Hank Crumpton is someone who knows national security. Not only was he one of the top CIA agents in Afghanistan, but he was also the coordinator for counterterrorism. Recently, I went to see Crumpton speak about the issue that poses the biggest threat to our national security. I expected to hear a lot about the Middle East, al-Qaeda and Iran. He surprised me.
Crumpton’s biggest fear is the Mexican drug war.
It wasn’t Iran’s nuclear potential, Kim Jong-Il’s successor or al-Qaeda’s plans. It was our friendly little neighbor, Mexico. As his wise words reached my ears, I felt the metallic taste of irony on my tongue. I had attended the speech in hopes of learning something new. Instead, I was listening to the same facts I had carefully gathered in my quest for knowledge about the horrors of my homeland.
According to my family friends who live in Monterrey, the ninth-largest city in Mexico, drug cartels have instituted a curfew on the main highway toward the nearby Texas border. Anyone who drives on that road after dark will be kidnapped or worse. In other words, the Mexican military has completely lost control of one of the country’s main highways. The problem receives no press because, according to Reporters Without Borders, in 2010, Mexico was tied with Iraq and second only to Pakistan in its overall level of danger for journalists.
So what does this mean for daily life? As Americans sit, Mexicans die. Almost 55,000 people have died over six years as a result of the drug war. Over four times the number of people who died in the conflict in Afghanistan have died in Mexico over the same amount of time. And that’s not 7,000 miles away — it’s right next door. The drug gangs dispose of the bodies in various ways, each more horrifying than the last. The gangs sometimes use acid to burn away the evidence. In other cases they take the heads of the dead and roll them through nightclubs. In the worst scenarios, they take random body parts and stack them neatly on the doorsteps of relatives of the deceased.
In 2008, the U.S. Joint Forces Command issued a report stating Mexico is at risk to “rapidly fail or collapse.” That is just its public stance — in private, the belief may be more extreme. Five years have passed and former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s valiant war against the gangs has only made the carnage worse.
As informed, educated and well-intentioned citizens of the United States, we need to help bring about the change necessary to keep our country safe. In 2006, the Justice Department estimated there were 100 Mexican “drug distribution networks” in American cities. The Drug Enforcement Administration now estimates the cartels operate in 1,286 cities. That is more than a twelvefold increase in six years. Chances are that any U.S. city you can name, large or small, has a Mexican drug cartel making millions — or billions — off its addicts.
If Mexico collapses, our border violence will rise, our problems with illegal immigration will increase and our stability will be shaken. We cannot leave this issue to a decade from now.
We must change how we fight drugs. For now, ignore the facts that our persistent campaign against marijuana users is a waste of tax dollars to the tune of $7.7 billion a year, disproportionately targets minorities, ruins innocent nonviolent peoples’ lives and splits their families and has not caused any appreciable decrease in marijuana use since the crackdown began.
Focus on where the money goes. U.S. officials say marijuana sales may make up 60 percent of the cartels’ revenue. The recent legalization of weed in the states of Washington and Colorado is estimated to cost those gangs $2.8 billion. Those are mid-sized states. According to Gallup polls, 50 percent of Americans support legalization. We should legalize weed so that we can fight the gangs, make our justice system more just and save wasted federal dollars.
Another effective means of attack is tougher gun control. Seventy percent of guns seized from Mexican cartels were originally sold in the United States. If we had responsible background checks on gun buyers, we could hammer a historical source of strength for these gangs. A study by the National Institute of Justice found that nearly 40 percent of gun transactions in the U.S. are private sales that do not require any sort of background checks. Former murderers can use channels like Craigslist to buy a gun, and they will do so without any oversight. Pair this necessary change with a ban on the sale of all high-capacity magazine weapons, and we could force the gangs to find other more expensive, harder-to-source markets.
And finally, the most controversial and potentially most important solution is modeled off the joint U.S. and Colombian governments’ war on Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, detailed in Mark Bowden’s book “Killing Pablo.” If Mexico is to be saved like Colombia was, we must make it clear this is a war. They must take out the kingpins who challenge the viability of the state one by one. They cannot bring the most violent ones to court, because, just like in Escobar’s Colombia, the current justice system is too corrupt and too full of holes to bring much justice. Mexico cannot do this alone. It is up to the United States to provide the intelligence and Special Operations assistance it did in Colombia. It may be an ugly solution, but Colombia proves it can work — there are still drugs and cartels in Colombia, but they no are longer attempting to take over the whole country.
May we find a solution soon, and may we save my homeland.
Nico Enriquez ’16 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.