Vaccine Tourism: An Ethical Conundrum

Nothing about Covid-19 is fair. Protecting the world’s population with the vaccine is highlighting individual and national ethical dilemmas. The newest of which is “vaccine tourism.” People from all over the world are coming to the US to get the shot. There are websites dedicated to promoting and facilitating vaccine tourism.

First let me say that everyone equally deserves the vaccination. Those at greatest risk and with the greatest exposure should get it first. In most places this means the elderly and frontline workers. We all want the vaccine (or at least most of us do). We all need the vaccine.

The question is, how do we weigh personal and national roles in vaccine access?

The US and Great Britain have some of the best access to the vaccines (sounds reminiscent of empire, no?). They produce vaccines and having resources, made advance deals to spur research and acquire doses. They have prioritized vaccinating their own people. The global North is seen as “hogging” the available vaccines.

How does “hogging” vaccine distribution mesh with democracy? Democratically elected officials are responsible to their constituents. It is their job to create public policies that benefit those who elected them. If they didn’t prioritize vaccinating their own people, they wouldn’t be doing their job. Selfishness and democracy are baked into the fact that vaccines go to wealthy countries.

Covax is the international mechanism established to secure vaccines for economically disadvantaged countries. Their goal is to secure enough doses for 20 percent of a country’s population. It is the right idea, but the rollout has been slow, in part because wealthy countries have had the first shot at vaccines.

Mexicans are understandably frustrated with slow vaccine delivery. Some blame their own government, and some blame the North for hogging doses. Given the global inequities, what are the ethical questions around vaccine tourism?

Vaccine tourism to the US is not available to all Mexicans, only those with money. Mexicans living close to the border cannot use their crossing card to get a vaccine. Border crossings are still restricted by the US to “essential” travel. But anyone with the resources and a visa can fly to the US. If they go to a state that doesn’t have a residency requirement for the vaccine, they can get the shot. In the US there are no clear rules against vaccine tourism.

For communities in the US and travel businesses, vaccine tourism can be a way to boost long dormant economic activity. Tourists spend money when they travel for the vaccine. Using the vaccine to lure people to a US destination while other countries have little access – that’s not right.

Here’s what I think. The vaccine should be seen as a public good. There should not be patent restrictions on its production. Countries with excess vaccine need to make it available to other nations. Everyone deserves the vaccine. Everyone should get it as soon as it is available to them. Everyone should strive to make the process more equitable. I realize that those last two sometimes contract each other.

I am well aware that my views are rooted in my position of privilege. I’ve had the vaccine and if I had not, I would be trying to figure out how to get it. Let’s face it, none of us are getting out of the Covid-19 moral dilemma ethically unscathed. As virus variants develop, even the rich may not get out of the pandemic physically unscathed, because as the leaders of Covax keep reminding us, “no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.”

*First published on May 10, 2021 in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma’s,

Addicted to Guns

It is not secret that the US and Mexico have a common gun violence problem. Like any addiction, to control it we have to recognize the problem and decide to change.

On the US side, its most visible manifestation is mass shootings involving hatred, while in Mexico mass shootings involve criminal organizations.

If you need a gut-punch reality check on how bad it is, look at the Gun Violence Archive. They report at least 150 mass shootings (4 or more victims) so far this year. You can see the name and age of each victim.

Mexican mass shootings are more likely to involve drug trade or other criminal activity. While equivalent statistics on mass shootings are not available, Mexico’s homicide rate has been high for a few years in a row, with deaths per 100,000 in the upper 20s. In 2020, in areas where criminal organizations were battling – the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Colima and Guanajuato – the homicide rates were in the 70s per 100,000. That is incredibly high.

While somewhat different, the US and Mexico have a gun violence problem and neither country is doing enough to address it. We are too comfortable with this problem. Gunfire has become background noise in the literal and metaphorical sense.

Mexico estimates that over 200,000 guns a year illegally enter from the United States. That’s 2.5 million over the past decade. Mexico wants the US to do more to stop the flow of guns south. It is too easy to buy weapons in US/Mexico border states. And, too easy to drive them across the border. However, in 2020 the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) began coordinating inspections for traffic heading into Mexico. This practice increased the seizure of weapons.

