By Samir Junnarkar
Since President Felipe Calderon of Mexico began his crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006, about 18,000 people are believed to have died. Over 50,000 troops and federal police have been deployed, and over 45,000 people have been incarcerated for drug related crimes. Recent data indicate that the drug war has intensified, with 6,600 deaths last year, compared to 5,800 in 2008. In Ciudad Juarez, one of the main battlegrounds of the conflict, 555 people were killed in the first quarter of this year, compared to 449 in the same period last year.
In recent weeks, cartels have been more brazen in their attacks, targeting Americans in Mexico. On March 13, gunmen killed two members of the American consulate in Reynosa. This prompted Secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security to go to Mexico City and discuss America’s involvement in the conflict with Mr. Calderon. This meeting and a series of other recent conferences between Mexican and American authorities have resulted in a broad shift in Mr. Calderon’s approach. New pilot programs in Juarez and Tijuana—two of Mexico’s largest border towns—will be implemented. It would include close collaboration between Mexican and American intelligence communities, spending on social development in hard-hit areas, and an accelerated reform of local police forces and legal systems. All the while, American agents will be embedded with Mexican analysts, and Mexican authorities will receive additional training from American armed forces and police. Recently, Mrs. Clinton announced that the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative—a program geared towards providing hardware and training to Mexican forces—will be complemented with an additional $331 million for social and legal reform programs.
However, America’s involvement in this conflict must be escalated. A recent Department of Defense report indicated that a sustained drug war could transform Mexico into a failed state. Indeed, Mr. Calderon offered a rebuttal to this analysis, asserting that such a statement is absolutely false. He quickly pointed out that street prices of cocaine in the U.S. have doubled over the past three years while purity has declined by 35 percent. Nevertheless, in a recent poll 50 percent of respondents said that Mr. Calderon’s drug war has made the country more dangerous while only 21 percent believe that his policies have increased security. All the while, the numbers make the most persuasive argument. An estimated $18 billion-39 billion of drug revenue comes from the United States, compared to the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative which is spread over three years. All the while, a recent study shows that 90 percent of arms used by drug traffickers come from the United States.
Given the current economic climate as well as the Obama administration’s fiscal policies, perhaps a major increase in U.S. funding is impossible. Also, reinstituting an assault weapons ban is out of the question. Legalizing illicit drugs in the United States is not realistic as well. Furthermore, the Mexican military still is generally uneasy with major American assistance, for the institution has historically resented American involvement in Mexican affairs. In addition, some of the Mexico’s most ruthless cartels—namely Los Zetas—were founded by Mexican special forces agents who were actually trained in American programs on American soil.
However, the Obama administration still can contribute in a large way to Mr. Calderon’s efforts. First, demand reduction policies in the United States such as education programs should be widely implemented. Historically, such programs have been successful and cost-effective. Second, border officials must begin to inspect vehicles traveling to Mexico on a regular basis in order to lessen the flow of heavy weaponry to drug cartels. These are small yet significant steps that the United States must take until it is willing and able to support Mexico in a large way. Already, drug violence is crossing the border, and the Mexican populace is showing discontent with the status quo. Indeed, many of the large decisions that must be made in the United States in regards to this predicament are politically and economically unfeasible at the present moment. However, the situation south of the border must not be neglected.