Mexico’s national horror story is often told as a gangster epic full of lurid detail of the lives and deaths of drug kingpins, says a cover story in Time magazine. Or it’s reduced to dry figures: the cartels make $30 billion a year, equal to the economy of a midsize Central American nation, moving marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into the U.S.
President Felipe Calderón’s war against the cartels may have been poorly thought through, but so is U.S. policy. Washington has opted for a sweeping policy of incarcerating drug offenders at home and eradicating drug sources abroad. The Obama administration has begun to balance law enforcement with more drug-rehab-oriented policies that reduce demand, but it dismisses the recent suggestion of several Latin American leaders to legalize arguably less harmful drugs like marijuana. Such a move might put a serious crimp in drug-cartel finances, but the White House says it would “make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.” The U.S. could do more to help Mexico develop modern investigative police forces in addition to sending high-tech helicopters to Calderón’s army.