In this video from the Watson Institute at Brown University, UCLA public policy professor Mark Kleiman offers a brief description of his policy proposal for reducing drug-related violence in Mexico. Kleiman expanded on his proposal in a recent blog post.
The point is to make violence a source of competitive disadvantage rather than competitive advantage to Mexico’s big drug traffickers.
Kleiman points out that Mexican cartels make most of their money selling to the United States, a country with significant enforcement capacity. He proposes that Mexico work with the U.S. to identify the most violent Mexican cartel, then publicly announce a joint initiative to destroy it, then proceed to focus enforcement resources on doing so on both sides of the border.
In the U.S., this would mean cracking down on distributors that receive their drugs from the targeted cartel. To avoid prosecution, such distributors would quickly find alternative sources, starving the targeted cartel of its primary source of revenue. Once the first target is destroyed, the countries would announce a new process for targeting the most violent of the remaining cartels.
Publicly targeting the most violent cartel and concentrating enforcement resources on its destruction would take discipline and coordination, but it would create strong disincentives for violent drug trafficking. The strategy is more anti-violence than anti-drug but the requisite focus of enforcement has the potential to greatly reduce drug-related violence in Mexico and Central America.
U.S. involvement in ranking the most violent cartels would help to alleviate concerns that corrupt officials are simply focusing enforcement on rival cartels in exchange for payoffs from those cartels that have more effectively infiltrated political institutions.
Kleiman acknowledges that the details would have to be fleshed out. But his idea – a strategy based on the conditional threat of concentrated enforcement – is worth serious consideration.
The Obama administration appears unwilling to seriously engage its Latin American counterparts on the issue of decriminalization. By putting forward a proposal like Kleiman’s, the Administration could help to achieve real intermediate progress while demonstrating that it’s not tone deaf on an issue that dominates policy discussions in much of the rest of the hemisphere.