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Mexico’s Continued Problems


Since everything is so fine and stable here in the United States, let’s look at the problems of our southern neighbor. The violence in Mexico doesn’t get the headlines it did a decade ago. The open warfare on the cartels of Felipe Calderón’s presidency subsided to some extent when Enrique Peña Nieto took power in 2012. The incredible brutal violence against the women of Ciudad Juarez declined as well. But the overall level of violence in Mexico, largely due to the drug trade, has not improved. In fact, it has gotten worse, in no small part because white people in the United States love them some heroin.

Drug war bloodshed in Mexico has spiked to record levels, with more homicides recorded in June than in any month in at least two decades.

Prosecutors opened 2,234 homicide investigations last month, according to government statistics released Friday. That’s an increase of 40% over June of last year and 80% over June of 2015.

Rising demand for heroin in the United States and a bloody power struggle inside one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels have put the country on track to record more killings in 2017 than in any year since the government began releasing crime data in 1997.

The 12,155 homicide cases opened from January to June make 2017 the deadliest first half of a year.

Though violence used to be concentrated in a handful of states, it is now rising nationwide, with 27 of Mexico’s 32 states recording an uptick in homicides compared with last year.

That includes states that are home to formerly tranquil tourist destinations including Cancun and Cabo San Lucas, which have each been the site of deadly shootouts.

Guerrero, home to the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, had the highest number of homicides this year, with 1,161 cases opened since January.

The thing is that Peña Nieto and the ruling party PRI maintain a complete inability to govern effectively, as the historian Christy Thornton explores in this op-ed.

The sinkhole disaster is just the latest in a endless series of scandals facing the president, including forcibly disappeared students, government contractor kickbacks, an escaped drug kingpin, a botched visit by then-candidate Donald Trump, a sharp spike in gas prices, steady increases in rates of violence and murder, and revelations of government spyware targeting rights groups and journalists. Peña Nieto’s approval rating now hovers between 12 and 20 percent — and this has had serious consequences for his party.

Most telling were last month’s gubernatorial elections in the Estado de México, the country’s most populous state, known as the “cradle of the PRI.” The party has held the governor’s office there for nearly 90 years, and the outgoing governor won his seat with 65 percent of the vote. The PRI’s Alfredo del Mazo — a well-coiffed son and grandson of former governors, and cousin to Peña Nieto — should have easily continued this tradition and won in a landslide. But as the elections approached, polls revealed a tighter race than many expected. It was all the more surprising that the challenger, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, was not affiliated with one of Mexico’s traditional opposition parties but with Morena, the anti-establishment, leftist party founded by Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2014.

Gómez faced an uphill battle: Having been in power for nearly nine decades means the PRI has a well-oiled machine for winning elections — and much of it operates outside the law. On the morning of the election, Morena officials arrived at multiple local offices to find severed, bloody pig heads piled at their doors. Throughout the day, activists and citizens made hundreds of reports of irregularities by PRI operatives, ranging from illegal transportation to the polls and vote-buying to intimidation and violence — some of which I saw myself as I traveled around the state to observe the polling.

In the end, these dirty tricks helped the PRI hold on to power — but barely. Del Mazo garnered less than 34 percent of the vote, a loss of nearly half the support the party received in the last elections. Morena’s Gómez nearly matched him, with 31 percent, and activists have filed a petition for a full recount, given the documented irregularities and the closeness of the tally.

This is a staggering setback for the PRI. Even in the traditional seat of their power, even with a concerted campaign of less-than-legal tactics, Mexico’s most establishment party is now holding on by the skin of del Mazo’s shiny white teeth. With all eyes now on the 2018 presidential race — where López Obrador is already the presumed front-runner — new polls show that the PRI is in free fall.

The PRI should lose next year. But they will probably cheat to win, as they have done repeatedly in the past, most notoriously in 1988 but to no small extent in 2012 when it regained power from the PAN. I will believe that López Obrador, a leftist, will become president in Mexico when I see it. That said, the widespread disgust toward the PRI, might actually overcome the intimidation, vote buying, violence, and just flat out cheating that we can expect.

