Who benefits from the war on drugs?
“They call it a war against drugs, but … they don’t want to destroy the business, they want to administer the business.”
Decades of a so-called war on drugs have had a devastating effect on Latin America. Today in many places, cartels continue to operate with impunity and corruption runs rampant, while ordinary people face deadly consequences.
But who is benefitting from the militarisation of the drug war?
“It’s not the growers, who often get targeted, or the people who get prosecuted in the United States for low-level sales,” says Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, a senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch focusing on the Americas, and author of the book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia. “And certainly not the people who get prosecuted for using drugs. All of those groups of people stand to lose. People, overwhelmingly low-income, Black and Brown people in the United States, and in Mexico, and in Colombia, end up prosecuted, imprisoned, for drug offences in this war on drugs push.”
Ultimately, Sanchez-Moreno argues, it is organised crime networks, “plus all of their cronies in the state” who benefit from the very same war on drugs they are meant to be waging.
But Anabel Hernandez, a renowned Mexican investigative journalist and author of several books including, Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers, says the war on drugs isn’t really about stopping the drug trade. “They call it a war against drugs, but … they don’t want to destroy the business, they want to administer the business,” she says.
On UpFront, Marc Lamont Hill looks at the legacy and the human cost of the war on drugs.