Jacob G. Hornberger – August 28, 2018
If a Mexican citizen wishes to commit suicide, there is an excellent way to do it: run for office on an aggressive platform of shutting down Mexican drug cartels. There is a high likelihood that that candidate’s life will be snuffed out by the drug cartels that he is committed to shutting down.
35-year-old Jose Remedios Aguirre is a recent example. In May he was running for mayor in the town of Apaseo El Alto and promising to bring peace and security to a town that has been besieged by drug cartel violence.
It’s worth noting that Remedios was not a novice when it came to personal security. He was manager of a private security firm and had also served as the director of public security in the town from 2012-2015. That didn’t prevent him from being shot dead at close range by multiple gunmen who have still not been caught.
According to an article in a Japanese newspaper that detailed Aguirre’s murder,
In Mexico, 145 politicians and related people, including candidates in local elections like Aguirre, were killed from September 2017 through June 30 this year. As drug cartels intend to increase their influence on local politicians, candidates who refused money and benefits offered by those cartels, or politicians who tried to terminate their relationship with those criminal organizations, were murdered, according to people familiar with the cases.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that the drug gangs have infiltrated Mexican law-enforcement agencies, which obviously diminishes the chances that drug-war murderers will ever be brought to justice. Even if they are, there is a good chance that the judge who ultimately presides over their case has been corrupted as well.
While the Mexican press and some political candidates rail against the corruption, what they fail to realize is that drug-war official corruption is not entirely irrational. Suppose, for example, that you are the chief of police. A representative of the local drug cartel sits down with you and makes the following offer: “Plata o plomo?”
What do you do?
On the one hand, if you accept the silver in return for looking the other way, you and your family stay alive. On the other hand, if you go after the drug cartel, you know that there is a good chance that you and your family are going to get lead, in the form of bullets shot into your body.
You also know that if you decide not to accept the money and instead go after the drug cartel, you’re not going to put a dent in the drug trade even if you are successful in busting the local drug cartel. Even if you were to bust the entire cartel and jail all of its members for life, you know that they will be quickly replaced by one or more drug cartels, whose members will be as determined to shoot you dead as the ones you have incarcerated.
After all, look at all the drug cartels that have been busted during the past several decades of the drug war? Weren’t they all immediately replaced by new drug sellers?
Given such, do you see why a police officer might find it rational to simply accept an extremely generous bribe in return for looking the other way?
The obvious question arises, “Jacob, does this mean that Mexican officials must just accept the inevitable and let the drug cartels operate with impunity?”
No, it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is that the drug war is not the way to shut down drug cartels. It just doesn’t work because even if you shut down one, it will be quickly replaced by another.
But in fact there is a surefire way to shut down the drug cartels. That way is drug legalization. With drug legalization, the drug cartels are put out of business immediately. That’s because the drug cartels cannot compete in a legal market. They are effective only in black markets — i.e., illegal markets — where murder is viewed as a legitimate way to stay in business and compete.
Suppose Mexico were to legalize all drugs today. Reputable pharmacies and other businesses would immediately go into the drug-selling business. The price of drugs and the enormous profits for selling drugs would plummet immediately. Competition would be through advertising and marketing, as it is in other free-market activity. Drug users would choose to buy from the pharmacies and other reputable businesses. Drug cartels would be finished, gone, desaparecido.
So, why do Mexican citizens who are running for office continue to risk their lives in what is obviously a futile endeavor? If getting rid of the drug cartels is their goal, why don’t they do the rational thing and run for office on a platform of legalizing drugs?
Your guess is as good as mine. It makes no sense. It’s like trying to commit suicide through politics.
This article was originally published at FFF.org. Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.