The War Next Door

Urban gun battles drive schoolchildren to the floors of their classrooms and entire villages into flight; noncombatants die in the crossfire; others, unfortunate enough to cross paths with pitiless irregulars, are hacked to death or beheaded. The national economy falters because of the rising chaos and uncertainty. Tensions rise along the border of a neighboring nation as some seek to escape the violence any way they can.

This is not a description of a social meltdown occurring in faraway North Africa. This is the meltdown occurring in North America, at your doorstep. Mexico, a major economic and political partner of the United States, is entering the fifth year of a deadly struggle between the U.S.-subsidized forces of law and order and the ruthless armies of drug cartels and crime syndicates. The violence has claimed the lives of almost 40,000 people, and each week it seems to cross a new threshold of depravity. Not too long ago the discovery of a mass slaying in the Mexican State of Tamaulipas, south of the border near El Paso, Tex., caused shock on both sides of the border. Such reports have become all too regular.


This year has witnessed the advent of a new kind of carnage as gangs—apparently in cahoots with regional immigration and security figures—set up roadblocks to intercept and hold for ransom migrants from southern Mexico and Central America heading north to the United States. The migrants are hoping to find work and a better life. Instead they face kidnapping and death on the highway or forced recruitment as cannon fodder for the drug cartels.

At the heart of the war itself, of course, is the apparently insatiable appetite in the United States for the illicit drugs produced in or trafficked through Mexico. Ninety percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States now passes through Mexico. Human trafficking into the United States has been another lucrative business for Mexican criminals. But the clandestine trade flows in both directions. Sustaining the violence has been a dependable flow of small arms and military-grade weapons from the United States into Mexico.

Despite occasional high profile successes like the recent arrest of Jesús Enrique Rejón Aguilar, a leader of the brutal Los Zetas cartel, Mexico’s drug war is not going well. Although that may appear obvious to average Mexicans, it is less clear to Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, who began the war in 2006 and appears determined to see it through to some kind of conclusion. He is guardedly supported in this grim effort by Mexico’s bishops, who affirm the aims of the drug war—to the point of describing the violence engendered by the war as “inevitable”—even as they criticize its tactics and priorities.

President Calderón’s options are neither many nor appealing. Declaring “victory” and unilaterally beginning a ceasefire carries its own risks. It could mean giving the already well-armed and brazen drug gangs time to rebuild and modernize their stockpiles. They might expand their recruiting campaigns and further extend their corrupting reach into regional governments and even the military itself.

But a cease-fire could produce a lull in the violence, presuming that the drug gangs would return to a prior observance of noncombatant immunity, and allow Mexico a national respite to recover from its losses, consolidate its forces and concentrate its efforts on reconstituting the security and government institutions that have failed so demonstrably. There is no point in taking an army to war when that army cannot be trusted to do the job or even to maintain the integrity of its forces in the face of the taunting and temptations of its enemy. The war itself has become a force of degradation not only for the Mexican military and security forces, but for the rule of law in Mexico. A recent report from the U.S. State Department said the war had not produced “relevant results,” but had taken “a significant toll on human rights.” The report concludes that “impunity and corruption at all levels of government are still pervasive.”

Ultimately it may not matter what President Calderón decides to do; there are some matters he cannot control. For Mexico to prosecute this drug war successfully, policy across the border has to change. The United States must confront its own drug problem more creatively, transferring funds from enforcement and interdiction to so-called demand-reduction, “soft” strategies that include treatment and relapse prevention for drug abusers as well as drug awareness and prevention programs. It must restore commonsense gun control policies, and, finally, it must produce a comprehensive immigration reform that includes temporary work provisions for unskilled labor from Mexico and Central America. If progress can be made north of the border in these key areas, Mexicans, exhausted by this war, can have reason to hope they may someday be able to declare a real victory against the drug cartels.

