Is Mexico heading for war? If history repeats itself, the nation will present a challenge for president-elect Barack Obama. Mexico was at war in 1810 and in 1910, and such a state of affairs in 2010 seems imminent if the country is not in fact already there. This time around, it seems the United States will have to do more than provide monetary aid to its neighbor. This year alone has been one of the bloodiest for Mexico, with deaths surpassing the number of U.S. military casualties in Iraq since that war began.
The root of the problem is drug cartels’ involvement in violent turf wars over trafficking routes. A mega-alliance was formed when the Gulf Cartel hired a paramilitary group, known as Los Zetas, as a hit squad. The latter were originally members of the Mexican Army’s elite Airborne Special Forces Group known as GAFE, and they specialized in locating and apprehending drug cartel members. They have been trained by the Israelis, French, and the U.S. Some believe they received instruction in the infamous School of the Americas in the U.S. Many assert that they became rogue officers because the cartel pays substantially higher wages than the Mexican government does.
These turf wars impact both small towns and big cities. The cartels incite fear in residents, even sometimes conscripting them to work for them. Many citizens who had gone to Mexico to retire are forced to return to the United States to secure their safety. Among other reasons for the U.S. to act in a meaningful fashion is the fact that more Mexican citizens will seek asylum to the north in order to flee from their war-torn country. It is becoming a place where lawlessness dominates daily life, and they are losing faith in their government’s ability to punish the perpetrators.
With the murders becoming more cold-blooded, the question becomes whether the punishment will fit the crime. Mexico, a country that has long been opposed to the death penalty, a country that has often been at odds with the U.S. over the issue, has served as a safe haven for criminals fleeing prosecution. With the current wave of violent crime sweeping the nation, however, many argue for the death penalty’s reinstatement in an effort to curb the violence and to punish those committing the crime. The cartels are carrying out gory acts, including beheadings and executions, which almost always are meant as a message for a rival cartel. The government wants to send a strong message back, and many hope that if Mexico follows the U.S. practice of the death penalty, then that strong message will be heard.
The U.S. has already agreed to provide $400M in foreign aid, but they have yet to release the funds, even though Condoleezza Rice went to visit the country to assure them that help is on the way. When Mexican President Felipe Calderón called President-elect Barack Obama to congratulate him on his historic victory, Calderón made sure to mention that Mexico is in dire need of help. Corruption is being uncovered at the highest levels of the Mexican government. Cartels are laughing in the rest of the government’s face, because the former openly recruit soldiers to join them, even posting recruitment banners and signs in states across the country. They promise significant benefits, like higher pay, a house, and a car. A corrupt government cannot offer such luxuries to its citizens, who are living in poverty. Drug wars are not foreign to the Americas, as Colombia has raged in the midst of drug wars for years. But this time, residents in U.S. towns that border Mexico are living in fear. If the U.S. cannot help Mexico out of a desire to meet its neighbor’s needs, then at the very least, the country to the north should assist Mexico in order to protect its own citizens.