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

Decriminalising drugs will put the country’s deadly cartels out of business

By on Wednesday, 6 July 2011

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)

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.

  • Anonymous

    Marion Mael Muire, it appears that YOU are the person who should re-read what I wrote. How dare you claim that alcohol is not a dangerous narcotic. Here are those facts again. Please commit them to memory and then pray for the victims of this insidious drug.

    Alcohol is a factor in the following:

    * 73% of all felonies * 73% of child beating cases * 41% of rape cases * 80% of wife battering cases * 72% of stabbings * 83% of homicides.

    According to the Australian National Drug Research Institute (2003): “Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs are prematurely killing around seven million people worldwide each year, and robbing tens of millions more of a healthy life. The research into the global burden of disease attributable to alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs found that in 2000, tobacco use was responsible for 4.9 million deaths worldwide, equating to 71 percent of all drug-related deaths. Around 1.8 million deaths were attributable to the use of alcohol (26 percent of all drug-related deaths), and illicit drugs (heroin, cocaine and amphetamines) caused approximately 223,000 deaths (3 percent of all drug-related deaths).”

    If you genuinely believe that prohibition is an effective policy for dealing with substance use and addiction, then why are you not calling for drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, along with non-drug activities such as gambling or even dangerous sports, that also pose a high risk to people’s health, to be assessed according to the same criteria? Or are you quite happy for the majority of us to carry on regarding you as a disingenuous hypocrite whose tirade against drug users is not based on genuine concern for people’s wellbeing, but on your own personal prejudices?

    Going on the amount of ignorance you’ve shown so far, it would not surprise me if you were not aware that a very large proportion of the UK public do not think that drug use is inherently immoral or ought to be a crime.  A recent poll even found 70% of the UK public in favour of the legal regulation of cannabis market, with only about 25% in favour of prohibition. (see  A majority are also in favour of legalised regulation of Magic Mushrooms, Amphetamines, and Mephedrone, whilst 3 in 10 people would prefer the state regulate rather than prohibit the heroin supply. These poll results demonstrate that the public is more than ready for a mature, open discussion of alternative approaches to drug policy and that there is no need for politicians to fear a backlash should they express doubts about the wisdom of our current approach. 

    It was not until 1967 that the laws criminalising male homosexuality were repealed. Now we have civil partnerships and anti-discrimination laws. The point is, nobody (apart from a fringe handful of bigots) seriously advocates going back to the criminalisation of homosexuality. Furthermore, a vast majority of us now accept that the laws criminalising homosexuality were a grotesque injustice, and that the persecutors of gays, not the gays themselves, were/are the truly immoral party.

  • Anonymous

    Mark, you appear to be living in some strange parallel universe, one where prohibition actually works. Here is part of the testimony of Judge Alfred J Talley, given before the Senate Hearings of 1926:

    “For the first time in our history, full faith and confidence in and respect for the hitherto sacred Constitution of the United States has been weakened and impaired because this terrifying invasion of natural rights has been engrafted upon the fundamental law of our land, and experience has shown that it is being wantonly and derisively violated in every State, city, and hamlet in the country.”

    “It has made potential drunkards of the youth of the land, not because intoxicating liquor appeals to their taste or disposition, but because it is a forbidden thing, and because it is forbidden makes an irresistible appeal to the unformed and immature. It has brought into our midst the intemperate woman, the most fearsome and menacing thing for the future of our national life.”

    “It has brought the sickening slime of corruption, dishonor, and disgrace into every group of employees and officials in city, State, and Federal departments that have been charged with the enforcement of this odious law.”

    And the following paragraphs are from WALTER E. EDGE’s testimony, a Senator from New Jersey:

    “Any law that brings in its wake such wide corruption in the public service, increased alcoholic insanity, and deaths, increased arrests for drunkenness, home barrooms, and development among young boys and young women of the use of the flask never heard of before prohibition can not be successfully defended.”

    “I unhesitatingly contend that those who recognize existing evils and sincerely endeavor to correct them are contributing more toward temperance than those who stubbornly refuse to admit the facts.”

    “The opposition always proceeds on the theory that give them time and they will stop the habit of indulging in intoxicating beverages. This can not be accomplished. We should recognize our problem is not to persist in the impossible, but to recognize a situation and bring about common-sense temperance through reason.”

    “This is not a campaign to bring back intoxicating liquor, as is so often claimed by the fanatical dry. Intoxicating liquor is with us to-day and practically as accessible as it ever was. The difference mainly because of its illegality, is its greater destructive power, as evidenced on every hand. The sincere advocates of prohibition welcome efforts for real temperance rather than a continuation of the present bluff.” 

