Almost overnight, Mexico has jumped to the top of the U.S. diplomatic agenda – at least momentarily overshadowing Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico this week, paving the way for a scheduled visit next month by President Obama.
It appears that part of the attention comes from a heightened awareness of the cross-border threat of drug-related violence. The rhetoric got especially charged in recent months as Spring Breakers were warned to avoid Mexico (The ATF, in an odd move for an agency whose role seems mismatched for such statements, warned students to avoid Mexico – and then later softened their stance). The U.S. Joint Forces Command, meanwhile, identified Mexico as one of the two most critical states in danger of failing due to the havoc created by the region’s drug cartels.
To be sure, the violence appears to have taken a particularly savage turn over the past few years. Missing in some of these assessments, however, is that the backlash comes from the Mexican government’s own success in attacking the country’s drug cartels over the past eight years. Dismantling long-standing drug trafficking organizations, unfortunately, creates instability . Drug trafficking was a major problem during the 1990s but it may not have attracted this much attention because the drug groups operated with comparatively minimal meddling from the government. This created a false sense of order.
With so much attention on the violence in Mexico lately (I can’t seem to turn on the radio or read a news media source without hearing about it), Mexican authorities have lashed back. In recent weeks, they have pointed out that the U.S. demand for drugs is fueling the drug trade. They have accused the U.S. of not doing enough to curb the flow of firearms south of the border into the hands of drug traffickers. Mexican president Felipe Calderon also suggested that the U.S. do a better job of attacking drug corruption in its own agencies.
Things have gotten testy, and the visits by U.S. diplomats are clearly meant to soothe the bickering and focus on the cross-border collaboration efforts. Whether this actually translates to a reduction in the violence is unclear, especially when we consider the unabated demand for drugs in the United States. Instead, stability may be more dependent on the ability of Mexican drug groups to re-negotiate their roles in a way that gives us all the illusion that the underlying problem has been fixed.
Here is an essay by Mexican scholar Enrique Krauze who argues that Mexico is not a “failed state” at risk of “imminent collapse.”
Here is a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune about how Mexican drug trafficking groups get their guns from the U.S.
Blog essay by Anna Cearley, former border reporter