The Mexican government is losing the drug war. That’s why the Obama administration is now sending U.S. security forces directly into the war zones in Mexico, as never before.
The increasing involvement of the United States in Mexico’s drug war is only going to make a bad situation worse.
It will likely lead to more deaths. It will be a drain on our treasury. And it’s unlikely to stem the flow of drugs. This is because the U.S. intervention ignores the root causes of the drug trade and the spreading international character of the cartels.
The Merida Initiative
Also called Plan Mexico by critics, the Merida Initiative is a security cooperation agreement between the United States and the government of Mexico and the countries of Central America, with the declared aim of combating the threats of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering. The assistance includes training, equipment and intelligence.
U.S. involvement began with the “Merida Initiative,” a $1.9 billion aid package signed by President Bush in 2007 to provide training and equipment to Mexican drug enforcement efforts. It coincided with Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s initiation of a military offensive against the drug cartels.
President Obama then expanded the scope of the Merida Initiative in 2009, emphasizing coordination and information sharing, including the establishment of joint command and control centers in Mexico. This has led to the training of thousands of Mexican agents, the transfer of high-tech weaponry, the deployment of unmanned drones within Mexico and now the direct involvement of Drug Enforcement Administration and CIA agents, U.S. military personnel (from the Pentagon’s Northern Command) and private contractors.
Since the launch of Calderon’s military operation, an estimated 35,000 people have been killed. And the death rate has been increasing for each year of the conflict.
Mexico has now surpassed Colombia in kidnappings and has seen a dramatic spike in assassinations of journalists and political figures. Corruption has exploded, as drug money has been poured into politics to subvert the war effort from within. Six out of every 10 municipal governments in the country are infiltrated by drug dealers. Mexico’s Department of Public Security estimates that 62% of police nationwide have also been corrupted by drug money.
Rather than suppress the drug trade, the war has driven it deeper into the social and political fabric of Mexico and has spread it to other countries in Central America.
Implications for the U.S.
U.S. society is intimately tied to the Mexican drug trade. Earlier this year, for instance, 34 U.S. citizens and legal residents were convicted of running weapons to cartels from Arizona. According to a 2010 Washington Post report, more than 60,000 U.S.-origin guns have been linked to drug violence in Mexico. Some U.S. banks have been implicated in laundering drug money. And according to Justice Department statistics from 2010, the cartels now operate in 231 U.S. cities, taking in nearly $40 billion in annual sales from within our country, as the consumption of illegal drugs in the United States is increasing.
What to Expect
No one had come up with a quick, realistic alternative to Calderon’s novel use of the Mexican military with U.S. support. But stopping the cartel violence had become newly elected Mexican President Peña Nieto’s top priority during the campaign. The U.S. administration didn’t know what that meant. Some fear that this means a scaling back of united efforts and instead, a willingness to trade the relentless drive against cartel leaders for calmer streets.
The new administration has shifted priorities away from the U.S.-backed strategy of arresting kingpins, which sparked an unprecedented level of violence among the cartels, and toward an emphasis on prevention and keeping Mexico’s streets safe and calm, Mexican authorities said.
Some U.S. officials fear the coming of an unofficial truce with cartel leaders and therefore mass corruption. The Mexicans see it otherwise. “The objective of fighting organized crime is not in conflict with achieving peace,” said Eduardo Medina Mora, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States.
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