    And here is Julien Codman’s testimony, who was a member of the Massachusetts bar.

    “we will produce additional evidence on this point, that it is not appropriate legislation to enforce the eighteenth amendment; that it has done incredible harm instead of good; that as a temperance measure it has been a pitiable failure; that it as failed to prevent drinking; that it has failed to decrease crime; that, as a matter of fact, it has increased both; that it has promoted bootlegging and smuggling to an extent never known before”

    “We believe that the time has come for definite action, but it is impossible to lay before Congress any one bill which, while clearly within the provisions of the Constitution, will be a panacea for the evils that the Volstead Act has caused. We must not be vain enough to believe, as the prohibitionists do, that the age-old question of the regulation of alcohol can be settled forever by the passage of a single law. With the experience of the Volstead law as a warning, it behooves us to proceed with caution, one step at a time, to climb out of the legislative well into which we have been pushed.”

    “I am against Prohibition because it has set the cause of temperance back twenty years; because it has substituted an ineffective campaign of force for an effective campaign of education; because it has replaced comparatively uninjurious light wines and beers with the worst kind of hard liquor and bad liquor; because it has increased drinking not only among men but has extended drinking to women and even children.”

    – William Randolph Hearst, initially a supporter of Prohibition, explaining his change of mind in 1929.

    From “Drink: A Social History of America” by Andrew Barr (1999), p.239

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t you admit the obvious Marion? The misguided and counterproductive policy of prohibition has failed; the “unintended” consequences are disastrous. Untold Thousands of people have lost their lives in prohibition-associated violence. Drug lords have taken over entire communities. Misery has spread unabated and corruption is undermining fragile democracies everywhere.

    We’ve had decades of interdictions, spraying and raids on jungle drug factories, but Latin America still remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and marijuana, while Afghanistan, even with American occupation, continues to produce over 90% of the worlds opium and heroin.

    To continue prohibition is ludicrous and if you can’t see that by now, then you must be on something far stronger than any of us here have even heard of.

    Do you really think that you’re blatant ignorance is “Protecting The Children”, Marion?

  • Anonymous

    RJ, all of us have a moral obligation to be open to the fact that certain public policies can do far more harm than good. Prohibition is a perfect example of such a policy.

    By its very nature, prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous and ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved. Thus the allure of this reliable and lucrative industry, with it’s enormous income potential that consistently outweighs the risks associated with the illegal operations that such a trade entails, will remain with us until we are collectively forced to admit the obvious. 

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use among all echelons of society is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation. 

    There are just three groups of people who still believe in drug prohibition:

    1. Fairly retarded true believers; ignorant Calvinists that have never lost their vindictive fervor for punitive hatred and who actually think it’s better that way. They get high on their own stupidity while protesting the taking of any non-liquid intoxicants.

    2. Those who profit from the law enforcement/ prison industrial complex.

    3. Those who profit from the manufacture, sale, and distribution of prohibited drugs.

    The thing that’s really important to keep in mind is that the second group is oftentimes inexorably intertwined with the third group, while they both pretend to be part of the first group.

  • Anonymous

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    Mexico’s civil war is a product of our failed policy of drug prohibition.

    The second biggest business during alcohol prohibition in Detroit was liquor at $215 million a year and employing about 50,000 people. Authorities were not only helpless to stop it, many were part of the problem. During one raid the state police arrested Detroit Mayor John Smith, Michigan Congressman Robert Clancy and Sheriff Edward Stein.

    When it comes down to business, the Mexican Cartels, just like their 1920s American counterparts, also like to be nonpartisan. They will buy-out or threaten politicians of any party, make deals with whoever can benefit them, and kill those who are brave or foolish enough to get in their way. The entire annual budget of an average Mexican municipality equals one fishing boat filled with drugs — and from many ports such vessels head north several times a day.

