Organized crime north and south of the border

“When you know there are babies tied in a car seat that are burning because of some twisted evil that’s in this world, it’s just hard to cope with that,” ( –a cousin of the victims quoted in the New York Times story on the recent cartel massacre in northern Mexico of six children and three women.)

I must admit that for once I resonated with Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip offer to Mexico’s president to send in US troops to “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.” That’s exactly the plot of “The Magnificent Seven,” the movie (1960 version starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, etc). A northern Mexican hamlet is being harrassed by banditos so the poor , downtrodden farmers travel to a town just over the border and hire seven macho Americans to come fight their battle for them.

And why not? And why does the Mexican president resist the idea? We’d just ride on down there and save their bacon for them. (Right, just like we did in Afghanistan. )

I happened to be quite close to the scene of that horror as it was happening. Taking a break from our unnaturally chilly fall, we were spending a couple of weeks in Tucson, which is only about an hour north of the border.

The border is a strange and wonderful thing. Although we could look into Mexico and see the blue mountains of Chihuahua, where the massacre took place, we felt confident that the cartels are e strictly a Mexican phenomenon, all that dreadful stuff over there, on the other side of the border, not over here o n this side. Or so we believe.

It was several years ago in Mexico in a lull in the drug wars that I attended a talk in which a longtime resident of Mexico explained that the previous government’s attempts to fight organized crime only revved up the violence. The new president had decided on a “live and let live” policy. And it was already showing positive results in reduced violence. (A more recent version of that policy has been current president Obrador’s much ridiculed “hug” policy.)

The idea of appeasing the bad guys, in a sense legitimizing them by this “live and let live” policy was shocking to this innocent from this side of the border. What? Reduce cartel violence by not cracking down on them? But thinking more about it, I realized that north of the border we too have what we call “organized crime” installed as an apparently acceptable element of cultural life. We too have never wiped organized crime off the face of our earth and [it has long been a Hollywood staple, rather like cowboy movies. In movies such as “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas,” or the current “The Irishman,” some of our sexiest and most beloved actors play vicious gangsters.

And of course our own massacres in schools and malls have become a feature of contemporary life. The NRA and its supporters amongst lawmakers seem by legislative inaction to be saying: I guess we’ll just have to accept that such things happen, a risk you run if you go to school or to a mall. As gun advocates insist, all societies contain the occasional crazy person.

Cartel violence is orders of magnitude bigger. According to Dylan Corbett, director of Hope Border Institute, cartel violence has claimed over 200,00 lives in just the last decade.

 If this computer were located south of the border I wouldn’t be writing this column. I would be afraid for myself and my family. Mexico is the most dangerous place in the world to practice journalism.

If crime north of the border is “organized,” our government (despite corruption) is, on the whole, even better organized. But Mexican cartels are much better organized than the government. Compared to cartels’ organization, Mexican government is like keystone cops.

How will long-suffering Mexicans cope with the cartels’ “twisted evil”? At this point a solution seems unimaginable from either side of the border. Certainly the solution that seems so obvious of eliminating the drug hunger on our side of the border that fuels the cartels’ violent business-as-usual seems even more fantastic than the scenario of macho cowboys from north of the border riding south to the rescue.


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