A Mexican Tycoon's Plea: End the War on Drugs


Pleading with thought leaders to rethink prohibition, he cited the tens of thousands who've died in his country in the aftermath of a crackdown on cartels.

ricardo salinas full.png

Mexican businessman Ricardo Salinas, one of the richest men in Latin America, lamented the war on drug cartels waged by President Felipe Calderon Thursday, saying at the Aspen Ideas Festival that it has been an unmitigated disaster for Mexico. "We cracked down," he said. "It didn't work. We've got 50,000 dead people." Invoking America's failed experiment with alcohol prohibition, he suggested a lesson policymakers should've already learned: "What we see now is a huge demand for drugs. It is going up, not down. As long as that demand is there, it will be supplied."

Notes from the Aspen Ideas Festival -- See full coverage

Addressing the audience, he issued a plea to thought leaders, asking them to reflect on the huge costs and meager benefits drug prohibition has brought. What I found most interesting was his notion that, compared to Mexico, the United States isn't waging a War on Drugs. Understand that our Drug Enforcement Agency is in dozens of countries, we've created paramilitary style drug units in the police forces of our cities, no-knock raids with doors battered down by SWAT teams is a daily reality in America, and drug violence remains a reality in various urban neighborhoods.

At the same time, I take Salinas' point. Even the United States hasn't escalated the War on Drugs to the degree that Mexico has done, which is to say, we've been unwilling to bear costs like 50,000 dead Americans in order to mount an all out effort to eradicate drug cartels and gangs.

American drug warriors don't talk much about the costs of the aggressive measures they'd like to implement. They do maintain that if only we fought the cartels and drug trade harder we could win. The experience of Mexico suggests that even a radical, frontal assault on the drug trade doesn't guarantee success, and risks consequences as catastrophic as tens of thousands dead. If America is ever foolish enough to dramatically escalate the War on Drugs, perhaps our business elite will start pleading to rethink prohibition. Violence and instability are bad for business.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.


How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe


A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."


Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion



More in Global

Just In