Is there anything the U.S. should do about this situation, other than getting its people to stop sticking a needle in their veins? No, and it should stay out of it. But of course it’s never hard to find powerful Republicans calling for the U.S. to invade a nation of brown people. You’d think there would be sort of limit, even on the internet, on how stupid an article can be before it can’t get published. But evidently not. Here’s Matt Mayer, a former senior official in the Department of Homeland Security, arguing that the U.S. needs a war with Mexico to stop the opioid epidemic.

This unfortunate reality raises a very uncomfortable question: Do we need to go to war with Mexico to ultimately win the war against opioids and other death drugs? By “go to war,” I mean a formal declaration of war by Congress against Mexico in which we use the full force of our military might to destroy the cartels, the poppy fields and all elements of the drug trade. Ideally, as our fight is not with the Mexican government, its military or its people, which try to weaken the cartels, we would try to partner with those entities against the cartels, much as we partnered with the South Vietnamese government and military against the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army.

It sounds crazy, I know – unless you acknowledge we are already fighting a war with Mexico.

Short of such an all-out military effort, has anyone offered a realistic way to defeat the drug cartels and stop the flow of death drugs? Crushing the supply of opioids and other death drugs from Mexico will allow our treatment activities to gain ground against the epidemic and one day get ahead of it. If inexpensive heroin laced with fentanyl, or carfentanil, continues to be easily accessible in our communities, the wave of the opioid epidemic will simply continue to build. We must do something to force the wave to crest and to crash.

Killing a bunch of Mexicans is indeed something!!!

Let me put this issue in perspective. Since the first al-Qaida terrorist attack in Yemen in 1992, fewer than 5,000 Americans have died in terrorist attacks, with many of the deaths occurring on Sept. 11, 2001. In response to terrorist attacks, we waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spent hundreds of billions of dollars on external and internal security measures to detect and to prevent future attacks.

Leaving the rise of ISIS out of this description is surely an accidental mistake.

If we did all of that in response to radical Islamic terrorism, why is it so crazy to consider using our military power to defeat the Mexican drug cartels which have inflicted far more death, mayhem and costs on America than al-Qaida and the Islamic State group combined? Unlike terrorists living in far-off places, halfway around the globe, the Mexican drug cartels are operating right next door and within our communities, pushing enormous amounts of heroin, meth and other death drugs across the southern border and into the veins of our communities.

War with Mexico may sound crazy, but allowing militarized drug cartels to run drug production facilities aimed at supplying opioids and other death drugs to Americans within 1,000 miles of our southern border is even crazier, especially as the death count hits 50,000 people per year. We can continue to fight this war for decades with walls and arrests, or we can win this war in years with aircraft carriers, jets, bombs and the United States Marines.

Imagine how many lives we can save of those 500,000 Americans predicted to die because of Mexican opioids and meth. War with Mexico doesn’t sound so crazy anymore, does it?

Actually it sounds fucking batshit insane.

In conclusion, I am probably spending a week in Mexico this fall. I look forward to briefly living under a government less kleptocratic and embarrassing than that of the United States.

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  • tsam100

    So the suggestion is to wipe out what remains of a central government, and the drug shipments will slow down or stop. Seems legit.

    • Hogan

      Mexico being the only country in the world that can produce heroin, it makes perfect sense.

      • tsam100

        The mention of Mexican opioids caught my eye. First time I’ve heard that opioids, which seem to be at the core of the heroin/fentanyl blight were not a home grown supply problem.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          Heroin is very, very cheap. I had a patient, a middle aged guy in his early 40s, ran his own landscaping business, then his marriage and business fell apart, he couldn’t afford [wait for it] health insurance, and thus couldn’t afford the meds he needed for his back pain, anxiety and depression. As he put it, “heroin was cheaper, so I switched to that.” Never mind that heroin’s not …ideal for his medical problems. Thankfully he was able to get Medicaid, and kick his habit pretty easily. My wife who works in emergent medicine hears a lot of patients telling similar stories.

