November 25, 2012

South o' the Border

(Click on photo for interesting statistics)
Every once in a while the 'drug war' in Mexico makes the news here in the U.S., usually on the heels of some really nasty gun battle between cartel and government forces or between the cartels themselves as they battle for control of key 'plazas', the townships along the U.S.-Mexico border through which illicit drugs, people, and contraband are transported into the U.S. market. The issue largely fell by the wayside in our media during our Presidential election but that doesn't mean it went away. On the contrary, it is as troubling a situation as ever and seems poised to become an even more challenging threat to the U.S. proper in the months and years ahead. 

When Calderon, the PAN nominee, won the Mexican Presidency in 2006, it was the first time in 70 years that the PRI party lost control of national power. On entering office, Calderon initiated an aggressive war against the controls, largely waged with national military forces since local police departments had become so corrupted or cowed into submission by the Cartels. During the war, Mexico suffered in excess of 35,000 deaths with some estimates much higher. Though advances were made against the Cartels, public outcry about the increased violence steadily mounted much like U.S. public concerns about our casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan influences U.S. operations in those countries. This past summer, the PRI regained control of the Presidency with their man, Enrique Peña Nieto, set to take office next month. Among the many promises made during the campaign was one devoted to reducing the level of violence, something the public seized hold of. Of course this begs the question 'how?' but that doesn't seem to have mattered much in practical terms. One would have to believe that either the cartels will reduce, if not cease, their destructive behavior or the government will somehow magically find a way to bring them to heel...but of which seem highly improbable. I think what will actually happen is that the government will withdraw from its aggressive efforts against the cartels thus resulting in reduced violence if only because the cartels won't have to combat government forces. The actual effect will be to cede large swathes of Mexico to Cartel control thus cementing Cartel presence and control. Short term win, long-term loss.

For those interested in the issue, Stratfor has the go-to graphic used by everyone else:
Business Insider has a very interesting post that shows how Cartel control of Mexico has expanded since the mid-1990s.

The two best blogs I've found that track this issue are Borderland Beat and the Los Angeles Times' Mexico Under Siege. Readers should know that Borderland Beat does not shy from the graphic truth of the drug war; it's photos/postings can be quite disturbing. The Economist also tracks the issue here

Much has been written here in the U.S. regarding the best approach to solving this problem, whether it's a supply issue (implying operations to stop the source of drugs at their point of origin), a trafficking issue (go after the Cartels and related gangs, improve border control, etc.), or a demand issue (address the problem of drug use in America). Any real solution will have to address all three issues, of course. Our national budget woes will certainly effect our efforts vis-a-vis supply and trafficking. Our cultural woes will effect our approach vis-a-vis demand, i.e. so long as our society tacitly approves of a drug culture (in our entertainment and academic sectors, especially) I think it unlikely we'll see any significant progress in this area.

The recent votes in Colorado and Washington to legalize 'recreational use' of marijuana certainly weren't helpful.

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