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    In 2009, NPR analyzed thousands of news releases on the federal attorney general’s website announcing arrests for organized crime, weapons and drug offenses. The information surveyed spanned from the day Calderon assumed the presidency in December 2006. The analysis showed that Nationwide, 44 percent of all cartel defendants are with the Zetas and Gulf cartels. Only 12 percent of the defendants are with the Sinaloa cartel. The numbers contradict the Mexican government, which claims it has arrested twice the percentage of Sinaloa gang members.
    “I think you’ve identified an issue of concern, and that is, why is the Sinaloa doing so much better than the others and why is the Sinaloa cartel been the one that has escaped a lot of the prosecutions compared to the other cartel numbers?” — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), a former federal prosecutor who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, when asked to review the NPR analysis.
    NPR’s analysis is supported by a Mexican law professor and organized crime expert, Edgardo Buscaglia, who has done his own analysis of cartel arrests.
    “If you look at the main organized crime group in Mexico, that is, the Sinaloan confederation, it has been left relatively untouched. The Sinaloa has been clearly the winner of all that competition among organized crime groups. And as a result of that, they have gained more economic power, they have been able to corrupt with more frequency and corrupt with more scope. Now you see that Sinaloa is the most powerful criminal group, not just in Mexico, but all over Latin America,” — Law professor and organized crime expert. Edgardo Buscaglia
    “Has the Sinaloa infiltrated the Mexican government? Absolutely. Has the Sinaloa infiltrated the Mexican military? Absolutely.” — Texas Congressman Michael McCaul
    “When the Sinaloan cartel began to be protected by all the apparatus of the government after 2001, it felt the power for the first time in history to occupy plazas that for dozens of years belonged to other cartels. So you saw them take on the Gulf cartel in Nuevo Laredo [in 2005], My hypothesis, after five years of investigation, is that Joaquin Guzman Loera is the best example of corruption in Mexico.” — Anabel Hernandez, an award-winning investigative reporter who has spent five years researching a book on Guzman.

  • felix

    You , are , in Denial , you mine as well make it a river in egypt and swim in it.

  • Katie

    Drug use dulls the brain functions. People are sick in the head need drugs. Can not face their life without. They should try looking out of their self, and help others to feel the high in them

  • Katie

    Drugs are for the weak of mind . Spirals down hill from there

  • Anonymous

    Would you care to qualify that statement or are you just trolling?

  • Aunt Raven

    You haven’t noticed that we’ve been trying for decades to “have a decent attempt at punishing drug-taking and drug selling.”  You haven’t noticed that this attempt has failed spectacularly.  A society advertises its  impotence when it insists on invoking punitive laws it cannot effectively enforce.  As they say, one definition of insanity (individual or corporate) is to keep doing the same old things and expecting different results. . . What is needed is to try a different approach, and legalizing /decriminalizing addictive drugs is at least worth a try –we couldn’t possibly do worse than the failed policy we mindlessly persue now

  • Aunt Raven

    Just for curiosity sake, — can you tell us what was the contemporary (1920′s) stance of the Catholic Church on 1) prohibition 2) the repeal of prohibition ? In terms of Moral theology, how did Confessors deal with penitents who confessed to small-time bootlegging (e.g, home wine-making in the rural Italian-American community and home beer-making by the rural German-American community) ?  Mortal sin, or not, for moderate, traditional home consumption? 

    My own (Presbyterian!) Kentucky grandfather, a poor upland farmer, was a noted Whiskey bootlegger and made more money that way than he ever did farming.  As a good Presbyterian, he did not drink himself, not permit any consumption in his home ;-) 

  • RJ

    “Its not ridiculous actually, the government defines what is and isn’t acceptable through legislature”

    So if, tomorrow, the government were to legislate that Jews were to be persecuted, that would be perfectly acceptable? Obviously not: rather the government has to be held to a moral standard and that standard must come from somewhere else. I believe it is rooted in human nature as discerned by human reason.

    Clearly though, what governments legislate does influence our understanding, for good or ill.

  • Lpasquot

    Unfortunately the author, Ffr Alexander, is wrong. Wrong approach to a tremendous disaster for mankind(drugs).

  • Mark77uk

    Thank you for your reply Father. Thank you also for discussing
    this issue – which is much-neglected in the media – in the first place.


    I have read the article from the Brownsville Herald, and it
    is indeed a terribly sad story. However, it is also a story of love, a story
    over which we can rejoice – a story of the love of this priest in laying down
    his life in the service of God and his neighbour. I have prayed for the repose
    of the soul of Father Marco Antonio Duran Romero and all of those who have lost
    their lives through as a result of this activity. Let us pray that their blood
    sows the seeds of the end of such evil.


    I could go on, but this excellent article from Ignatius
    Insight (quoting Pope Benedict’s interview in ‘Light of the World’), puts it
    far better than I ever could.






    So the drug problem is, at bottom, the God
    problem in another form. It would not exist if we were not created so that
    within us is a drive to eternal joy, to the ultimate pleasure of seeing God…

    Happiness really cannot be found in any other place than in
    God. That is simply the way it is. The drug trade is, in a way, almost visible
    proof of this incapacity. So what is the alternative to God? Man “himself
    must now create something that is fictitious, a false eternity.” Thus, to
    the question of what to do about the drug traffic, it looks like it will go on
    until we rediscover God in a practical way in each of our souls so that we do
    not go off seeking a “false eternity.” “This is a sign of the
    times that should be an urgent challenge to us, especially as Christians.”
    The reality and failure of drugs to provide happiness is indeed “a sign of
    the times.”

