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Mexico Travel Warnings

The civil war taking place on our southern border--and make no mistake about it that the conflict in Mexico is so unstable and deadly to merit such a title--has prompted the United States Department of State to issue new warnings against traveling to many parts of Mexico. In 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón dispatched several thousand soldiers to the state of Michoacán to put a halt to drug violence in the area, ending the passive stance that the federal government had taken towards the powerful drug cartels for over a decade. The initial crackdown has now escalated into an all-out war, with various factions killing over 36,000 people. On the one hand you have the fight between the Mexican federal government and the drug cartels, and on the other you have the cartels fighting each other for control of territory and supplies. The cartels are in control of huge areas of Mexico, including many cities, and very often it is the case that local police forces are corrupted and aiding the cartels against the federal military. Over a dozen town mayors and hundreds of prosecutors and police have been assassinated. 

While certain states in Mexico had previously managed to remain relatively free from the Drug War, the new State Department travel warning highlights how the situation in these states is rapidly deteriorating. Most surprising on the list now is Sonora, the second largest state in Mexico, located on our border in northwestern Mexico. It is a state that I am very familiar with; a branch of my family is fairly prominent in state politics and business there and I have traveled in and around Hermosilio, the state capital, often throughout my life (I even had a few-days stay at their local hospital about a decade ago, courtesy of a ruptured appendix during spring break). Sonora now joins the list of areas in Mexico under travel warning-- any nonessential travel there should be avoided. The Mexican government is losing the Drug War.

If anyone believes that this is not America's problem, they should note that of the 15,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico last year, at least 111 were American. Americans are routinely being robbed and carjacked in Mexico, and the violence has been spilling over into our border towns. Much of the cartels' revenue stream comes from their business in the United States, where they acquire illegal arms and sell nearly all of their drugs (the Mexican cartels are now responsible for trafficking 90% of the cocaine entering the US, generating billions of dollars a year). In addition to the illegal gun and drug trade that they are engaged in, human trafficking (modern day slavery, usually sexual in nature) is a growing and lucrative business for the cartels. This is our problem, and as Mexico continues to destabilize we will continue to suffer grave threats to our national security. I would note that if the cartels can get such large quantities of money, humans, guns, and drugs back and forth over the border, it is not out of the realm of possibility for terrorists to figure out their way back and forth either.

Unmanned American drones are currently being used to help in Mexico, and various parts of the American government and military are working closely with the Mexican government to help against these cartels. But it is not enough; more needs to be done. Ties between our military and the Mexican military need to be strengthened; a greater drug strategy for the entire Western hemisphere needs to be a foreign policy priority; border security needs to be stepped up; and, yes, money should be spent on training Mexican officials, engaging in public diplomacy in Mexico, and helping fund programs to increase cooperation in Mexico. Even in these days of deep debt, using resources against the cartels in the Mexican Drug War is a national security priority that should be fully funded. The costs of letting it drag on and watching our southern neighbor deteriorate further into chaos will be far greater than a few more lines to our debt.
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Discussions - 14 Comments

Maybe you're not aware that the Zetas are a result of "closer ties" between our military and the Mexican military. they were originally federal police who were trained by our military, in the U.S., in special forces skillsets to impact the cartels.
The problem is much deeper then "closer ties" will solve. There is an elite in Mexico histoprically linked to the Spanish and French occupation of Mexico, and this elite has a strangle hold on the vast natural reources in Mexico, and on the large amountsof arable agricultural space. This same elite has beaten down the native populations, and through neglect, and occasionally agressive tactics, has built a huge population of poor and hopeless people. The results are migration north to a better life, and corruption on a massive scale amongst the population that gets it's hands dirty running the nuts and bolts of the country.
The Zetas were pulled from the ranks of the poor, given excellent training and then decided to grab their share of the pie. First they became cartel enforcers, and then cartel competitors. They are trained on a par with our Delta operators, who provided much of their training.