An important study on gun smuggling was recently released by the General Accounting Office (GAO). This US government research institution found that there is insufficient information collected and processed by both countries to be able to figure out what works to disrupt gun trafficking. They recommend that US agencies develop performance measures on gun trafficking and that ATF (regulates guns) and ICE (regulates customs) collaborate more closely. To address gun violence and trafficking, you have to understand it. These recommendations are important and doable.

President Joe Biden recently announced an initial set of steps to address gun violence. It includes better data collection, restrictions on “ghost” weapons (self-assembled weapons – there are kits for this!), and community level prevention programs. This year, the House of Representatives has passed two laws to tighten background checks on gun sales. And a new assault weapons ban bill has been introduced in the House and Senate. While something, this is nowhere near enough.

We might not be able to stop mass shootings, but we can make them much less common. First, we have to decide that we have a problem and that we are ready to take steps to address it. President Biden says, “Enough prayers. Time for some action.” Sounds good. Let’s see the action.

*Originally published in La Reforma’s 4/26/21.

An Open Letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Human Rights Advocates – an attempt to communicate across divides.

An Open Letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Human Rights Advocates,

As a follower and friend of Mexico for the past 30 years, I think that we could all use a moment of reflection on our common values.

Mr. President, you have spent your life being a voice for those who have been neglected by traditional economic and political powers, the poor and those in remote or marginalized communities. You have sought to represent their interests, not just voicing their concerns but seeking to better their lives. You believe in justice and equity. You pursue these values as an elected official, through public service.

Human rights defenders, and I consider myself one, hold similar values. We embrace human dignity and justice. We value access to information and transparency as bedrocks of anti-corruption and justice.

The societal role of human rights defenders is different from those in public service. At times we seem at odds. Human rights defenders critique government initiatives that we believe threaten progress or gains made in transparency, accountability and justice.

All of us have seen corruption in previous administrations. But experience has taught us that corruption exists in all governments and that non-partisan institutionalized mechanisms and transparency are the key to ferreting out corruption and holding individuals and institutions accountable.

There needs to be more of a conversation between those outside of government working on human rights, anti-corruption and transparency and those in government about our common values. The current mutual lack of respect and dividing into camps is not constructive.

If we focus on our shared goals, we could make better progress toward achieving a more just and equitable society.

I say the above, not as a foreign agitator. I went to school in Mexico. One of my children was born in Mexico and is a proud citizen. As a US citizen, I appeal to my own government and civil society to find common values as well.

In hope that we can find ways to work together to improve the common good.


Joy Olson

First published in La Reforma’s Mexico Today, 4/12/21.

Focus Deterrence on Organized Crime, not Migrants

Deterrence is a word the I keep hearing in response to undocumented migration at the US- Mexico border.

A new team of US diplomats has been dispatched to Mexico and Central America by the Biden Administration in an effort to get a handle on the continuing flow of migrant children and families crossing the border. The optics of kids in holding centers interferes with the success of Biden’s multifaceted first 100-day agenda. To keep new migrants from derailing the Administration’s overall goals, including immigration reform, it is asking the age-old question, how does the US deter migration and how do we get our neighbors to help?

The Biden Administration’s long-term migration strategy is significantly different than that of Trump’s. It includes a US $4 billion aid package to Central America, refugee processing from the region, and more legal pathways for migration. Deterrence, however, is a short-term goal, if not a necessity.

The Trump Administration’s whole immigration policy was deterrence based. It expanded the wall, intentionally separated children and families and dismantled the political asylum system. It also cut-off aid to Central America, got poor Central American countries to agree to take deportees from the US (who were not their own citizens), and threatened Mexican trade unless it stopped caravans of migrants crossing its territory. Even employing all of these cruel measures, the deterrence approach didn’t work.

We need to change deterrence thinking. Biden’s long-term approach does this by addressing root causes and establishing pathways to legal migration. What needs deterring are criminal organizations that exploit and harm migrants and who have turned migration into a massive illicit business.

After 9/11, as the US expanded the wall, hired more border patrol agents and invested vast sums in border security, it became harder and harder for migrants to cross. That didn’t do much to deter undocumented migration, but it did incentivize organized crime to get into the migration business. Today, there are large swaths of the border where it is impossible for migrants to cross without paying a criminal organization. There are criminals who loan desperate Central Americans money to make the journey, in exchange for taking possession of their homes. There are those who kidnap migrants and coerce their extended families in the United States into making extortion payments for their release. At its worst there are migrant massacres, like the one earlier this month in Camargo, Mexico, of Guatemalans from a poor community who were migrating to find a better life.

