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American Hipsters Murder Democracy in Mexico

The Washington Post recently reported that, based on various estimates by well-respected Mexican newspapers (the Calderon government has not released any figures recently), around 12,000 people were killed in Mexico’s drug violence in 2011 alone, bringing the total to over 50,000 since Calderon initiated a campaign against drug trafficking in 2006. That’s comparable to the death toll in Iraq during that timespan and more than die in many wars that grab headlines around the world.

Unfortunately, violence is only the tip of the iceberg. The damage to Mexican institutions, the rise of dark power structures far worse than anything the US saw during Prohibition, the escalating corruption and the climate of fear: Mexico is being damaged and its prospects undermined in ways that will be felt for decades.

The US talks grandly about promoting democracy around the world. Our uncontrolled appetite for drugs, and our inability to find policy solutions to mitigate the consequences of our behavior, is wrecking a promising democratic experiment next door.

Via Meadia is frequently reminded of Mrs. Jellyby in Charles Dickens’ great novel Bleak House.  Her house was a mess, her children neglected, her affairs in chaos — as she bustled around endlessly promoting various fatuous schemes for improving the lives of people living far, far away.  America often looks like her these days, and Mexico is one of the chief victims of our lack of focus and our character flaws.

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  • Tom Richards

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the solution to America’s organised crime problems of the Prohibition era did not in fact turn out to be the eradication of alcohol consumption . . .

  • Mogden

    It would be more accurate to state that American politicians murder democracy in Mexico, through our outrageous and unconstitutional Drug War policies.

  • Josh Kilroy

    America continues to be a powerful force for good in the world, there is very little that is fatuous about our efforts to improve the world. And if people could buy the marijuana they want at Walgreens, Mexico would be a thriving democracy.

  • Soul

    I’ve wondered how serious the Mexican government has been in wanting to stop the drug lords? Have to imagine the drug trade brings in a great deal of money in for average Mexicans and politicians. My guess is Mexico will need to free up their markets, allow more businesses to grow in order to create new alternatives to the jobs and money illegal drugs create.

  • Andrew Allison

    The USA learned absolutely nothing from it’s first failed effort to forbid a recreational drug (alcohol)!

  • Joel

    [Darn] all those lousy hipsters at the DEA!

  • ChrisGreen

    The fact that recreational drugs are illegal (and consequently fuel the drug wars in Mexico) is not an excuse to ignore the consequences of buying the product. Fight to legalize marijuana if you want. However, in the meantime, buying the drug still has terrible consequences in Mexico and the idiocacy of public policy is not an excuse to ignore that.

  • david

    Agreed, it’s not clear what evidence there is that hipsters constitute a large chunk of US drug consumption. I would guess hipsters “buy local,” which is why there is some outrage at the DEA busting up “medical” marijuana “clinics.”

  • Kenny

    You’re exactly correct, Mr. Mead.

    U.S. druggies and their habit is what is the root cause of the violence in Mexico.

  • Big E

    America’s appetite for drugs is no different from any other country we just happen to A) Have a large relatively wealthy population and B)Have a long unprotected border with a failed state who is unable to prevent millions of tons of drugs from being produced within its borders and shipped into the U.S.

    Generally it’s the drug dealer who recieves the lions share of the condemnation but when the U.S is involved it’s always our fault. Therefore, millions of American lives are ruined by drugs produced elsewhere (not to mention the amount of money drugs cost America both trying to control their flow and the aftermath of their use) and smuggled into our country and it’s our unique fault for somehow not being able to stamp out the common human desire to escape reality or artificially feel better. How much cocaine and heroin is produced within the U.S? Not even enough to handle one evening at Charlie Sheens place and yet somehow it’s on America because about 10%-15% of the population use the illegal narcotics (to varying degrees) which wind up here against the legistated wishes of the American people.

  • Stephen Houghton

    I have never smoked pot, but the idea that the prime problem is pot smokers and not the war on drugs is laughable nonsence.

