In the popular flick Marley & Me, the protagonist’s friend—a fellow journalist—is sent to Colombia for to write a piece on the drug trafficking, because he’s got a guy that can “put him next to Pablo Escobar.” Pablo Escobar, as you may know, was the infamously violent Colombian drug warlord that put his nation on the map for all the wrong reasons. That was the eighties, and the distance between the nearest U.S. border and Bogota is over a thousand miles. Fast-forward a generation, and you’ve got men like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman—now worth billions; possibly even more than Escobar—running the country with which we share a border in the same ruthless, violent, terroristic manner that once made Escobar infamous.
The Mexican drug war has raged on now for over 6 years, with a price tag of over 60,000 human lives. A few days ago, President Obama went to Mexico to meet with newly-inaugurated president Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI Party to discuss economic and safety issues, especially as it pertains to the ongoing fight against the powerful cartels. They held a joint press conference during which our president managed to refer to Peña Nieto by his first name, praise a non-existent “new prosperity” (a comment which even had Mexicans scratching their heads), and blamed the U.S. for Mexico’s violent woes. In sum: we’ve got the guns and we smoke the pot.
In his own words (emphasis mine):
“ In the United States, we recognize our responsibilities as well. We understand that the root cause of much of the violence here—and so much suffering for many Mexicans— is the demand for illegal drugs, including in the United States. Now, I do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer; instead, I believe in a comprehensive approach—not just law enforcement, but education, prevention and treatment. And we’re going to keep at it—because the lives of our children and the future of our nations depend on it.
We recognize that most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States. In America, our Constitution guarantees our individual right to bear arms, and as President I swore an oath to uphold that right—and I always will. At the same time, as I’ve said back home, I will continue to do everything in my power to pass common sense gun reforms that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people—reforms that will save lives in both our countries. Meanwhile, we’ll keep increasing the pressure on the gun traffickers who bring illegal guns into Mexico, and we’ll keep putting these criminals where they belong—behind bars.”
Are we responsible for the violence in Mexico? Maybe- but not in the manner one might think, and certainly not in the way the president meant.
“We understand that the root cause of much of the violence here—and so much suffering for many Mexicans— is the demand for illegal drugs, including in the United States.”
Do Americans consume Marijuana? Absolutely. In fact, despite the reality that we aren’t the highest per capita consumer (that honor goes to Palau, according the U.N.’s World Drug Report 2012), the cost of the drugs is what really drives the violence. No human being in his or her right mind would plug into such a violent world if the take-away wasn’t lucrative enough. The cartels have a monopoly on the price because they have a monopoly on the goods. Joe American pays top dollar for a bag of weed in exchange for a reduction in his overall risk. By acting only as a consumer, his risk is reduced to the possibility of getting caught consuming the illicit drug, and not also producing and selling it. Plus, he’s not running the drugs through the violent deserts of northern Mexico to his home. The cartels take on that burden . . . at quite the cost. Mexico, like so many of its Central and South American counterparts—has been for generations deeply mired down by the corruption of despotic leaders, which has destroyed free enterprise and collapsed any possible chance at real economies. Is it any wonder that so many Mexicans have balked at the idea of their nation’s paltry average annual income and instead have joined ranks with the highly-profitable drug trade made possible by the open borders this president refuses to address and by the weapons his administration ran? The attractiveness of the drug trade will remain as such—in part—as long as the economic situation for so much of Mexico’s population remains the same, and this situation will remain the same as long as there is no commitment to dealing with the wholesale corruption that ravages Mexican politics, and in turn stifles opportunity in the private sector. Do all Mexicans live in poverty? Hardly. But consider this- one’s chances of making it past the income averages are sparse. Maintaining a decent standard of living depends heavily on the level of education that one has. According to the 2010 Mexican census, the percentage of Mexico’s emerging adult generation (ages 25-29) that has some level of higher education is just slightly over 24%–which means that 66% of the next generation will approach their adult lives with only a high school degree or lower. It’s easy to understand why the drug trade is so deliciously attractive for those who will otherwise scrape by with little more than a grade school education. When one must choose between eating and attending school, the choice is obvious.
