This month, a coalition of business groups in Juarez made a request for a deployment of UN peacekeepers. Juarez, a border city of 1.5 million people, has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2008, over 1,600 people were killed in drug-related violence, an average of almost 31 a week. This year, that rate has soared to 50 people a week, or 1,800 in the first nine months of 2009 alone. Obviously, this type of a death rate warrants some serious armed intervention- hence the call for peacekeepers. What’s unusual about the request, however, is that Juarez is already pretty much under martial law. Currently, 7,000 Mexican soldiers and 2,300 federal policeman patrol the streets, or around 1 federal operative for every 161 people.
So, if Juarez has such a large number of armed government representatives patrolling its streets, why are businessmen calling for UN peacekeeping forces? One possibility is that the whole thing is a publicity stunt by businessmen fed up with living in a real-life version of a slasher flick. The other possibility- the one that has some serious ramifications for the entire Mexican approach to drug violence- is that the Mexican Army is a bigger part of the problem than everyone thought.
A five year old boy killed by a shot of acid to the heart. Bodies dissolving in vats of chemicals. Plastic bags containing severed heads dumped in shopping centers. These are brief glimpses into the brutality of Mexico’s savage drug war, which has killed over 13,000 people since Mexico’s President Calderon deployed the army to curtail cartel activity in 2006. While grisly headlines churned out by the American media ensure that the chaos in Mexico is well known in the US, the long-term ramifications of that chaos have not yet been fully considered. Nor, it seems, have they been a priority in DC since the signing of the Merida initiative. But even though the maelstrom in Mexico has been overshadowed by national nail-biting over Afghanistan and Iran, it carries a heavy impact for the security of many Americans. The Obama administration, busy as it may be, cannot afford to continue ignoring the situation south of the border. Instead, Obama must be proactive, addressing the situation now before it worsens and the US finds itself with security threats on its border, not half a world away in Afghanistan.
Mexican drug violence is increasingly spilling over into the US. Already, the Department of Justice has designated Mexican drug cartels as the biggest organized crime threat in the US. In the past few years there has been a substantial increase in the number of cartel-related crimes in the US, with cartel activity in forty-eight states. In 2006, the Justice department estimated that 100 cities in the U.S. were affected by cartel activity. By 2009, that number had risen to 230. Accompanying these rising numbers are rising crime statistics. In Phoenix, for example, the police department has recorded 700 home invasions in the past two years, all of them linked to drug and human smuggling. Between 2004 and 2007, a Mexican drug trafficking ring tortured and killed nine men in San Diego, dissolving two of their bodies in acid. And in Alabama in 2008, police stumbled upon the corpses of five men who had their throats slit for not paying their debt to a drug-trafficking ring.
I recently attended the CATO Institute’s policy forum: “Mexico’s Drug War: The Growing Crisis on Our Southern Border,” and it got me thinking about the alternative polices that the US could take when dealing with Mexico. Some of the popular policy alternatives mentioned at the conference-although not necessarily advocated by any one participant-included the legalization of drugs, building a bigger wall, and pumping money into treatment and prevention programs to quell demand. (I was waiting for “full scale invasion,” and “nation building” to be mentioned, but they weren’t.) Each of these alternative policies to stop/slow the Drug War have a unique set of problems which were more eloquently addressed by the participants of the panel. (Please note it is not just “Mexico’s” Drug War; Mexico is just taking more *noticeable* casualties at the moment.) The possibility of political change in Mexico, however, was not mentioned by anyone. Alternatives to the current US policy–which is outlined in the Mérida Initiative and contingency plans, in case all hell breaks loose North of the border–is fine to kick around academic forums and think tank tables, BUT the one common assumption to all these suggested policies have, is the one assumption that might be changing in Mexico: what if Mexico itself changes tactics or political parties and becomes less receptive to United States assistance?
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: (more…)
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