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Charles Erlinger
7 years 6 months ago
Dear Editors,

If  you have any data showing what specific measures work either to lower demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. or to convince politicians and their enablers to change gun and immigration policies, please share them with the rest of us.
TM Lutas
7 years 6 months ago
We could start corrective action by prosecuting the "Operation Fast and Furious" government people who facilitated the transfer of US arms to Mexican drug cartels. At the very minimum, US taxpayers should not fund the flow of illegal weapons to Mexico. BATFE Director Melson's secret July 4th testimony, done in defiance of the Obama administration orders not to speak to Congress and with his private lawyer in tow is one of the under reported stories of the year.  There casualties of US government facilitated, mexican drug cartel arms purposes is over 150 and rising. 

Once you subtract out the gun running we financed, how much of a problem is left? We can get to work on that after we clean up the mess of US government facilitated murder on the street. 
Anthony MARTIN
7 years 6 months ago

The answer to the problem is simple. Implmentation is another matter.

I live 80 miles from the Canadian border, & my wife has Canadian relatives. Our nation is not, by & large, suffering from Candidians sneaking over the northern border. Our Canadians neighbors live in a society that has a healthy economy, that is very stable (though they have their own drug problems).

Compare that to Mexico........which is basically is a 'failed state' ! It control not take charge to protect its citizens, let alone provide jobs & security..which every human desires (that is not on drugs).

Mexico being so, bares only a part of the border disaster. Meaning that it is our nation that is demanding the drugs from Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter. We, Americans, are creating the market that Mexico is supplying. It is up to us to take control of this seemingly insatiable appitite, on our side of the border.... and it will not be done every overnight.

Work on lowering the demand! That is the problem, or as Pogo claimed," we have met the enemy, and he is us!"

7 years 6 months ago
Two modest proposals.1 Investigate the "American rifle association" Everyone with eyes can see that their stance, vis a vie the right to bear assalt guns is carrying a lot of water for the extreemly wealthy Mexican Drug  Cartels It would not surprise me if some of their millions gets filtered into the cofers of the A.R.A.
2. All congressmen senators and their top aids should be randomly tested for drugs, not unlike other sensitive federal officials. We have a right to know if the people who are making our drug laws, are, themselves, addicted
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 6 months ago
At the core source of funding for the Mexican drug cartels is the demand supplied by the American drug consumer. We have the choice of legalizing drugs, or approaching the foundational issue of our country's demand for drugs: an inability to exercise self-discipline or effect delayed gratification, primarily among our younger citizens. This is correlated to the elimination of the teaching of morality and ethics religion can provide in our school system and the poor performance of our public school system, particularly in the most affected communities. That is one place Catholic systems could contribute greatly to social justice, which could be facilitated through vouchers.
Regarding limiting the dissemination of high-powered assault weapons to Mexican drug dealers, we might look into the Obama-Holder strategy of selling these weapons to those allied to the drug cartels in a tracking effort.  We now suspect that these weapons were used to gun down US drug enforcement agents.  
Elizabeth Groven
7 years 6 months ago
Let us all consider that Mexico, here touted as a vital trading partner of the United States, does very little to help its people.  These latest bloody drug wars seem to me to be the outcrying of a nation that is suffering unto death.

Then let us consider that the hunger for drugs is rampant in the United States.  We are warring against this hunger here as they are in Mexico and all over the world.  Does anyone remember that we had Prohibition in the USA?  Does anyone think that this was good for anyone except the crooks? 

Let us also consider that keeping drugs illegal is, in large part, the cause of this mania to supply a hungry nation.  Is it not possible that drugs-whatever the drugs the cartels are now selling-could be regulated by all governments. 

Let us further consider that the money spent on interdiction, in whatever form it takes, could be used to rehabilitate drug users? Possibly that money could be used for other projects that might keep people employed.  

Finally, let us accept that we have lost the war on drugs.   
Robert Klahn
7 years 6 months ago
Please, no more immigration as the solution to any other country's problems.

You can't solve the problems of the third world by bringing them here, there are too many, it won't work.

The solution to Mexico's problems start with ending NAFTA. The Mexican economy was heavily agricultural, and mechanized American agriculture took the Mexican economy way down.