To be blunt, there is absolutely no reason why Mexico shouldn’t be a first world country. The people are bright and hardworking, the natural resources are plentiful, and the opportunities for growth and innovation are certainly not absent. As noted, few people can afford to attend college, and those who graduate face limited options in a stagnate market. Corrupt, despotic government stifles growth, and by default it makes highly lucrative drug trade exceptionally enticing. The market for it IS there, and the prices are high. Why not?
This brings up a tumultuous topic—the legalization of marijuana. Be it duly noted that this blog does not necessarily support the concept, particularly on moral grounds; however, the idea that legalization could reduce the cost of the drugs (thus reduce the lucrative nature of the trade) is certainly enticing. Needless to see our education campaigns haven’t worked. Something’s got to change somehow—that something remains to be discovered.
Regardless of our current approach to drug consumption, what should enrage the president is not just that his people consume marijuana (what country doesn’t have drug consumption problem at some level?), but that the cartels to the south all but run his border and introduce the drugs en masse into his country. Drug running certainly wouldn’t stop entirely with the onset of a highly-secured border, but it would certainly make the lives of those trying to do it quite a bit more difficult. And, with each drug-runner caught a message is sent to Latin America: We will not tolerate these practices. Today, our borders are porous, illegal aliens are welcomed with open arms, and nary more than a slap on the wrist is given to those caught.
Moreover, Barack Obama and other world leaders continue to prop up—either by openly supporting or refusing to denounce them— Latin American leaders who do nothing but destroy economies with the very same collectivist approach the President so embraces. (To be certain, when one sends a 4 person delegation to Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chavez’s funeral and sends no one to our long-standing ally Margaret Thatcher’s . . . what does that say to the world?) He has spent his professional career applauding the very policies that put Mexico’s people in the precise financial straits in which they currently reside.
Consider this for a moment: many believe that the primary difference between the United States’ history and that of Central and South America lies in the kind of founding each place had. The United States was founded primarily by people who wished to live freely; people who wished to escape some form of oppression in their home countries. Central and South America were founded primarily by people in search of gold, and other valuable resources. To be certain, many came to North America on similar ventures, but this wasn’t the core driving force behind the founding. In sum, one nation was founded upon the quest for freedom; the others were founded on a quest for money. The quest bred terrible corruption, which continued to expand and unfold in many forms throughout the years. Mexico is certainly not excluded in this. It may not be Venezuela, but its leadership is highly corrupt. Understand this- the drug trade did not start 6 years ago. It was challenged for the first time 6 years ago. For years, corrupt politicians turned their backs to the problem, while subtlety extending their hands to receive payment for their silence. Felipe Calderon of the PAN party was the first to ever do anything about it. In 2008, the Merida Initiative was launched by the U.S. government to aid Calderon’s efforts against the cartels . . . and while this multi-pronged approach (training, weapons, etc.) sounds noble, its 1.6 billion dollar price tag has done precious little to curb the activities. Mexico’s corruption runs deep, and it’s hardly something that can be changed overnight . . . especially by an administration that demotes at every turn the very founding that sets us apart from Latin America, and applauds leadership that continues to dig into more of the same. We can throw all the weapons we want at Mexico, but as long as Mexico’s government remains wholly corrupt, this aid will do little good.
We recognize that most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States . . . Meanwhile, we’ll keep increasing the pressure on the gun traffickers who bring illegal guns into Mexico, and we’ll keep putting these criminals where they belong—behind bars.”
There’s exactly one obvious, glaring response to this statement: Operation Fast and Furious. For those unaware, Fast and Furious was a gun-running operation propagated by the Obama administration in an effort to allow guns to fall into the hands of Mexicans to then be smuggled across the border into Mexico. The guns were to be tracked; some assume for purposes of propping up the need for gun control legislation. Many of the guns ended up at horrendously bloody crime scenes south of the border. In addition to a surge in cartel violence while the operation was in play, some of the guns were used to kill Americans—Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and ICE Agent Jaime Zapata, respectively. Thanks to an incurious media, this operation’s handlers would have gone largely ignored, save for the inquisitive questions posed by some at Fox News and radio host-turned television channel entrepreneur Glenn Beck. Despite the president’s stern words to Mexico’s press about “putting criminals were they belong,” he’s still president, and Attorney General Eric Holder & company has yet to be prosecuted.
