Mexico: US admits to mistakes in 32-year “drug war”

US officials were wrong in 1979 when they thought that the struggle against drug trafficking was “a question that only had to do with complying with the law,” one “that could be resolved quickly with an aggressive campaign” and with a “country by country” approach, William R. Brownfield, US assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told a press conference in Cancún, in the eastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on April 7. “Thirty-two years have passed, billions of dollars and many strategies later,” he said, “and I could tell you that we weren’t right, we didn’t guess right.”

Brownfield, who was in Cancún for the 28th annual International Conference for Drug Control, was responding to a question about Mexico’s own “war on drugs,” which has cost 35,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa militarized anti-drug operations shortly after taking office in December 2006. Mexican public security minister Genaro García Luna had said that the violence would start to diminish in 2015. Asked his opinion, Brownfield answered that based on the US experience “at least we have to think in years.” He said he was “optimistic that in two years it will be possible to speak of results,” but that if he came to Mexico then and the situation hadn’t improved, he could be questioned for his “total and complete stupidity.” (La Jornada, Mexico, April 8)

Another US official came close to admitting to another mistake earlier in the week. On April 5. Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command, told a US Senate hearing that many of the weapons being used by Mexican drug traffickers came from Central America. “Over 50% of the military-type weapons that are flowing throughout the region have a large source between Central American stockpiles, if you will, left over from wars and conflicts in the past,” he explained. (AFP, April 6)

The news coverage didn’t mention that many of these weapons were supplied by the US to rightwing military and paramilitary forces in Central America to fight leftists during the 1980s and 1990s. A US diplomatic cable released by the WikiLeaks group in February said fragmentation grenades used by drug traffickers in Monterrey came from shipments from the US to the Salvadoran military in the early 1990s (not “in 1990,” as we reported).

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 10.

See our last post on Mexico.