US Army Chief Gen George Casey inspects Mexican Special Forces. (Pic: US Army)
Over the past half decade Mexico has been the scene of some of the world’s most grotesque violence—car bombs, beheadings, mass executions, unlucky souls dipped in chemical baths or lit on fire—in a multifront war that pits the government against powerful drug cartels, the cartels against one another, and both against innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
The result of this violence has been the murder of 30,000 Mexican civilians since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels after his election in 2006. Calderon sent 50,000 troops into the streets to try and take back some of the ungoverned spaces carved out by outfits like the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Juarez Cartel and others who reap the benefits of an estimated $19 to $29 billion in yearly drug and smuggling profits, but the results have been anything but conclusive.
It is important to note however, that Calderón’s policies didn’t create this spasm of violence, they simply helped inflame an already volatile situation brought about by myriad social and political changes that feed the growth and the bloodlust of the cartels.
But what has caused the recent orgy of violence? Paradoxically, according to a study by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute (PDF!), it was successful crackdown on the gangs by the Mexican government: “Each successive disruption of drug trafficking networks has intensified conflict and competition among organized crime groups, thereby contributing to unprecedented, high intensity violence.” As a result of the growing strength and power of the cartels, and the poor training, equipping and support for local police, large swaths of northern Mexico have become ungoverned spaces, resulting in the killing fields of Ciudad Juárez, a city of 1.5 million just across the border from El Paso, Tx., which saw 2,700 murders in 2009, and which is on pace to top 3,000 for 2010.