The Monday following the Mexico City speech, Simon Rosenberg, founder of the think tank The New Democratic Network, went on Fox News with Megyn Kelly to discuss the point the president made about guns in Mexico. In that interview, he claimed that all guns are illegal in Mexico. While this statement was categorically false, nonetheless the reality of gun acquisition in Mexico is vital to understand. Private, legal acquisition of guns in Mexico is EXTREMELY difficult. One can purchase guns from the military, and in Mexico City only. As the Washington Post puts it, “a citizen who wants a permit for a weapon must apply to the Mexican military — a process that can cost upward of $10,000. Then they pay to have the permit renewed annually. The military further regulates the caliber of weapon, how many guns a person can own, how much ammunition they can buy each month, and where in the country they can take the weapon.”
In effect, there is but ONE gun store in the entire country. Keep in mind that the average household income in Mexico is approximately $139,740 pesos, or around $11,000 USD. This amounts to some pretty serious gun control. Despite this, gun related deaths in Mexico are some of the highest in the world. The cartels certainly aren’t fighting with air rifles. From where do the guns come, you ask? The black market. Whether it’s a Fast and Furious facilitation or other underground, under-the-radar sources, the guns are getting in, and they are being used in crimes. I don’t believe the president meant to draw such a comparison, but it is there nonetheless. Gun control doesn’t work . . . the criminals get the guns anyway . . . and the populous is left unarmed and defenseless. And oh yes, Barack Obama and his administration helped run some of those guns, and he thinks fairly highly of ultra-restrictive gun control.
The president claimed it was the demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. that drives the drug war. The reality? We smoke no more pot here in the U.S. than anywhere else, but the president’s lax approach to illegal immigration and the porous border certainly make for an easy sale; far easier a sale than to any of the top marijuana consumers worldwide. So, yes . . . one could say that the U.S. plays a role in the drug war. And it’s the president’s fault.
The president unequivocally stated that the U.S. is responsible for the flow of illegal guns into Mexico. For the first time—ever—this blog will agree with the president. After all, he did practically gift wrap them via Fast and Furious. What’s more, his reference to his gun control efforts sheds light on policies that—as Mexico’s tight gun control aptly illustrates—are abject failures. He stood in front of a populous which is essentially and out rightly denied the right to own a gun privately; a populous which has suffered under the violence of the cartels and their illegal guns . . . and told them he wants our country’s gun ownership just as restricted. In this sense the president is once again correct in placing blame on the United States. He supports the very same strict policies that Mexico has embrace, and these policies have led to uncontrollable violence. Thus, one could conclude, that this too is the United States’ fault, is it not?
Power respects power. Why did Reagan win the Cold War? Because he leaned over Mikhail Gorbachev’s shoulder at the Reykjavik Summit and stealthily whispered in his ear: “NYET.”
We cannot always positively influence what happens in other countries, and we certainly cannot control how other countries deal with their own corruption. What CAN be done, however, is two-fold. If you happen to be politically inclined, and blessed with the gift of public speaking and wise leadership, take up the calling and run within the Republican Party. Ascend the ranks to the point where your voice is a real influence in policy and make waves. If you are not so inclined, work for people who are. Work to get them elected, and support them while in office. Work to support leadership that is serious about our borders, and bold enough to stand up to any nation that has taken advantage of weakness like that of this President for far too long. Support leadership that’s willing to stand up in a joint press conference at the Palacio Nacional and be firm with Mexican leadership, even when it’s not easy. Support leadership that will lean over the shoulder of El Chapo; of La Familia; of Los Zetas . . . and firmly whisper, “NO MORE.” Only then will our nation—and frankly Mexico as well—see the violence slink away in the shadow of a strong America.