Arrow Left Arrow Right Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
As U.S. States Decriminalize Marijuana, Mexico’s Drug War Rages On
As U.S. States Decriminalize Marijuana, Mexico’s Drug War Rages On
We Don’t Need A Wall To Manage Migration From Mexico
We Don’t Need A Wall To Manage Migration From Mexico

As U.S. States Decriminalize Marijuana, Mexico’s Drug War Rages On

Originally published in Open Society Foundation

In August of 2016, Aarón Valencia and his family fled to the United States amid the violence of Mexico’s drug war. Gangs had threatened to force two of his children into organized crime in his home state of Michoacán, and seeking refuge in the United States seemed his only option.

Today, Aarón, a former member of a vigilante militia disarmed by the Mexican government, and his family are being held at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, waiting for their asylum claim to be processed. They are among the millions of victims of the drug war that rages in Mexico to this day.

Over the past decade, several U.S. states have moved to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, a shift that has improved the lives of countless Americans. But while legalization is an important component of righting the wrongs of the drug war, it is not the only component—especially for the hundreds of thousands of Mexican families who have already been victimized by a century of prohibitionist policies.

Mexico and the United States have long had an asymmetric relationship when it comes to the control of cannabis and other drugs.

Mexico and the United States have long had an asymmetric relationship when it comes to the control of cannabis and other drugs. Two decades ago, California made history by regulating the medicinal use of the plant. That same year, Mexico doubled down on the punitive model by criminalizing narcomenudeo, the small trade of marijuana.

While in the United States, decriminalization has boosted local economies and decreased mass incarceration, in Mexico the presence of the army in the streets has only demonstrated the country’s fragile institutional framework. Homicides, disappearances, forced displacement, human rights violations of people who use drugs, and the diversification of criminal activities have all increased, especially since 2006.

When California legalized recreational marijuana on 8 November 2016, drug policy reformers in Mexico received the news with cautious optimism. Legalization in California would boost Mexican initiatives to reform prohibitionist and punitive drug policies that have cost the country a third of its GDP growth and stalled the life expectancy of Mexican men, who live up to five fewer years than average in drug war–addled states like Chihuahua.

Last December, the Mexican Senate legalized the medical use of marijuana; it now awaits approval in the Chamber of Deputies. In the beginning, however, only imported medical marijuana will be allowed. Recreational consumption will continue to be prosecuted, self-cultivation will remain illegal, and authorizations for local production will only be possible, perhaps in the future, if the Ministry of Health determines their feasibility.

This incongruity between California’s progressive approach to marijuana laws and Mexico’s continued prohibition is creating acute problems for Mexico that will only grow worse.

For one, Mexico’s negative trade balance will continue to widen. As criminal organizations decrease their exports from Mexico in response to falling demand for black market marijuana in the United States, Mexico’s domestic supply of marijuana will rise, driving down prices and boosting domestic consumption, with costs for both the health and penal systems.

While legalization has bestowed an array benefits on the United States, it will not repair the damages the war on drugs has caused to Mexico.

Further, as the Mexican cartels diversify their criminal activities away from marijuana, the costs of maintaining a war against them will also rise. Ironically, even as these costs go up, the government will justify intensifying this war as the cartels ramp up their trade of other substances, such as heroin and methamphetamine, and pursue activities like extortion, protection rackets, kidnapping, and human trafficking.

Meanwhile, the peasant communities and migrants that cultivate cannabis will lose their source of income, leaving them more susceptible to recruitment for other criminal activities. And Mexican migrants working on legal, semilegal, and illegal marijuana farms in California will continue to be exploited.

These specialized migrants, coveted for their unique skills, are often unfairly compensated because of their immigration status. One engineer at Chapingo Autonomous University who specializes in agroecological techniques worked for six months at California marijuana farms. He said in a recent interview that he earned less than $15,000 for $100,000 worth of work.

