Our neighbors to the south have not faired too well recently, as violent drug warfare has raged in Mexico. Issues with the drug war began escalating four years ago when President Felipe Calderon took office. He made it his mission to crack down on the drug cartels by using the force of the police and military. However, this has led to over 34,600 deaths total since 2006, and the largest toll this past year (2010) with 15,237 drug cartel related deaths. This issue close to home is gaining steam in the media, since just last week a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent was killed. The issue is spilling over the U.S. border with Mexico into parts of Texas and the southwestern states.
Part of the change in approach to the drug cartels has to do with the American training of the Mexican military, as the U.S. is currently working closely with the Mexican government to combat the crime issue. The U.S. has pledged a commitment to the Merida Initiative, which is a long-term plan to fund crackdowns on drug and other illegal activity in Mexico and Central America, because security in this region is crucial for U.S. national security. This initiative, started by the Bush administration, is being expanded by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and has a goal of $331 million to help reorganize control over the hardest hit violent areas. It has reached the point that the State Department has allowed consulate workers to evacuate their families from the most volatile cities, like Ciudad Juarez.
The new money being funded into Mexico to fight the drug wars is changing its purpose from military advancement to strengthening civilian police and other civilian outlets. As a result of the violence, news organizations and the media have stopped functioning normally out of fear of vengence from drug traffickers. Therefore, it is difficult to gain a perfect picture of exactly the atrocities that are going on in the northern Mexican cities.One has to wonder how well-natured efforts to shut down drug cartels have managed to lead Mexico into more disarray, not less. Also, despite efforts from the U.S., it seems like law enforcement is losing this fight, and losing it fast. What does this mean for cities like El Paso, Texas, that lie directly across the border from Ciudad Juarez?
The core issue has to do with the fact that because President Calderon has been killing off cartel members over the past couple of years, the gangs have heightened their recruitment of youth to join their drug gangs. Being part of the cartels offers these youths an escape from poverty and some level of protection. Maquiladoras, or factories, have been closing down partially because of the recession, and they do not pay very much in the first place, making the cartel life very appealing for easy money.
We have an obligation, if not only for our national security but the general security and well-being of North America, to bring this issue to a head and take control quickly. Whether this means an even larger school crackdown, or reshaping political life or economic issues in Mexico, the violence in that region is a problem worth noting, even if its subtle continuation flies under the radar in most newspapers and headlines.