U.S. must act to curb violence in Mexico*
By Michael Deibert
There are few places where the failure of America’s drug policy is more visible than in Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city of 1.3 million people across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
This month passing the grim milestone of having had 3,000 people murdered within the municipality over the last year — 10 times the figure of only three years ago — Ciudad Juárez is the scene of a brutal struggle for control of lucrative drug transportation routes between the local Cartel de Juárez and the Cartel de Sinaloa, a group with its roots in the city of Culiacán.
Visitors to Juárez, previously best known for its maquiladoras, are now greeted by an altogether different picture. Masked gunmen, some federal police and Mexican army, some affiliated with the cartels, set up roadblocks seemingly at will as impoverished neighborhoods stretching out into the Chihuahuan desert have largely been depopulated by drug violence. A micro-industry of contract killing — doled out to street gangs such as the Aztecas, Mexicles and Artistas Asesinos (Murder Artists) — has resulted in once-unthinkable acts of violence becoming commonplace.
During my recent visit to Juárez, three federal policemen were killed. The same month, 14 people died when gunmen attacked a party for young people in the city, a grim echo of a similar massacre in January, during which 15 young people died. A casual drive through the city reveals cartel graffiti with the name of Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón, inside a rifle sight along with the words “in the line of fire.”
War Declared on Cartels
Shortly after taking office in December 2006, after one of the most closely-contested elections in Mexico’s history, Calderón declared war on Mexico’s ever-more powerful drug cartels, which in addition to those operating in Juárez include the Cartel del Golfo and Los Zetas, the latter originally spawned by defectors from an elite U.S.-trained military unit designed to combat drug traffickers.
Calderón’s decision to bring in the Mexican military to Juárez and other areas of the country to buttress poorly paid and trained local and federal police helped set in motion a violent clash with cartels that has claimed more than 30,000 lives in the last four years. The decision was not without controversy, as a recently released report from the Washington Office on Latin America concluded that “the Mexican government’s reliance on the Mexican military . . . has subjected the civilian population to numerous human rights abuses.”
However, far from being a uniquely Mexican problem, the violence currently tearing apart cities such as Ciudad Juárez comes in no small part from Mexico’s tangled relationship with its neighbor to the north, the United States.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United States, with a population of 310 million, consumed $37 billion of cocaine in 2008, while Europe as a whole, with a population of 830 million, consumed $34 billion. Over the past four years, as The Washington Post has reported, more than 60,000 U.S. guns have been found in Mexico, largely coming for gun dealers in states with conspicuously liberal gun laws such as Texas and Arizona.
Failure of Prohibition
The dual failure of prohibition — which despite its stated aims in no way curtails one’s ability to get any drug they want in any major U.S. city after about 30 minutes of looking — and the hypocrisy of the United States flooding Mexico with cheap firearms combined to make Mexico, and by extension, the entire border region, less, rather than more, secure.
The price being paid by the citizens of the border regions of Mexico and now, increasingly, to the south in Guatemala, where an even-more fragile state has been overrun by Mexican cartels and their affiliates, calls for a renewed look at the broken policy of drug prohibition and a search for reasonable, responsible alternatives.
During the 1919-33 U.S. prohibition of alcohol, criminal monarchies whose wealth was largely based on supplying the forbidden substance to interested consumers tore a violent swath through the country, with the misplaced puritanism of federal officials providing the atmosphere in which their activities could flourish.
As the largest consumer of narcotics coming from and largest provider of firearms going to Mexico, it is time, in the name of sanity and practicality, that the United States revisit both its drug control and firearms policies to guarantee that the violence ravaging Ciudad Juárez will not be repeated throughout the region and, eventually, in the United States itself.
Michael Deibert is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.
*SOURCE: The Miami Herald – http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/12/22/1984467/us-must-act-to-curb-violence.html