As outgoing CIA Director Hayden points out, Mexico poses a great threat to U.S. security, second only to Al Qaeda. I’m glad at least SOMEONE is remembering our suffering neighbor who has been plagued with drug violence for decades, only to have it recently explode into unprecedented brutality and death in 2008.
Kristin Bricker, a correspondent for narcoshpere.com, writes that “Mexico’s daily El Universal, which began counting drug war executions four years ago, reports that 5,612 people were executed in Mexico’s drug war in 2008. This year’s deaths more than doubled 2007′s total of over 2,700 executions. By El Universal’s estimates, about 8,463 drug executions have occurred during the first two years of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s six-year term in office.”
Saying Mexico has a “drug-problem” is a gross understatement. Cuidad Juárez-a city with a population of approximately 1.5 million and just across the border from El Paso, Texas-saw more than 1,300 murders in drug-violence in 2008:
That number includes at least 8 people killed during a prayer meeting at a rehabilitation center in August, where the machine gun fire lasted fifteen minutes and eyewitnesses reported that soldiers parked nearby did nothing; 4 men gunned down in October at an amusement park filled with civilians; and in November, a headless body hung from an overpass, a burned, headless, handless body dumped on the sidewalk in front of a police station, and 16 people killed in a single day, including 7 executed beside a school’s soccer field.
It doesn’t look as if 2009 is going to bring any change. As of February 6th, 207 people have been killed in Juárez in drug related violence.
Almost as bad is Tijuana; warring factions within the local Arellano-Felix drug gang are decimating the tourist-driven economy of the once popular tourist spot. Arresting Eduardo Arellano-Felix-the ring leader of the Arellano-Felix cartel-doesn’t seem to have stemmed the violence in the drug torn city. The Guardian rightly comments that “as the body count has increased, so has the brutality of the killing. Corpses have been found severely tortured or decapitated, castrated, dipped in sulphuric [sic] acid or with their tongues cut out.”
Mexican authorities recently arrested El Pozolero, “The Stewmaker,” who worked for a Tijuana gang and brags to have dissolved over 600 bodies of rival gang members in vats of acid. Although authorities estimate the total deathtoll closer to 300, the brutal tactics continue to show the viciousness raging in Mexico’s drug war. In retaliation for the arrest of El Pozolero, a local police station was shot-up with AK-47s. In the neighboring city of Cancun, less than 24 hours after assuming Cancun area’s top anti-drug official, Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello Quiñonez , along with his aide and driver, were kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Their bodies were found on February 4th.
I find it interesting that the United States is now talking about a “Surge” in case the violence spills over into the United States. In a telephone interview with The New York Times, current director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff stated: “‘We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge – if I may use that word – capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with’ the Defense Department.”
Mexican Cartel violence has already begun to “spillover” the border, reinforcing the adage that violence does not respect borders. Dallas police officers report an increase in drug-related violence including “execution-style murders, burned bodies, and outright mayhem” that is currently marring Mexico. There is also an increase in attacks on U.S. Border Patrol and law enforcement in border towns from drug gangs using automatic weapons to protect their shipments. Drug-related kidnappings have also spread across the border as seen with the abduction (and later return) of Cole Puffinburger in Nevada; he was abducted as a warning to his grandfather who supposedly stole millions of dollars from a Mexican drug cartel.
America’s answer? The Mérida Initiative. This initiative is a $1.4 billion multi-year measure aimed at giving assistance to Mexico and Central America to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. These funds will be used for inspection equipment, communication technology, helicopters, surveillance aircraft, and equipment and training for new law enforcement. But the corruption in Mexican law enforcement is still making headlines, and despite Presidential backing, will probably cause hesitation in Washington to release the funds in such dire economic times. The breadth of corruption in Mexican law enforcement is unclear, as is the amount of influence the drug cartels already possess within the government. Just reading Stratfor‘s Mexico Security Memo for the weeks of November 2008 is enough to make you question the logical nature of handing over millions of dollars to the Mexican government. November 2008 brought specifically interesting reading to incorporate the high profile arrests (including the director of intelligence) in the Mexican Anti-Organized Crime Unit (SIEDO) for “leaking sensitive information” to drug traffickers for money. On February 1st, it was reported that another round of high-ranking Mexican officials were arrested for alleged ties with the cartels.
It seems everyone is on the take, so how can America trust the funds will get to those hardworking (and ill-equipped) individuals who brave the streets and death-threats just to make a better Mexico?
Granted, the idea of $1.4 billion to Mexico not making it into the right hands will continue to keep me up at night, but what is the alternative? Maybe we could take a billion and build a BIGGER high-tech fence between the United States and Mexico, complete with attack dogs and watch towers every 100 feet of the 1,970 mile border. Not very neighborly. Or maybe wipe out all but Title IV of the Merida Initiative which focuses on reducing drug demand in the US as well as southbound flow of weapons, chemicals, and bulk cash transfers. Unfortunately, being isolationist or just taking care of “our part of the problem” is not going to stop the violence or the increasing drug addiction plaguing the United States.
At least there are several checks and human rights conditions in the Initiative to impede misuse of the funds, but the implementation of the programs and technology must be done cautiously to ensure transparency and accountability in the process.
Given that the US shares a long border with Mexico, it is astonishing that many average Americans look at Mexico in terms of illegal immigration issues and do not seem concerned about their drug problem. Well, it’s our drug problem. Remember that the drugs would not be flowing up through Mexico if the demand for them were not so high in the US. It is only in a joint manner that we can begin to take the drastic necessary steps to curb the hold the Cartels have on our neighbor.