Inside the Capitol

Thursday, March 26, 2009

3-27 U.S. Interest in Mexico Rekindled

FRI, 3-27-09

SANTA FE - Mexico typically is ignored by U.S. officials but for the next month it will receive major attention as President Obama and several cabinet officials pay visits.
Drug cartel violence is the primary focus of states that border our southern neighbor but other issues, such as trade problems, also are a concern that federal officials must address.
Trade problems would be a bigger issue in New Mexico except that our volume of trade pales in comparison with the other border states. During the 2008 elections Obama and Hillary Clinton both campaigned on pulling out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement without major concessions by Canada and Mexico.
Earlier this month, the Democratic-controlled Congress cancelled a pilot program that allowed Mexican trucks to cross into the United States. Mexico has retaliated by slapping tariffs of 10 to 45 percent on just about everything shipped into the United States. Mexico is the biggest customer for U.S. goods after Canada. The sanctions will affect $2.4 billion in U.S. exports.
But drug cartel violence is what is on the lips of the New Mexicans I talk to. This violence now reaches Albuquerque and Phoenix and is moving even farther north. Juarez is the center of the border violence with over 2,000 murders in just the past year. Palomas also is seeing much violence.
Up to now, President Obama has directed scant attention to the border violence. But now he has ordered two drug enforcement teams totaling 450 agents to the New Mexico border. South of the border, the Mexican Army has been deployed to Juarez, which has become a battle zone.
Unfortunately the drug cartels can match the army in manpower and exceed it in firepower with assault weapons purchased in the United States. Mexico would like us to do something about that problem, such as reinstating our ban on sale of assault weapons.
Some observers have even ventured that Mexico is on the verge of collapse because of the power of drug cartels. Author Dave Clary checks in from Roswell to caution that Mexico has been through much worse and survived.
The country has a long tradition of outlaw gangs dating back to the centuries of Spanish control. Clary says the groups started in the 15th century as part of Spain's effort to drive out the Moors. The outlaws began appearing in Mexico soon after Spanish colonization began.
This time the target was the handful of Spanish who controlled most of the wealth and all of government. Many land reform movements have been mounted over the centuries but none has succeeded.
The land reform leaders always have been seen as heroes by the poor and the Mexican Indians who were deprived of their farmland. Until land reform is achieved, outlaws always will prey on the rich and government. And they will be heroes to the poor.
The United States first learned of these irregular forces when it invaded Mexico in the 1840s. The Mexican Army wasn't much of a challenge for our troops, but the outlaw groups were another story. The Mexican government was accustomed to attempting to eradicate these outlaw gangs but with the country under attack, the outlaws sided with the government and became a formidable force.
Had we paid attention to Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain in the early 1800s, we would have realized the major role these banditos played in Mexico's success.
Clary says the current outbreak of drug cartels is a continuation of the old tradition right down to the torture and beheadings. The bandit groups in Mexico will continue until that government figures out a way to bring some equity into its treatment of the poor.
And our government and Mexico's are not going to defeat the drug cartels as long as we are fighting a war on drugs that ignores the American demand for drugs and does something about our supply of assault weapons to the cartels.
Clary explains much of this history in Eagles and Empire, due in July.

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