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April 16th, 2009
09:17 AM ET

Journalist: U.S. and Mexico need to revise drug war strategy

John Ackerman of the Mexican Law Review speaks to CNN's Kiran Chetry about drug violence in Mexico.
John Ackerman of the Mexican Law Review speaks to CNN's Kiran Chetry about drug violence in Mexico.

President Obama is headed to Mexico today and will be meeting with Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon. The president will share his vision about what it will take to tackle the drug cartels to combat deadly violence that’s spilling over the border.

John Ackerman is editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review and lives in Mexico City. Ackerman spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s American Morning Thursday.

Kiran Chetry: As President Obama gets ready to meet with Mexican President Calderon, what guarantees do we need to give to Mexico first of all?

John Ackerman: I think President Obama should be very aware of the situation that’s occurring here in Mexico, in terms of the serious politicizing that is happening with regards to the combating of the drug traffickers. Calderon has been very much emphasizing the military aspects of the combating of the drug traffickers, which I think is a mistake. We really need to think about institution building and changing the focus of the strategy of the attack on the drug traffickers. Obama should be aware of this. It's very easy to talk about the war on drugs. But it’s also very dangerous because there have been serious attacks on human rights and there hasn’t been enough done in terms of combating corruption in Mexico.

Chetry: You say corruption is a big problem because if they arrest these people the chances that the drug dealers will stay in jail are slim to none. They don't have enough resources to protect them through the courts or the institutions to make that happen. We've promised $1.4 billion in assistance to Mexico to help with all of this. Where is that money going? Isn't that enough?

Ackerman: This is the Merida plan proposed by the Bush administration and approved by Congress last year. It’s $1.4 billion. Just about all of it, 80 – 90% of it goes to high-tech, helicopters, listening devices, military and law enforcement technology. The problem is it doesn't quite do the job if we catch these drug traffickers and they end up on the streets a few weeks later and the criminal justice system doesn't actually work in Mexico, that doesn't actually solve the problem. We need to have a fuller, complete vision of what the problem is and look for long-term solutions. I think that's what Obama can really contribute to this. Rethinking the Merida plan, rethinking the way in which the United States and Mexico work together in planning long-term solutions to this serious problem we have in Mexico.

Chetry: Are you talking more ideas or more aid? We're here in our country dealing with a lot of domestic challenges. We have a recession and record unemployment. In terms of aid, how much more should we be expected to give? Or are you saying more in terms of guidance?

Ackerman: I think it's both. We need to work together, Mexico and the United States on developing the solutions. The important thing is that Obama be aware of what's happening here in Mexico. Calderon has been using this idea of a war on drugs as a kind of political ploy in many ways. He has serious political legitimacy problems. If Obama just comes in and pats him on the back and says “you’re doing a good job as my Elliot Ness,” as he made this comparison in a recent interview – that would be unfortunate. I think we need to see an Obama who has an open view of all the different proposals that exist in Mexican society and all the different parts of Mexican government, which are making different kinds of proposals. And yes, the money can be thought about, but we really need to think about a new strategic partnership, which breaks with this idea that the only way we can relate between the United States and Mexico is by giving military support.

Filed under: Drugs • Mexico
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Nancy

    Lorenzo and DJ,
    There is this website out there that agrees with you as far as education- it's at
    They have some neat stuff for school kids, free of charge. I agree education and after school activities are important.
    But, these drug traffickers are also hurting kids in the inner city.
    They are admired b/c they have money and drive fancy cars. That has to stop also. There needs to be some serious time served if you're a dealer.

    April 17, 2009 at 11:13 am |
  2. Deborah AKA The Vocal Citizen

    " Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded. " - Abraham Lincoln (Obama's hero)

    The drug cartels are THRILLED about the President's decision to keep going with the failed war on drugs. They're thrilled...

    April 17, 2009 at 8:51 am |
  3. DJ

    I'd like to add to Mr. Murillo's statement:

    We also need to end drug testing and instead use impairment testing. Having a metabolite in one's urine does not indicate impairment, and one can be impaired from legal substances. Would you want your child being driven to school by someone who may be drowsy from Benedryl or lack of sleep? Is it fair that someone who had a couple hits of a marijuana cigarette while on vacation three weeks ago loses their job because of random drug testing? Yet his coworker can get drunk and do a few lines of cocaine the night before and be just fine.

    Our children need better education and better after-school programs, yes. But they should also not have to fear living in a police state that can give them a felony record and unable to get college funding for trying a non-toxic plant while violent offenders (like rapists, murders, pedophiles, bank robbers) are still eligible for college funding.

    The evidence against prohibition is overwhelming. It's time is over. We need to grow up and stop trying to legislate people's lives and instead make society a safer place for everyone.

    April 16, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  4. Lorenzo Murillo

    It's funny how this guy talks about seeing the big picture. It's quite clear: Mexico's political system is corrupt, so is their justice and legal system. Giving aid is not going to solve the problem, but giving tougher sentences for drug trafficking in the US will help.

    Also, spend 1.4 Billion on youth training and sports involvement. No demand, means no production. The solution to illegal drugs use is to curtail its use, through education, sports involvement, and strengthening family values of American youth.

    April 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  5. Shan T

    why finance a government, like Mexico to combat the drug wars, espacily when the cartels were buying the govenment off, Hello Fidel Castro

    April 16, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  6. Fred Robinson


    As this problem escalates, serious consideration warrants action. Drug cartels need to be destroyed. Unfortunately the USA must assist Mexico in it's plan to do so. Weapons are waht the drug lords want. Starve them of this tool. Border security needs to be tightened like a noose. Jail sentences for life for traffickers. Hit them hard.

    Please say hello to Suzzane for me.


    April 16, 2009 at 10:36 am |