Take a pill. Prior to the recent unpleasantness, Mexico had a homicide rate of about 13 per 100,000 per annum. The violence to which you refer has claimed about 36,000 lives in the last four years. In a country Mexico's population, that would render the homicide rate about 21 per 100,000 per annum. I spent 17 years of my life in cities where the homicide rate exceeded that. Neither I nor any of my neighbors conceived of ourselves as living in a war zone. By way of comparison, homicide rates in Colombia have at times exceeded 60 per 100,000. El Salvador suffered a civil war during the period between 1979 and 1992; deaths attributable just to political violence exceeded 100 per 100,000 during those years. Mexico is suffering a situation very like an insurgency in the provinces on its northern tier. The country is not in a civil war.

By the way, we've be 'losing the war on drugs' for about 25 years now (if we are all to believe the likes of Eleanor Clift and Michael Massing). Somehow, we are still standing.

Our war on drugs isn't an actual fight that is destabilizing local and state governments and causing us to stumble upon dozens of decapitated bodies every few days. Yeah, we have our problems with illicit drugs, human trafficking, and illegal guns, but not on the same scale. The Mexican Government has lost and is losing control of its sovereign territory, high-profile public officials are being murdered with impunity, journalists who speak out end up missing, and the violence is spilling over into our territory. While it is not yet a conflict on the scale of the civil wars you mentioned, the fact that these cartels control territory and are being fought by regular military forces I think meets the criteria for such a designation. However, as Iraq and Afghanistan have sort of brought about a more well-defined usage of insurgency, I suppose that word would be a better one until places like the vacation spots (Cabo, Cancun, etc.) and Mexico City (surprisingly relatively free of drug war violence) get dragged into the fight.

macleod- Good point on the Zetas and excellent point on the historical corruption in Mexico. That is why we have to do more than just work with their military-- we need to work with their people (or, rather, show the government how to work with its people in this regard, as it shouldn't be us doing the hard work there). Continuing with Art's description of it as an insurgency vs an all-out civil war, I think helping them to employ some of the same tactics from General Petraeus's counterinsurgency book in the Middle East would be beneficial in helping get to the roots of the Mexican problem.

Yes, Spanish colonialism is the gift that keeps on giving, but what Mexico had before the Conquista (the bloodthirsty Aztec empire) wasn't exactly egalitarian or progressive. It should be remembered that Cortez' NATIVE allies were an important part of his victory.

But it is true that income inequality is extremely high in Mexico (as it is in most of Latin America). I really don't think it's a simple matter of political reform - something a quick revolution would solve. The whole culture is intensely hierarchical. I favor protecting "gringo" culture and letting these folks solve their own problems.

I'd also note that of the 36,000 killed in drug-related violence over the past four years, 15,000 were killed in 2010 alone. That is up 60% from the previous year, and it is more deaths than in Iraq (about 4,000) and Afghanistan (about 2,000) in 2010. The violence is escalating.

I really like this post and both the comments. Today I tend more towards Art Deco, but back in 2002 when I was much more libertarian, I wrote a decent paper/accumulated a lot of sources, and essentially had the vision (boosted by traffic, as Sikkenga pointed out) that our war on drugs would almost invariably lead to oligarchy/cartels.

The basic premise is that if drugs were completly legal and unregulated, you would have perfect competition and the price premium on growing drugs would eventually dwindle, and command no more of a commodity premium than sugar or cotton. As you impose layers of law(admin law?) you essentially erect barriers to entry. When supply goes down and demand remains constant, price goes up ceteris paribus. Supply goes down by busting the easiest/dumbest targets, there is darwinian survival of the fittest which means that firms begin to form cartels in order to defend and protect the product. You need communication equipment, guns, bullets, transportation, bribeable officers. The war on drug supply continues, but so long as demand remains constant, everything you do legally is simply passed on as the cost of doing business, especially since demand is short-term inelastic. But what you do accomplish is cartels/ganster oligopoly.

We know the cartels might fight each other, but if the US does strike at the cartels then you create terrorism. You fuck with us, we kill you, also the cartels have a network in the U.S. that is predominately the Latin Kings. The drugs come up 277 hit 44 and from St. Louis branch into the heartland, stretching all the way up to detroit. At best you simply eliminate a cartel, you simply make the other cartels stronger. It is like taking out Lybia from Oil production, Sure Chavez has solidarity with Lybia, but higher oil prices as a result works for him. Knock Nigeria out of production, good for Kuwait and Russia.

