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Saturday, September 24, 2011

UnCivil War

I live close to the border with Mexico and I have very close and very dear family in Monterrey, a city approximately 4 hours from the United States. Every time a serious incident is reported in the media, I shudder to think that my loved ones have been innocent victims. I find it incredible that a murderous crime spree fought with modern weapons takes place so close to us, the most powerful nation on Earth, still. What do we do to help? Covert agents from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) work closely with Mexican law enforcement, trusting their lives to agencies known for their frequent corrupt ties to criminal groups. We give Mexico modern helicopters equipped with the latest weaponry and surveillance gadgets. We even use drones on the borders to help the Border Patrol. Whether we use them to kill an occasional cartel member is unknown.

During a recent visit by Mexican friends, one of them related a daily occurrence in Monterrey: A friend of his was setting up a carpentry business on a rented piece of land when two sinister-looking men showed up in his office and introduced themselves, very politely, as members of a local Zeta group. They offered to protect his new business if he agreed to a certain monthly payment; Al Capone would have been proud. The friend, knowing that if he paid such amount his business could not survive, tried to negotiate... in vain. The two thugs mentioned what would happen if he didn't agree. During the following night, the budding entrepreneur grabbed his equipment and set up shop in another part of the city, hoping that the area was clear of bandits and extortion.

Needless to say, such actions deter many would be entrepreneurs from starting a new business. Calling the cops, as we would in the U.S., never entered their mind. They know quite well that law enforcement is often on the payroll of armed gangs. Even successful Mexican businessmen, able to hire private bodyguards, are starting to give up and move to a more hospitable climate such as the United States. A very famous restaurant that my wife and I used to visit at least once a month in a nearby Mexican border town has already established a business on our side of the border, desperate to regain customers lost to the climate of senseless violence in the Aztec country.

The recent tragic events in a casino in Monterrey, where 52 clients of gambling machines lost their lives after the criminals set fire to the establishment, is a clear message that even politicians in Mexico are starting to heed. The situation cannot continue and drastic measures are needed,  from both Washington and Mexico City. After all, even the cartels admit that the killing of civilians is bad for their business and the presence of the Mexican army, seen as an occupying force by many, only exacerbates the violence. The United States, mired in endless squabbling on Capitol Hill, doesn't appear willing to do more in the middle of a serious economic downturn. And yet, without American customers, the drug trade would simply wither and practically disappear. Every day, tons of illicit drugs cross the border in spite of the heroic efforts of our law enforcement agents. Where do these products end up? Where are the centers of distribution? How do the millions of dollars obtained by dealers disappear and end up as licit money?

We cannot let Mexico descend into chaos; they are our most important partner in trade, in culture, and in historical ties. Millions of Mexican immigrants live in the U.S. and contribute heavily to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Mexico is indelibly joined at the hip with us. We must do more, much more, to help them recuperate control of their country and of their peace.

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