Double-vision on Mexico’s “drug war”

By Michelle Chen Mar 11, 2009

On the U.S.-Mexico border, drug-related violence rivals immigration as a media fixation, projecting images of a so-called “failed state” and a “wave” of killings. The New York Times cites a National Drug Intelligence Center report calling Mexican cartels “the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States,” and quotes Commander Dan Allen of Arizona’s Department of Public Safety reporting that the violence is “reaching into Arizona, and that is what is really alarming local and state law enforcement.” Yet further down in the article, we learn:

In some cases, the connection to the cartels in American cities are tenuous or not fully understood, law enforcement officials have said. But in this border state, the anxiety is acute and the ties to drug and human smuggling strong.

Hm. Anyone else care to weigh in? Laura Carlsen, director of the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program, dissects the media hype, stressing that while the violence is real, partisan spin abounds the tense border-policy debate:

Drug-war doublespeak pervades and defines the U.S.-Mexico relationship today. The discourse aims not to win the war on drugs but to assure funding and public support for the military model of combating illegal drug trafficking, despite the losses and overwhelming evidence that current strategies are not working…. While military intervention in Mexico isn’t on the horizon, the recent hype has been accompanied by requests for military build-up on the border. Texas Governor Rick Perry jetted to Washington to ask for $135 million and 1,000 soldiers. Talk of sending more National Guard circulated, along with mentions of a border "surge." The Texas state government announced a rapid-mobilization plan in case Mexico "collapsed," replete with tanks and aircraft.

The border banter in Washington doesn’t delve into the human impacts of the drug war and the related militarization of the border (including a recent boost for the Bush-crafted Mérida Initiative in the new omnibus spending bill.) Trans-border drug trafficking appears to involve intricate links between organized crime and human smuggling. Meanwhile, there are signs that violence in Mexico is driving an influx in drug war refugees. At the same time, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, comprised of various Latin American political leaders, argues in a recent report that U.S.-led drug war crackdowns have failed. Noting that “the drug trade is a transnational problem,” the group recommended a harm-reduction approach that deals holistically with the social impacts of organized crime. US-Mexico policy straddles two societies and demands mutual social responsibility. The crisis surrounding the so-called drug war has many sides, none of which can be dealt with in isolation. Image: Miguel Tovar / Associated Press