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February 2010
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Competing Messages from Mexico

I see a lot of stories about Mexico come through my newsreader. It says a lot about how often I get stories of drug-war-related killings that now when I see headlines like “Six shot dead in Mexico Disco,” “Gunmen kill 13 high school students at party in Mexico.” etc. I rarely bother to even read the articles. They have sadly become… ordinary.

But I found interesting the juxtaposition of two articles this weekend. One in the Arizona Republic: Drug Cartels Tighten Grip; Mexico Becoming ‘Narco-State’

Some analysts are warning that Mexico is on the verge of becoming a “narco-state” like 1990s-era Colombia.

“We are approaching that red zone,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on organized crime at the Autonomous Technological University of Mexico. “There are pockets of ungovernability in the country, and they will expand.”

For the past decade, he said, parts of Mexico have been sliding toward the lawlessness that Colombia experienced, in which traffickers in league with left-wing rebels controlled small towns and large parts of the interior through drug-funded bribery and gun-barrel intimidation.

In the latest sign of the cartels’ grip, on Wednesday the National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon announced it was calling off primary elections in the northern state of Tamaulipas because drug traffickers had infiltrated politics.

It’s a fascinating article that goes into detail regarding the reach of the cartels, including ownership of legitimate business and provision of needed community support, not to mention the huge boost to the economy from their activity. And the drug war has not really made any dent in their power (it may have done the opposite).

Only three things could change the balance, said Ray Walser, an expert on Latin America at the conservative Heritage Foundation: a massive increase in U.S. drug aid, a large addiction-treatment program in the United States or the legalization of drugs in the United States.

None of these measures seems to be on the horizon, Walser said.

The other story, an AP piece running in dozens of media outlets today, is a little odd. Amid drug war, Mexico less deadly than decade ago

“What we hear is, ‘Oh the drug war! The dead people on the streets, and the policeman losing his head,'” said Tobias Schluter, 34, a civil engineer from Berlin having a beer at a cafe behind Mexico City’s 16th-century cathedral. “But we don’t see it. We haven’t heard a gunshot or anything.” […]

“In terms of security, we are like those women who aren’t overweight but when they look in the mirror, they think they’re fat,” said Luis de la Barreda, director of the Citizens’ Institute. “We are an unsafe country, but we think we are much more unsafe that we really are.”

Certainly it’s interesting that the murder rate is down from 10 years ago in total, but of course that does nothing to counter the fact that the drug war is causing a huge toll. It’s just that other factors have improved.

Experts say while drug violence is up, land disputes have eased. Many farmers have migrated to the cities or abroad and the government has pushed to resolve the land disputes, some centuries old. […]

De la Barreda attributes the downward trend [in murders] to a general improvement in Mexico’s quality of life. More Mexicans have joined the ranks of the middle class in the past two decades, while education levels and life expectancy have also risen.

It would be interesting to know just how much the improved quality of life was due to the influx of drug-war cash.

So, if you’re planning your Spring Break vacation, go to Mexico. It’s safe! Except when it isn’t.

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9 comments to Competing Messages from Mexico

  • ezrydn

    Pete,

    I understand your position. I see it all the time from my correspondence with friends up there. However, what you hear/read seems to get “expanded.” Why? When there is a mass murder in Mexico (5 or more), it’s a “Mexico Murder.” If the same thing happens in the US, it’s a “Chicago or LA Murder.” See how the preception changes?

    All of Mexico is NOT like Juarez or Nuevo Larado. They are “pockets.” Just as the “frontera,” the 100 miles inside the border, is a “pocket.”

    To look at “pockets” and proclaim that it’s the whole country is a missstatement.

    Something I have to remind people of is, I am a combat vet. I know danger. Usually, I can spot it before I walk into it. With that in mind, I have to ask you, “Why would I live here and move myself into ‘harm’s way?'” Makes no sense, does it?

    Are there problems within the country. Damned straight. Will it go away soon. Probably not until the US allows it to go away. Just as we hold up Prohibition as the root of our US problems, the US position is the basis of our problems down here.

    Calderon has said that he’s all for legalization here. However, he’s so hamstrung by the US money, he has to “fall in step” now. If he legalized, the US would stop all Mexican exports. You know it, I know it and he knows it.

