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Mexico’s narco-war is a threat to the United States

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
December 23, 2009 5:35 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

In the traditional Sicilian mafia, families were normally off limits. You could kill the capo; you couldn’t kill his mother or children.

Leave it to Mexico’s drug-traffickers to make the mafia look humane. On Tuesday, one faction took revenge for the death of a cartel leader in a way shocking even by narco-terror standards. Hours after the funeral of a marine who fell in the raid that left Arturo Beltran Leyva dead, some of Leyva’s allies invaded the marine’s home and gunned down his mother, brother, sister and aunt.

The message couldn’t have been more clear: Touch us, and your family may pay the price.

Most Americans pay little attention to Mexico, but this atrocity should a wake-up call. It exemplifies the drug-fueled wave of criminal violence that has been taking on the dimensions of a civil war in that country.

More than 15,000 Mexicans have been killed since President Felipe Calderón launched a military offensive against the drug cartels and crime syndicates three years ago. The body count – criminals, corrupt and honest police, bystanders, mayors, soldiers, federal officials, even priests – can’t be blamed on Calderón. It reflects the embedded power of the syndicates and how hard it has been for Calderón’s government to challenge that power. The alternative is to stand by and watch crime bosses become the de facto rulers of Mexico – a nightmare for Mexicans and Americans alike.

The United States for the most part takes its southern neighbor for granted. Mexico – fast-developing and largely democratic – has been a key trade partner and a font of rich Latino culture. Its collapse into a narco-state would pose a dire threat to U.S. national security.

America bears immense responsibility for Mexico’s troubles. If cocaine and heroin abuse weren’t pandemic in this country, there would be less fighting over the smuggling pipelines that carry these drugs through Mexico and across the U.S. border. If the United States were stopping illegal shipments of U.S. arms into Mexico, the cartels would have a much tougher time equipping their armies. If America put its own house in order, Mexico’s problems would become far more manageable.

That doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon, so Mexico’s courageous offensive against the drug syndicates looks like the main theater in this war.

When the family of an ordinary marine is massacred because he took part in a raid against a cartel leader, it means two things: First, the cartels are raising the stakes as high as they can go. Second, the government is hitting them hard and hurting them badly.

This has become a war of desperation on both sides, and America ought to be paying attention.

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