Mexico's drug problem isn't.
Mexico's drug problem, that is.
It's America's drug problem.
And our looking at it backwards is a huge part of the problem itself.
We sit and blame Mexico for smuggling drugs across our border as if we were innocent in all this. As if the evil (and they are) Mexican drug cartels are forcing Americans at gunpoint to consume illicit drugs.
(The proposition is not as far-fetched as its sounds. In 1842, Great Britain forced China to accept opium importation, and took the island of Hong Kong to use as a staging base.)
We condemn Mexico for exporting drugs while ignoring the inverse dynamic -- we are importing the drugs. We are the ones bringing in 20 tons of heroin, 110 tons of methamphetamine, 330 tons of cocaine and literally countless tons of marijuana annually.
The cartels could stack up drugs on this side of the border until California tilted into the ocean, and if we weren't using them, it wouldn't matter. The drugs would be worthless, instead of the multi-billion dollar product that we have made them.
Mexico has every right to be furious.
We insist that the Mexican government 'crack down' on the drug cartels, while at the same time we maintain the world's largest drug market just across its border. We condemn Mexico for its corruption while ignoring the societal rot in our own culture. We act appalled at the (appalling) level of violence in Mexico without ever acknowledging our own share of the responsibility for perpetuating it.
Just for the sake of getting a different perspective, turn the map upside down for a second. Just to get a fresh look, put Mexico to our north and consider the situation.
What if we had highly-armed, wealthy and immensely powerful criminal organizations thriving in the United States -- 'cartels' whose combined power rivaled the national government. Let's say that they had enough money to bribe politicians, judges, police, even the military. Let's suppose that they felt so insulated from consequences that they assassinated police chiefs, mayors and journalists. That they were responsible for an average of ten thousand violent deaths or disappearances a year. That they conducted unspeakably grisly tortures by way of vengeance and intimidation. In the streets of New York, Chicago and L.A.
Now let's say that Mexico funded them.
To the tune of $25 billion annually.
Go just a little further and say that Mexican entrepreneurs supplied them with the guns they use to kill.
How long would the U.S. tolerate that situation?
Months? Weeks? Days?
What if Mexican drug consumers were funding, let's say, terrorist organizations inside the United States? How long would it be before the tanks started rolling?
But that's exactly what we do to Mexico. Our drug money goes south (along with our guns), perpetuating the power of the violent cartels, creating untold misery and suffering for the Mexican people, destabilizing their society, government and economy.
(It is estimated that fully 10% of Mexico's economy is built on drug proceeds.)
At the same time, we commit more billions ($10 billion in 2011, twice what we spent of treatment and prevention) to try to interdict the drug traffic, money that only drives up the price and gives more profit and power to the cartels that control the prime smuggling turf. We increase the violence in Mexico both by buying the drugs and then by trying to stop them from coming in.
And then we call it the 'Mexican drug problem.'
We're Mexico's drug problem.
Follow Don Winslow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/donwinslow