By Joe Campbell
March 4th, 2009
We’re supplying the weapons and funding to both sides in the civil war between the Mexican drug cartels and the central government.
Republican state senator from Arizona, John Paton, is quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times summarizing our relationship with Mexico:
They send us drugs and people, and we send them guns and cash.
Though he probably didn’t intend it so, this remark works on several levels, illustrating how some of our current policies are the largest factors contributing to the destabilization of Mexico.
On the one hand, as Rick Perry, Republican governor of Texas, recently acknowledged:
Many of the guns aimed at Mexican law enforcement passed through our state, as did so many of the dollars funding those violent gangs.
It is estimated that $12 – $15 billion dollars is funneled to Mexico through the illegal drug trade and as James C. McKinley, Jr. in the New York Times reported:
A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.
In addition to weapons from legitimate dealers, some significant number of weapons have apparently been stolen from U.S. military bases and gotten into the hands of the Mexican cartels, which are now more heavily armed than the local police and in some cases, the military. Many members – and indeed, some entire police forces – have been coopted by the cartels through a combination of bribery and violence. Mexico’s former drug czar was arrested for taking bribes from the cartels; the Juarez police chief resigned after the cartels began systematically killing police officers until he resigned; just last week, a top investigative police officer was killed along with 10 members of his family. More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Mexico’s war. Even allowing for politically expedient exaggeration, the fact that a top Mexican cabinet official would claim that the power of the drug cartels has grown to such a level that “the next president of the republic [could] be a narco-trafficker” demonstrates how serious a force the drug cartels are.
At the same time as American dollars and American guns have been powering the cartels, the America government has been funding the Mexican government’s war against the cartels. Most recently, with the Mérida Initiative, American has begun to funnel almost half a billion dollars a year to the Mexican government – most of it in the form of weaponry. A local television station described it as:
a plan to give 1 point four billion dollars in weapons and training to Mexico called the Merida Initiative is still under fire. Critics say arming Mexico could backfire…like it has in the past with other countries. But Kilburn says this plan seems well thought out.
“You are talking about buying heavy equipment, machinery, surveillance helicopters, airplanes and these things are less likely to get in the wrong hands.”
The cartels have taken to smuggling drugs in submarines; they have stolen U.S. army equipement; they often outgun the Mexican police; former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey described the situation:
The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.
But these items we are giving now are “less likely to get in the wrong hands.” I’m relieved.
The violence in Mexico is escalating. The San Francisco Chronicle recently called Mexico:
the latest and most sweeping test of the “too big to fail” imperative as White House policymakers try to steady a shaky world…
Given our current situation – funding and supplying weapons to both sides of this war on our border – it’s hard to see how can prevent Mexico from failing. The gun laws – and enforcement of laws preventing gun smuggling across the border – can be tweaked and made more effective. But this is not enough. We are contributing $400 odd million to combat the cartels and supplying the cartels with tens of billions of dollars at the same time. Yet, we cannot allow these violent gangs to take over Mexico – and we should not countenance their undermining of the rule of law in Mexico. Our prohibitionist approach is failing; our war is failing; what we must do is take a step back and evaluate our Drug War policies from a strategic perspective and see what changes we can make that might help stabilize our neighbor.
Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, is careful not to suggest he supports the decriminalization of marijuana, but the facts he offers do suggest a course of action:
Right now, the item that’s fueling the violent cartels, the murders in Mexico, the cartel wars that are going on right now that have resulted in over 1,000 deaths this year, I think we need to take a very aggressive stand on that and marijuana is the number one producer for the cartels. Sixty to 70 percent of their gross profits comes from marijuana. So, I think we need to look very hard at something we haven’t looked at for years.
Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions.
The report went on to suggest what is beginning to look like the consensus, common-sense approach: if we can’t win while funding both sides of this war, we should try to dry up the source of funding and decriminalize, perhaps even legalize, marijuana.