Drug War No More

After covering drug trafficking and violence in Latin America since 2001, I look through endless photos and videos and ask myself what would be its single most iconic image? — one that people could look at in a hundred years and understand.

Is there a lone picture from the past 13 years that can illustrate 60,000 drug war deaths in Mexico in six years, and tens of thousands more in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia and Brazil? Is there an image that can sum up the complex web that links drug consumption in places like my hometown in England to coca growing in the Andes?

I look at pictures of soldiers burning coca crops and marijuana leaves, which evoke the war on drugs in its most fundamental expression: uniformed troops triumphantly destroying the declared enemy (a plant). I remember the mountain of cash in a Mexico City mansion from the world’s biggest-ever drug cash bust, $207 million, showing it’s all about the money. And I go through images of mothers weeping over the corpses of their sons and daughters, shot and killed in the crossfire between soldiers and drug cartel assassins, a scene repeated on the streets of Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Tegucigalpa, Medellín. Perhaps these last images best illustrate the tragedy. The pain of humans losing loved ones to violence stands out beyond all else.

But the search poses a more rudimentary question. Will people a hundred years from now look back at Latin America’s drug wars as an archaic conflict, now solved? Or will they be suffering from the same cycle of massive drug markets in the United States and Europe and brutal cartel violence south of the Rio Grande?

– Read the entire article at The New York Times.

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