The trafficking and extortion of migrants is a massive criminal enterprise. Our governments know what is happening. As they say in Spanish it is “un secreto a voces.” This enterprise has resulted in countless victims. Countless because, unless there is a massacre, almost none of these crimes are reported, no less prosecuted.

As the US seeks to control migration by helping to build options and legal pathways from home, why don’t we do more to deter and dismantle criminal organizations that treat migrants as prey?

Originally published in La Reforma’s 3/29/21

Tools to Fight Corruption

Humanity has a corruption problem that arises from human nature. It is rooted in selfishness and societies have to create structures and tools to constrain it. Corruption is not unique to Mexico, Central America or the United States, but it exists in all of them.

Corruption causes real harm. It undercuts people’s sense of fairness and their trust in institutions. It hurts societies as it manipulates structures designed to order and protect the public good.

Because corruption is an ever-present phenomenon all governments need tools to fight it. These tools are rooted in transparency implemented through systems of oversight, checks, and balances. Governments should have offices of internal investigation and accountability to ferret out corruption within their own ranks, but fighting corruption requires redundant systems. Civil society: the press, academics, non-governmental organizations and others need access to the information required to identify corruption and hold officials and institutions accountable.

That is where Mexico’s freedom of information act comes into play. It became law in 2002; passed unanimously by Congress. It was hammered out based on competing proposals and is an example of how compromise can create a good law with extensive buy-in. In 2013 the National Institute for Access to Information (INAI by its Spanish acronym), created by the 2002 law, became part of the Constitution.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) wants to get rid of the INAI because it is expensive and has not eradicated corruption. Certainly, it is not a flawless institution. The Chicago Policy Review, among others, has critiqued its performance. Nonetheless, the INAI has been key to uncovering huge corruption scandals and even contributed to the mapping of clandestine graves of the disappeared.

AMLO thinks that his approach to corruption will be more successful. He has a stated intolerance of corruption. He uses direct communication with the people through daily press conferences to be transparent. These can be useful tools to fight corruption.

However, good government can’t be created around individuals that we trust. AMLO’s anti-corruption message doesn’t by itself dismantle corrupt structures. Nor does it mean that everyone in government, working under his leadership has the same commitment. It also doesn’t mean that the next person elected will be trustworthy.

Two things that US citizens were reminded of during the Trump administration are relevant in this context: 1) the importance of having tools to hold corrupt officials accountable; and 2) that it is much easier to destroy institutions than to build them.

The INAI has not eliminated corruption, nor should it be expected to do so. An anti-corruption effort needs tools, redundant tools. There must be structures for inside and outside accountability. The INAI is one of those tools. Instead of dismantling it, we should discuss how to improve its function and make it more impactful. Because, even if we trust, we need the tools to verify.

Originally published in the Mexican paper La Reforma’s English language site 3/1/21.

The Positive Spill-Over of Mexico’s Prohibition on Migrant Family Detention

As the United States begins to figure out how to reunify migrant children it separated from their families during the Trump administration, they need to take a lesson from Mexico. Mexico is now implementing a new law that prohibits the detention of migrant children and families.

The law was passed in November of last year. Implementation has been uneven, which is not surprising as it requires changes in infrastructure and bureaucracy.

While execution is imperfect, Mexico is implementing the right idea. For years experts have been saying that detaining children, just because they are migrants, is not in the best interest of the child. Unnecessary detention hurts kids.

According to an article by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Detaining children harms their physical and psychological well-being. It has adverse effects on their development; might aggravate trauma experienced before arriving in the transit or destination country; and the constant control and surveillance they are subjected to may be very disturbing for them, increasing already high levels of mental distress.”

According to François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, “Detention is never ever in the best interest of a child.”

In the policy advocacy profession, it is recognized that changing policy in one jurisdiction can produce a positive spill-over effect in another. We are starting to see this law impact the United States.

Under a rationale supposedly aimed at stopping people with Covid-19 from entering the United States, migrants and asylum seekers are blocked from entering the US and pushed back into Mexico. Implemented during the Trump Administration, but so far not reversed by the Biden Administration, this policy is an easy excuse to just say no.

