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 (222 Responses)
  1. outawork

    Mexico = failed state

    November 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
    • tacc2

      So is the USA.

      November 2, 2012 at 11:18 am | Reply
  2. newmexicowriter

    I don't think either of them cares about Hispanic issues. All they want is their vote.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  3. Thoughtful Observer

    It's León Krauze not Leon Krauss

    November 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  4. kwoto

    How much more free stuff are we going to give those people.
    Free School-Good Jobs, let them figure it out for them selves for once.

    November 1, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  5. GDL Resident

    I am a US citizen and now living in GDL, Mexico. I now see the truth. This narco-drug-corruption mess is a partnership between USA and Mexico officials. Mexico supplies the biggest drug market in th world with a product. Explain to me how drugs get into the USA with the best technology in the world "protecting" it's borders. BS!!!! More than 90% of the weapons used by the cartels are USA MADE. C'mon America stop believing all the crap. WAKE UP.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:45 am | Reply
    • paul

      I wouldn't argue with you on any particulars there excepth the part about the worlds best technology protecting our borders, that stuff only gets used in the middleeast they don't care to protect our borders, oh and most weed smoked in the US is grown in the US, as a long time user I can vouch for that, I know the growers

      November 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  6. Jorge

    Needless to say all of you jokers who proudly confess to partaking in drug use are part of the core to the problems people face at the hands of the drug enterprises in South America, Mexico and the U.S. I can't believe you are so self-centered and stupid as to puff up and beam that you buyillegal drugs out of one corner of your mouth, and trash-talk Hispanics and immigrants who are trying to get away from the hunger, crime and corruption in their countries, out of the other. I hope you buy a bag out of a bad batch and end up sick as a dog in an IC unit, then maybe you'll have time to meditate on the internationally expansive implications of your actions.

    November 2, 2012 at 7:29 am | Reply
    • Tom

      Well said.

      November 2, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
    • EndTheFed

      Only Mexicans buy Mexican weed.

      November 2, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
  7. Perskaya01

    1. Legalize drugs. 2. Make all the second-class, druggie citizen losers, I mean users, an enslaved-by-choice workforce. 3. Use the free workers to improve our declining infrastructure. All our problems solved.

    November 2, 2012 at 9:21 am | Reply
    • evn

      yeah lets have drugged citizens build our bridges that sounds safe

      November 2, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply
      • tacc2

        Do you have any idea how many "drugged" citizens have already built your bridges? Not to mention, your roads, your houses, your schools, your computer, your car, etc. Having drugs illegal prevents no one from using them. You can't even tell most drug users are drug users. That is the reality.

        November 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  8. EndTheFed

    It's so simple. Legalize drugs, end the drug war.

    November 2, 2012 at 10:48 am | Reply
    • Person of Interest

      Great idea, nothing like a bunch of Meth heads running around a neighborhood making you feel safe. Obviously, you smoke pot and don't realize there are drugs that make people violent and resistant to pain. Ever try to wrestle a knife away from someone that doesn't realize you broke their arm? (And no I'm not a cop I just used to live in a bad area).

      Same thing happened to 3rd RGR Batt in Somalia, the Somalis were doped up on cot and you could shoot them 3-4 times and if it wasn't in the head they would just get up and keep firing. Flat out legalization won't help matters, for things like pot, it might be the answer but many drugs...not the answer. Good try though, C- for effort.

      November 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
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    November 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  10. robertd188

    Turn them in. Always.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  11. robertd188

    Turn them in and they will lose.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  12. The Master

    Simple because NO ONE CARES what happens to mexico!

    November 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  13. onestarman

    Drug Cartels Invading Our Cities and Threatening to turn Mexico into a Failed State on our southern Border is the Second Biggest national Security Threat for the USA Today. The solution of course would be to STOP the 'War on drugs' and let people grow Pot in their Back Yards rather than Fund Criminals. The BIGGEST Threat to National Security is Headquartered on Wall Street – They STOLE our Homes – Crashed Our Economy and with the help of Coal Barons and Oil Sheikhs just Hit us Harder FINANCIALLY than 9/11 by Flooding the Northeast. This after Burning the Western Forests and Withering Southern Crops and Flooding the Midwest. If TERRORISTS hurt us as Bad as Wall Street they would be in GITMO or Carpet Bombed.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  14. Person of Interest

    There are plenty of ways to shore up our borders, but nobody wants to do them. It's going to take mass casualities spilling over into the US for anyone to do anything. This isn't something that has been going on overnight. The issue is two sided though, the Republicans won't act because doing most of them would require taking away private land from wealth rangers, the Democrats won't because it would require them to shore up the borders and that would essentially halt illegal immigrant workers (which I agree we need). The issue is complex and requires hard decisions. Something no politician in Washington wants his name attached to.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  15. robertd188

    Drugs are lose-lose. You will never make money trafficking drugs. You will harm your health and harm others with your sales, including children. Drugs ruin lives. Drugs ruin nations.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply
    • Read Facts

      Really? So if I understand you correctly, Budweiser, Jack Beam and RJ Reynolds have destroyed this country? If so, who are all of those millions buying those companies' drugs?

