Why is Mexico drug war being ignored?
October 30th, 2012
07:04 PM ET

Why is Mexico drug war being ignored?

By Ted Galen Carpenter, Special to CNN

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of nine books on international affairs, including the just released The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America. The views expressed are his own.

A striking feature of the presidential debate on foreign policy was the total lack of attention given to Latin America –notably the drug violence wracking our next door neighbor, Mexico. Nearly 60,000 people have perished since 2006 in the Mexican government’s military-led offensive against the country’s powerful, ruthless drug cartels. But while President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both obsessed about the Middle East, they virtually ignored Washington’s relations with our southern neighbors. After a brief observation from Romney near the start of the debate that the region offered important – and neglected – economic opportunities for the United States, both candidates quickly abandoned the Western Hemisphere.

That was extraordinarily myopic. Given its geographic proximity, historical ties, and mounting importance as an arena for trade and investment, Latin America should be high on Washington’s diplomatic and economic agenda. And near the top of the national security agenda should be the alarming developments involving the drug violence in Mexico.

Killings continue to rise, and hardly a week passes without a new report of grisly acts south of the border. Portions of several key cities, especially Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey, are now virtual war zones. The Mexican government’s control is becoming precarious in major swaths of territory, including the crucial northern states of Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, and Tamaulipas. Several of the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel and the ultra-violent Zetas, pose a threat to the integrity of the Mexican state.

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Equally troubling, the turmoil in Mexico is spreading to Central America and beginning to seep over the border into the United States. One would think that such a national security problem would merit some attention from the incumbent president and the man who aims to replace him.

Indeed, Mexican opinion leaders were justifiably miffed at the failure to address the drug war. Prominent journalist Leon Krauss’s widely circulated tweet summarized the frustration. “Mexico, facing 100,000 deaths, neighbor to the United States, didn’t deserve a single mention tonight. A disgrace.”

Mexico’s problems with the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas are now plaguing the countries of Central America. According to Leonel Ruíz, Guatemala’s federal prosecutor for narcotics offenses, the Zetas had gained control of nearly half of Guatemala’s territory. Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice president of Costa Rica, suggest the figure is about 40 percent.

The cartels’ penetration of Honduras and El Salvador has also reached the point that in significant portions of those countries governmental control is eroding or already nonexistent. El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, admits that the Zetas successfully bribe elite police units with $5,000 monthly payments to cooperate with the cartel and to steal high-powered weapons and grenades from the military. Honduran President Porfirio Lobo argues that in his country, drug gang members now outnumber police officers and soldiers.

Even Costa Rica, long an enclave of democracy and stability in the region, has come under growing pressure. The drug trade there is more prominent than ever before, and the Obama administration for the first time put that country on the official list of “major drug transit or major drug-producing countries.”

Most importantly, Mexico’s troubles are also beginning to afflict the United States. According to law enforcement authorities, Mexican drug organizations now have ties to criminal gangs in at least 230 American cities, including all of the 50 largest cities. The cartels’ presence now even extends to relatively small cities and, in some cases, to rural counties – and not just in the southwestern states, but portions of the South, the Midwest, and other regions.

People in impoverished Mexican-American communities along the border are feeling the menace of drug cartel enforcers. As Associated Press correspondent Paul Weber reported from Fort Hancock, Texas: “When black SUVs trail school buses around here, no one dismisses it as routine traffic. And, as I've noted before, when three tough-looking Mexican men pace around the high school gym during a basketball game, no one assumes they’re just fans…Mexican families fleeing the violence have moved here or just sent their children, and authorities and residents says gangsters have followed them across the Rio Grande” in a campaign of intimidation.

Even Anglo populations along the border are becoming nervous. Complaints are surging from ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas that intruders use their properties with impunity as routes to enter the United States. And the level of fear is rising as more and more of the uninvited seem to be involved in drug smuggling rather than being ordinary people looking for work and better lives in the United States.

While Romney and Obama obsess about Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and virtually every development in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, we have a significant security problem brewing much closer to home. Yet that issue did not merit even a single sentence in a presidential debate supposedly devoted to foreign policy. That is a classic case of blind spots and misplaced priorities. But the candidate elected president on November 6 will not have the luxury of ignoring the drug violence on our southern border.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Drugs • Latin America • Mexico • United States

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soundoff (218 Responses)
  1. dd

    Why is the media ignoring the Drug Gangs in the US? Why is the mainstream news media ignoring Obama's Chicago? 10 shootings per day by the drug gangs, one innocent kid murdered each week by the drug gangs. No cop dare take down a drug gang member less Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama come to town and crucify the cop for taking out one of them!! And the poor people in the neighborhoods will vote Democrat again while they watch their children slaughtered. That should be the headline – Chicago Blacks support Democrats who support the killing of their kids!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
  2. Brent Slensker

    Ted Galen Carpenter, WHY would anyone listen to a CATO "Think tank" fear-mongerer i.e. Koch boy like you? Your handlers aren't making enough money off of fear at the border yet?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  3. Marc Chamot

    Because Barack Obama refuses to secure the Southern borders, so as to keep illegal immigrants coming into the U.S for welfare support and future Democrat voters....