  • Pedro Marquez

    Walt, if you were living in the 1920s, would you have given up alcohol in order not to benefit organized crime? Would you have gotten on your high horse and told your buddies they were wrong to visit speakeasies? You might have, but it wouldn’t have accomplished a [darn] thing, because the urge to escape reality for a while–and it’s corollary, the struggle to not indulge this urge too much– is part of the eternal human drama, like sex and religion.

    Frankly, this point about our “endless appetite for drugs” is pretty silly. The sort of hipsters, artists, bankers and criminals who use drugs in the U.S. also use them in Rio, Bogota and Mexico City. The difference is that the U.S. is more prosperous– we buy more drugs because we buy more everything (except plastic surgery– Brazil is the world leader in that!). In any case, expecting Americans to stop smoking weed because of problems in Mexico (due to misguided drug laws) is as naive as expecting the whole world to adopt a carbon-trading regime.

    One more point: I can’t speak for all New York hipsters, but the weed I buy is medical marijuana smuggled from California and Colorado.

  • TW

    The headline of this article is embarrassing, and the headline writer needs to become familiar with what the word ‘hipster’ means nowadays. Hipsters drink cheap beer, wear retro clothes ironically, pride themselves on listening to obscure bands, and don’t tend to be heavy drug users by and large.

  • Jeremy

    I’m not going to read this blog anymore. Hipsters? Come on. I don’t like hipsters either, but blaming them for Mexican gang violence? Hipsters don’t use many drugs and they don’t care about democracy overseas (that would be too unironically earnest).

  • CJ

    Why are so many commenters fixated on marijuana? Isn’t cocaine the main drug coming up from the south these days?

  • Pedro Marquez

    @ CJ:

    Some hipsters actually use marijuana, few use cocaine.

  • a nissen

    Surprise, the masses of Mexican people robbed of traditional livelihoods respond as any of the growing list of countries conned into neoliberalism—they either flee with the hope of sending money home or switch over to making a living off the most profitable export available to them—drugs, in favorable climates, e.g., Afghanistan’s poppies.

    WRM, unless you are drunk on the notion of the free market unicorn, you know better than to limit a search for the car keys to under the street light. Please parse harder.

  • Toni

    I think you have the process backwards, and thus blame the U.S. unjustly.

    The opposition party, the PRI, had ruled Mexico since 1929. Calderon was voted in because of the PRI’s many failures, including institutionalized corruption and partnership with the drug gangs. If the PRI gets back in, the Mexican government may go back to business as usual, including the drug business.

    Among the many things, good and bad, the Sixties ushered in, the American drug problem is among the worst. “Tune in, TURN ON, and drop out” was one hippie slogan, and “Sex, drugs & rock and roll” was coined around that time. I feel guilty for doing drugs in college in the Seventies because I imagine that’s when the illegal drug industry was working out its marketing methods and routes, as the mafia did in the 1930s.

    Then came the Colombian gangs. Remember “Miami Vice”? Colombia gangsters flew their shipments into Florida. Once Colombia had wrested its most of its territory back from the gangsters, and cooperated with the US to stop the shipments, smugglers had to find a new route into the U.S. Our southern border was the obvious one.

    That was fine with the PRI, which is why its reelection could simply prolong the Mexican tragedy of its being a narcostate. Not just the PRI, of course. State and local governments have also been in bed with the gangsters, including law enforcement. That’s why Calderon found he had to send the army to try to wrest his country back from the drug cartels.

    That is, America isn’t responsible for the PRI’s lazy, greedy corruption (still less Calderon) and if we’d tried to intervene, we’d be accused of Yanqui imperialism. Calderon is the hero for trying to take his country back. The drug gangs are solely responsible for the horrific violence; they commit it solely because of their own greed.

    Finally, your analogy to Mrs. Jellyby is unfair and unwarranted. America can’t be responsible for the internal operations and failures of other countries, even when we share a border. We generally try to do the right as well as the effective thing in foreign relations. America is a shambles domestically these days, needing to overhaul the Blue Social Model’s pervasive and expensive hold on the federal budget, at a time of polarized politics, fractious voters, and a fragile global economy.

