While American foreign policy has for years fixated on the conflict in Syria and the Middle East, just across the border in Mexico and throughout Central America tens of thousands of people lost their lives last year because of the conflict between drug cartels competing to deliver illicit drugs into the U.S.
According to a recent report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, whereas approximately 50,000 lives were lost in Syria last year, approximately 39,000 were killed in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, much of which is attributable to drug-war violence.
Mexico’s homicide total of 23,000 for 2016 is second only to Syria’s, and is only the latest development in a conflict that stretches back to 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed the military to combat drug cartels.
Although the exact number of people killed because of the drug war in Mexico is unlikely to ever be known, a recent report from the Congressional Research Service cited estimates from 80,000 to more than 100,000 in that country alone.
The cause of this violence is obvious, and it is a direct, predictable consequence of our failed policy of drug prohibition. In the near-half century since President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been killed in conflicts fueled by a lucrative illicit drug trade made possible by our prohibition of drugs.
This is an insight a certain New York developer possessed 27 years ago. “We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” Donald Trump said in 1990. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
While Trump may have since lost this insight, the fact remains that the war on drugs does more harm than drugs themselves.
Last year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to call for a “rethink” of the drug war, which contributed to decades of conflict in Colombia that killed hundreds of thousands.
Rather than squander more lives and resources fighting a War on Drugs that cannot be won – including in our inner cities – the United States must recognize the futility and harm of its drug policies.