establishment to follow U.S. models, Mexico has developed a “drug problem”.  Or, rather, the “powers that be” have decided its a problem. 

Like in the U.S., local governments can now condemn “drug houses.”  But, la fortaleza was no run-down crackhouse.  It was narco-supermarket and condo, at Jesus Carrenza and Tenotitchtlan.  Using the Federal District’s new Ley de extinción de dominio (“Law to wipe out houses” –Spanish can be a brutal language at times, and the custom of giving laws cute names that disguise their purpose hasn’t caught on yet), the great anti-narco/naco crusade has come to the heart of Tepito.   

The takeover of la Forteleza hasn’t been popular with everyone — seen by some (the District being PRD, naturally the complaints are coming from PRI) as a media stunt.  There’s no question that there are more narcotics available, but traditionally, small time drug users (and dealers) were a public health issue, not a criminal one.  It’s probably an indication of the traditional attitude that la Forteleza is being expropriated for a health clinic and a day care center. 

(In the U.S., we’d probably put in a police station.  When I lived in Santa Maria de la Ribera, there was neighborhood opposition to a police station… on the logical grounds that a police station and public ministry office would mean criminals and lawyers would be hanging around!)

I was never particularly bothered by the Fox Administration’s approach… wipe out the kingpins, and let the lieutenants bump each other off.  But — given both Calderón’s tenuous legitimacy as President, and pressure to “do something” about sales to the U.S., there was that much bally-hooed attack on the big time dealers. 

Other than a lot of smoke and noise (and some dead bodies) it’s a phoney war (or an excuse for Felipe Calderón to pump money into the military, according to Blogotitlan).  At most, the exporters dumped their goods on the local market.  And, now… what used to be cheap marijuana is being replaced by cheap cocaine and crack and ice and meth. 

John Ross reports from street level in Counterpunch

Prior to the arrival of the Colombian drug cartels in the 1980s after the U.S. Navy cut off Caribbean shipping routes, Mexico’s worst drug problem was U.S.-manufactured glues and solvents. Cocaine, the way Mexican authorities saw it, was a U.S. problem, one of supply and demand. If the U.S. were to crack down on consumers, Mexico would not be troubled by the cartels. In retaliation, Washington accused its distant neighbor to the south of not fulfilling its drug war obligations and rampant corruption of the Mexican police and military bolstered the allegations.

Even while badgering their counterparts to crack down on the cartels moving drugs through Mexico, the U.S. was tightening up border detection, particularly after 9/11 when the War on Terror was tossed into the mix. Plugging up what had always been a porous border with more Immigration and Customs agents, military equipment, and high technology did not stop the flow but it slowed it down. The drug mobs had to keep their loads in Mexico longer until the proper arrangements could be made. Their cash flows were frozen and their creditors got nervous. So pretty soon the drugs started to leak out into the street and within just a few years the capos had a whole new market–albeit not as affluent as up in Gringolandia. By the late 1990s, Mexico had a drug problem.

Whether this was a deliberate strategy devised by U.S. anti-drug crusaders to force Mexico to act against the cartels or merely the free market at work, the result was the same. Nine year-old kids are smoking crack in Tepito.

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