U.S., Mexico need to rethink drug war strategy

CNJ staff

The killing continues in Matamoros, Mexico, within bullet range of the Rio Grande.

Two people, at least one of them an American missionary, were found dead Friday in Matamoros. Details are sketchy.

Two other Americans, Carlos Santiago Ramirez and Yolanda Zamora Rivera, were found shot dead Wednesday morning at their Matamoros home. Police suggest the deaths are drug-related.

These events are only the latest in a long string of violence that has left dozens of people dead in the past few years, most attributed to the ongoing drug wars in Mexico and the United States. We use the plural here, because two wars are being fought: one between law enforcers and the illegal drug trade, and another among drug cartels fighting for control of Mexican territory and the subsequent billions of dollars in revenue.

And yet, apparently, the biggest concern U.S. diplomats have had to deal with has been smoothing the ruffled feathers of Mexican officials who were outraged that the U.S. State Department issued travel advisories warning U.S. travelers of violence along Mexico’s northern border.

The advisory clearly was the right thing to do. Americans should be made aware of any conditions that might make their travel dangerous. Bullets flying on Mexican city streets certainly would qualify as a factor raising the risk of any American tourists in the area.

This is hardly an exaggeration. Mexican police officials have been gunned down in broad daylight at street corners and outside crowded restaurants. A gun battle last Oct. 29 between the Mexican army and alleged drug cartel members took place on Avenida Lauro Villar, one of Matamoros’ busiest streets. The engagement, held between two nightclubs and a large hotel, lasted several hours.

All this happened before the Mexican government made the stupendously insane blunder of sending the Caro Quintero brothers, heads of their own drug organization, to the federal prison outside of Matamoros — the very heart of the rival Gulf Cartel’s territory. In the fortnight since the move the violent deaths of at least eight people — six of them guards at the prison — have been attributed to the drug gangs.

Mexican officials must stop worrying about bruised pride and accept the fact that they have a grave problem on their hands. U.S. officials need to take their diplomacy with our southern neighbors a step further and insist the two countries seriously review the situation and determine a plan to reduce the risk to the public. It must start with a re-evaluation of the Caro Quinteros’ presence in the area, and should extend to a complete review of the countries’ drug wars.

Combined efforts certainly are needed. Currently the United States blames Mexico for the drug supply. Mexico blames the United States for the demand for drugs. Faceoffs and finger pointing will get them nowhere. Finding policies that can move both countries in the same direction would work best. Discussions should include the most basic elements of the drug war — including the sense of continuing violent interdiction efforts that drive prices so high people are willing to die — and kill — for them, rather than searching for ways to reduce drug dependency.

Existing efforts clearly aren’t working. Worse, they are making the simple act of walking down the street a dangerous proposition for Mexicans and Americans alike.