    America has no lack of focus — she’s only trying to juggle dozens of eggs here and abroad — the character flaws belong to drug users, drug gangsters, and corrupt Mexican officials, not to America herself.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Toni: last I looked, those drug users were part of America. I don’t think we can hive off the bad parts, idealize what’s left and call that “America”. We are what we do, and cocaine from Mexico, clearly, is one of those things some Americans do a lot of. And they don’t care who they buy it from or what those people might have done.

  • Lorenzo from Oz

    So, a vote for Ron Paul will help Mexican democracy? Seems plausible.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The drug war has been a failure, it fills our prisons, is the primary funding source for violent crime and terrorist organizations, causes thousands of deaths every year both here and abroad, and should long ago have been treated responsibly through legalization and taxation like alcohol and tobacco.

  • tom

    Drug consumption is highest in the lower socio economic area. Specifically mexican and black. Our inability to turn the under class into good, productive citizens is the root cause of the drug epidemic. i think of the drug war as a sympton.

  • Toni

    Yes, those drug users are part of America, but Americans collectively are not responsible for their flaws, nor for Mexican corruption.

    The best way to stop American use of Mexican drugs is to clamp down the border, but that wouldn’t suit the open-borders crowd, or employers desperate to fill jobs the native-born won’t condescend to do, and it would be cruel to families used to easy communication with relatives on the other side.

    Half the Mexican border is with Texas. The two have been enmeshed since the Spanish Empire, and the border area has been economically enmeshed especially since the maquiladora program — see — which led to NAFTA. That’s how Juarez became, as the WaPo says, “the border manufacturing hub.”

    It continues, “The states that abut Texas — Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas — remain the most deadly.” Mexico’s drug war has been waged partly on this side, with plenty of violence, especially in the early years.

    Maybe you think I overidealize America. I think maybe you underestimate the practical challenges of the situation, both now and historically. What could the U.S. have done differently?

    As you know, virtue must be cultivated individually. I wish I knew how to stop drug users from destroying their own lives and others’. (My niece & husband adopted a toddler who turned out to be a crack baby, complicating his life and theirs.) Nobody knows. The War on Drugs continues.

    I just think you’re a tad too willing to blame America as a whole for a historically complicated situation. We can’t be the world’s keeper, nor would we want the responsibility.

    And I trust you’ll correct me wherever I err, in logic or in heart.

  • Jim.

    So tell me, did organized crime disappear when Prohibition ended?


    So the argument that legalizing marijuana will solve our organized crime problems is fatuous, at best.

    There will always be abusable substances whose use must be prevented by law. We need to find a way to win this war, not surrender.

    Finding a way to legally counter the fifth columnists in Hollywood and perhaps the Internet would be a good start.

    We should pass laws that allow families demonstrably harmed by drug use to sue entertainment venues that have conspired to promote drug use by portraying it in a positive light.

  • Pedro Marquez

    Organized crime didn’t go away because they moved on to dealing in narcotics, prostitution and gambling– all things that need to be legalized and regulated.

    OR we could just ban the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Marvin Gaye and pretty much every jazz musician.

    Sounds like you’d be right at home in the Cuban police state Jim.

  • Toni

    As it happens, I’m now listening to Robert Randolph & The Family Band’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Shot of Love,” from when he adopted Christianity. His lyrics are pertinent to the issue of drug use.

    Shot Of Love

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Don’t need a shot of heroin to kill my disease
    Don’t need a shot of turpentine, only bring me to my knees
    Don’t need a shot of codeine to help me to repent
    Don’t need a shot of whiskey, help me be president

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Doctor, can you hear me? I need some Medicaid
    I seen the kingdoms of the world and it’s makin’ me feel afraid
    What I got ain’t painful, it’s just bound to kill me dead
    Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    I don’t need no alibi when I’m spending time with you
    I’ve heard all of them rumors and you have heard ’em too
    Don’t show me no picture show or give me no book to read
    It don’t satisfy the hurt inside nor the habit that it feeds

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Why would I want to take your life?
    You’ve only murdered my father, raped his wife
    Tattooed my babies with a poison pen
    Mocked my God, humiliated my friends

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    Don’t wanna be with nobody tonight
    Veronica not around nowhere, Mavis just ain’t right
    There’s a man that hates me and he’s swift, smooth and near
    Am I supposed to set back and wait until he’s here?