          • tsam100

            I’ve heard that recurring theme and addictions that start with a legal and presumably appropriate prescription for opioids that cause an addiction, leading to heroin use to feed the addiction at much lower cost. I have no clue how we’re supposed to address the latter, other than no cost treatment programs.

        • jmwallach

          I know that there is also synthetic fentanyl coming through Mexico that is showing up as an adulterant in street drugs in the PNW.

          But I also thought that cocaine was the biggest profit for the cartels?

          • Tim Smith [CRANK]

            Here in Madison WI, cocaine laced with fentanyl has killed several people in the last month or so.

          • tsam100

            I’m someone who struggles with addiction. Pills make me happy. I don’t know what to do with all of this.

        • Jon Hendry

          I’ve heard a lot of fentanyl comes from China. It’s easy to smuggle because it’s so effective in small quantities. Apparently one way it arrives from China is in small containers of urine testing strips, disguised as desiccant capsules.

      • JdLaverty

        Once unburdened by reggalashuns the free market will fix this pernicious epidemic for sure.

    • Brownian

      It only sounds silly because you forgot to mention that the US military will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

      • Hogan

        Just like the other times we invaded Mexico!

        • spork_incident

          From the halls of Montezuma
          to the halls of Montezuma again!


        • N__B

          I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns
          I heard Maria crying
          Late last night I heard the news
          That Veracruz was dying
          Veracruz was dying

  • Wapiti

    It sounds crazy, I know – unless you acknowledge we are already fighting a war with Mexico.

    So, if we’re fighting a war against Mexico, or the cartels… Then isn’t every illegal opiod buyer, every doctor who fills out more scrips than their patient needs… these people are rendering aid to our enemies, right? Asking for a friend.

    • JMP

      That means Rush Limbaugh is guilty of treason – I mean, another way he is.

      • Deborah Bender

        He’s certainly guilty of sedition, but that’s legal.

  • The real question is, how many days before Trump begins stumping for invading Mexico? Doing so would:
    Make him a real wartime president
    Be just rewards for Mexico’s refusal to build and pay for the wall
    Stop the flow of illegal immigrants (but start the flow of war refugees)
    Give the Border Patrol great new excuses for acquiring heavy weapons
    Give Paul Ryan an excuse to slash all social spending because of the war expenses.

    • tsam100

      What’s sucks the most about Trump is that I can’t imagine too many scenarios similar to yours that make me think “nah, he’s not THAT crazy”. I could see him doing this. I can also see all those principled statespeople in Congress giving him a big assist while making it known that this behavior is troubling.

      • And the media would back him as “presidential ” all the while talking about Vietnam and how good that was and it would have been won if it wasn’t for some lefties crying

      • Deborah Bender

        Texas wouldn’t like it.

  • dl

    what was the reason for the decline of violence against women in Juarez, does anyone know? (What little I know about this is from 2666)

  • aachrisg

    “..we would try to partner with those entities against the cartels, much as we partnered with the South Vietnamese government and military against the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army.”

    Dude might want to check on wikipedia how that turned out.

    • Erik Loomis

      What could go wrong?

    • Hogan

      I don’t think Walter Cronkite and Jane Fonda are going to lose it for us this time.

      • aachrisg

        ARGH, the stupid, it BURNS!!!!

    • tsam100


    • gyrfalcon

      Can he, y’know, check up on Opium production in Afghanistan first?

      The phrase “The Taliban enforced a ban on poppy farming via threats, forced eradication, and public punishment of transgressors. The result was a 99% reduction in the area of opium poppy farming in Taliban-controlled areas, roughly three quarters of the world’s supply of heroin at the time.[16] The ban was effective only briefly due to the deposition of the Taliban in 2002.” really caught my eye.

      • Does that opium in any way affect the worldwide price of the commodity? Not sure how much of that Afghani opium gets to us

        • Hogan

          If it’s a global market, it matters. We don’t get a lot of Saudi oil here either, but it definitely affects the price of what we do buy.

