Puerto Rico Violence Calls Into Question America's War on Drugs

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For this week's cover story on the soaring murder rate in Puerto Rico, I spent five days on the island. I visited crime scenes still wet with blood, picked up AK-47 shells sprayed around neighborhoods like confetti, and interviewed terrified locals.

But at the heart of the Caribbean commonwealth's killings is the issue of drugs. I spoke to people on all sides of the debate -- from drug cops to drug dealers -- and almost everyone agreed that America's War on Drugs ain't working.

See also:
- Puerto Rico's Wave of Drugs and Brazen Murders Reverberates to Miami

Eighty percent of the narcotics passing through Puerto Rico end up in Miami, New York, or elsewhere on the East Coast. The Caribbean island is central to the drug trade because, as a U.S. commonwealth, it's extremely easy to ship drugs from the island to the mainland in suitcases and shipping containers or even on cruise ships.

But Puerto Rico's crucial role in drug trafficking is a curse. As local gangs and international smuggling organizations fight among themselves for control of the island, innocent bystanders are increasingly getting hurt.

Behind the individual horror stories is a broader trend, however. Murders in Puerto Rico have soared since the United States launched a $1.6 billion crackdown on Mexican cartels. Bruce Bagley, an organized-crime expert at the University of Miami, says the War on Drugs is like a giant game of whack-a-mole that is pushing violence into different regions instead of eliminating it.


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