A Brewing Storm: Mexican Drug Cartels and the Growing Violence on our Border

by Tom Stilson on February 27, 2009

The Thin Border Fence is not keeping drug smugglers and kidnappers out of America (AP Photo/Denis Poroy).

The Thin Border Fence is not keeping drug smugglers and kidnappers out of America (AP Photo/Denis Poroy).


A small canal and a border fence are all that separate El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. And yet, a war is raging just over the American side. As Mexican drug cartels fight for power, American border states and towns are growing uneasy about future prospects and their safety—but not without good reason.

Less than one month ago, the US Army High Command issued a report stating that “two large and important states bear consideration for rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.” While our relations with Pakistan were a major concern during the recent US Presidential election, Mexico was largely overlooked in U.S. foreign policy discussions. Upon consideration of the recent statistics and reports coming from Mexico, America has good reason to be concerned.

Mexican crime statistics indicate a 300% increase in drug-related murders from 2007 to 2008. Last year alone, more than 6000 people were murdered in drug-related crimes. These “drug-related” crimes have affected innocent bystanders, families of police and cartel members, and American citizens. The prospect of an optimistic 2009 has failed to come to fruition despite Mexican government efforts and massive U.S. aid. Approximately 800 drug-related murders have occurred already this year, far exceeding last year’s pace. However, the Mexican government still attempts to maintain an optimistic perspective of their efforts.

President Felipe Calderón claims that his nation’s efforts have yielded the highest drug seizure and arrest rates in recent years. While such claims are supported by statistics, the level of corruption and drug-related crime rates still paint a grim picture for Mexico Furthermore, Calderón’s battle for control over the cartels has yielded unintended consequences.

Daily murders paint a picture of the Mexican cartels normally reserved for exceedingly violent Hollywood films. The latest instance, at time of writing, involved an officer of an elite state squad in Tabasco who was slaughtered by cartel members. In addition, the gunmen indiscriminately murdered 11 members of his family. Among the dead were 6 children, the youngest a 2-year-old. The day before, two women were found decapitated in the trunk of a car in Mexico City. The motive behind the murders of the two women is unknown.

The sheer brutality of the Mexican cartels, which utilize any means to achieve their ends, has made such grisly discoveries routine in Mexico. Only two months into 2009, Mexico was averaging 20 drug-related murders per day. Beheadings, torture, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and mass murder are routine tools used by the cartels to instill fear and suppress opposition.

While corruption has been a long-standing problem within Mexican law enforcement and military, recent events have further complicated Mexico’s campaign to quell the violence. One of the Mexican president’s top anti-drug prosecutors was arrested on charges that he accepted over $500,000 from the Sinaloa cartel. Noe Ramirez was chief of Mexico’s elite organized crime unit, Siedo, until his resignation last July, shortly before a government investigation revealed the disheartening information.

Despite the risk of greater corruption within the government, Calderón has utilized the military in his campaign, dispatching more than 30,000 soldiers to fight the violence. According to the El Paso Times, the Mexican army is currently conducting raids in armored Humvees complete with chopper support in areas such as Villa Ahumada. This small town, approximately 90 miles south of Ciudad Juarez, has been without law enforcement for nearly a year since cartels assassinated both the police chief and the entire police force.

While some Americans may have little concern for the proximity of the violence to the U.S. border, the war is being waged much closer than some may expect. Nearly 70 Americans are estimated to have been kidnapped by cartels on both American and Mexican soil. Phoenix, Arizona has the second highest reported kidnapping rate in the world, averaging nearly one kidnapping every day. Mexico City is currently number one with the nation of Mexico averaging 30 to 50 kidnappings per day. The number of kidnappings in Phoenix has risen 40% since last year. Kidnappings vary from random ransom abductions to those of family members related to cartel associates.

With the recent collapse in gas prices, the Mexican government could face a budget shortfall of $1.5 billion and possible economic collapse. This scenario has officials such as Texas State Senator Dan Patrick (R) wondering what options the US and border-states have if the Mexican government collapses and how such an event will occur. As he said on the Glenn Beck show:

There are two scenarios… one is a slow collapse of Mexico in which hundreds of thousands would come here over a period of time. The second is what I call the “Colombian” collapse of Mexico, an assassination of the [Mexican] president, the drug cartels taking over the country, civil war breaking out on the streets, people fleeing for their lives, not for a job. We have to be prepared in the United States for both.

The presence of this threat spilling over onto US soil is very real. The month of January yielded, on the border alone, 20 beheadings with 1000 bodies found last year in total. The new Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has promised to crack down on illegal gun smuggling to the cartels. President Obama has promised aid to President Calderón Over 28,000 weapons seized in Mexico last year originated, albeit illegally, from the United States.

Despite these acts, a plausible action to combat the growing problem on America’s border with Mexico was plainly summarized by Senator Patrick, “It will be done if we have leadership… We all have to do everything we can—whether you’re a sheriff on the border or a senator in Austin.”

Indeed, we do.

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