I write a column for a Canadian magazine called Skunk. Yes, it's a marijuana magazine and a darned irreverent one at that. My column, Drug War Follies, has been running with each issue since the magazine's inception several years ago. This is the opening section of my newest column, which will probably hit the newsstands in a couple of weeks.
Mexico is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I don't care whether you travel in the northern deserts, in the southern highland jungle or on the Caribbean or Pacific coasts, it is just one fuggin gorgeous place. And the people! So beautiful, so full of heart, so much soul. And then there's the music and the festivals and the food and the marijuana and the magic mushrooms and the incredibly scary mountain bus rides.
So what did we do? I mean we, the US? We fucked it up. We ruined it. We turned a slice of magic where the word "mañana" stood for just about everything having to do with getting anything done and turned that place into its own worst enemy. First we did it with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took hundreds of thousands of good union jobs out of the US and plunked them down in the maquiladoras, the factories along the US-Mexican border, where more than 1.3 million people now work for about $3 an hour, including benefits, which has allowed an awful lot of US companies to get very wealthy on Mexican sweat at the expense of our US workforce. But beyond the exploitation of the Mexican factory workers and the loss of jobs and whole industries here in the states, NAFTA enticed hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their farms and communities and head to the factories for the relatively high pay they offered. Of course, once they got to places like Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa and got those jobs, they quickly discovered that the cost of living in those places that had US factories had gone up because the wages were higher than where they came from. In other words, they got screwed.
And then the face of the Drug War changed as well, compounding Mexico's problems. When the US successfully went after the Cali and Medellin cartels in Colombia--which were brutal--in the early 1990s, the ensuing struggle over the mini-cartels that were left in the wake of the dissolution of the larger ones created a power vacuum. And into it stepped Amado Carillo Fuentes, a Mexican (later known as The Lord of the Skies because of his fleet of drug-moving planes and jets) who had previously only been a middle-man for the Colombian cartels.
Fuentes took control of the Juarez cartel and simultaneously let the Colombians know that they essentially worked for him, at least if they wanted to move their cocaine through Mexico. The Colombians, without the consolidated power of either the Cali or Medellin cartels, grumbled but accepted their reduced roll as suppliers, rather than chieftains.
For those who prognosticate, it looked like a perfect storm was brewing in Mexico. First, there were the million-plus workers at the maquiladoras whose pay, though good by Mexican standards, was not good enough to live in the areas where they worked. Then there were tens of thousands of other young men who came for the factory work and discovered that those jobs were full. Add to that the additional revenues coming from the drug business--Mexico's share as the boss of the cocaine and heroin trades was considerable higher than it was when Mexico was the middleman--and you had the makings of serious problems.
Those problems exploded when Mexico began to go after--with the encouragement and financial puppeteering strings of the US federal government--the heads of the established Mexican Cartels in Juarez, Tijuana, Sinaloa and the Gulf. Losing their leaders had the same result in Mexico as it did in Colombia 10 years earlier: power vacuums were created when one cartel thought another was weakened and the weaker ones were preyed on by the stronger ones over the smuggling routes into the US. Unlike Colombia, however, the Mexican cartels had tens of thousands of disillusioned young men, primarily in the north, who either had no work or were not earning enough, and those men were easily recruited to join the cartels as foot soldiers in the internecine wars.
Those wars, the result of the USA's refusal to legalize drugs, were ratcheted up ten-fold when Filipe Calderon was elected Mexico's president in 2006 and sent the Mexican military and federal police across Mexico in early 2007 to destroy the cartels for once and all. But corruption in the military and federal police--whole squads have been disbanded dozens of times for working with the cartels, often as hit men--and the refusal of the cartels to crack have led to over 28,000 drug war deaths since Calderon began his offensive.
And no, these are not just killings. Bags of heads have been tossed into bars and discos around the country, headless bodies are fairly regularly hung from roadway overpasses; cartel recruitment banners offer "safety and a free car" for new members. In the last week of October alone 13 men, women and children were killed at a birthday party in Juarez; another 15 were killed at a car wash in the Pacific city of Tepic; nine policemen were killed in Jalisco state in an ambush of their convoy; 13 people were shot to death in a Tijuana drug rehabilitation clinic. And another half dozen or so, including three women caught in a crossfire, were killed as well. Plus the bodies that have not been found yet.
During that same last week of October, all 14 police officers in the tiny northern Mexico town of Los Ramones quit after cartel members fired over 1,000 rounds and threw six grenades at their headquarters. And in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a tiny municipality in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua, 20-year-old college student Marisol Valles Garcia became the town's police chief when no one else applied for the job. With good reason: the former police chief, the last mayor and several of the town's policemen have been murdered by the local drug lords.
Will reason ever begin to come into play in that once beautiful land? I don't know. Voices of reason have been calling for an end to the war on drugs through legalization for decades, but what with the billions of dollars in black market money to be made annually, most of which at some point goes through US banks, and billions more spent on weapons and ammunition, the prison industry, law enforcement, prosecutors, rehab, hell, even methadone...well, those voices of reason seem to be whispering into a very large pit. And nobody making the money is listening.
And so what if those little brown people want to kill each other, eh?
Looks pretty freaking bleak from where I'm sitting.