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Ask Americans what they think are some of the most violent conflicts in the world, and the usual responses will be Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria. (If they’re really smart, they’ll mention Libya or Yemen). However, I hardly ever hear anyone mention Mexico. That’s a mistake.
After Syria, the drug war in Mexico is the deadliest conflict on the planet—and it is spilling into the United States. This devastating war has been brewing for over a decade and is becoming more of a threat to the safety and security of U.S. communities, especially along the border. Drug cartels count on our porous border to gain access to their largest market: us. They smuggle not only narcotics but also illegal weapons, human body parts, and sex slaves. All of this is turning once safe and peaceful communities into gang-infested war zones.
For this reason alone, the United States needs to seal the border with Mexico until safety and stability return.
The Rise of the Corrupt Cartels
In December 2006, Mexican President, Felipe Calderon launched Operation Michoacán, a joint operation of the Mexican Federal Police and their military to eliminate drug plantations and drug trafficking in the country, beginning with one of its most volatile states. The goal was to take out the leaders of La Familia Michoacána, a powerful cartel at the time with most of its operations based out of Michoacán.
Calderon and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, were the first presidents of Mexico since 1929 who were not members of the Industrial Revolutionary Party (PRI). Under PRI’s uninterrupted 71-year rule over Mexico, the drug cartels formed and grew powerful because of the central government’s inherent corruption and unwillingness to confront criminal groups that had embedded themselves in the governing apparatuses of the nation. Calderon and Fox ran successfully on an anti-corruption platform.
Following the demise of the Colombian Cali cartel and Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel in the early 1990s, many of the Mexican drug cartels filled the void and took over the illicit drug market. By 2007, Mexico’s cartels controlled 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States. Over the next decade, the cartels grew even more powerful and influential in Mexican society. Murder rates reached all-time highs and, according to one report by PBS Frontline, between the years of 2007 and 2014 there were more cartel-related deaths in Mexico than war-related deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
These powerful criminal enterprises are now so out of control they have driven local communities to form their own self-defense militias, known as “autodefensas” because the local police are corrupt and do the bidding of local drug kingpins. This is especially prevalent in Michoacán, which has some of the worst cartel violence in the country despite the government’s efforts there. Moreover, and not surprisingly, some of these vigilante groups organized to fight the cartels have also been corrupted and now do the bidding of the drug lords. In many cases, these groups have allowed criminals into their ranks and have even begun to fight amongst each other, leading to even more violence and murder.
International Terrorism and a Silent Coup
In addition, the cartels have had the help of international actors. The Zetas Cartel, one of the most powerful and ruthless in Mexico, has enlisted the help of the Lebanon-based, Shia Islamic terror group Hezbollah, which has provided weapons and training. Hezbollah terrorists have been assisting with drug trafficking, as well as instructing cartel members how to make IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to use against rivals. In exchange for the weapons and training, Hezbollah has benefited by piggybacking on cartel smugglers to infiltrate and operate within the United States.
The Sinaloa and Zetas cartels, among others, manipulate politicians and in some cases directly control cities, forcing communities to pay dues, their own form of taxation. These cartels are in a constant power struggle for control over politicians, police, and the military and often resort to full-scale battles with authorities.
Mexico, in many respects, is a full-scale war zone. This type of violence has gone beyond our southern neighbor and has even affected communities in the United States to the point where cartels are actually attempting to implement control over American communities. With all the issues in the world, many Americans seem not to realize the magnitude of one of the most dangerous and violent conflicts, one that is right at our doorstep and must be stopped.
Trouble North of the Border
On the American side of the border, the cartels’ activities have begun to cause direct harm to Americans right in our own backyard. One of many examples are the stories of U.S. ranchers and farmers along the border who have had to resort to arming and protecting themselves from drug runners and human traffickers who have no regard for private property. Many of them have been warned by cartels not to call the border patrol when they are trafficking across their farmland, otherwise they or their family members may be killed. In one specific case, workers on a sugarcane field in Hidalgo County, Texas were told by cartel members to stop harvesting the crop “or else,” because the sugarcane provides cover for cartel drug smugglers.
Not only is this ongoing drug war a terrible burden both to the stability and security of the United States, it is also destroying the stability, security, and morality of an entire generation of Mexicans who have known nothing but drug violence and killing their entire lives.
It has sparked a new subculture among youth, who view the cartel kingpins as idols. An entire new genre of music called “narcocorridos” or drug ballads has been created because the war has had such an impact on Mexican society. This new genre of music, as well as the supposed glamorous narco lifestyle, is affecting young Mexicans’ cultural outlook in a negative manner. Where many had lacked an identity or niche, they now do with the trendy narco-culture which has been romanticized through pop culture. This will have long-lasting effects on Mexican society if the drug war continues, and there seems to be no end in sight.
How the Wall Would Help
The unfortunate reality is the United States absolutely needs to seal the border with Mexico. The drug war is far too dangerous a conflict to ignore. Drug traffickers threaten the lives of Americans, operate with Hezbollah infiltrating the United States, and bring illegal weapons to sell on the black market, which contributes to inner-city gang violence. Refusing to act out the fear of being labelled a racist is not an option. It has come to the point where we need fully militarized fortifications with 24-hour supervision and surveillance along the whole southern U.S. border.
The need is not fueled by the families and workers who wish to come here to escape the violence and find a better life. Their hopes for escape are completely understandable, but among the communities of those families and workers are the criminals, the rapists, and the murders who President Trump so “notoriously” mentioned. Until we see an end to the incessant violence, mass corruption, and narco-culture that has taken over Mexican society, we have to do what we can to keep these elements out of our own country.
Mexico has potential to be a stable, peaceful nation with a strong economy, like many of its Latin American counterparts such as Panama, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile. It has a long way to go, however, and a mountain of problems to address before that happens. We cannot and should not allow their problems become our own, at the expense of our national security and the safety of our communities.
In the long term, moreover, attention to border security will have a negative effect on the cartels’ ability to bring in revenue, as their largest export market, the United States, would become much more difficult to access. What would be the consequence of starving the cartels of their wealth? The extravagant lifestyles of cartel leaders, politicians, the military, and police that are supported by the drug trade would come to an abrupt and painful halt. The potential carnage following this will tear the powerful cartels apart. But Mexicans would have the potential to make Mexico great again.
Photo credit: David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images