March 25, 2009

The Violence Abroad that is Coming Home to Roost

Print More

As we wind down from Spring Break, it seems appropriate to turn a critical eye to that perennial destination for Spring Breakers, Mexico. On March 5, Cornell’s communications office sent out an email alerting us all to the State Department travel alert for Mexico and the continuing violence there. Violence in Mexico has been escalating since the government launched a crackdown on corruption and the drug cartels, even going so far as to order the military into the streets. In 2008, there were 6000 murders related to the drug cartels, which as the BBC points out, is roughly equivalent to the number of soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq during the same period. Rolling Stone recently came out with a great article analyzing the situation in Mexico and looking into the systemic problems of corruption within the police and judiciary. The article is a must-read for anyone who wants to get a more in-depth perspective on the issue than one only provided by news reports.

The most pressing issue with the increasing violence is whether or not Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state. Certainly an unstable and violent country on the southern border of the United States is a grave national security risk. In response, the Mexican government, predictably, says that it is not, that the violence is a symptom of the desperation of the cartels. I think the danger is not state collapse as we know it in Somalia, but instead is paralysis. Already with the government’s anti-corruption campaign we see top-level law enforcement officials implicated, as well as a general feeling of corruption (that is addressed in more detail within the Rolling Stone article.) The justice system has been captured by the cartels; the depth of this penetration is why Mexican President Felipe Calderon called in the Army, and why the conflict has been so deadly.

The violence is spilling over into the United States with killings in Border States and as far away as Atlanta. And now the Obama administration is announcing new measures to secure the borders and to make sure that weapons and money are not being smuggled across the US-Mexico border. How effective are these policies going to be in ending the violence? The answer to this question is hard to find. Ultimately the restoration of order in Mexico can only come from effective law enforcement and a strong judicial system, both of which are lacking. Beyond the violence, the question of the drug cartels and the crime that they inherently bring with them can only be answered with solutions found in our own communities. Whether the answer is partial-legalization, increased emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation, or more effective education programs, it is clear that business as usual is not working. For both our sakes and the sakes of our neighbor to the South, it is vital that we find a working solution.