Thanks to all my peeps who commented on that digital vagabond proposal.
Here is a piece I wrote about the Mexican War on Drugs about a month ago. Never got published, so I figure I’ll drop it right here:
Crystal meth used to be a homegrown, domestically manufactured good ole American drug until the War on Drugs shut it all down and sent the business packing. Now 80% of the meth in the US comes from organized, ruthless Mexican cartels. Meth, one of the nastiest drugs out there, is a globalized product just like any other these days and it is part of the scourge of drug-related violence and corruption that is bringing the Mexican government to its knees.
For years the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ran Mexico and worked together with Colombian cocaine manufacturers and Mexican smuggler to make a killing off of the American addict and “recreationary user”. The PRI and the Colombians lost power in the 1990s and a collection of Mexican cartels has arisen to take their place and deal with the government of the day, President Felipe Calderon’s muscular pro-American administration. Calderon took office in January of 2007 and vowed to root out and destroy the cartels and the corrupt police and government officials that help them rule entire provinces.
His efforts – the mobilization of more than 25,000 Federal troops – has led to thousands of deaths, wars between rival cartels over shrinking territory, attacks on police officials and civilians and widespread intimidation, kidnapping and extortion as the crime bosses fight to maintain control over their billion dollar empires.
The cartels export marijuana, heroine and cocaine as well as meth. They have also branched out into an array of cover industries including shipping, finance and people smuggling. Another lucrative business that helps to fuel the violence is the cross-border trade in guns and ammunition. US authorities estimate that 90% of the weapons confiscated from drug cartels originate in the US. More than 2000 legal gun dealerships have set up shop in the border states of California, Arizona and Texas to take supply the demand.
A vast web of cash, drugs and weapons is strangling Mexico’s economy and making fools out of its leaders even as the current economic crisis forces immigrants (legal and otherwise) to re-consider making a run to the US. General labor jobs, especially in the construction sector, are dwindling and Mexicans who normally rely on the US to pay the bills are looking elsewhere. Some of them become mules for the cartels and others take up jobs as “straw buyers” of weapons and equipment in the US for the cartels to use in their wars against each other and the government.
The situation is exacerbated by brazen corruption in Mexico and not-so-brazen corruption in the US. US Border Patrol agents have been indicted on smuggling and protection charges for the cartels and thousands of Mexican police officers and soldiers defect each year to the cartels. The drug kingpins pay better and the chances of getting killed by police are much lower than getting popped by drug militias like Los Zetas, the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel made up largely of ex-special forces personnel.
Mexico has endured almost 10,000 confirmed drug-related deaths since December 2006 including at least 500 government officials and prosecutors. The crisis is at the center of debates over who should lead the nation come lections later this year. The PRI is advocating a mixed bag of solutions that aim to rub out the problem at its source: demand. Calderon hopes to receive the mandate of the people to continue his war on the cartels and kill them by focusing on supply networks.
Calderon has extradited several big time capos to the US for trial – most notably Gulf Cartel boss Oziel Cardenas – but the arrests have only led to more intense conflict as lower echelon bosses fight for the top spot and targeted cartels, like the shattered Tijuana cartel, make alliances with former enemies and fight up and coming cartels just to stay alive. Calderon also purged almost 300 police and government officials in 2007. His replacement have fared no better. Some are dead, others have gone corrupt and the few remaining find themselves hamstrung by depleted and/or fearful manpower, public mistrust and ruthless well-armed cartels. It’s a bad situation.
Drug cartels control at least seven of Mexico’s 31 states and they routinely reach into the US, neighboring Central American states like Guatemala and as far south as Colombia and Peru. There is also a proven link between the Italian Mafia and the Mexican cartels. US authorities believe they are dealing with one of the most powerful drug organizations ever.
The true power behind the cartels is, of course, American demand. The Government Accountability Office and the National Drug Intelligence Center have estimated that Mexico’s cartels earn upwards of $23 billion in illicit drug proceeds from the United States. In response to Mexican pressure and insistence that this is a “shared problem,” the US Congress devised the Merida Initiative, which proved $1.6billion in technical advice and equipment to Mexico and Guatemala to help fight the War on Drugs. A huge chunk of the money will actually stay in the US and goes into the hands of US defense contractors providing the equipment and training. No cash or weapons will actually flow from the US government into the hands of the Mexican or Guatemalan authorities. The Initiative also makes Mexico accountable for human rights abuses by police, judges and military personnel during the execution of the War on Drugs.
In defiance of a Rand study published during the Clinton years that advocated more money for abusers and less for soldiers, not one cent of the money goes to prevention or treatment of drug abuse in the US.
The rise of the Mexican cartels is just the next phase of the War that began with Panama and Colombia, reverberated through the streets of all major American cities and is now killing Mexico and reaching into small town USA. The needs of the sick and/or bored American leads to deaths across the Americas as vicious groups of businessmen try to fill that need. A possible solution, touted by groups in the US as well as Mexico, is legalization of some drugs and localization of their production.
Americans could also consider leaving the powders alone and sticking to home-grown marijuana and mushrooms. Responsibility for the waves of bloody conflict that have paralyzed the Americas and enriched corrupt politicians and law enforcement officials and destroyed poor (and not so poor) communities lies with us as much as it does with US Border Control and Mexican Federales. Kick coke and meth to the curb and smoke a local pipeful. It will be the least you can do and you might save a life or three.