    • jmwallach

      Seriously. When you hold up this as a model you should immediately have [CRANK] added to all bylines, attributions etc.

      • Tim Smith [CRANK]

        I want the [CRANK] after my name too! But I’m going to dumb and ill-informed about more esoteric and less obviously wrong topics.

        • Tim Smith [CRANK]

          That should do it.

  • HugeEuge

    Replacing PRI with PAN or Morena isn’t going to do much re drug violence, the money involved is staggering. USA invading Mexico would make more sense than invading Iraq, in much the same way that shooting oneself in the head is probably more sensible than dousing yourself with gasoline and lighting a match. Another authoritarian right wing government isn’t going to solve drug violence either — the cartels will still know who to bribe and who to murder. A democratic leftist government can probably make some improvements but won’t be a solution either. Given the amount of money involved, the size of the country and the terrain, and demographic divides, it will take either a sharp drop in demand (free oxycontin for everyone in the USA) or a Maoist type ideological zealot revolutionary government to defeat the cartels. The idiots who want to invade need to improve their timing — they should do it after they’ve gone batshit crazy from 20 years of the latter on the USA southern border, which by the way would do wonders to diminish the flow of undocumented immigrants.

  • JMP

    The other thing the US could do – but won’t, thanks to the NRA’s stranglehold on the Republican party – would be to reinstate the assault weapons ban, and stop making it easy for the drug cartels to arm themselves with military grade weapons.

    • Joe Paulson

      How useful was that ban with so many loopholes?

      Though the wider suggestion sounds useful.

    • twbb

      You could shut down every military-grade weapons factory in the world and there would be still be enough floating around to arm the cartels for decades.

  • MD Rackham

    We would invade Mexico, but there’s this damn wall blocking our way.

    • jmwallach

      No no, the war would save money because we wouldn’t have to build the wall. Plus we would take their tortillas to pay for it. [Casual racism in style of Trump’s seizure of oil]

    • Mark Dobrowolski

      Just follow the truck leaving the gun shop.

  • The Great God Pan

    I don’t know why you are so skeptical of the notion that what the US really needs right now is for our freakish, demented imbecile of a Commander in Chief to wage a new Vietnam War right next door to us. Don’t tell me you’re tired of winning already?

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Argh. “Opioid crisis” is a bad term. It conflates the heroin from Mexico with the prescription opioid glut, and lets people get away with pretending it’s all Mexico’s fault.

    • Look, Doc, if we don’t camouflage this problem, then we might have to start looking seriously at our own pharmaceutical industry and asking why they’re so sanguine about shipping hundreds of thousands of pills to tiny little flyspeck towns.
      Obviously, we can’t do anything that might damage the profits of OUR drug cartels. So the problem must lies elsewhere.

    • jmwallach

      How much of the prescription abuse is from people developing addiction after prescription (or even doctor shopping) vs. purchase on the street? A year after his death and 20 years after he stopped practicing there, big university finally turned off my dad’s library account and I’ve lost access to so much.

  • sibusisodan

    Just think of all the ways America could save 50k lives a year _without_ invading a foreign country! Some of them, like invasion, will cost a heck of a lot of money. How about a War on Bad Health Coverage, Mr Right Wing McBombsalot?

    Where have you gone?

  • Murc

    This is one of those intractable problems, isn’t it?

    I’m usually a full-on drug legalizer, and I’m one of the people takes a dim view on the current focus on opioids because of the way it makes doctors reluctant to prescribe patients what they need out of fear some DEA asshole is going to nail them for “overprescribing” and ruin their lives.

    (Full disclosure: this is personal for me. I have a family member who tried to kill themselves because they couldn’t bear the pain anymore after extensive surgery. I don’t mean that in the usual sense of people attempting suicide, I mean they were in actual physical pain and their doctors, who are supposed to fucking be looking out for them, wouldn’t give them what they needed to not be in agony every day until they passed out in the evening. So fuck the focus on prescription drugs. Fuck it in the ear.)

