As the body count in Mexico’s cartel war surpasses 34,000, those of us in the U.S. watch with horror and fascination. Then we change the channel, turn the page or scroll to the next story. Our country seems to have the overriding sense that this convulsively violent crime wave is Mexico’s dirty problem.
But the truth about the cartel wildfire is that the U.S. is both the kindling, the logs and the match.
The origin of this problem is our insatiable thirst for narcotics such as meth, heroin, marijuana and cocaine, which our addicts order up in more varieties than Starbucks has lattes. To the great misfortune of Mexicans, whose average income is 1/3 that of our own (according to the CIA website), some of their most ruthless citizens have seized on Mexico’s proximity to the U.S., as well as its prime positioning on the corridor between the U.S. and South American drug fields, in order to conduct an extremely profitable business.
For this (illegal) business model to thrive, one needs guns. A lot of guns. Because of stringent anti-gun laws, Mexicans have often crossed the border for firearms. The ubiquitous presence of guns for sale, in stores, gun swaps or online from private individuals, has fueled a weapons trafficking business in the reverse direction of narcotics. In many cases, Americans have been the conduit for an endless flow of gun purchases. Only a small percentage are seized at the border. Not surprisingly, weapons recovered from cartel killings are commonly traced to the U.S.
Those weapons have also been turned on Americans. The recent homicide of a Homeland Security agent in Mexico was carried out with a weapon reported to be purchased in the U.S. In addition, cartel hit men have shown up in American cities and rural areas, and in some cases their targets have been U.S. law enforcement.Cartel guns, regardless of their point of purchase, never seem to rest. Recent reports of mass killings and mass graves seem to have more in common with the recent history of Rwanda and Serbia than is the case with “normal” drug-related violence. The reports that show up on my desk, often with extremely graphic and disturbing photos, are nothing short of evil.
Finally there is the corruption, a seemingly inbred fact of life for Mexico’s police and, to a lesser extent, its military. Money is the typical catalyst, but images of dead cops who failed to go with the program must also weigh heavily on the minds of police officers and soldiers alike. Since the cartel has also infiltrated their ranks, honest cops must balance the lives of their families against their oath to protect the public. That’s a rotten choice, and one that rarely exists north of the border.
In the shadow of blatant corruption are heroic government officials, military commanders, and police officers that have not only remained on the job in the face of threats, but have continued to mount a public effort against the cartels. A growing percentage of these Mexican leaders have been gunned down for their efforts, but many continue to face the cartels head on.
Finally, we face the fact corruption is not simply a Mexican failing. A recent NBC report by Mark Potter provided information on a growing number of U.S. law enforcement officials, mostly Border Patrol officers, who have been arrested for taking cartel bribes. While this fact certainly sheds light on the dismal number of weapons and narcotics seized at the U.S.-Mexican border, it also should highlight the need to address the cartels–both its business product and its attendant violence–as a mutual crisis.
Before we collectively dismiss cartel violence as Mexico’s problem and turn the page, we must recognize and eliminate our “holier than thou” attitude. This sentiment does nothing in the way of a solution, does not address our underlying complicity, and serves only to give Americans permission to dismiss the cartel violence as the problems of a corrupt country.
It’s our problem too.