Marco Cáceres di Iorio

The Darker Side of Free Trade

It’s obvious that what is fueling the crime and violence in Central America and Mexico is the lucrative market for illegal drugs in the United States. This is not an excuse for the problems that plague the region; it is simply a fact. Without the huge U.S. demand for pot, cocaine, and synthetic drugs from South America, there would still exist massive poverty, unemployment, corruption, and violence in Central America… but there would not be anywhere near as much organized crime, and the drug cartels and gangs would not have so much dominion over the lives of so many people, particularly those charged with governing and maintaining security. So how do you go about reducing U.S. demand for illegal drugs?

The first way is a no-brainer: Get people in the U.S. to “just say no” to drugs. Yeah, Nancy Reagan tried that, and it didn’t seem to do much good. Getting people to stop polluting their bodies and frying their brains with drugs is like trying to get them to stop consuming so much Diet Coke, white bread, and all that other poisonous garbage with high fructose corn syrup and aspartame. It’s like trying to point out that the authors of the Second Amendment never in their wildest dreams envisioned AR-15 Bushmasters and Glock semi-automatics. As reasonable as the arguments may be, they’re doomed. People in the U.S. want their drugs, their junk food and their guns. Whether or not the stuff is legal or clogs your arteries and emaciates your heart is pretty much irrelevant.

So the first way is out. It’s a given that North Americans in the U.S. will remain hooked on illegal drugs (and legal ones, as well) for the foreseeable future, and thus the drug trade will continue to thrive — as will the crime, violence and death that it provokes south of the border. Sorry about that, Honduras.

The second way would be for the U.S. government to do a serious about-face and legalize all illegal drugs, regulate them, and tax them. The illegal drug industry — run by and benefiting the drug cartels, gangs, and other assorted criminals — would suddenly become a legal industry led by major pharmaceutical companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Violent outlaws would lose their primary source of income, and that money would instead go to pharmaceutical CEOs, their board members, their employees, and their shareholders in the U.S. Oh, and all those New York advertising firms paid so well to come up with all those clever pill commercials on TV.

Of course, the problem is that this option has been proposed over and over again, and it’s clear that the U.S. government is nowhere close to going down this path. It’s not a political winner at the moment, particularly with all the other controversial stuff on the table such as immigration reform, energy policy, the debt ceiling, and sequestration. Maybe in 10 or 20 years. But not now.

So if you can’t do away with the U.S. demand, and you can’t destroy the current suppliers by legalizing the market, then what? There’s a third way. Make it a lot more difficult for the drugs to enter the U.S. No, I’m not talking about U.S. military interdiction efforts. That’s just bad news for everybody. I’m talking about doing away with NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

Ever since the Clinton Administration signed the “free trade” agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1994, trade with Mexico has boomed. The whole point of this neoliberal policy was to reduce or eliminate tariffs and allow the exchange of goods and services to flow freely. It worked. However, as Dustin Ensinger wrote in an article for Economy in Crisis in 2010 titled “NAFTA Fueling Drug Trade“: “Unfortunately, many of the goods entering America from Mexico are illegal drugs, the trafficking of which was made easier by the trade pact.”

Mr. Ensinger quotes John Burnett who wrote on National Public Radio online, “With a billion dollars worth of cargo crossing the U.S.-Mexico border every day, free trade is one of the greatest gifts for drug traffickers.”

Mr. Ensinger further writes:

“This fiscal year, 4.7 million commercial vehicles have crossed into America from Mexico. Only one in five of those vehicles is stopped and checked. Even with such a low inspection rate, thus far in the year, inspection agents have already seized 96 tons of marijuana. According to NPR, some of the drivers are unwilling participants, others are paid to smuggle the drugs. Apparently, Mexico’s drug cartels have infiltrated trucking companies and manufacturing facilities across Mexico.”

Lastly, Mr. Ensinger notes, “Fueled by easy access because of NAFTA, the Mexican drug trade has made a handful of drug kingpins as powerful as any government official in Mexico. It has also led to widespread violence, which is beginning to spread over the Mexican border into the U.S.”

Consider, for a moment, the irony of it all.

The U.S. government is spending billions of dollars (more than $90 billion over the past decade) on border security to prevent people from Central America and Mexico from entering the U.S. illegally. It is spending hundreds of millions of dollars more to deport undocumented immigrants. It has thus far spent about $100 million to fight the “drug war” in Central America, and will likely spend hundreds of millions more over the next few years.

But with the NAFTA in place, the U.S. is actually enabling the organized crime syndicates, drug cartels, and gangs that thrive off the illegal drug trade. NAFTA allows the relatively easy entrance of their precious product. It is through this enablement that these criminal groups are empowered to terrorize the people of Central America and Mexico, forcing them to emigrate to the U.S. In the meantime, the U.S. is being saturated with endless quantities of illegal drugs. With so much volume, the street price of pot, cocaine, and synthetics has plummeted, making it easier for people, particularly young adults and children, to purchase.

NAFTA is killing, maiming, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people in Central America and Mexico… and the U.S. And it is costing U.S. taxpayers plenty at a time when Congress and the Obama Administration are bickering about how to reduce spending (before the U.S. goes the way of Greece) and the baby boomers are retiringat a rate of 10,000 people per day, swiftly reducing the size of the U.S. tax revenue base.

So why continue with this insanity? So we can buy cheap clothes at Old Navy and Target? Eh, not worth it. I’ll be glad to pay a lot more for my underwear and t-shirts.

If the U.S. is so willing to build a fence along the Texas-Mexico border to keep illegal immigrants out, then why not put up a wall to block the trade that brings in the product that generates so much misery and forces so many to leave their families and migrate to the U.S. in the first place?

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