    November 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  4. Retired

    I can speak from experience. I just retired after over thirty years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration with assignments throughout the southwest U.S., Mexico, Central America, and South America.Trust me, I can speak with authority on this issue. They are ignoring the drug issue because it's President Nixon's War on Drug that just won't go away. There are several big issues here: 1. The complicity and total corruption of Mexico's national, state, and local government officials, including elected, military, and police. The place is rotten to the core, but it is politically incorrect to say that. 2. The U.S. Government's "special handling" of Mexican issues. We won't tell the Mexicans directly that they are rotten to the core and we know it. Mexico is the famous "Emperor with No Clothes" yet we won't call them down on it. We can threaten Iran or North Korea, but Mexico continues to get "special handling". 3. Our failure to deport illegal aliens in large numbers, many of whom are drug traffickers or complicit in the drug business. 4. Our failure to push Mexico to locate and arrest Joaquin Guzman aka/Chapo, who is their highest level trafficker. If we can locate Osama and Seal Team 6 can terminate him, we can do the same with Chapo. 5. No followup on Mexican arrests: We see each week the Mexican police officials parade arrestees and cartel members before TV cameras to announce more arrests, but there is no tracking mechanism that can tell you where they are the next day in the criminal justice system. For all we know, they could be released the next day.

    The bottom line here is that an enormous number of Mexicans, Mexican immigrants, and illegal immigrants from Mexico are heavily involved in drug trafficking and no one wants to deal with that because they might be called racists.

    I recall reading a report from an office in Colombia two years ago where a high level Colombian trafficker who was under arrest told our personnel that "when we started dealing with the Mexicans, we were appalled by their greed". Isn't that ironic....the pot calling the kettle black.

    Like Vietnam and Afghanistan, this is a war that was lost long ago. It is time to legalize weed, tax it to death, declare a victory and go home. My closing comment is that Mexico is our biggest national security threat and always has been.

    November 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    • Sweetiepie

      Sir, YOU are so wrong to say that 'an enormous' amount of immigrants are drug cartel members, you really have no authority to say that, everyone knows it is pure B.S. I am full blown Mexican and I have never met a single drug cartel member here in the U.S or in Mexico. Secondly from many reports I have read, I have come to understand that Colombia's drug lords are far more ruthless. Anyways, immigration is down to net zero, and in case you have not kept up with news lately, Mexico is actually getting a better economy, slowly but surely. Look it up. It is part of the reason immigration is at an all time low.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  5. eamon

    Hello???? Because you end up in a box? Mexico, in my opinion (obviously; LOL) is a failed state. This is the sad FACT,whether or not the powers that be want to admit it. It is so obvious that it makes you wince. "Mejico lindo." ¿Dónde te has ido? OK "¡VIVA ZAPATA!"

    November 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  6. Bruce Rubin

    The drug cartels control the police and large parts of the government in Mexico.

    November 4, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
  7. Tim

    Drugs are already legal in the US. Pain killers are supplied to millions of adults under the guise of medication. Many are people who do not need it. They are addicted and still have enough to sell some to others who are then addicted. Your friends and neighbors are heroin addicts, oxy C addicts, etc,, They can not afford Pot so rely on the hard drugs supplied by the government. Housewives have been addicted to methamphetamines for years but call them diet pills. The affluent have always had access to narcotics but justify their abuse by calling it medication. What a bunch of hippocrits we are.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:18 am | Reply
  8. Tim

    I guess my point is that the $ involved with the "legal" drugs are why no outcry has been heard here regarding them. The illegal drugs coming from and thru Mexico undermine legitimate drug $ales so have generated a huge response in the form of the drug war. Why our leaders do not wish to talk about it is because, I think, they do not wish to open the debate regarding our drug culture and the legitimate $uppliers we protect and who fund thier campaigns.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  9. U.S. Citizen

    I cannot believe that many people post on here that they believe drugs should be legal. (Thats what we need is for crack heads to openly use crack anywhere, among your children and all) Alcohol is legal and you dont like drunks running around freely do you? They cause many problems among society, drunk driving, violence, ect. Legalizing drugs would just make it worse. A crack head is much worse than a drunk, (Legalizing drungs won't stop a crack head from sucking dick for crack lol) I believe the answer is a full scale war against these drug cartels and their leaders eliminated. I am aware that other cartels would just rise up and take their place but we shouldn't wait until they are too powerful to pose a much greater risk than they already do. The artical said that they have taken over many countries in Central America all ready. They should be treated as the same threat as terrorism and they border us! They cross over our borders and so does their violence! Many U.S. lives have been lost already yet no serrious action has been taken against this threat.