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    What makes the wind wanna blow tonight?
    Don’t even feel like crossing the street and my car ain’t actin’ right
    Called home, everybody seemed to have moved away
    My conscience is beginning to bother me today

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love

    I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love
    If you’re a doctor, I need a shot of love

    Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

  • a nissen

    @ #21 and especially #22— thanks for bringing the discussion around to the bad effects in the U.S of the neo-liberalism it founded, including disappearances permitted by lessening of our own rule of law.

    Bad outcomes abroad have caused some quarters to consider free market terror to be on the wane. I do not see that yet in the public opinion fostered by ruling elites in the many avenues open to them, which would explain why two reformed prior practitioners are still so busy at penance:

    Jeffery Sachs, true believer whose luck ran out, doing in Gorbachev:

    Joseph Stiglitz, fired by the World Bank for expressing dissent since expanded and furthered in subsequent books, etc.:

  • a nissen

    Forgot to mention this republished in today’s WSJ:

    “From a 1980 essay by Irving Kristol, “Some Personal Reflections on Economic Well-Being and Income Distribution”:

    …Economics has many useful and important things to tell us, but it really has nothing to say about the larger features of a good society, or about the status of equality or inequalities in such a society, and it only has something to say about “economic well-being” on a fairly narrow—though not unimportant—definition. Those economic statistics we are being deluged with do tell us something valid about the real world; but they often tell us less of the truth about the real world than economists are—by virtue of their déformation professionelle—inclined to think.”

  • dr kill

    Dear Sir, your weekly wailing over American drug use does not become you, and damages your opinions on other issues. I simply can’t understand it.

  • deepelemblues

    The problem with Mexico is not American drug use, it’s the fact that Mexico has not had a stable government since the Spanish were thrown out.

    Mexico has always been a country of warlords and local fiefdoms and spheres of influence; sometimes the competition explodes into open warfare, sometimes it doesn’t.

    You could take away all the drug money tomorrow and it would not change the fact that the drug war down there is just another expression of Mexican inability to govern themselves peacefully. An inability that has existed ever since Mexico gained her independence. The center of the country is somewhat controlled by the legitimate government, the north and south, not so much. That’s the way it was 200 years ago, the way it was 100, and the way it will be for the foreseeable future, drug cartels or not.

  • Toni

    #22 Tom, first, do you have stats to back up your assertions on drug consumption, especially re blacks and Mexicans?

    Second, I think you’re a bit condescending. As if the underclass weren’t composed of a wealth of individuals, but was an undifferentiated bunch who might somehow be “turned into good, productive citizens” en masse.

    As if millions of poor people weren’t already good productive citizens. As if many poor people didn’t stay poor because of unwise choices like single motherhood or drug dealing. The latter glorified by rap culture, of course.

    And as if nobody ever escapes the underclass. As if that undifferentiated bunch just sits there unmoving because of “our inability” to change them.

    Addiction is often self-medication. Like me; nicotine, among other things, causes the brain to release marvelous neurotransmitters, which is why I started. It’s more addictive than heroin, and I’ll likely never quit. So too do Americans of every hue, at every income level, self-medicate.

    “Poor people use drugs because they’re poor” is too simplistic.

  • Toni

    A question for advocates of drug legalization: Which drugs?

    Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, maybe codeine for starters? What about LSD, crystal meth, and Ecstasy? Magic mushrooms? What about Oxy and other legitimate painkillers bought illegally? Do those also go on the “legalized but access-controlled” list?

    When the next addictive recreational drug pops up, is it automatically legalized and regulated?

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