Judith Teichman suggests decriminalizing drugs would curb violence in Mexico

May 27, 2010

Where else in the world do they have a single noun to denote a man who turns up dead in the trunk of a car?

In northern Mexico, they call the wretch un encajuelado, and the phenomenon has become a sufficiently frequent feature of the local landscape that it merits a word all its own.

Meanwhile, as if killing were not bad enough, beheadings have become a morbidly common feature in battles among the region’s drug gangs, often recorded on video.

In all, more than 20,000 Mexican lives have been sacrificed in drug-related violence since December 2006, in a conflict pitting federal authorities against the drug traders or the drug traders against each other.

Many of the gang leaders have been jailed or killed. But the narcotraficantes are definitely still in business, still sporting garish gold jewelry, still driving around in new SUVs, listening to bouncy, polka-like music called narcorrido, still supplying 90 per cent of the U.S. market for cocaine, with estimated annual revenues of, by one conservative estimate, somewhere between $15 billion and $23 billion.

“This is a war you can’t win,” says Carlos Dade, executive director of an Ottawa-based think tank, the Canadian Foundation for the Americas, or FOCAL. “That’s pretty much the consensus throughout the region.”

Is the war, then, over? Has the time finally come in the international campaign against drugs to put down the guns, admit defeat and simply legalize the lot — cocaine, heroin, marijuana, you-name-it?

The Economist magazine says so. The same goes for Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, not to mention University of Toronto Latin America expert Judith Teichman.

“The only way you’re going to reduce the violence and corruption is by legalizing the drugs,” says Teichman. “You can’t conclude anything else if you know what you’re talking about.”

Continue reading this column by Oakland Ross at thestar.com.