Blog Post

America, drugs and 'the power of the dog'

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in the Deseret News

The escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from a maximum security prison in Mexico is the stuff of movies. The kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel escaped through a mile-long, lighted and ventilated tunnel. Now the person the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency calls “the godfather of the drug world” is on the run again.

El Chapo is a very smart and powerful man. Some estimate he has a net worth of well over $1 billion, but that’s not even close to his real power: the network he commands. It’s a mega cartel that traffics in evil. Some estimate El Chapo and his gang have been responsible for over 100,000 brutal deaths over the past decade and a half. Well before the emergence of the Islamic State, the cartels in Mexico were killing at will and using graphic images and the media to spread fear and terror. They truly embody what is referenced in Psalms as “the power of the dog.”

I listened to a fascinating interview this week given by novelist Don Winslow on National Public Radio. Winslow has written several books (including one called “The Power of the Dog”) about the drug trade. He has a deep understanding of its history and the challenges it presents. I found his comments numbing.

Winslow said the U.S. represents 5 percent of the world’s population, but it consumes 25 percent of the world’s illegal drugs. He then said something very interesting — a comment that placed the root cause of Mexico’s drug problem squarely on the United States. Winslow said, “Mexico has the misfortune to share a 2,000-mile border with the largest drug market in the world.”

Read that sentence again. It says Mexico’s misfortune is its proximity to us. They don’t cause us pain; we cause them pain. The inference is that if the U.S. didn’t demand so much marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other mind-altering substances, Mexico could actually realize its economic potential. Mexico’s drug problem is us!

We all know this intuitively, but I don’t think we internalize it. The casual drug user and the addict in this country fail to make a connection to the kidnappings, slave labor, prostitution and murders in Mexico. The war on drugs is a demand problem, not a supply problem. Sellers require buyers. It’s easy to point fingers south without looking in the mirror ourselves. Much of the violence and lawlessness in Mexico goes away if America stops getting high.

The finger-pointing hit a crescendo this past week as Donald Trump, who had already called Mexican immigrants rapists, started tweeting about El Chapo’s escape. Trump tweeted, “El Chapo and the Mexican drug cartels use the border unimpeded like it was a vacuum cleaner, sucking drugs and death right into the U.S.” Trump got the drugs and death right; he missed the causality. If the demand goes away, so does the crime.

Only in the movies would the fugitive drug lord engage in a war of words with Trump, but in today’s social media environment it’s already happened. El Chapo tweeted back with an expletive-filled comment ending with the threat, “I will make you swallow your whore words.” And the evil continues.

Trump has now said if elected president he