    But I look at shit like heroin and cocaine and fentanyl and go “yeeeeeeeah maybe that shouldn’t be legal.” Although I do endorse aggressive treatment regimens up to and including trying stuff like letting people get their junk via prescription, like the UK tried with heroin for awhile.

    If we’re not going to legalize, though, what options do we actually have beyond the “just kill everyone” option? Economic development is a route to go, of course; people are less likely to get onto drugs or to get involved in the drug trade if they have decent, respectable jobs they can work at that provide a good living and have a low possibility of them being shot in the face. But once you’ve already fallen down into the pit of having a massive, entrenched black economy in operation, shutting it down seems… hard. We’ve never been able to stop even soft drugs, only contain them, what the hell makes us think we can stop hard ones? If we manage to establish a panopticon surveillance state maybe that’d work, but that of course has its own problems.

    Maybe the only actual solutions are either legalization, panopticon, or make a desert and call it peace. And if those are the options I choose the first one. It seems like it’ll have less human costs.

    • sibusisodan

      On the entrenched illegal economy thing: how was US drug usage in 80s/90s dragged under control? I tend to assume imprisonment wasn’t effective, but the problem has receded nevertheless. So, more economic prosperity + longer timeframe?

      (I may be off base with any or all of those assumptions)

      • Murc

        Improvements in education and enforcement.

        Those are worthwhile things, but the problem there is that they’re low-hanging fruit. Once your education campaigns are reaching every schoolchild and rehab patient in the country and your enforcement methods have improved from “where the fuck is Ciudad Juarez?” to “national law enforcement task forces operate in unison and with a lot of effectiveness” and you still have a very large problem remaining, what then?

        • sibusisodan

          > where the fuck is Ciudad Juarez?

          Can someone funnier than me make a Carmen Sandiego joke here? I’m too tired.

          More on topic, did the economic prosperity of the 90s not also have an effect? Other than that, I got nothing.

          • N__B

            Carmen Sandiego, Judge Crater, and Amelia Earhart walk into a bar. The bartender says “No ID, no service.”

        • Denverite

          “where the fuck is Ciudad Juarez?”

          It’s where you’re down on your luck and it’s Easter time too. And where your gravity fails you and negativity won’t pull you through.

          But for god’s sake, don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue.

      • Thom

        The aging of the US population has probably helped.

      • Scott P.

        China also went from 50% of the male population addicted to opium in the later 19th century to only a small percentage today.

    • Thom

      I also have a friend who is disabled and suffers excruciating pain on a daily basis and recently had trouble getting prescribed pain medication after his former doctor retired.

      • jmwallach

        What I don’t understand is that there are aging populations that must have chronic pain in other countries (Japan, Germany, France) and they don’t seem to have the same blackmarket.

        • stepped pyramids

          My understanding is that American doctors have historically prescribed opioids more aggressively than European ones. In addition, it’s probably more difficult to illegally divert medication from the more heavily regulated and government-subsidized European systems. Doctor shopping is more difficult for the same reasons.

          There has apparently been a bump in prescription drug abuse in the EU recently, though: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2016-08-03/european-union-sees-alarming-rates-of-prescription-drug-abuse

        • Jon Hendry

          Japan may have more of a “suck it up and deal with the pain” culture. At least, they apparently do with women in childbirth.


          “Women are generally treated as fragile during their pregnancy. But during labour itself they are expected to suffer. Painkillers are doled out sparingly, if at all. Doctors say growing numbers of women are keen to have an epidural (an anaesthetic injected into the spine), but few obstetric centres, hospitals included, offer them, and almost never outside normal working hours. The payment of ¥420,000 ($4,053) that the national health-insurance scheme makes towards the cost of having a baby would not typically cover one, anyway.”

          “For most women, however, the issue is neither the cost nor the longer time it takes to recover after an epidural. Local Buddhist tradition holds that women should embrace the pain of natural childbirth. The experience is said to prepare them for the challenges of being a mother and to encourage bonding with the baby. Yoshimi Katsube, who is 35, says her parents criticised her when she told them she would be having an epidural at the birth of her first child. Nonetheless, she plans to have one again when the baby she is now expecting is born.”

