Mexico’s Drug Problem–and Ours

Mexico’s Drug Problem–and Ours

Drug-related violence tearing Mexican society apart. Is America next?


The Denver Democratic come-all-ya was not the biggest and not the most important mass meeting of the past few days. In Mexico City a couple of days ago, 150,000 people came together in the Zocalo in conjunction with hundreds of thousands of others who did the same in all of Mexico’s thirty-two states.

“Iluminemos Mexico,” as these vast, silent, candle-bearing masses called their manifestation, was staged to protest the drug-connected murders and kidnappings that are threatening to destroy civic life as law, order, safety and liberty are under threat of being extirpated by violence.

Murders by drug organizations and deaths in battles with police and army troops in 2008 are running ahead of the 2,500 who perished last year. Since 2006, the drug cartel wars have taken more than 6,000 lives, including hundreds of police officers and soldiers. In a country with a smaller population than ours, that total exceeds combined American combat losses in Afghanistan and Iraq over the same period.

Four months ago Edgar Eusebio Millán Goméz, Mexico’s top cop, was assassinated. Imagine the effect on our morale if Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, was gunned down in his home by a hit man dispatched by a drug ring. Nor was Millán Goméz the only police chief to have been murdered in the recent months.

The New York Times reports, “Life in Mexico is changing in subtle ways as the possibility of that violence lurks at every intersection, dance floor and town square…. 2,682 people have been killed in the drug war this year, including elderly bystanders, schoolchildren and pregnant women, according to a tally by a newspaper, El Universal.” The same dispatch goes on to quote a businessman saying, “ ’We all live in fear now,’ he said. ‘Any of us could be taken or killed. I try to wear nothing and do nothing that attracts attention. I wear T-shirts and a hat. I have no jewelry. I don’t want to stand out.’ ”

Cities on the Mexican-American border such as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana have become so dangerous that the US ambassador has warned tourists to stay out of the entire region. Beyond that, Washington has the usual anti-drug assistance program of training, equipment and money which has failed everywhere for the past forty years.

Here in the United States there is little interest in what is happening in the war zones of Mexico, although it is just a matter of time before the mayhem and spreading anarchy there will begin here. It may have already started, depending how you interpret the rising tide of drug gang gunplay on this side of the border.

From Afghanistan to Colombia, our attempts to eradicate and interdict the drug trade have failed. Within our borders, we have filled our jails with drug peddlers until we can no longer afford to house them.

It’s just a matter of time before we start seeing our own judges and law enforcement officials taken down by drug gangs. This will happen unless the money is taken out of the trade. Three ways of doing so suggest themselves:

1. Raise a generation of non-drug using Americans;
2. Legalize drugs, thereby ending the gangster presence in the trade as the repeal of prohibition did with liquor seventy-five years ago
3. Frighten the American middle class so badly its members stop buying drugs. Since jailing users is impossible resort would have to be made to corporal punishment, which is a nice way of saying whipping.

None of these three are exactly a sure shot. Number one is almost ludicrous, considering our difficulties in teaching our young how to read and write. Number two would please the libertarians, but the social and economic consequences of making it legal for tens of millions to live stoned is anyone’s guess. Number three cuts against prevailing tastes and, of course, it might not work.

Our way is to impute blame to the “Mexican drug cartels” or the “Columbian drug lords” or the “Haitian narco-traffickers,” names that carry the suggestion it is foreigners who are doing this to us, when it is us doing it to ourselves. We pay them to break their laws and ours as we pay them to import these brain-rotting substances, even as they destroy Mexico and threaten to bring narco-warfare home into our communities.

There are no walls high enough or long enough to keep out the criminal anarchy that is eating up Mexico from devouring us, too. We need a new approach.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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