Things are pretty grim. Armed gunmen are getting bolder. Agents of the duly elected government are at risk, with many of them being assassinated in front of their families. Police officers are specifically targeted, often being kidnapped so they can be tortured to death. The message is simple: Join the side of law and order and you will be killed. The favorite method of execution is to behead the victim, a tactic favored by terrorists.
Sounds like the most overwrought prose from a journalist describing the situation in Iraq, or maybe the Palestinian Territories. But I’m talking about the drug war being waged in Mexico at this very moment. The Washington Post article behind that last link states that 600 people have died this year.
I doubt very highly that either their figures or analysis of the situation is accurate. I have reason to believe that things are much worse. StrategyPage.com states that over 1,200 people have been killed this year. What is most alarming is that the drug gangs are actively recruiting regular Mexican Army deserters, men that have had training in combat, weapon use, and who are able to plan and carry out complex operations.
There are a few questions about this situation that need to be asked. The most important is: How did the drug gangs manage to become so powerful that they are able to take over whole towns, defy the Federal government, and assassinate important officials?
The answer is that they have been using the same routes used to smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States to move drugs across the border, using the illegals as cover. US drug interdiction and investigation efforts have been stymied by the incredible number of people who have crossed the border, meaning that the drug gangs have essentially had a free hand in getting their product into the hands of dealers in US cities. After all, if half a million people can cross the border every year, and law enforcement is able to track only a handful, then how how tough can it be to get a few tons of cocaine into the country?
The profits realized by the drug gangs are enormous. Some of the gangs are so well funded that they have been able to bribe entire Mexican Army units to provide muscle on this side of the border. Now, it would appear, they are so powerful that Army troops are willfully deserting in order to join the winning side.
There are always unintended consequences to any policy decision. The lack of effort to enforce immigration laws provided an opportunity for criminal gangs to grow and prosper. The climbing death toll amongst Mexican law enforcement officials and innocent civilians is a direct result of not only lax enforcement on the US side of the border, but also from the Mexican government’s enthusiasm for sending workers up north so they could send their wages back home and prop up the Mexican economy. It would seem that the Mexican government is suddenly not so enthusiastic about having what is essentially an open border with the US.
We have seen such lawlessness and chaos in Latin America before, with the most famous example being the Columbian drug cartels that first became prominent in the 1980′s. The United States was rather lucky during that conflict since we didn’t share a border with Columbia. One of the biggest fears that the drug lords had at the time was deportation to the United States because it was recognized that our justice system was essentially honest and immune to bribes. But this could change now that temptation is so close.
What puzzles me is why this story isn’t front page news. How many Palestinians died in their recent little dust up between Hamas and Fatah? I am having trouble finding an accurate count, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were less than 200. Tragic as that number happens to be, it is dwarfed by the number of lives snuffed out just a few hours drive from our southern border. Yet most of the people I talk to have no idea that anything is amiss in Mexico.
I also find the debate about border enforcement to be rather absurd in light of the violence and rising death toll. When do we actually enforce our own laws? When American cops and civilians start to die, or before?