How do we respond to Mexico’s drug war?

Scott Erickson Contributor
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The recent murder of a United States consular employee and her husband has cast a disturbing pall upon the devastating nature of Mexico’s increasingly internecine warfare against the drug cartels operating within its borders.

As President Felipe Calderon continues his admirable fight against the corrupting effects of Mexico’s drug trade, the myriad cartels responsible for its proliferation reply in turn. Unfortunately, this ongoing conflict has rendered regions of Mexico a veritable warzone and increasingly put American lives in jeopardy. Although the violent reality of this conflict can be discouraging, the United States must continue to support and encourage our southern ally in her quest to loosen the choking grip of Mexico’s drug gangs. Success or failure in this endeavor will have profound effects on both the economies and societies of the United States and Mexico.

The focus of recent developments in the Mexican drug war has been the large border city of Ciudad Juarez. A city comprising roughly 1.5 million people and located just across the border from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez has become one of the most violent and unpredictable tracts of land in the world. With over 2,600 murders in the city last year alone, Ciudad Juarez has become the epicenter of violence since President Calderon initiated Operation Chihuahua in 2008. Designed to effect collaboration between the Mexican military and Federal police in an effort to crack down on the Mexican drug cartels operating in and around the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Operation Chihuahua has come to highlight the difficulty faced by the Mexican government in its struggle against the drug cartels. Although this conflict has been bloody, President Calderon’s efforts should be applauded. The Mexican drug trade has skyrocketed since the collapse of the Columbian drug cartels years earlier and currently represents a significant threat to the security of the United States.

The proliferation of illegal drugs in American society has continued to erode communities at an alarming pace. While the source of much of the methamphetamine trade continues to be homegrown many other drugs find their entrance into the United States along our often porous borders. Ninety percent of the cocaine in the United States originates in South America. Its migration north most often flows through Mexico. Mexico itself serves as the origin-point of over 15,800 metric tons of commercial-grade marijuana, a majority of which is produced as intended for U.S. markets. Drug crimes and their related costs are not simply relegated to those who sell or abuse the substances. Many ancillary crimes associated to the proliferation of drug use include burglary, sexual assault, and domestic violence, to name but a few.  As convictions for drug-related crimes continues to fill up our nation’s jails and prisons, the direct effect of Mexico’s war on drugs becomes increasingly salient for the United States.

The level of conflict borne out of the drug trade in Mexico is astonishing and increasingly poses a direct threat to the United States and her citizens. While the degree of violence south of the border is beginning to capture the attention of the American media, its significance on the American public cannot be understated. The United States government should back its supportive rhetoric with substantive policy measures. The Merida Initiative, a collaborative effort between the United States and Mexico and several Central American countries, has been a good start. Criticisms are often levied at the Merida Initiative for its disregard of demand-side considerations; however, such criticisms should not discourage the United States government from fully committing itself to assisting the Mexican government in its efforts to curb both supply and corruption. In this crisis, the United States must capitalize on the willingness of President Calderon to engage his nation in an all out conflict against both the powerful and ruthless drug cartels and the concomitant corruption within his nation’s military and police forces.

In addition to expanding upon our initial commitments as outlined in the Merida Initiative, the United States must be willing to demonstrate its own force in protecting our homeland from the spill-over effect of the Mexican drug war. Although President Obama hinted at his willingness to explore such measures last May, deploying National Guard troops along our southern border within the state’s most affected by this conflict should be a legitimate and present consideration. Rhetoric that is often unmatched by action erodes its meaning and the violent reality of this conflict demands that our declarations carry weight behind them.

The United States needs to strengthen and enhance our commitment to the Merida Initiative and wholly commit ourselves to this shared crisis. The citizens of the United States and Mexico deserve safe communities predicated on the rule of law and not based on the capricious whims of an increasingly violent and powerful association of criminals presiding over an underground economy. Drugs have plagued American society for a long time and will continue to do so unless we are unwavering in our commitment to addressing the root causes of their proliferation. Domestic endeavors include addressing the causes of demand and addiction; however, such efforts to curb demand will likely falter until we are also able to reduce the source of the addiction. Fully committing to working with Mexico in this crisis is a necessary beginning to achieving that end.

Scott G. Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.