News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mexican crime wave defies easy answers

By now, most of us have heard about the epidemic of violent crime sweeping over Mexico. Over 3,000 have been killed so far this year. And the epicenter of the violence is the border region closest to the United States. In San Diego, a mushrooming suburban colony of newly-arrived wealthy Mexicans leave their BMWs in the garage and commute to Tijuana in aging Chevys. Americans who routinely cross the border like my friend Pieter Speyer, an immigration attorney and radio talk show host, are especially wary.

What’s behind this sudden upsurge in violence?

Like so many problems, its roots are complex and evade simple solutions. The most commonly held opinion is that president Felipe Calderon’s all-out effort to wipe out the Mexican drug cartels has led the traffickers to fight back. The U.S. is seen as complicit as well. Some blame the Bush administration for introducing U.S. trained paramilitary units into the war on drugs. These “Zetas” as they are known locally, have switched loyalties and are now better trained and equipped than Calderon’s national police.  

I am an optimist. I prefer to believe this outburst of violence is much like the bloodbath that preceded the breakup of the Medellin cartel in Columbia. Calderon is going after the drug lords and as a result, the traffickers are expanding into kidnapping and robbery. It will be a bloody and painful operation to excise this cancer from Mexican society. In fact, the U.S. experienced much of the same when the Feds began breaking up the mobs in Chicago and New York during the 1930s.

Time will tell who is right. In the meantime, we are in for a tragic and dangerous period along the border.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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