In the days when my company had a newspaper in El Paso, Texas, and I used to visit there on a regular basis, it always was a treat to cross the river for a few hours, have dinner and shop at the colorful markets of Juarez where haggling over prices was half the fun. There is no more haggling. Most of those caught in the crossfire while just minding their own business aren’t even afforded the opportunity to barter for their lives.
The big Mexican city on the border has become an anarchic site of murder, mayhem and viciousness. It is a huge mortuary of a city where no one is safe and the silence is broken only by the sound of gunfire. Northern Mexico is the Somalia of the Western Hemisphere, with killing fields cultivated and sustained by an enormous flow of cash and weapons from the United States, a steady revenue produced from this nation’s huge appetite for drugs.
In Monterey recently, U.S. State Department officials were told to evacuate their children after a private school came in harm’s way amid signs that the drug cartels now have control of the city.
Earlier in the week, 72 migrants — 58 men and 14 women — from Central America making their way north were massacred and within 24 hours of being assigned to investigate this horrific tragedy, two top Tamaulipas state officials disappeared. The body of one of the missing officers reportedly was found along a road. At about the same time, two explosions led authorities to speculate that the drug thugs had entered a new phase in their war with the government and society.
The unstable situation now is threatening to spill over into resort areas, adversely impacting Mexico’s vital tourist industry already suffering from fears generated by the constant news of slaughter.
Next to the economy, the escalating death and destruction toll in Mexico, linked as it is to escalating alarm over immigration, is
increasingly becoming America’s leading domestic issue. It has serious political ramifications for the Obama administration, which is faced with mounting questions about how to keep the violence from spilling into U.S. border cities and to curtail the mass of money headed south every day. U.S. customs agents are trying desperately to inspect any suspicious vehicle, including trucks carrying materials for U.S plants in Mexico, but the task is herculean given the length of the border and the enormous flow of traffic. Also, U.S. authorities know that the money is probably never going to be stopped until the market is disrupted.
Since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office and declared war on the drug cartels, 28,500 have died in drug-related violence and he recently said there would be more before it is over. There is an endless supply of cartel-owned police officers at the federal, state and local levels. Law-enforcement officials, including judges and prosecutors as well as police administrators, have been thoroughly intimidated. Those who haven’t have been eliminated.
Currently, critics of the U.S. response, which seems negligible at best, contend that it has overemphasized trying to stop everything at the border by constantly increasing the number of Border Patrol officers instead of providing the manpower to the Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to attack the problem of drugs and guns in this country.
Lining up patrolmen shoulder-to-shoulder obviously isn’t the solution. Both DEA and ATF already have programs on the Southwest Border, but are obviously hamstrung in major northern cities where legal firearms are diverted and drugs dispensed.
“It’s not all that complicated,” a source with knowledge of the problem said recently. “The drugs go up and the same guys who brought them bring back guns and in certain cases money. Cartel A ships drugs to Chicago or wherever and brings home the weapons the same way. It’s not 15 guys bringing back one or two weapons each. It’s two or three guys bringing back 100. More agents on the northern end could do a lot of damage to the success of these groups.”
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.