by Libby Hellmann
You remember the expression “Not My Job?” I do. I even remember using it -- sometimes in a dismissive, patronizing way; sometimes to challenge anyone nervy enough to burden me with extra responsibilities.
I get the sense that’s what’s happening today – in a larger sense – when the topic turns to Mexico and the drug cartels. From the administration to Congress to federal and local law enforcement, the efforts to deal with the issues are half-assed and weak. It seems as if everyone is passing the buck… Not my job. Meanwhile, the situation becomes more desperate.
First, I want to make a distinction between the issues of illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Yes, they’re related, sometimes inextricably, but they’re not the same -- something few politicians who raise the issue point out. Indeed, many of the Mexicans trying to cross the borders, including Mexican police officials, are fleeing the anarchy, lack of jobs, and danger caused by the cartels. The problem is that “securing our borders,” the political catch phrase for dealing with illegals, does nothing to address the more fundamental problem.
Which is that our southern neighbor is in trouble. Law and order have broken down. The drug cartels – four major ones and all sorts of offshoot gangs – have become the prime supplier of heroin, meth, grass, and cocaine for the U.S. The cartels have infiltrated the local police, the Federales, and have wreaked such havoc through kidnappings, extortion, and murders that one journalist says Mexico hasn’t faced such danger since the Mexican Revolution. By a 2 to 1 margin, even most Mexicans think the cartels are winning the “war against drugs.”
And now the carnage is seeping across the border. Attacks on U.S. border agents are up. Over three dozen kidnapping cases of US citizens are on the books. In Phoenix we’re seeing tragic evidence of human smuggling rings that purport to finance the drug trade.
Whose job is it to deal with all of this? Well, the Bush administration has sent millions of dollars money to Mexico to equip their police. And they’ve beefed up the number of border patrol agents. And we’re supposedly building a fence from California to Texas to keep undesirables out.
Except it’s not working.
See, at the same time it’s supposedly protecting our borders, the administration, in true Nafta spirit, is encouraging open highways for transit back and forth from Mexico to the US. The money sent to equip the Mexican police, if it even gets to them, has been as effective as bailing the Titanic with a sieve. Reports come in about the bribing of US border agents. And now we learn that building the fence has been too expensive and cumbersome, and construction may stop.
The result? Little has happened to stem the drug trade or protect citizens. Indeed, as Paul Begala said on the Today Show Thursday, the Bush administration cant even protect us from jalapeño peppers.
Even more worrisome, there’s concern that the corruption is leaking into our civil institutions. Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo claims that Mexican drug cartels are buying legitimate US businesses to launder money and using some of the proceeds to help elect local politicians who hold sway over their police force. Admittedly, Tancredo is probably the most right wing politician in the country. Rolling Stone calls him one of the 10 worst Congressman, and the National Review calls him an “idiot.” But his claims, if at all true, are unsettling.
So if the Mexican government can’t control the cartels, and our government is reduced to building partial fences, hiring border agents who themselves are corruptible, and Customs, DEA, the FBI, and local police aren’t making a lot of progress, whose job is it?
Well, apparently we are outsourcing.
Eric Prince, the head of Blackwater, has said the next challenge for his paramilitary organization will be
fighting narco-terrorism. And guess what? The government has responded with some heavy duty contracts.
Excuse me, but isn’t this the same company that’s under investigation for alleged arms smuggling and for killing Iraqi civilians?
And while we’re on the subject, let's not forget the Zetas, a homegrown Mexican paramilitary group, who were once hired to fight the drug cartels. Ten years later they themselves are one of the most powerful drug cartels in Mexico and are now reportedly making inroads into the U.S.
Blackwater aside, what do we do when the Zetas decide to protect their routes all the way to end-user cities like Chicago and New York? (Some say they’re already doing that). Does Blackwater face off against the Zetas? Do they throw down their arms and join them? How about the rest of us who are caught in the middle?
Don’t get me wrong… this is great fodder for crime fiction, and the book I’m working on deals with this. But when I realize that it’s really not fiction at all, I get concerned. And not a little scared. It's just getting too close.
What do you think? Whose job is it? Is it even possible to contain the cartels? And why aren’t we hearing more about this from the candidates? Isn’t this worthier of discussion than lipstick?