    November 6, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Reply
    • Denverboy

      You are right of course a crack head is worse than a drunk BUT..and this is a huge BUT..If we made drugs legal...Then treatment would be a vialble option instead of PRISON..How meny drunks go to jail for possesion of Booze ? Yea OK...So you see there would be options vialble and OPEN for these addicted people to recieve help..
      I personaly do not think HARD DRUGS should be legal..BUT another huge BUT...More people are addicted to DRUGS PRESCRIBED TO THEM..BY THERE DOCTORS IN AMERICA THAN ALL ILLEGAL DRUGS..COMBINED....So you see..we already support a form of legalization of drugs in AMerica..Except these drugs come from HUGE PHARMACUTICAL COMPANIES...and are dispensed in Pharmacies across or Nation..In other words Big Political FRIENDS are makeing Money..and in AMerica ..Thats enough to turn a blind eye to whats going on..Now..Illegal drugs or lets just say NON-CONTROLED drugs could be made legal..Thereby taking 98% of the Market AWAY from the Cartels...Poof..Gone is there income..Cartels are Banking on the fact that American Politicians and business leaders will keep the WAR ON DRUGS going so they can reap huge profits in the BLACK MARKET..
      Im not advocating Heroin or Coke or Meth...But with the slaughter of Innocent lives just SOuth of our Borders and Cartels seeping into our Cities and towns across this Nation...Our ongoing DRUG WAR...well it's a dismal DEFEAT...and Mexico is paying the price for Americas FAILURE...Americas CONSUMPTION...AMERICAS POLITICS..It's insane...

      November 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  10. Steve Arnold

    I am an American living in a small town, here in Mexico....This report is so false....I dont see anything going on here like what he is saying...

    November 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
    • Denverboy

      and what did you say your source of income was in Mexico ????

      November 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  11. U.S. Citizen

    STEVE ARNOLD- Are you sure your not getting Mexico confused with Canada? Im curious as to what small Mexican town you live in. Do you really beleive this isnt going on? If your town isnt in northern Mexico then you should take a trip there, near the border, spend a couple of days there and tell us what you see.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:47 am | Reply
  12. Lisa

    If you read the "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein, it is entirely possible that the USA is just letting this region get so out of control that it urgently needs major intervention from the USA to stabilize it, and then use that pretense to enact its 'surgical' measures of rebuilding the countries and economies as they wish for their own benefit. After seeing what has happened before in South America under their tutelage and what is now going on with Greece and Spain, it would not surprise me in the least. By doing this, the US would gain control over its closest neighbors, their massive oil wealth in Mexico, and be better able to control its immigration from the other side as well as this side. Then they could get Mexico to pay for our immigration problem – actually it should! – but the big mulitnationals and the politicians would benefit the most, as usual. Read up on this and tell me it doesn't make perfect sense!! Very scary but very true!

    November 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  13. Denverboy

    We could intervene..If Mexico would allow AMerican soldiers ..We could take back the border towns..Arresting Cartels leaders and memebers is a no show tatic..We try and deal with the Problem at our border from afar..Thru the Court system..The Cartels are not impressed...
    One big factor would be to strangle there money flow..and to do that we need to leagalize POT Nationaly...This would put a huge crinmp in the Mexican Cartels opperation fund...Our War on Drugs has failed because we (AMERICA)like back in the 20's and 30's have created a BLACK MARKET for drug use..and over the course of fourty five plus years have watched these smuggelers merge and remerge into Huge CARTELS with vast Money and influance...All the while hoping Meico would do SOMTHING about our Problem...Well they have not because our Home CONSUMPTION has not abated one bit...The Cartels are RICH BECAUSE OF AMERICA they are DANGEROUS BECAUSE OF AMERICA...Our War On Drugs Has assured this outcome...We have created the Murduring thugs that terrorize the Northern Mexican countryside...
    Why is it ignored by the Politicians ?? Because they KNOW there WAR ON DRUGS is a disgrace..They know there is only ONE COURSE OF ACTION..left to America and Mexico..yet they refuse to make that mental concession because of fear of Backlash ....Americas war on drugs has painted Washington into a corner..more like they have done that to themseves...and we either begin to realize that we could Put boots on the Ground in Mexico (IF ASKED) and or reevaluate what we are trying to accomplish...Beyond having Law enforment Pose with Bales of Pot or Bricks of Coke as a poster child for the legitimatcy of our Drug War...We have not taken a look at this POLICy since it's inception..Yes way back in the 70's....we have plodded along spending Hundreds of Millions for basicly ZERO GAIN...and now tens of thousands of lost lives across the border...
    If Mexico Legalized Pot as did America..The cartels money flow would be CUT IN HALF almost overnight..thats less money for them to bribe less for them to buy guns less for them to employ there murduring thugs...With a weakened Cartels....Perhaps a joint mission along the US Mexican border would be a success.....But that would require the UNITED STATES and MEXICO to look at POT in a different light.and for meny on either side of the Border well thats just worse than thousands of DEAD...and Money FAT Cartels...Killing innocent people at will...
    WE HAVE TO HAVE OUR PRIORITIES NOW DONT WE....but are they the correct ones....

    November 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  14. lweba

    No the war is not being ignored, 'It is said if you can't win them join them'. America is fighting the war by legalizing the drugs!

    November 7, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  15. Tata

    Lol, funny comments.

    April 15, 2013 at 8:14 am | Reply
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