Friday, December 11, 2009 12/11/09 - mexico

In today's excerpt - by the estimate of journalist Philip
Caputo, the most violent city in the world is not located
in Afghanistan, Iraq or some Sub-Saharan African
country, but across a river from the United States in
Juarez, Mexico. And in the almost three years since
President Felipe Calderón launched a war on drug
cartels, some 14,000 people have been killed in the
country of Mexico, and part of the country is effectively
under martial law:

"The U.S. government estimates that the cultivation
and trafficking of illegal drugs directly employs
450,000 people in Mexico [out of 110 million people].
Unknown numbers of people, possibly in the millions,
are indirectly linked to the drug industry, which has
revenues estimated to be as high as $25 billion a
year, exceeded only by Mexico's annual income from
manufacturing and oil exports. Dr. Edgardo
Buscaglia ... concluded in a recent report that 17 of
Mexico's 31 states have become virtual
narco-republics, where organized crime has infiltrated
government, the courts, and the police so extensively
that there is almost no way they can be cleaned up.
The drug gangs have acquired a 'military capacity' that
enables them to confront the army on an almost equal
footing. ...

"Of the many things Mexico lacks these days, clarity is
near the top of the list. It is dangerous to know the
truth. Finding it is frustrating. Statements by U.S. and
Mexican government officials, repeated by a news
media that prefers simple story lines, have fostered
the impression in the United States that the conflict in
Mexico is between Calderón's white hats and the
crime syndicates' black hats. The reality is far more
complicated, as suggested by this statistic: out of
those 14,000 dead, fewer than 100 have been
soldiers. Presumably, army casualties would be far
higher if the war were as straightforward as it's often
made out to be. ...

"The toll includes more than 1,000 police officers,
some of whom, according to Mexican press reports,
were executed by soldiers for suspected links to drug
traffickers. Conversely, a number of the fallen soldiers
may have been killed by policemen moonlighting as
cartel hit men, though that cannot be proved.
Meanwhile, human-rights groups have accused the
military of unleashing a reign of terror - carrying out
forced disappearances, illegal detentions, acts of
torture, and assassinations - not only to fight
organized crime but also to suppress dissidents and
other political troublemakers. What began as a war on
drug trafficking has evolved into a low-intensity civil
war with more than two sides and no white hats, only
shades of black. The ordinary Mexican citizen - never
sure who is on what side, or who is fighting whom
and for what reason - retreats into a private world
where he becomes willfully blind, deaf, and above all,
dumb. ...

"[The City of] Juárez's main product now is the corpse.
Last year, drug-related violence there claimed more
than 1,600 lives, and the toll for the first nine months
of this year soared beyond 1,800, and mounts daily.
That makes Juárez, population 1.5 million, the most
violent city in the world."

Philip Caputo, "The Border of Madness," The
Atlantic, December 2009, pp. 63-69.


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