Last week, I had the rare opportunity to dig a little deeper into someone’s Spit List—the controversial Thanksgiving game of nominating someone you so detest you’d spit at them on a red carpet. This year, Chef stopped dinner conversation cold with his choice: Recreational Drug Users. As he explained, their choice is tearing apart his home country of Mexico. Little did I know at the time that an assignment from Condé Nast Traveler would take me South of the Border to check out the affects of narco-trafficking violence on tourism—for contract reasons, you’ll have to read the full story in the March issue of the magazine. But here’s what I can say: there’s a spirit of optimism afoot that things will improve in Mexico—but I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.
The last time I wrote about Mexico for Condé Nast Traveler was November 2004, and I commented on an excitement about the country shrugging off decades of authoritarian rule and looking forward to enjoying true democracy. In the intervening years, Mexico has become the notorious site of drug cartel warfare. Experts like University of Miami’s Bruce Bagley told me that was a direct result of the “success” of the American-backed war on drugs in Colombia that has just shifted the drug trafficking up through Mexico. He believes that Mexico’s 71 years of one-party rule has left a young democracy’s institutions vulnerable—the courts, the police, and the military are cracking from corruption due to the incredible amounts of profits made from drug trafficking.
Where’s that optimism I mentioned? Many people I spoke with told me a version of, “It’s safe here for tourists. Drug traffickers don’t want to hurt North Americans. They are the source of their profits, after all. They’re the ones who buy their drugs.” Yikes. A forceful crack down on trafficking won’t ever stop the problem—there’s just too much money to be made. Instead, we need to focus our resources on targeting the cause—Chef’s “spitees.”
The other hopeful note Mexicans sounded was that elections are coming in two years. The likelihood is that the country will shift back to the PRI party—the same one in charge for 71 years—who will make a quiet deal with the drug cartels, and the violence will go away. Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound like progress to me, but to many in Mexico it seems like the safer choice.
Bottom line, America’s “war on drugs” is a costly, failing effort that is ripping apart a country so dear to my heart. After all, Mexico has given me so many gifts—and not just the seven or so nativity scenes that are part of my Christmas decorations. The country blessed me with Chef, and as I’ve said before, I love being the Tex to his Mex.
Let’s put an end to the spitting, and to the drug war.
Check out StopTheDrugWar.org for more.