The War Next Door
by Charles Lemos, Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 04:30:45 PM EST
Thirty seven people were killed in the border city of Tijuana this past weekend in the latest spate of drug related violence. Overall, the death toll in Mexico's drug wars have now surpassed 4,000 for the year, up about 50% over 2007.
It's increasingly clear that Mexico's drug violence is reaching epic proportions and President Calderon's efforts seem insufficient to date in dealing with the drug violence that is growing both in scope and in tenor. Mexico now looks like Colombia did back in 1983, aware that there is a problem and yet beyond noting the mounting death toll seemingly unable to stem it. Colombia has made strides in fighting the drug trade but 25 years on, Colombians are still fighting it and not terribly pleased about it. And now Mexico is looming as a foreign policy challenge for the incoming Obama Administration and Latin America seems largely off Obama's radar. Then again, the Bush Administration was hardly engaged in the region either.
To combat the rising tide of drugs, the Bush Administration has proposed the Merida Initiative:
The Initiative's Scope The Merida Initiative is a multi-year program to provide equipment, training, and technical assistance to support law enforcement operations and for long-term reform and oversight of security agencies. This year, Congress approved an initial $400 million for Mexico and $65 million for Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which was passed in the FY08 Supplemental. The President's FY09 budget proposal for the Merida Initiative includes $450 million for Mexico and $100 million for Central America.
Drugs, Violence, and Gangs in the United States The effects of Mexican drug trafficking organizations and Central American criminal gangs are felt in nearly all parts of the United States. Many state and local governments are diverting scarce resources from key areas, including education and housing, to focus countering the effects of Mexican and Central American gangs and trafficking organizations. An estimated 30,000 transnational gang members operating in the United States engage in serious crimes such as murder, drug trafficking, extortion, human smuggling, and prostitution. Mexican drug trafficking organizations operate on both sides of the border, resulting in violent gun battles which have killed or wounded dozens.
$400 million is a start but I suspect it will require hundreds of millions more in assistance. Or we could think outside the box and perhaps starting looking at drug addiction as a medical problem and not just a criminal one. At some point, the United States has to start taking responsibility for the demand side of the equation. It isn't always a supply issue. When it comes to the drug equation, demand seems to be off the table.
Then there is the problem that Mexican gangs are sourcing an estimated 70% of their weapons in the United States. We provide the ammo, Mexico provides the bodies. Not exactly a fair trade especially as the toll of innocents adds up. There is also an unbelievable sheer viciousness to this latest wave of drug violence. In Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon, 17 heads have turned up this year, many with bloodstained notes like the one found in the highlands town of Tepalcatepec in August: "See. Hear. Shut Up. If you want to stay alive." All told some 200 Mexicans this year have been found beheaded.
I suspect that in 2009 Mexico's drug violence will be a more common topic of conversation. It is one of the most under-reported stories of 2008 though both the Houston Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times have covered the issue well.
More from the Council of Foreign Relations:
Mexico's economy is slowing--remittances from abroad are down, as is U.S. demand for Mexican exports. But one sector is doing a brisk business--the funeral industry near the U.S. border (Reuters). Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began his offensive against drug cartels and organized criminals in December 2006, drug-related killings have escalated, as has the need for undertakers. Though the drug war receives minimal attention north of the border, some authorities say it increasingly threatens the stability of the Mexican state and poses a security threat to the United States. Calderon has moved aggressively against Mexico's drug cartels. He has deployed over thirty thousand soldiers across the country, purged several police forces of corrupt members, and pushed a judicial reform package through Congress. But the violence has only mounted. More than four thousand people have died in drug-related violence this year, up from more than 2,500 deaths in 2007. The escalation is so great that drug gangs are widely suspected of causing the plane crash in early November that killed the interior minister, though the government says pilot error was the cause (NYT).
Illicit billion dollars industries have a tendency to play all the cards at their disposal. It's only a matter of time before Mexico's drug wars spill across the border. After all, the United States is the market.