As the cartels of Mexico gain power, civilians are caught in the middle
Once viewed as a vacation hotspot and tropical paradise, four years of extraordinary violence have threatened stability in Mexico. With no end to the brutality in sight, many fear that Mexico’s already precarious situation could grow to become even more volatile.
Although Mexican drug cartels have existed for decades, their influence has become much more prominent since the demise of Colombia’s Cali and Medellin cartels in the ’90s. Currently, Mexican drug cartels dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in both the United States and Canada. By some estimates, they supply upwards of 70 per cent of the narcotics, including 90 percent of the cocaine, flowing into the United States – and from there, into Canada.
Mexico has historically held a generally passive stance towards the drug business and its accompanying violence. But on Dec. 11, 2006, the then-newly-appointed President Felipe Calderon – in what is widely regarded as the state’s first major operation against drug cartels – deployed 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacan to help curb their out-of-control cartel problem.
Currently, over 45,000 Mexican troops are deployed throughout the nation, in some instances replacing large numbers of police officers who were discharged after it was made public that they were cooperating with the cartels. On Aug. 30, 2010, reports surfaced that Calderon, in an attempt to make hay against the influence of corrupt police officials across the nation, fired nearly 10 per cent of Mexico’s federal police force, roughly 3,600 officers.
Since late 2006, when the first troops were deployed in Michoacan, nearly 30,000 citizens have died in cartel-related violence throughout Mexico, often the result of standoffs between cartels and Mexican authorities, or dramatic shootouts between rival cartels over valuable border towns – or “plazas” as they are referred to within the ranks of Mexico’s criminal underbelly.
Unfortunately, many of the victims, including a group of 15 men who were decapitated and left near an Acapulco shopping center in broad daylight last Saturday, are merely civilians who are either caught in the crossfire or killed in barbaric showings of unadulterated brutality by cartels and their affiliated gangs to anyone brave – or perhaps foolish – enough to go against their command.
Mexico is essentially at war with the roughly eight prominent drug cartels throughout the nation, and constant in-fighting between rival cartels has threatened stability in Mexico for the last four years. Yet President Calderon insists that Mexico is not, nor is it close to being, a failed state.
“Latest figures show our economy is growing at seven per cent,” Calderon told reporter Stephen Sackur in late October. “Exports are up and the outlook is bright. There is no comparison to be made between our situation and Colombia or Pakistan.”
When defending his objection to Mexico being labelled a failed state, Calderon is quick to insist that Mexico’s economy is prospering. However, many outside observers and native Mexicans view the situation quite differently.
A recent report from the Credit Suisse Bank attested that “crime has become a clear threat to the strength of [Mexico’s economic recovery]; the cost of doing business in Mexico has risen.”
Furthermore, pervasive violence and widespread intimidation have threatened the economic prospects of Monterrey, Mexico’s most industrialized city. Last year saw over 600 murders, while nearly 60 per cent of businesses were faced with threats of extortion from criminal organizations.
Although Calderon insists that he and the Mexican government are doing everything that they can to put a stop to Mexico’s widespread violence, the Mexican president is adamant that more must be done by Mexico’s neighbours to the north to fight the influence of Mexico’s cartels.
“Why do we have narco-trafficking?” Calderon asked Sackur. “Because we are living beside the largest consumer of drugs in the world [the United States] and everyone wants to sell him drugs through my window, through my door.” Calderon added that the vast majority of the weapons used by cartels flooded into Mexico from the United States.
“They have a clear responsibility in this,” Calderon noted.
In response to Calderon’s accusations that the United States’ government isn’t doing enough to support Mexico’s plight against drug-related violence, in September a White House official insisted that the United States government’s joint anti-drug effort with Mexico “remains a top administration priority […] we are constantly evaluating our efforts to make sure we are doing all we can on this issue.”