InSight Crime, a non-profit research organization that focuses on the drug trade in Latin America, published an eye-opening story on Monday. Reading the full story is worth your time as it offers specific details of how one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels, Los Zetas, has corrupted influential politicians. That includes bribes of $2 million a month to the governor of Coahuila, a Mexican state that borders Texas along the Rio Grande. In the same evening of InSight’s report, Los Zetas took credit for a mass shooting at a popular electronic music festival in the touristy city of Playa del Carmen, which is roughly 40 miles south of Cancun.
Needless to say, Los Zetas traffic drugs with very little government interference. Likewise, they commit violence with military precision. The reason being, their organization was founded by former members of Mexican Special Forces. In fact, several of them received training in Fort Benning, GA at a counternarcotics program that was once known as the “School of the Americas.” The name of this program was later changed to the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)” as public relations gesture because countless violent acts have been attributed to graduates from this program.
Los Zetas have the highest number of former military members in their ranks. However, that doesn’t mean that other cartels don’t have links with the military. In 2006, the former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, made a fateful decision to have the military begin enforcing their country’s drug laws. That the turned the metaphor “drug war” into an actual war on the Mexican people. The numbers are staggering. Roughly 80,000 Mexican citizens have been murdered in violence directly attributed to the drug war. We don’t know the exact figures because the Mexico government no longer publishes those statistics. Another 26,000 people have disappeared and are missing. Also, an approximate number of 281,000 Mexicans are considered internally displaced citizens (IDCs) within their own country since 2011 due to the violence. All in all, this is clear evidence that backs up Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s claim that the drug war may be more harmful than all of the wars in the world. He made that statement last December while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. Coincidentally, his speech took place one day before the 10-year anniversary of Mexico’s drug war.
There is no rule of law in Mexico in large part due to the corruption that has manifested from the drug war. Simply put, a large percentage of the police are the cartels’ payroll. Astoundingly, 98.5% of all crimes go unpunished in Mexico. Therefore, adding the military as another layer of law enforcement in that type of environment is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Case in point, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, essentially acknowledged that fact by stating that militarizing the drug war was a “mistake.”
Torture has now become commonplace with the military leading several law enforcement responsibilities in the country. As a result, there is often no need for a jury or judge; the military unofficially acts as the executioner. Statistics show that Mexico’s Special Forces kill approximately thirty people for every one person they injure. That is not acting out of self-defense; those are government sanctioned death squads. For example, in June of 2014, the military murdered 22 men in a warehouse in Tlatlaya. Investigators deciphered that evidence was tainted afterward to make it appear that this was a two-sided battle, which it was not. Nevertheless, none of those murderers were convicted for this crime.
The victims of that massacre were an unsympathetic group, a vicious gang Los Guerreros Unidos, which has committed massacres of their own, the well-publicized massacre of 43 students in Iguala. Understandably, you may be thinking that it’s necessary for the government to use this kind of force to fight with fire. However, let’s look at this issue from a practical standpoint, let alone put aside the moral implications from state-sanctioned extrajudicial murders. In the best case scenario, the military commits a massacre in an honest attempt to crack down on drug trafficking. However, gangland murders always lead to more violence because it creates a power vacuum in which rival gangs battle for turf. On the other hand, in the worst case scenario, the military is killing gang members to snuff out competition. And that is often the case. In many instances, corrupt military officers are acting as enforcers for gangs, government officials, or wealthy businessmen.
Anyone who speaks out against the Mexican government puts their life in danger. That includes journalist, political organizers, human rights activists, etc. Human rights violations have increased over 1000% since the Mexican drug war was militarized in 2006. However, some American leaders have taken notice, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). He has been one of the few members to call for cutting off Mexico’s military foreign aid until their human rights record improves. Yes, our tax dollars are actively contributing to this horrific issue. The U.S. government has paid for a program known as the Merida Initiative that has provided over $2.5 billion worth of military aid to Mexico since 2008. Worst of all, our government is fully aware that this program is counterproductive as it has had no noticeable effect on the Mexican drug trade. However, as detailed in my past posts about Honduras and Colombia, our government is more concerned with geopolitics than the drug war.
Our government continues providing military aid through “counternarcotics” programs to Latin American countries with atrocious human rights records. The Cold War is officially over, but these anti-drug programs serve as a way to unofficially fight against the spread of communism without declaring war. Keep in mind, there is a strong contingency of leftist populism throughout Latin America. Look no further than the mass protests and riots in Mexico from two weeks ago after gas prices rose 20% because the government began reducing oil subsidies. As one U.S. News & World Report contributor recently pondered, “Could it lead to a ‘Mexican spring?’” There are several old-school hardliners in the U.S. government who still subscribe to the domino theory. Consequently, they view these kinds of developments and consciously overlook the atrocities committed by the Mexican military in hopes that it will suppress a communist uprising.
So can anything be done to reduce the violence from the drug war? The answer is to legalize marijuana and decriminalize the more dangerous drugs. With that said, we don’t live in a utopian society. It’s unrealistic to believe that these gang members will immediately pack up their bags and join the straight and narrow path. Several of these drug trafficking gangs are truly sophisticated organized crime outfits. They make money from other illegal activities, such as extortion, robbery, illegal mining, etc. Therefore, ending the drug war won’t eliminate the black market crime problem in Latin America, but removing the profits of illegal drugs will drastically reduce the corruption with the military, police, and politicians who enable the drug trade. Consequently, the current gang population will eventually dwindle and future recruits will be much less inclined to enter into the life of crime without the lure of easy drug money.
To sum up, there is far more to the drug war than meets the eye. The consequences are horrific within our own borders, but if the United States were to end the drugs it would have an absolutely remarkable impact on the world.
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