    Often, we do not like to hear these things. We think the
    problem of drugs is a “social problem,” a “political”
    problem, or a “medical problem.” The pope had it right in the
    beginning. No problem would exist if no market existed. We do not address
    ourselves to the causes of this market. The market exists basically because a
    notion of freedom separates man from God, rather than unites him. We are “autonomous,”
    we think. The drive to happiness in us, we think, is not intended to incite us
    to find out what God had in mind for us at our creation. No, it is to enable us
    to make our own “eternity” in this life. But it is not so.


    End quote.


    And I would add to this quote that neither
    is it a “legal” problem.

  • RJ

    I agree that is not possible or helpful to ban every immoral activity. I have been focussing on the moral aspect, rather than the public policy aspect.
    I was rather concerned that doctors would be in the invidious position of being pressurised to go against their conscience in prescribing drugs.

  • RJ

    Correction: “as discerned by human reason”: I should have said “as discernible by human reason”. The first implies rationalism – an overconfident assertion that human reason is all-sufficient. The fuller picture is that reason is enlightened by faith and needs the guidance and correction of the teaching authority of the Church, because our reasoning is indeed often distorted by our own preferences and cultural conditioning. In this case, I note that the Catechism (expression of the magisterium) excludes drug-taking as a recreational activity.

  • Parasum

    Why are so many Catholic countries – especially Romance-Latino ones – in such a mess ? Latin America, Italy, France, Ireland, most or all African countries with a majority Catholic population, Goa (as was)… is this really nothing but coincidence, or is there something in Catholicism that favours corruption and demoralisation of national life ? Even Belgium has problems. Why are they so chronically unstable ? Are there *any* more-or-less Catholic countries that are not a mess :(  ? It’s as though there were something about Protestantism that favours stability & productiveness, & something about Catholicism appears to discourage both; except when Catholics are living in a largely Protestant country.

  • Parasum

    All of us will kick the bucket eventually – why not let it be of something pleasurable & socially innocuous, like decaffeinated coffee ?

    “According to DrugRehabs.Org, national mortality figures for 2009 were: 
    tobacco  435,000;  poor diet and physical inactivity  365,000;  alcohol 
    85,000; microbial agents  75,000;  toxic agents  55,000; motor vehicle
    crashes  26,347; adverse reactions to prescription drugs 32,000; 
    suicide  30,622;  incidents involving firearms  29,000;  homicide 
    20,308;  sexual behaviors  20,000;  all illicit drug use, direct and
    indirect  17,000; and marijuana 0.”

    People will always find something to complain bitterly about – especially if it something that others enjoy. Thinking up diaphanous & senseless & utterly unnecessary prohibitions, & giving them the sanction of religious fear, or of its modern substitutes such as eco-freakery or PC-ism or feminazism, is fun too, because it feeds people’s love of dominating over others; a sure sign of a very impoverished sense of self.

    There are probably deaths from reading the idiocies of PETA, the Greens, & other horrors of modern life. Or from computing. Or from praying. Or from being Caucasian, English, & middle-class. Or from watching Dave-o our glorious PM. Or from being a Europhile (now that would be worth outlawing).

  • Parasum

     Why not poison them ? That’s how Sixtus V got rid of bandits in the Romagna. With enemies like these, one puts that Christian stuff in cold storage; it would get in the way of dealing with these people. Only strong-arm tactics will have any effect. Better still, gas them. It’s less than they deserve.

  • Parasum

     “You haven’t noticed that this attempt has failed spectacularly.”

    Probably because it has been half-hearted, too much influenced by Christian mildness & restraint. When fighting criminals of this kind, there should be no  nonsense about mercy or pity – that merely weakens the forces of authority & the law. If only cruelty works, then that is what should be used.Victory is all-important – the methods don’t matter a bit.

    Jesus, FWIW, did not have reckon with criminals who destroyed society with drugs – we do.

  • Parasum

     “As with torture, prohibition is a grievous crime against humanity. If
    you support it, or even simply tolerate it by looking the other way
    while others commit it,  you are an accessory to a very serious moral
    transgression against humanity.”

    Torture was approved & encouraged & used by the Church for centuries; it’s a bit late for the Church to be squeamish now. So torture is painful; so what ? That wasn’t an issue that discouraged the Church’s use of it. Lots of things are painful – that does not make them wrong.

  • Lunarcat

    Common sense, taking a page out of the history books.  Wish the church would be louder on this subject.  Wish the church would take the lead & demand governments re visit this travesty known as a drug war.  Drugs are not a sin but the law leads to sin.