Thursday, July 1, 2010
Mexico's Drug War Claims High Profile Victim
Typically, drug cartels in Central and South America deal differently with high levels of governance than their deadly approach with common folk. Bribes, payoffs, accommodation are the preferred interactions in order to keep these cartels' dazzlingly lucrative enterprises intact. So it was unusual that a candidate, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, 46, for the governorship of one of Mexico's 31 states, Tamaulipas, was assassinated this week. In the state's capitol, Ciudad Victoria, at a modern convention center where the funeral was held yesterday, thousands of people rose to their feet and applauded for almost five minutes as the bodies of Torre and his bodyguards were carried to the podium. Torre was killed as he was wrapping up his campaign. Gunmen blocked his campaign convoy with a tractor-trailer and then opened fire. He leaves behind a wife and three children.
Torre was apparently on the verge of becoming the governor of Tamaulipas, and the highest-ranking candidate to be killed since presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was gunned down in Tijuana in 1994. The speculation for this murder centers on two gangs - the Gulf cartel, and the Zetas - who have been battling each other for control of drug-smuggling routes [to the US] through Northeastern Mexico. One newspaper editorial implied Torre was executed by the Zetas because he favored the Gulf cartel. Torre's supporters say he didn't have ties to any organized criminals.
Two points of many gleaned from various newspaper articles follow:
* More than 23,000 people have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in December 2006. Beatriz Paredes, the head of Mexico's largest political party, the PRI, said there was a battle going on in Mexico right now between good and evil. "We believe that in Mexico," she said, "there are more people who want truth, goodness and democracy than people who want hate and, for no reason, chaos."
* President Calderon called a special meeting of his security ministers in response to the assassination, saying "These actions represent an attack not just against one citizen. It's an attack against our democratic institutions. And thus it's an act that requires a strong and unified response on the part of everyone who cares about democracy."
There is much more to our southern neighbor and its 111 million citizens than a violent drug war inside its borders and sporadic spillovers into US border towns. There is Mexico's wide variety of indigenous cultures, with geography ranging from sparse high mountain deserts to tropical jungles, and one of the world's largest metropolitan areas - Mexico City. Yet Mexico's positive vibrancy as well as its dark drug war are overshadowed by what Americans hear much more about, the flow of illegal immigrants into the US. And all are intertwined. The dynamics of violence, insecurity, and lack of opportunity increasingly impact and degrade much of normal life in Mexico.
Though the two countries have worked closely on the issues of drugs, immigration and economic development, apparently they deserve an even stronger response, one that ventures into more uncertain political territory. For example, Calderon recently requested the US ban assault weapons claiming that 80% of guns seized in Mexico come from America. That assertion was immediately and hotly contested by US entities, who challenge the statistic itself, while also quickly linking it to our constitutional right to bear arms (the 2nd Amendment). On the US side, Arizona has heated up the border problem with a stronger law on illegal immigration highlight a reluctance by the federal government to energetically secure its border. Indeed, the US Attorney General stated he'll sue Arizona for establishing what he finds is an unconstitutional law. President Obama calls the Arizona law "misguided" but is reluctant to seal the border or address Arizona's concerns without creating a comprehensive framework for dealing with illegal immigrants already in the US. The lack of economic opportunity continues as a fundamental Mexican problem, in spite of the fact that the US and Mexico have pushed through a number of economic agreements seeking to strengthen trade and growth.
Sadly, until a "surge" of new interest, cooperation, and resolve between the two countries emerges, this festering violent ugliness is on track to continue.