This is the third article in a Truthout series on viewing US immigration and Mexican border policies through a social justice lens, focusing on the lower Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, Texas, area. Mark Karlin, editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout, visited the region recently to file these reports. The first two installments in the series are, “The Border Wall: The Last Stand at Making the US a White Gated Community” and “Murder Incorporated: Guns, the NRA and the Politics of Violence on the Mexican Border.”
The Official Story From the US State Department
On March 29, 2012, William R. Brownfield, US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (in other words, Hillary Clinton’s point person on drug issues), testified before the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. His subject was the war on drugs in the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States and Canada. Few, if any, reporters from the US press attended.
Approximately 50,000 or more Mexicans have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a so-called war on drug cartels. (In a recent appearance in Toronto, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed 150,000 people have died in the drug war in Mexico, but the timeline Panetta was referring to was unclear, as was the origin of the figure he cited.) Given that five Juarez police officers were gunned down at a party the night before Brownfield’s testimony, the Spanish-language press, unlike the American media, took an interest in his remarks.
You see, Juarez is kind of a sore spot for Mexicans. In 2010, more than 3,000 homicides took place in the city where killings are committed with general impunity, making it the murder capital of the world that year. Although Juarez’s murder rate has now lowered slightly, the city’s mayor – who lives across the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas – indignantly denies that Juarez is the deadliest city on earth, even though it almost certainly remains close to being just that. Borderland writer Charles Bowden writes in “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields”: “The violence is everywhere. It is like the dust in the air, part of life itself.”
In his statement, Brownfield provided the US House of Representatives with the usual litany of claimed successes, but he also made a few observations that say much about the failure of the US war on drugs south of the border. (Brownfield argues that the Merida Initiative, as the US drug war’s counterpart in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean was named by its US funders, is having a positive impact.)
As in the United States, Widespread Poverty and Unemployment Create a Fertile Marketplace for Illicit Drugs
In the subcommittee hearing, Brownfield admitted right off: “The persistently high homicide and crime rates throughout Central America, the Caribbean and the horrific reports of violence inside Mexico are symptoms of a broader climate of insecurity throughout the region. Crime and violence are exacerbated by widespread poverty and unemployment. This is brought into greater focus as criminal organizations react to the increasing pressure placed on their operations by governments in the region with support from the United States.”
The high poverty rate is also the major reason why so many Mexicans try to migrate to the United States, but several hundred thousand of them a year are turned back, and an unknown number of them become victims of the hyperviolence brought on by the US/Calderon war on drugs.