The Political Logic of Zionism

The US War on Drugs Is Driving the Displacement Crisis

We are torn by images of unaccompanied minors and overcrowded facilities at
our southern border, but few in the United States are asking why so many Central
American families are so desperate to escape their own countries that they are
willing to risk everything – including family separation.

These migrants are not fleeing some Act of God – drought or hurricanes or the
like – that could not be anticipated or prevented. Rather, they are fleeing
cartel violence and governmental corruption.

recently noted
, “poverty, crime, and corruption in Latin America have long
been drivers of migration.” Indeed, many Central Americans have concluded that
the risks of the journey, of the smugglers, and of the possibility of losing
their children are outweighed by the near certainty of violence or death at

But what explains the cartels, the violence and the governmental corruption?
Fundamentally, it all stems from the US War on Drugs.

When something that people want is declared illegal, the inevitable and predictable
consequence is violence. Our experiment with alcohol prohibition in the United
States (1920-1933) led to violence and corruption in US cities as the unabated
demand for alcohol led traffickers to pay bribes to police and politicians.
Criminal gangs (think Al Capone) slaughtered each other as well as bystanders
while battling over control of the alcohol trade.

However, during Prohibition, we did not try to force the rest of the world
to join in our crusade. All the costs in violence and corruption stayed home
to roost, which is probably why it took us only 13 years to realize that the
downsides of this experiment outweighed whatever benefits there might be. With
repeal, violence and corruption in American cities declined dramatically.

President Nixon ignored these lessons of Prohibition when he doubled down on
illegality for other drugs. US demand did not decrease, and Latin American supply
met the demand. We wrongly believed that supply-side interdiction would result
in fewer drug imports, but it has only resulted in smarter and more violent

Drug-related governmental violence and corruption within the US is minimal.
We have offloaded most of the costs of the drug war onto the producer and transit
countries, especially Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. We have
used foreign aid and military assistance as leverage to force them to man the
front lines of our War on Drugs regardless of the resulting corruption of their
own politicians, police, and military. (By contrast, Uruguay,
which does not rely on US foreign aid, could implement its own, more liberal
drug policies.)

If decapitated
were found outside Washington, D.C. instead of Mexico City, we would
have changed course a long time ago, but until migrants massed at our border,
we didn’t really notice the collateral damage elsewhere. We complain about corruption
and “failures of governance” in these countries, yet our policies have systematically
undercut democracy
and made dysfunction inevitable. Latin American governments
can’t be accountable to their own citizens when they must respond to the financial
threats and incentives from the United States.

Not surprisingly, migrants flock to our borders seeking relief from the terror
caused by ruthless narcotraffickers and governments corrupted by the drug trade.
Our “immigration crisis” is a problem of our own making.

So how to change the situation?

The Biden administration has recognized that there must be reasons behind migration,
and has
named Vice President Kamala Harris
at the point person for deterring migration
and looking for “root causes” of the influx. However, a focus limited to diplomatic
efforts (strengthening local border police) and economic aid is likely to be
less than successful. As the Brookings Institution has noted,
foreign aid tends to vanish into the hands of corrupt government officials.
More money allocated to these same corrupt government officials and police departments
is unlikely to change migration pressures.

This focus on “fixing” the Central American countries is also treating the
migration problem as somehow caused by them: If only they would be less corrupt
and would grow their economies, the migrants would stay home. We are blaming
the victim. This completely ignores our essential role in destabilizing governments
and fostering cartel violence.

We have created the problems driving desperate people to our borders and we
have the power to change the dynamic. We can end the drug war in the US and
instead safely regulate and control all illicit substances, as we have done
with alcohol and tobacco and, more recently, cannabis. We can cease foisting
a drug war upon vulnerable South and Central American countries. With drugs
no longer illegal, cartels lose both market share and a reason to bribe government

Obviously, ending the War on Drugs and its disastrous collateral consequences
is not a quick fix for the border. However, border problems – which clearly
require some short-term logistical fixes – are only a symptom of our failed
drug policies and should not distract attention from our practical and moral
obligation to fix the real root causes of migration.

It will take time for these countries to re-stabilize. Economic development,
job creation, and poverty reduction require the rule of law – honest governmental
regulation, enforceable property rights, honest and expeditious courts, and
police who assist rather than prey upon the public.

With the War on Drugs a thing of the past, and rule of law reestablished, the
dynamism and talent of the population can turn to creating, rather than survival
or escape. This will be a tremendous gain for our entire hemisphere.

The asylum problem will take care of itself when countries south of our border,
responsive to their own citizens, are again free to craft their own destinies,
and staying home becomes a natural and attractive option for parents and their

Inge Fryklund, JD, PhD, is a former Assistant State’s Attorney with Cook
County, Illinois, and a former policy advisor in Afghanistan. She’s now an executive
board member for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit
group of prosecutors, judges, police, and others who use their expertise to
end the War on Drugs and advance public safety solutions. Reprinted with permission
from Foreign Policy In Focus.

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