The United States has exercised enormous power in implementing policies that, from its point of view, are the right ones to confront problems — by involving other countries to achieve its objectives. And this is done, not always through consensus or conviction, but by exerting force, a strategy made possible by the enormous asymmetry of power with countries, especially underdeveloped ones.
A review of the most significant policies aimed at resolving various conflicts, social or otherwise, shows that they are based on “prohibitionism.”
The implementation of this concept has shown that it is the populace that is directly affected, while real solutions are postponed and conflicts are painfully maintained.
There are basically three policies pursued by the United States, whose guiding principle has been prohibitionism, that have involved Mexico, among other countries. The first of these was the “dry law,” the prohibition of alcohol.
At the end of the 19th century, various groups — especially Protestant religious groups — determined that people should not drink alcohol, believing it to be immoral. Women joined these groups in an effort to close all saloons so that men would abstain, undoubtedly creating a serious problem.
Finally, the Volstead Act was passed in 1920 prohibiting the production, distribution, sale and consumption of alcohol. The law remained in effect until Dec. 5, 1933, when the 21st Amendment put an end to the Prohibition era.
Prohibition was catastrophic. There was insufficient enforcement; a proliferation of clandestine bars, contraband drinks and the black market; and the terrible growth of a criminal element with the arrival of mafias and gangs — groups that, paradoxically, later became famous on television.
Prohibition created a monster that survives today because it prescribed a religious solution rather than a quest for the causes of alcohol addiction and the application of health policy.
The second strategy, following the same line as the previous one and reinforced under the same parameters, is the anti-drug policy, also based on prohibition, despite the earlier experience.
It is important to remember that during the administration of Lázaro Cárdenas, Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra legalized the use of narcotics and opened “state dispensaries” to provide drugs to addicts, offer medical care and keep them away from the illegal market.
A threatening response from the United States was not long in coming. The U.S. suspended the shipment of legal drugs to Mexico. Thus, President Cárdenas had no choice but to bow to the dictates of his neighbor and turn a public health issue into a criminal matter based on “the Protestant moral perspective,” as the author points out.
And the final straw came with Richard Nixon, who in 1974 launched his terrible “war on drugs” to improve his ratings, pointing out that drug abuse was “public enemy No. 1” in the United States.
After 50 years, prohibitionism has proven to be a policy that leads to failure and dire consequences, increased criminality, rampant corruption, greater flows of drugs and more addicts — in other words, totally negative results. The solution is public health policy.
The third action that clearly shows the harmful consequences of prohibition is migration. Remember that at the beginning of his administration, Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed a migration policy clearly based on human rights for migrants, without criminalization; humanitarian visas and transit through the country, and one that addressed the causes of the phenomenon without detention or massive deportations. The response of the United States in the form of Donald Trump was categorical: Either close the borders, increase border security and prevent crossing the northern border or face tariffs on all goods coming from Mexico, i.e., immigration containment, prohibition.
Once again, it is our neighbor that dictates immigration policy, because the asymmetry of power between the two is simply immense. The consequences have been disastrous: networks of human traffickers who receive higher profits than they could obtain from the drug trade, abuse of migrants in the face of the enormous precariousness they suffer and, of course, an increase in the number of people trafficked in order to obtain more profit. The result: an increasing flow of migrants, tragedies for which no one takes responsibility, while the situations that force them to migrate remain untouched.
Prohibition generates illegality, delinquency and criminality; these policies are perfect for letting problems go unsolved. Instead of addressing causes, the correct way to solve problems, these policies are directed toward effects. This immense irrationality explains the permanence of the conflict: Enormous benefits received by institutions, officials, and agencies suit all of them, and they are delighted by the wonderful opportunity to become millionaires.
Changing this paradigm requires joining forces with other countries, especially in Latin America, that suffer the onslaught of the “hegemonic power in its decline.”
President Gustavo Petro is proposing a regional summit on migration with a focus on labor mobility, as well as debate regarding the “war on drugs” policy, both of which are complete failures and require a common front with countries concerned about their population and about removing imperialist impositions.
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