Mexico is currently suffering from the same sort of drug-related violence that plagued Colombia during the 1980s. Mexico and the United States can learn a great deal from Colombia's example, including that they must build law enforcement capacity and not rely solely on military force.
To the Editor:
Robert Bonner writes that "destroying the drug cartels is not an impossible task" ("The New Cocaine Cowboys," July/ August 2010). But he really should have written, "Destroying some drug cartels is not an impossible task."
U.S. and Mexican officials regularly succeed in busting individual cartel leaders, but as the 40-year history of the U.S.-led global "war on drugs" shows -- as do my 30 years of experience working as an agent for the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Homeland Security -- the illegal drug economy as a whole is unstoppable. Whenever the U.S. government does bust a cartel head, there is someone willing to take his place, and it is always going to be that way as long as people are willing to pay for illegal drugs.
Indeed, as one Mexican official told The Economist recently, "Until legalisation, the only thing you can do is make it someone else's problem." That is why Mexican President Felipe Calderón recently joined his predecessors Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo in calling for a serious public debate on the merits of legalization. It is time to try something else.