Since the new Mexican law does not allow for the detention of children and families, Mexico has started pushing back on the United States. In the US, Covid-19 restrictions have limited detention capacity, so when Mexico refuses to take people back, there is a greater chance that the US. will have to release migrants pending their court dates. The result of Mexico’s new law is limiting the detention of migrant families in the US.

Immigrant advocates in the US. have been pushing for this country to use a case management strategy for released migrant families as an alternative to detention. Pilot projects have proven that these strategies can be effective and that migrants keep their court dates.

The implementation of Mexico’s law stopping the detention of migrant children and families is a great example of how respectful humanitarian migration policies in one country can have a positive impact on its neighbors. Let’s hope that’s the US takes Mexico’s lead and makes more humane approaches to migration the policy of the United States.

Originally published in La Reforma’s 2/15/21.

Something Good for the US-Mexico Border

In a piece of good news, the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act came out Congress and was signed into law on December 31, 2020. This bill, introduced by a wildly bi-partisan group of Senators — Republicans Cornyn of Texas, Tillis of North Carolina and Democrats (now Vice-President) Harris of California and Udall of New Mexico – is a step toward reuniting families with their loved ones whose lives were lost crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The plight of families of the disappeared is a familiar topic in Mexico. Less well known is the plight of families whose loved ones cross the border, never to be heard from again. The problem has existed for decades. When I lived in Honduras in the mid-1980s I knew a local carpenter who decided to make the journey north to the United States never to be heard from again. I can only assume that he was lost in the U.S. desert, or somewhere in Mexico.

Since the Clinton administration and its policy of “protection through deterrence,” the US has steadily tightened border security. As a result, migrants have sought more and more remote areas in which to cross. The remains of missing migrants are regularly found in remote parts of Arizona and South Texas.  

Since 2001, over 3,000 remains have been found in Pima County, Arizona. 227 migrant deaths were recorded there just last year, the highest number in the past decade. Using geospatial technology, the county Medical Examiner’s office in collaboration with a non-profit called Humane Borders, has produced a map pinpointing where each migrant was found along the Arizona border. If you don’t think that migrant deaths are a significant problem, take a look at the map. The density of the red identification dots is shocking.  

Not only is this tragic, it is hard to address. There are technical challenges to identification and then difficulty in linking remains with their families, most of whom are from Mexico or Central America. If families know where their loved one crossed the border, and if they can figure out how to get in touch with the Medical Examiner’s office or one of the local non-governmental organizations working on reunification, they have made it past the first hurdle.  Successful reunification is harder than you would think.

The obstacles to making identifications are complex. There is no international database facilitating this process. The U.S. DNA database – CODIS – is a criminal database, so undocumented families have been hesitant to store their information there. States also have their own databases. The responsibility for processing remains falls to the local authorities in the jurisdictions where the bodies are located. In Pima county, Arizona the local Medical Examiner has made downright heroic efforts, working with the Colibrí Center to identify remains and reunite families. 

In Texas, many of the remains have been found around the small town of Falfurrias, in Brooks county, one of the poorest in the nation. Texas has a completely different chain of responsibility for identifying and processing remains, which adds another level of complexity to the identification and reunification process. The Brooks County Sherriff’s office and the local South Texas Human Rights Center who do this work should be heralded. 

Universities and non-governmental organizations have stepped in and tried to wrangle this complex set of problems. A team of Argentine forensic anthropologists (EAAF) have also played a key role.  

The whole process is expensive and much of the cost falls on local communities. A study produced by the University of Texas at Austin found that it costs $13,100 to collect and process a single body in Texas. That doesn’t include the effort to reunite the remains with the family.

All of the above is context for the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act. This bill makes certain government grants available for the processing of unidentified migrants. It makes clear that the DNA information from the families of missing migrants, run through CODIS to make identifications, cannot be used by law enforcement authorities to pursue undocumented families. This removes a big obstacle to identifications. Additionally, in an attempt to prevent migrant deaths, the bill provides funding for 170 rescue beacons. These are 9-1-1 signals which will be placed in remote areas and can be activated by lost migrants. The migrants will be detained if they use the beacons, but they won’t die, because border officials will respond to the rescue signals.

This bill has been discussed for about a decade. It is shameful that it has taken so long for it to become law. Nonetheless, it is an important accomplishment. And it only happened because of the persistence of local officials and non-governmental organizations like the Southern Border Communities Coalition who have advocated for practical solutions to this chronic tragedy. Thank you to these unsung heroes.  

