Something awful is enveloping the proud Mexican nation south of our borders. A vicious and dangerous war between the Mexican government and drug cartel warlord armies have since 2006 taken the lives of over 28,000 Mexicans, and with no end in sight, threatens to extend its spasm of violence across the porous American border. This under reported war is approaching the ferocity and brutality of a fight to the death survival match that puts at risk the Mexican republic and its fragile economy in a way thought inconceivable but a few years ago.
The New York Times reports a recent battle that took place a mere 18 miles from the American border that had all the makings of a modern war battle between two well stocked armies. The United States has long flourished under the ability to maintain thousands of miles of undefended borders with previously peaceful neighbors of Canada to the north and Mexico to the south respectively. This has been the presumed status of the borders since the exploits of Mexican bandelero and peasant hero Pancho Villa’s incursions into the United States in 1916, and the U.S. ill-conceived reaction with General John Pershing’s expeditionary force that unsuccessfully searched northern Mexico for him throughout 1916 into 1917. World War I’s expansion mercifully brought the American expedition to a halt, and relative peace has existed ever since. That peace is now in peril, particularly along Mexico’s northeast border with Texas, where some of the most vicious fighting just across from El Paso has occurred. In Arizona, the refugee response is imperilling the local economies and social systems to absorb, and on several occasions, armed violence has spread across the border with the murder of border ranchers who have managed to “get in the way” in an effort to defend their homes.
The origins of the war are complex and involve the United States from many angles. The first is reflective of the insatiable appetite for south and central American drugs in American society that makes the transport and sale of such “crops” a enormously lucrative and powerful draw for Mexican crime cartels to take the associated risks they are now taking. The second is the porous border that the U.S. has neglected for decades and allows, in addition to the 12 million illegal laborers that have crossed it, the presence of a steady group of drug smugglers that feast on innocent people to act as mules for the drug contraband. Third, the ironic success of the Colombian government with the help of the United States starting in 2002 to stamp out what was once the temple of narco-terrorism in Columbia , has forced the redirection of the traffic and tactics of the narco-terrorists into Mexico. Fourth, the government of President Felipe Calderon declared war on the Mexican cartels from a position of significantly less strength than the Colombian Uribe. Calderon’s government has been much more susceptible to intimidation and in some cases corrupt officials that have undermined the goals of utilizing the professional Mexican army against his own nation’s well armed thugs. The death totals are staggering in the nation seen as the U.S.’s neighbor and prominent economic trading partner.
The battle may yet require the concerted action of U.S. forces now patrolling the border with Mexico and this runs untoward risks with unclear outcomes between the two long standing neighbor countries. The United States is best served by standing well clear of any effort to “assist” the Mexican government in a military fashion (see Pershing’s folly), and at the same time focusing on returning the respect for law and governance on its own territory, by being firm on drug laws, firm on the rights of citizenry, and firm on the role a border plays in the preservation of a country’s nationhood. As for Mexico, the struggle is deep rooted, structural, and tied to the tradition of a lack of governmental agencies, corruption free, with integrity the population can trust. In a world where the bandelero and the local federal officer vie for the bribe, and the central government is powerless to defend the citizen against either, the citizen has little choice but to keep his head down, let the two battle it out for supremacy, and hope all along that they simply kill each other off and leave him alone. Not exactly the scenario that promises a early end to a devastating war.