Forget El Chapo, It's Time to Stop Empowering Cartels and End the Drug War

July 17, 2015 - By Laura Krasovitzky

Whether it’s through a laundry cart or a mile-long ventilated tunnel, escaping from a maximum security prison in Mexico is clearly not as hard as it seems after one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, made his way out of prison for the second time through a hole in his shower.

Details on El Chapo’s cunning escape have flooded the news, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been desperately trying to deal with the endless stream of criticism while visiting France, former DEA officials claimed that the U.S. is “extremely disappointed” with the escape despite the agency’s scandalous collaborations with the Sinaloa Cartel last year, and Donald Trump quickly learned that it’s probably not the best idea to start a Twitter challenge with one of the world’s most sought-after drug king pins.

Despite the media frenzy, this is still not the whole story.

Although El Chapo has made headlines all over the world, media coverage has largely focused on turning the event into a bestselling thriller while overlooking the underlying irrelevance of his epic escape. Whether Guzmán runs his $3 billion drug empire inside or outside of prison, nothing can bring back the 100 thousand lives lost over the last eight years to the failed drug war.

Isabel, a 42-year-old Mexican mother of three who left her small village of Santa Ana Tecolapa in the state of Puebla 28 years ago to come work in the United States says how she remembers working the fields peacefully with her family when she was a child.

“Now, cartel members drive into town in black vans with submachine guns and grenades in the middle of the night to terrorize locals into voting for political candidates profiting off the drug trade,” she says. “You can’t even go get tomatoes from the fields without running the risk of being kidnapped, raped, or murdered.”

Isabel is one of thousands who have been forced to flee Mexico’s violence, but crossing the border is no guarantee of a better life as current drug policies have given way to countless deportations caused by minor and sometimes decades-old drug offenses. Thousands of families have been torn apart in the process, and what’s worse is that four decades have passed since Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs and its legacy is still very much alive.

Among the drug war’s bloody list of achievements are a disproportionately racist prison industrial complex in the United States and 248 thousand people displaced in my home country of Mexico, while ruthless, wealthy organized crime outfits like El Chapo’s enjoy the fruits of prohibition. Drug lords come and go, just as drug busts and corruption scandals; but news outlets sound like broken records as they report on governments’ futile efforts to chop off the drug war’s multiplying heads without realizing that prohibition does not work.

Locking up El Chapo last year didn’t prevent Ayotzinapa and Chilapa from happening and his escape now won’t change much. Instead of feeling “frustrated” over a pointless drug chase, government officials should be addressing the truly frustrating waste of billions of dollars in taxpayer money on a failed war.

It’s time to stop sensationalizing El Chapo’s escape. He’s not the first drug lord to get away and he definitely won’t be the last as long as governments keep putting off long overdue drug policy reform.

Laura Krasovitzky is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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