          • Origami Isopod

            Fuck. That.

    • Deborah Bender

      I don’t see any downside to legalizing heroin except that when people are habituated to opioids just to get through daily life, and then develop a very painful medical condition, there won’t be any effective painkilller available to them. Lots of people with heroin habits are able to keep their dosage under control if they have access to reliable supplies of predictable strength; counseling and psychotherapy could increase the number of addicts who do this.

      I’m not sure about full legalization of meth because meth runs down people’s health really fast and both cocaine and meth make people emotionally labile and paranoid. New psychoactive drugs being cranked out in labs ought to be regulated for safety by the FDA.

      I think the right of privacy and the right of freedom of conscience ought to outweigh other people’s desire to control what an adult ingests for the purpose of attitude adjustment, entertainment or other deliberate consciousness alteration.

      I’m also a fan of harm reduction and criminalizing drugs seems to do far more harm than good.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    And the cartels couldn’t possibly strike back!

  • Gregor Sansa

    I lived in Mexico for 3 years, and in Guatemala for 8. I was happy in both places.

    I’m planning to graduate next year and even my wife, who’s from Guatemala and had several family members tortured, killed, and/or exiled by US-trained death squads and so is not fond of the US in many regards, does not want to go back to Latin America when that happens. We have friends from Veracruz and Chiapas and Guerrero (that is, parts of Mexico that are neither the capital nor the northern border, which 10 years ago were pretty safe) who are getting out because the lawlessness is too much. Smuggling, and violence between cartels and the government, is one thing; but home invasions and kidnappings are what really drives people out. And of course it tends to be the people with the most social capital who are able to leave, leaving problems that simply resolving the violence won’t solve easily.

    The world as a whole is a much better place than it was 20 years ago, with extreme poverty way down. Green technology is becoming viable. There’s plenty of reasons for hope. But when I look at how hope has eroded in places like Latin America or the Middle East… it’s sometimes hard to remember that. And yes, the difference between Clinton and Trump is noticeable, even in those places where that’s not the heart of the problem.

    • tsam100

      Jesus. I don’t even know what to say to that.

  • Spot Letton

    “If we did all of that in response to radical Islamic terrorism, why is it so crazy to consider using our military power to defeat the Mexican drug cartels…” Um…because Americans aren’t paying $100 a gram for Al Qaeda leaflets?

  • twbb

    “But the overall level of violence in Mexico, largely due to the drug trade, has not improved. In fact, it has gotten worse, in no small part because white people in the United States love them some heroin.”

    Blaming addicts for their addiction, and only Americans have agency?

  • As a mexican citizen, political scientist and liberal leftist, I have never seen the creature “López Obrador the true leftist”. He´s against abortion (all kinds) and gay marriage (vetoed a small step towards civil equality when “mayor” of Mexico City). His current economic program is coordinated by Alfonso Romo, a millionaire businessman from Monterrey, and Esteban Moctezuma, the head of the philanthropy branch of Televisión Azteca, owned by Ricardo Salinas Pliego -one of the richest men of LatinAmerica. López Obrador is not at the forefront of progressive economic policy innovation. He´s not even a very strong advocate of minimum wage raise, nor he proposes something like Basic Income. His local government was very generous to the famous Carlos Slim and Norberto Rivera, the Archbishop of Mexico and one of the most conservative and vile heads of the Catholic church in this country. That government was also full of corruption scandals. López Obrador is more about power, rethoric and “surface painting” than progressivism and democratization. More: the fraudulent elections of 88 were organized by Manuel Bartlett, then federal Secretary of Interior -part of the administration that started the implementation of neoliberalism in Mexico-, and the corrupt and authoritarian Bartlett is one of his closest allies. And finally, López Obrador is against the legalization of drugs. He has no alternative to the disaster called “war on drugs” -and there is no true and real alternative but legalization…

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