Blog Post

Bill Clinton Apologizes to Mexico for the Drug War, Now It's President Obama's Turn to End It

Daniel Robelo

At a speech in Mexico last week, former President Bill Clinton seemingly apologized for the destruction unleashed upon Mexico by the war on drugs.

Addressing a group of business leaders, students, and politicians, Clinton said, “I wish you had no narco-trafficking, but it’s not really your fault.” He explained that so-called “successes” in the U.S.-led drug war in other countries had not eliminated the drug trade, but rather just pushed it into Mexico and Central America. “I apologize for that,” he said.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the apology the U.S. owes Mexico. The U.S. gives hundreds of millions of dollars in military and police aid to Mexico each year – the vast majority of which is funneled into the disastrous drug war. The U.S. government has spent roughly $3 billion since 2008 on the drug war in Mexico alone. The results of this massive drug war escalation have been catastrophic: more than 100,000 people murdered; more than 25,000 people disappeared; hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes; tens of thousands of orphans; incalculable psychological trauma; numerous mass graves in Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and other states – each with dozens, even hundreds of unidentified bodies; and a dramatic increase in human rights violations committed by Mexican security forces, including thousands of documented cases of torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions. The revelations of direct participation on the part of local, state and federal security forces in the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero shows the depth of the corruption and carnage in Mexico, much of which is fueled by the corrosive, U.S.-funded war on drugs.

These devastating consequences are typical of militarized strategies – like the drug war strategy enforced in Colombia during and after the Clinton years. Such policies are not only ineffective at reducing drug use or supply, but are also proven to increase violence related to the drug trade. And lest we forget, it was prohibition that created the illicit drug trade in the first place.

This isn’t the first time that Clinton has apologized since leaving office for expanding the drug war during his presidency. He’s made mea culpas for opposing medical marijuana, for opposing syringe exchange programs that would have prevented thousands of cases of HIV/AIDS, and for packing U.S. prisons with people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. In 2012, Clinton joined ex-presidents from several other countries and decried the futility of the forty-year drug war, saying “Well obviously, if the expected results was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narco-trafficking networks — it hasn’t worked.”

Of course one wishes he and his counterparts would have done the right thing when they wielded the power to do so.  But it’s better to apologize than pretend he did nothing wrong at all.

Yet we need much more than apologies – especially from those who currently hold office, or who might in the near future.

President Obama shouldn’t just apologize, he should immediately cut off all drug war funding to Mexico.

Daniel Robelo is the research coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

View more blog posts.

No More Drug War