It’s becoming clear that, while legalization has bestowed an array benefits on the United States, it will not repair the damages the war on drugs has caused to Mexico. Legalization in the United States will not give comfort to the grieving Mexican families of the thousands disappeared and forcibly recruited by criminal organizations. It will not provide security to Mexican regions that were once marijuana providers for California. It will not return security to the communities displaced by the violence of Mexico’s drug war. And it absolutely will not provide minimal conditions of security, peace, and justice to the victims of this war, such as Aarón Valencia and his family.

Legalization in the United States can, however, encourage Mexican activists, researchers, and other members of the drug policy community to develop new solutions with renewed intensity now that legalization is becoming a more accepted approach around the world. While the benefits of legalization in the United States may not immediately reach the Mexican people, they could serve as motivation to redouble efforts to bring about positive drug reform that leads to peace and stability in our country.

We Don’t Need A Wall To Manage Migration From Mexico

Originally published in Miami Herald

Deportations from Mexico and the U.S. will not stop Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence. Instead of building a wall, the U.S. should help Mexico provide safe, secure reception areas on its southern border for Central American migrants.

Here is an interesting question for President Donald Trump: Who deports more Central American migrants, the United States or Mexico? The answer is Mexico by a long shot.

In 2015, Mexico, without a wall — but with better surveillance in collaboration with the U.S.-deported 165,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The United States deported 74,478 Central Americans the same year.

So antagonizing the people of Mexico and the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto with a constant refrain of, “You will pay for the wall” may not be the best way for Trump to lower the number of migrants crossing the southwest border into the U.S. Mexico has been willing to cooperate with the U.S. to prevent illegal migration in the past when relations were good. The future may be a lot different.

The more effective and less costly way to reduce the flow of refugees and migrants to the U.S. is to help Mexico provide safe, secure reception areas on its southern border for Central American migrants, and transportation back to their home countries for those who do not qualify for refugee status.

Deportation will continue to be a revolving door unless the Northern Triangle countries also are helped to do something different than dumping the migrants — particularly children — back into the neighborhoods where the maras (gangs) have taken homicide rates to world-record levels.

Last year, in its report Easy Prey: Criminal Violence and Central American Migration, The International Crisis Group found that in the first half of 2016, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended almost 42,000 unaccompanied children on our southwest border, about 15 percent of the total detained. Today, that trend continues.

The only lasting answer to illegal migration is to address the conditions of poverty, violence and criminal impunity that force families to flee their homes in Central America.

Crisis Group also found the drug cartels that dominate cocaine trafficking through the Central American corridor to Mexico and U.S. markets are taking over the traditional “coyote” migration routes. Often, they siphon young migrant girls, boys and women to brothels and other way-points of human trafficking.

Mexico and the U.S. have treaty obligations to ensure that those migrants with a well-founded fear of persecution will have the ability to make their case for refugee status and asylum. In the interim, Mexico has a humanitarian visa that it can offer; the U.S. has Temporary Protected Status.

The only lasting answer to illegal migration is to address the conditions of poverty, violence and criminal impunity that force families to flee their homes in Central America. While Mexican migration to the U.S. has dropped, worsening economic conditions there will push impoverished Mexicans north.

In order to properly address the migration crisis, President Trump should reverse the current downward slide in relations with Mexico Everyone recognizes that the U.S. has an interest in controlling its borders to ensure public security and safety. However, building a wall and demanding that Mexico pay for it are unlikely to produce the desired results.

President Trump should instead draw on his experience as a businessman to strengthen the Alliance for Prosperity program—a potentially innovative joint regional plan involving the U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Republican Congress backed the program with nearly $1 billion in each of the last two years to support efforts to root out corruption, reduce poverty, and create jobs in Central America.

Most scholars and law enforcement leaders argue that, with policy changes to tackle corruption and end impunity, a continuing U.S. commitment of $1 billion a year over the next five years to finance small business, jobs, education and criminal justice reform in Central America will yield a far better return on investment in reducing migration. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than the estimated $12- to $40 billion cost of building a 2,000-mile-long border wall — which no one wants to pay for.