Nothing to say that a cartel couldn't bribe the mexican government to target other cartels. The war on drugs simply functionally acts to create an OPEC. Mexico became a drug state simply out of geographical economics. What we probably need to do to fight the deficit is look into legalizing some of these drugs. The relief on the prison system, and the destruction of the Latin King infrastructure and logistics development could be well worth it.

Plus the Latin Kings account for a good chunk of homicide as well. I did some work on prison rape that involved the Latin Kings tattoo, and while for the brief I defended the prison guard, I found it credulous that the prison guard would not have known that tattoo. I remember seeing that tattoo on a regular basis when I played poker in Oklahoma at the Casino in New Castle (this is part of how I guessed(pure speculation legally) that drugs are comming up 277 hitting 44 and then branching to the rest of the country.

Furthermore, not to be racist or a bad man of the law, but mexicans usually play 1-2 poker if at all, this guy was playing 2-5 and loosing thousands on a regular basis, like it was nothing.(perhaps also the key to being a good proffessional poker player, find the drug money.) After playing in Vegas and going broke I am not so sure how good I ever was, I think I hit it at the bubble, and in hindsight my going broke in Vegas predicted the crash(at that point it was pure shark.) But there is big poker money to be made in Oklahoma. 1) idiot soldiers, back from Iraq with bank 2) unsophisticated locals 3) mexican cartel drug money? Latin Kings! But there are also some really strong poker players in Oklahoma.

I wouldn't want to screw with the Latin Kings, and as a poker player, it is certainly against my interest, also it is against the interests of the New Castle Casino, folks with loose money bring table action which fuels rake.

I keep in contact with a former co-worker who relocated to Phoenix about 3 years ago. Once in awhile he emails me about the drug violence in his area. It has increased over the past 3 years substantially in the Phoenix area.

Not only does he write about the drug violence and human trafficking as you mentioned, but the gruesome kidnappings and subsequent ransoms done by the drug cartels. The Phoenix area was hit hard by the government-induced housing crash and there are lots of empty homes sitting in new and upscale neighborhoods. The drug cartels have taken over these houses and use them as prisons for those people that they have kidnapped for ransom. They take the victims clothes, shoes and belongings and tie them up and hold them until a ransom is paid. There are so many abandoned houses in these neighborhoods that no one even knows what it taking place. Horrifying. But according to our illustrous Homeland Security Czar who hails from Arizona - all is well.

Well ... I live in Tucson, which is far closer to Mexico than is Phoenix ... and I see firsthand the difference between hyperbole and reality.

Tucson is a city of about a million. It has its crime areas like any other city. But the kinds of gruesome crimes some say is rampant is something I simply do not see evidence to support. The local news is the typical stuff -- house fires, highway fatalities, various school board wranglings.

Do drug-related killings occur? Yeah, probably. Just like in Detroit or Seattle or Kansas City.

It's true that the crime in Phoenix is greater than in Tucson. I'm not sure why that is the case, but it is. It probably isn't as bad as some Arizona politicians and the media make it out to be, but if Sonora, as said above in the State Department warning, is getting worse, then things will probably start to get worse in Tucson too.

I am just repeating information that I received in a email from a friend who lives in Phoenix. I would venture to say that he is not lying. He did not say that the kidnappings and ransoms were rampant - he said they were happening. Just the fact that this type of crime is taking place in the United States is horrifying. Whether there are a couple of dozen or 5,000, that does not lessen the fact that it is taking place here in America.


Did a quick google search on Drug Cartels, Kidnappings & Phoenix. You may live close to Phoenix, but did you know that Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the world:

At least according to abc news. I found a dozen other links on google with the same type of headline. Hopes this helps getting you a little udpated on what's going on in your part of the country. Happy Easter!

Thanks, but I don't think I need your links to know what's going on in my part of the country. Your condescension is noted, however.

So minus 20 questionnable kidnappings from the 370 and you have 350. The whole article is subjective to the writer - not a lot a facts. Wouldn't take their opinion for truth unless they could come up with more solid evidence. So I will play your game. So those 20 questionable kidnappings did not happen. Alright then they would have been classified as attempted robbery, attempted rape, attempted assault or attempted murder - just read the first questionable kidnapping on the list. What ever way you look a crime took place and crime obviously very high in Phoenix.

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