First published in La Reforma’s 2/1/21.

Washingtonians and the Aftermath of Insurrection

“In these trying times” has been so often repeated over the last year that it has lost meaning. Take a look at Washington, DC these days and you’ll get a sense of what it means for those of us who call DC home. The storming of the Capitol and its aftermath are making us rethink our own exceptionalism and what democracy means.

Those who live in DC, like those who live in Mexico City are accustomed to a certain amount of disturbance as the norm. Protests are normal, motorcades block traffic and streets are closed for special events. We adjust. We consider ourselves hardy and these inconveniences the cost of calling the nation’s capital is our home. At the same time, Washingtonians resent the fact that we don’t get much respect. We don’t have voting representation in the House or Senate. Congress overrules decisions we make about local governance. Mexico City is far ahead of us on the issue of representation.

I’m going to take the liberty to speak for my neighbors in DC. The attack on the Capitol and subsequent militarization of Washington in preparation for the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Biden, has shaken us. There is a palpable sense of fear that the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters was not the end of violent protest, but that more will come.

Large swaths of downtown and Capitol Hill are blocked off by barricades. Much of the subway system is temporarily shut down. Every police force imaginable seems to be in the city. We even have sections of the city designated as “red” and “green” zones, leading locals to compare our existence to those living in Iraq. We say this half in jest and half in dread.  

Our sense of exceptionalism is being challenged at its core. We didn’t see this coming, even though we had plenty of warning about right-wing militia groups. We did not imagine that the Capitol could be overtaken, especially those of us who have spent a good deal of our lives waiting to pass through metal detectors to enter government buildings. These things happen in other countries, not here.

Since the storming of the Capitol, with Congress returning to business and some of those who took part in the riotous mob being arrested, I’ve heard analysts saying that “This is a sign that democracy is working.” Really?!! These people can’t live in DC. Militarizing the city for days to ensure a safe transfer of presidents is not what successful democracy looks like.  

Washingtonians also ponder what new restrictions on freedoms and movement will become normalized moving forward. Long-time residents remember when you could drive up and park in front of the White House and the Capitol. Then came the Oklahoma City bombing and the security parameters around federal buildings were expanded, no more parking close by. Then came 9/11, after which metal detectors became the norm and registration or pre-clearance were required for many buildings.

We don’t want the presence of the military in DC streets to become the new normal. The loss of freedoms, even militarization can happen slowly, event-by-event. Figuring out what our democracy will look and how we will protect an open society is the challenge before us. Instead of discounting the voice and vote of the locals, national policymakers should pay attention to those of us who live here. While disenfranchised, this is our city.

Originally published in La Reforma’s 1/18/21. Photo by Adam Isacson.

Covid-19 and Kids

This has not been a fun year for anyone. I know that I have struggled. Let’s take the year’s end to reflect on what 2020 has meant for children on both sides of the border and what we can do to make this year a little less lost. 

Dealing with Covid-19 and the restrictions needed to protect our communities from the disease have hit kids particularly hard. Experts report that children have experienced: lost education, trauma, loss, grief, hunger, homelessness, depression and anxiety.  

When I’m having a hard day, I can remind myself that this won’t last forever. Kids don’t have years of experience to use as a reference. Adults have the advantage of viewing the pandemic losses in the context of lifelong experience and perspective whereas kids have little context to make them optimistic that things will be different.  

Reports of child abuse have actually gone down during the pandemic. That sounds odd.  Stressors that contribute to abuse, like unemployment and homelessness have increased.  

But think about it. Child abuse is often reported by adults in frequent contact with children who are trained to detect signs of abuse or neglect and required to report them – teachers, coaches and healthcare professionals. During the pandemic, many U.S. children only receive online education. In Mexico, public schools have suspended all in classroom learning. Many medical visits have also gone virtual. So, the adults most likely to report abuse, are not in regular contact with kids. 

Experts believe that child abuse has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, it just isn’t getting reported. Countering the lack of official reporting of child abuse, UNICEF in Mexico reports an increase in 9-1-1 calls reporting family based violence.  CEPAL (the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) and UNICEF have raised the alarm that steps need to be taken to protect those at risk of violence during Covid-19.    