      November 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
      • robertd188

        Most of the world's nations have made the same choices as we in the US have: make some drugs illegal. So they agree with me not you lol. And it's a science thing. Modern medicine says "no" to illegal drugs.

        November 2, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
      • Jazzy

        robertd188 you are ignorant and pathetic.

        November 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  16. robertd188

    Mexico is a horrible disaster, and unfortunately its just getting started.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  17. machogavacho

    Mexico will return to normal. American kids buy weed, adults buy meth and coke, and Mexican elite, police and military leaders profit. It worked fine for decades and will return. Don't like it, tell your kids why they shouldn't go down that path instead of the just say no BS. Pena Prieto will do what Mexican presidents have done for decades. Sit down with leaders of Cartels, carve out territories on a map, tell them what the tax will be, and set ground rules – don't sell local (only USA), don't bother the average citizen, etc. Follow the rules and we see nothing. Break them and the military will interfere in your business. As long as Americans buy, nothing will change.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • Read Facts

      "As long as Americans buy, nothing will change." Actually, as long as there'is drug-prohibition, nothing will change.

      November 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
    • robertd188

      Mexico not only will not "return to normal", it is going to get a lot worse. Barbarism. Complete breakdown and tragedy. What you don't understand is that the political liability for what is happening, and much more so for what is yet to come, is growing exponentially. There is a lag time between cause and effect in politics. History books are being written...about the wholesale destruction of Mexico by a colossus.

      November 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  18. Read Facts

    Sorry Fareed, but absent from your narrative was 1 word about prohibition. You called it "drug violence", which in fact, is nothing of the sort. It's drug-law violence, and until that phrase and the word "prohibition" are used in the narrative, the US and the world will be stuck on stupid and continue to allow for this insanity all because of dried plants and the jobs created by sustaining their demonization.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      Great point. It makes people think the violence is caused by taking the drugs. It is violence related to territorial battles due to the black market nature of drugs. Al Capone was not guilty of "alcohol violence", he violently defended his bootlegging territory.

      November 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  19. Steve

    Legalizing drugs would weaken the cartels more than any other action. It would immediately transfer the revenue they generate to legitimate businesses here in the US/abroad. I've heard the argument that the cartels will simply step up kidnappings or other crime to fill the gap. That is ridiculous and in itself not a good reason to discount legalization. There is nothing they could do to fill in that gap. They could recover a small portion through other crime but they would forever be much smaller. The illicit nature of the drugs and the demand together is what gives them their value, with the illicit nature having a great magnifying effect. A pound of apples is about $2. A pound of pot, which is easier and cheaper to grow, is thousands for a pound, and only because it is illegal.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  20. Alan

    UHHHHH maybe because it's not our freaking country so we shouldn't worry about it. Let them solve their own problems.

    November 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  21. rudy espinoza

    Matt you are a bobafide MORON. Congratulations for taking the gold medal of the most profusely confused little minds. In Satan's eyes you da man, he's got you held with a little rope, and move you like a puppet. You ought to find your conscience. Now this is beyong human thinking, and far deeper than the demonic thoughts that control you.

    November 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  22. rudy espinoza

    Hey Matt , Yo.. dog, hey really, think just diminutely for a few seconds: so many deaths in so many places affecting so many families and childre. Man I'm sorry if you was hurt as a child or at any time. Look, there has to be some sense inside your mind. Think of so many, thousands and thousands of victimized women and children and so on. Jut your disparating comments deserve special attention. We'll be praying for you Bubba.

    November 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  23. albert

    Of course its being ignored, I live near Port Angles WA state and the DEA just built a $6 million plush office for 42 agents that have nothing to do but harass the Spanish looking people who live in the area, they need to close the office down, keep one and send the others to the Mex border

    November 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  24. rudix

    That we dont care that our kids are dying from drugs...all will come back to us from the back door...OBAMA said he will wipe the opium fields in Afghanistan...did he do anything???NOP NOP NOP where are the news to remind him......2012 is not tomorrow...it today and soon
    Thanks
    Read THE DIMENSION MACHINE

    November 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  25. us_1776

    Want to solve the stupid War on Drugs?

    LEGALIZE and TAX NOW !!

    Problem solved. No more cartels. No more money flowing out of the country into the hands of criminals.

    .

    November 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  26. Jazzy

    Stop the war on drugs. It is the most pointless war ever waged. People will always want to do recreational drugs and they will always be able to find them no matter what. I enjoy using drugs to enhance my life experiences and so do millions of other people. Worry about murderers and rapists instead.

    November 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Reply
    • Robert

      You've got ____ for brains.

      November 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
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