Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The Contagious Disease: Drug Violence in Jamaica
The cancer is depressingly similar. The patients display the same symptoms.
The patients are also poor. They are named Colombia, Mexico and now Jamaica.
The disease metastasizes as violence and instability overwhelms the government’s efforts to re-impose the rule of law lost to drug cartels that have effectively carved out their own state within a state.
A president decides the time has come to fight the cancer and realizes the cure has come too late. The treatment, like a potent chemotherapy cocktail, will bring drastic suffering to the nation.
The cancer is caused by the potent mix of several factors.
First we have the insatiable drug consumption in the U.S. that drives the demand for illegal substances. Nothing can stop this demand, not zero tolerance enforcement, not mandatory sentencing for drug offences, not the DEA, not education in the schools nor the availability of drug rehabilitation for addicts.
Then we have a history of weak, ineffectual and corrupt governments and institutions in the above mentioned nations that supply the illegal drugs to the U.S. market. This history has been constant since the founding of these countries.
And let’s add to this mix the presence of ruthless organized criminal groups, most often referred to as “drug cartels,” that have amassed huge fortunes from the trafficking of drugs into the U.S. They are powerful to the point of operating with impunity in defiance of the rule of law.
The symptoms of this cancer are universal in the nations involved.
By some estimates U.S. citizens spend up to $100 billion on illegal drugs. Other than harsh punishment for drug dealing and trafficking, the U.S. has done practically nothing to address demand at home.
U.S. drug policy is primarily interested in stopping the flow of drugs into the country. In effect it has exported the drug war and it’s violence into the drug producing and trafficking nations. Through the Merida initiative the U.S. funds much of the drug war in Mexico and the Caribbean nations (Jamaica among them).
This drug war has had the effect of unleashing the full force of the military in Mexico, Colombia and now Jamaica in the fight against the powerful drug cartels. The police forces alone have been ineffectual due to corruption, ineptness and lack of firepower.
These countries are for the most part underdeveloped economically with a significant percentage of the population living in extreme poverty. It is within this segment of the population that most of the members of drug gangs originate. The drug trade can be seen as a crude form of wealth distribution.
It is also the poor that suffer a disproportionate number of victims from the drug violence from both the drug gangs and government forces.
Another major symptom of this cancer is that the majority of the victims of drug violence are the result of firearms imported from the U.S. The military and police forces fight with arms largely provided through U.S. aid. The drug cartels use their huge profits to import illegally vast amounts of military grade weapons, mostly acquired in the U.S. commercial gun market. This is especially true with regards to Mexico and Jamaica.
The corruption that protects the drug cartels is a long standing problem within the governments of the nations involved. However, the profits from drug trafficking have caused the corruption to become more widespread and entrenched.
The political leaders of these nations exploited the earlier, relatively weak drug gangs to enrich themselves and for other purposes such as assassinations of political rivals and electoral fraud. This legitimized the presence of the drug gangs.
With the power and wealth accumulated from drug trafficking these gangs now operate as virtual parallel governments and answer to no one in power. They are a power unto themselves and hold varying degrees of control over wide areas of Colombia, Mexico and Central America. In Jamaica they hold territorial control over the slums and mountainous areas.
Now drug trafficking gangs such as the Sinaloa and Zeta cartels and Jamaican “posses” have their own distribution networks within all areas of the U.S. and are responsible for hundreds of “spillover” murders and kidnappings within our borders.
How do we cure this cancer? It all rests on how we decrease the demand for drugs in the U.S. On how we provide for economic reforms that provide more jobs and decrease poverty in the drug trafficking nations so that entry into organized crime is no longer the only path for economic advancement by the extreme poor.
The cure must also include reforms within the judiciary and law enforcement in order to decrease the power of corruption by organized crime and actually punish criminals.
And let’s not forget reforms to government that will bring about leadership that is accountable to an entire nation and not just a small number of elites.
It is a cure that may take generations to find.
It is a cancer that as things stand today is incurable.