Our Hidden Embarrassment in the War on Drugs

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In the U.S. news reports, the craziness of Mexico, with the cartels and violence, is often mentioned. Ask your fellow citizens and they will probably have some idea just how bad it has become south of the border. But we have U.S. citizens participating in a Mexican style drug war that doesn’t make the news much at all – Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is U.S. soil. The people there are citizens of the United States. And, like nowhere else in the U.S., they face the realities of a territory plagued by drug dealers and all that comes with that. It was just over a year ago that the FBI swooped in and arrested a hundred residents, many who were in law enforcement (YouTube video) or government workers. The charges were related to taking bribes and facilitating drug smuggling. That isn’t a mistake, the number was 100.

Now, a year later, a piece in the Washington Post shows that the situation hasn’t gotten any better. Frankly, it’s both a warning and an embarrassment.

The warning comes in the form of the homicide rate on the small island of less than four million. On a per capita basis, there are more murders in Puerto Rico than Mexico. Of the one homicide every 7.5 hours, at least half are blamed on the drug trade. If we are worried about the drug war escalating in the U.S. – it already has, these are Americans dying.

The embarrassment comes in an inability to police the territory and gain control of the situation. There seems to be an idea in the American consciousness that “it can’t happen here.” It can. It is. And part of the embarrassment is our willingness to overlook what’s happening. One wonders what the response would be if we were talking about New Hampshire or Wyoming instead of a distant island where Spanish is more common than English.

Unfortunately for Puerto Ricans, their status as a territory gives them citizenship but not voting rights.

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