This is just the tip of the Covid iceberg in terms of impact on kids.  Many studies have shown that childhood adversity translates into problems later in life. The impact of 2020 will live with us for years to come. We will need to counter the negative impact with a multitude of solutions at the personal, local, state, federal and international levels. 

Rather than simply lamenting this lost year, here a few things you can do:

  1. Commit to do something to make a difference in a child’s life. Make a decision and follow through. There are plenty of opportunities around you. Seek them out.
  2. Abused and neglected children need adults who will step up on their behalf. Consider becoming a foster parent to kids in need. Foster parents are needed in both countries.
  3. If foster parenting is too much of a stretch, think about being a child advocate in the US court system. Every state has a program that is either called Guardian Ad Litem or Casa that trains volunteers to help the court determine what is in “the best interest” of an individual child when there is concern about abuse or neglect.
  4. Become a tutor. Almost every child has lost academic ground this year. Call your neighborhood school. 
  5. Support those working to help children. One organization in Mexico that needs your help is Adolesencia Feliz Evitando Callejerzación Infantil A.C. It works to prevent childhood and teenage homelessness.  One U.S. organization doing similarly good work is Covenant House. Make a donation.

The enormity of the problem is dispiriting. Don’t let the weight of the Covid year keep you from acting. Pick one thing to help a child that is in your power. Then do it. Who knows where it might lead.

Originally published in La Reforma’s 12/21/20.

The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission and the need for an intermestic approach to reform

In an effort to promote a rethink of US drug policy, Congress mandated a Commission to “conduct a comprehensive review of United States foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere to reduce the illicit drug supply and drug abuse and reduce the damage associated with illicit drug markets and trafficking.” The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission (WHDPC) report was released on December 1st.  What it says and what it doesn’t say are equally instructive.

First, what it says. The report makes a number of important recommendations that could put US drug policy formation on more constructive path.  They include:

  • Ending the drug certification and designation process, by which the US annually judges the drug control efforts of other nation. Understandably, this process is a regular source of irritation to the countries being judged by the largest drug consumer in the world.
  • In place of certification, working with countries to develop a “compact” that would identify mutual goals and responsibilities for both countries and provide a multi-year plan.
  • Moving the coordination of international drug policy to the Department of State instead of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP);
  • Changing ONDCP’s role to one of providing data analysis for international drug control efforts; and
  • Strengthening the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) so that it can better contribute to successful criminal prosecutions.

All of these things would be a step in the right direction toward US drug policy reform. If you want to learn more here is the link to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the report.  

Now, what the report doesn’t say – anything about domestic/US drug policy. Drug policy is a transnational issue if ever there was one. The damage created by illicit drugs runs the gamut from environmental destruction in production areas, corruption in transit areas, the personal impact of addiction and violence created at each stage of illicit commerce.  

Limiting the scope of the study is a missed opportunity. This was clearly a political rather than a policy decision. Those in Congress promoting this long-needed review of drug policy felt that if they made it truly a Western Hemisphere study (including the United States), that they wouldn’t be able to get the study approved by Congress.  It took them years to get approval for this study. Adding the US would have gotten it bogged down in too many congressional committees. Sadly, they were probably right.  

So let’s be clear.  This isn’t a study about illicit drugs in the Western Hemisphere, it is a study about illicit drugs south of the Mexico/US border. This is a very limited way to think about the problem. Consumption drives production. Considering that most of the drugs produced in the Western Hemisphere are headed for the United States, you can’t solve the problem in the south without addressing it north of the border.

Policy makers are well aware that the problems associated with illicit drugs have to be dealt with holistically but no one can seem to figure out how to make that happen. During the hearing the Commissioners kept talking about the need for a “whole of government” approach, which is US policy wonk speak for getting all agencies of the US government to work together. But, how can you have a whole of government approach on the international side when you aren’t dealing with drug consumption, trafficking or corruption in the United States.  

Many years ago, the ONDCP was established with the intention of making it the coordination point for drug policy.  It hasn’t worked.  The WHDPC recommends moving the international side of drug policy into the State Department, making it the coordinator of all things drug related on the international side. That might not be a bad idea, but it doesn’t solve the problem. We have to figure out how to think about drug issues in an “intermestic” way, as both an international and domestic problem. 

Implementation of this report is a step in the right direction, but we need to sprint toward a new transitional/intermestic approach to the damage caused by illicit drugs.

Originally published in La Reforma’s 12/7/20.