    Ya wanna see Mexico change? Then keep up the fight against the US position on Prohibition. Reform isn’t just fighting for one country. It’s fighting for 2, maybe 3, countries. There’s more at stake that most think.

    If it was as bad as I read, I wouldn’t be here. And I’ve spent a great 9 years here now, not living around Americans in some enclave, but in the colonias, with the people. Mexico reporting is just another “sky falling” cry.

  • kaptinemo

    “Calderon has said that he’s all for legalization here. However, he’s so hamstrung by the US money, he has to “fall in step” now. If he legalized, the US would stop all Mexican exports. You know it, I know it and he knows it.”

    Yes, he knows it…and he also knows that a border tightening now would economically doom both countries, and very quickly. All this talk of border restrictions is the same kind of empty threat made against Canada a few years back by Johnny Pee. And the Canadians rightly blew it off…for the exact same reasons.

    But the prohib-fellating pols on either side of the border, thinking everyone is as brain dead as they are, keep making that lame excuse. Just like they try to use the Single Convention Treaty as an excuse against legalization, while failing to inform their readers that a country can modify or even exit from the Treaty.

    It’s always what they don’t say that trips them up…

  • claygooding

    If the Calderon forces were to completely destroy the cartels or even cause them to move out of Mexico,the economy of Mexico will be even more devastated than it is now. We will end up having too increase humanitarian aid
    when and if we quit sending drug war money. Just as with the emerald triangle in CA,the populations income is revolving around the cartels. Whether they are directly involved with the drug trade or not,the stores and businesses customers spend cartel money and keep them in business.

  • IMO the change in murder rate says more about the extent to which Americans IGNORED the land disputes in Chiapas, Guerrero, etc., and really didn’t care about what happens in Mexico until it reached the US doorstep. Most of the killing in Mexico has always occurred in “pockets,” it’s just now happening in the pocket closest to the US where American companies have invested billions in maquiladoras, so US power brokers care now.

    I love Mexico and hope to travel there again this summer, finances permitting. And I agree 100% with ezrydn that most of the country isn’t enduring what’s happening in Juarez. But it’s also the case that thousands soldiers in Juarez can’t seem to stop truckloads of armed thugs from driving around the city with impunity and killing whoever they want – just like they couldn’t or wouldn’t stop the guardas blancas in Chiapas. It may not affect Americans or even middle class Mexicans, but for the poor the government cannot or will not provide security and when they run up against powerful monied interests – whether southern landowners or drug cartels – the results tend to be pretty damn ugly. In Juarez, the sky really IS falling.

  • InsanityRules

    Mexico today is a perfect example of what will happen if we continue to ratchet up the drug war here at home. Despite the obvious results, the law enforcement community in the U. S. seems to want more money for more cops, more guns, and more military hardware. It’s easy to see where that’s going to take us – just look across the border.

    A second option is to continue the status quo. I think both sides of the argument agree that what we’re doing now is not working and is unsustainable.

    The third option is to legalize and turn the drug trade over to a mix of government and legitimate businesses, just like was done when alcohol was re-legalized. Can anyone really argue for bringing plan Mexico to the U.S.? Or for maintaining the current failed prohibition? Eventually, all but the most hard-core zealots will realize that there is only one rational course.

  • claygooding

    When the cartels figure out how to settle their territorial problems between the cartels,they are sitting on a gold mine. Just think of Juarezdam,or Cancundam and spring break. Instead of having to worry with crossing our borders with drugs,they can sell party packs of drugs in their own country and make a killing(pun)

  • strayan

    Anyone interested in where the killing is should have a look at this heat map:

    http://img297.imageshack.us/img297/4484/ejecuciones.png

  • Chris

    http://cannabisnews.com/news/25/thread25399.shtml

    “Dennis Peron, known as the “father of medical marijuana,” supports across-the-board legalization of marijuana. In a telephone interview, he said enforcing existing laws costs the criminal justice system a fortune.”

    Makes me wonder if cops will ever be begging to legalize cannabis so they can quit worrying over whether a medicinal user is legal or not and make their job easier. Because we’ve got our foot in the door, it’s not likely to go back the other way when 80% of the country supports medical marijuana.

  • Hope

    Strayan. That’s a hideous map, but informative.

    Thank you.