End NAFTA and help Mexico recover their own economy.
Robert Klahn
7 years 6 months ago
"We have the choice of legalizing drugs, or approaching the foundational issue of our country's demand for drugs: an inability to exercise self-discipline or effect delayed gratification, primarily among our younger citizens. This is correlated to the elimination of the teaching of morality and ethics religion can provide in our school system and the poor performance of our public school system, particularly in the most affected communities. "

Irish Catholics were renouned for alcohol dependence in Ireland, before the establishment of Irish independence. Alcoholism is rampant in Russia.

Now drugs in the US.

The problem is not "an inability to excersize self dicipline", the problem is hopelessness. For Irish Catholics it was immigration to the US, then independence.  For Russia and the US it will be a focus on job creation. Decent paying, living wage jobs.

"That is one place Catholic systems could contribute greatly to social justice, which could be facilitated through vouchers."

Catholic teaching supports working to end hoplessness, supports a living wage. Another attempt to break down public schools is not a valid Catholic teaching.
Roberto Blum
7 years 6 months ago
Although legalizing drug consumption in the U.S. may help by lowering the price of the drugs and thus reduce the amount of money available to the traffickers to arm themselves, recruit new members and corrupt the Mexican law forces, the real solution to this "unjust war" is in Mexico, not in the United States.

President Calderon began this "war against drugs" in 2006 to try to legitimize his accesion to the presidency after a very contested electoral process which deeply polarized the Mexican electorate.

During Calderon's presidency, poverty has increased to reach the 50 million mark and seven million young men are now called "nini's" (ni estudian ni trabajan) because they can neither study nor work and many - some have estimated 600,000 of them - have been recruited by "organized crime."  

More than 40,000 deaths have resulted from this conflict in which the Mexican army and the marines have been put on the streets unprepared to deal with the complexities that urban war scenarios require.  At least 10% of those deaths have been "collateral damages" as Calderon likes to call them, meaning innocent civilians passing through a shoot out between the military and the traffickers.

This "butchery" will not end easily.  Less than 4% of crimes in Mexico are punished because of corruption and inefficiency of the justice system.  With 50 million Mexicans living in poverty and almost 20 million in extreme poverty, with an economy that has only grown on average 2.1% yearly for the past 30 years, with an educational system that is not able to educate the new generations and a political system that is unable to process the social demands of the population, whatever the U.S. does will be of little help unless the Mexicans themselves decide to confront the deep structural problems they have.
John Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

It's amazing how few see it is PRIMARILY the monstrous fraud of marijuana prohibition that causes this violence and corruption - just as alcohol prohibition did with Al Capone and his ilk.

The fraudulent, counter-productive marijuana prohibition has NEVER accomplished even ONE positive thing.  It has ONLY caused vast amounts of crime, violence, corruption, death, and the severe diminishment of EVERYONE'S freedom.

It's WAY past time to end this sick war on millions of good Americans who prefer near harmless marijuana over addictive, VERY harmful alcohol.

C Walter Mattingly
7 years 6 months ago
@ Bob,
"Irish Catholics were reno(w)ned for alchohol dependence in Ireland, before the establishment of Irish independence."
True. And Irish Catholics came to the US dirt-poor for the most part. Yet they brought with them an excellent parochial school education system which their children attended, which lifted the great majority of them out of poverty in an amazingly short period of time. Why deprive our inner-city children of access to this same school system that President Obama, Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas, and Surgeon General Livingston all had access to on their way from humble origins to the top of their careers? Why not let these parents have a say, as 60% of them want vouchers? Why preference a disastrous public education system which has taken huge sums of money to give us the fewest school hours of any industrial nation and 3rd quartile performance?  This is not an attempt to break down the public school system but to make it accountable to the American people and provide it competition. When Al Shankar, eminent labor leader of the AFT, stated publicly, "I'll represent the interests of students when students start paying union dues," we have the truth in a nutshell.
If you think delayed gratification/discipline is not an issue in our schools, you need to visit an inner city one and see for yourself. Then go to a parochial one in the same neighborhood, same demographic and economic makeup. Let your own eyes tell you. 


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