Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is a “former” leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. He is widely regarded as one of the most powerful drug lords in the modern era, and the Sinaloa Cartel has been called one of the most powerful organized crime groups in Mexico.
Guzmán was captured in 2015, famously escaped imprisonment in a tunnel as though he were Andy Dufrain, only to be recaptured in 2016. He has been incarcerated ever since. He is the quintessential bad guy, a dangerous persona behind a raft of murders and violence. The Sinaloa Cartel has engaged in billions of dollars of illegal drug production and smuggling — cocaine, marijuana, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, you name it — and has used violence to secure its place in the black market. With this iconic evildoer securely imprisoned, surely we can all sleep better at night. We are heroically saving the world with our righteous crusade. With this violent man off the streets, everyone in the communities he terrorized is safe and sound, right?
Not remotely. Mexico’s murder rate hit an all-time high in 2018, two years after this crime boss was put behind bars. In 2019, El Chapo was sentenced to “life plus 30 years” imprisonment in Colorado (one wonders about the smell), and also in 2019, Mexico’s murder rate again hit an all-time high. Blowing right past 2018. How could this be? Why does the murder rate keep climbing when the absolute worst-of-the-worst criminal is being locked up for life plus 30 years?
It’s because the War on Drugs is a complete failure of a policy. It is beyond a failure. It is a travesty. It has resulted in decade after decade of needless violence. It is killing people in the United States at record levels from illicit fentanyl saturating the drug supply, and it is killing people in Central and South America at record levels in the form of black market violence. It is costing United States taxpayers enormous amounts of money to incarcerate completely nonviolent people domestically, and to wage its drug war abroad. And, to add to all of that, it is used as a lever for racist law enforcement practices at all levels.
And it goes beyond this. Many of us have seen the pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s horrified reaction to what she saw at a CBP detention center. We have all heard the stories of little kids being forced to represent themselves in immigration courts. We have all heard how children and parents are being separated, thrown into cages, and kept in conditions that you would expect to find in a medieval dungeon. We have all heard of ICE agents terrorizing communities, conducting unwarranted raids (literally, no warrants) and traffic stops to harass people. We have heard of US citizens being illegally detained. As of June 2019, as many as 18,000 people were held in CBP detention facilities on any given day. Almost none of them belong there, especially the infants and toddlers.
So the question is, why are these migrants even here? They are here because, even though the United States is a nation aswirl in the toilet bowl, where there are more mass shootings than days in a calendar year, where we have a dysfunctional government held hostage by billionaires, where we are shedding thousands of jobs and bankrupting ourselves in our hospitals on a daily basis, where the homeless population has surged to over 550,000 and climbing, it’s still better than facing record-high murder rates and nonstop violence at the hands of cartels — cartels that wouldn’t even exist were it not for the War on Drugs — in Central and South America. It’s better to take your chances in El Paso than in Juárez or San Salvador or Guatemala City.
They are here because of us. Immigrants flee countries that we terrorize with our War on Drugs, come to the United States, and hope to find work and feed their families. The War on Drugs creates adverse conditions throughout Central and South America, and when people from Central and South America flee to the United States, we accuse them of smuggling drugs and being in gangs — painting them in the image of demons we have created — we incarcerate them, torture them, humiliate them, and if they’re lucky, deport them so that they can start the trip to flee their violent homelands, feed their families, and live as contributing members of their communities anew.
What the fuck.
It is long overdue that we end this catastrophe. This is perhaps the single worst modern policy in the United States, and there are a lot of bad policies you could compare it to. It has cost us countless trillions of dollars, disenfranchised millions of people, and led to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. It has a hand in practically every element of malaise in the United States today. It does not bring justice. It does not bring hope. It does not help addicts. It won’t protect you or your children.
Authorities caught the baddest of the bad guys, El Chapo, and in the years he has been incarcerated, everything has gotten worse. All the El Chapos could be incarcerated and it wouldn’t matter. New El Chapos would come and go. They each play a role in a system designed to destroy us all, and as long as this system remains in place, opioids will still eviscerate populations throughout North America, and violence will still bring ruin and despair to Central and South America. Completely innocent people, who didn’t ask for any of this, will still try to flee it and be locked up and abused by the very same entity — the federal government of the United States — whose policies and practices sowed the violence they fled in the first place.
If you are someone on the fence about this, I suggest you get off the fence. There is no morally-defensible ‘decriminalize this, but keep that illegal’ stance regarding drug policy. Gangsters and their tommy guns defined the Prohibition Era, and they’re doing it again under the War on Drugs. El Chapo is just today’s Al Capone. Prohibition didn’t work then, and it’s not working now.
Of course, methamphetamines are more dangerous to users than marijuana — of course, that’s true — but the War on Drugs is far, far more dangerous to everyone and our entire way of life than any drug. We can each make the choice to say no to drugs without saying yes to the War on Drugs. It’s that simple.