Calderón’s war on the drug cartels continues to rage in Mexico with no end in sight

It seems as if disturbing reports of escalating drug violence in Mexico has become a norm on international news reports. Recent headlines like “Headless bodies found in Acapulco” or “Mayor of northern Mexican town shot to death” paint a picture of utter barbarism and an entire country plagued by internal armed conflict and violence similar to that of West Africa in the 1990s.

While the majority of such drug-related violence is restricted to those involved in the trade and within certain areas of the country, the extent to which the cartels are increasingly destabilizing security in the country is absolutely disturbing. 
Mexican drug cartels have changed their usual operating procedures in response to President Felipe Calderón’s “War on Drugs.” Launched at the beginning of his presidency in 2006, it has been the cause of the surge of violence.

The code of ethics once held by those involved in organized crime of keeping a low profile and using violence sparingly to keep rival cartels in check has now changed to making a hobby of torture and gruesome killings. The recipients of such abuse are more often appearing to be innocent civilians or officials of the Mexican government who are made an example of in order to terrorize the population.

The culture of corruption that exists in Mexico has much to do with the proliferation of drug violence in the country. Much of why the government has been unsuccessful in its attempts to bring down the cartels is how drug traffickers have been successful in employing bribery and coercion to infiltrate key areas of Mexican society such as law enforcement, the judicial system, the press and even political representatives.

Unlike their Canadian counterparts, individuals with careers in these occupations often earn salaries that are marginally enough to survive (minimum wage is roughly $6 per day in most parts of the country), making them more than willing to risk the integrity of their careers for lucrative bribes from drug cartels that are equivalent to that of several annual salaries. It is extremely hard for organized crime to be mitigated when many of those that society trusts to enforce the law abuse their positions by being complicit in such crimes themselves. 

The growing power of the cartels over local populations in Mexico is reason for great concern with respect to national security. The billions in profits that the drug trade brings in annually, combined with the deficiencies of border security in the United States, has allowed for cartels to obtain arsenals of assault weapons, surface-to-air missiles and helicopters that are of much better quality than those possessed by the Mexican Armed Forces.

When you put these kinds of tools in the hands of ex-Mexican special forces personnel using their extensive training for the purposes of drug trafficking, the authority of the government to project its sovereignty through the use of the military is often undermined. 

Grave social problems in Mexico will arise if the issue of the drug cartels continues to fester. In a country with a high unemployment rate, where a significant portion of the population lives in abject poverty like Mexico, many of those living in adverse economic circumstances will be drawn to making lucrative sums of money as part of the illegal drug trade.

This reality is especially dangerous when considering how drug cartels have increasingly been targeting impoverished youth for recruitment into their ranks. This raises grave concerns about future generations becoming socialized to accept the practice of earning large sums of money easily through a life of crime rather than through education and hard work. 

As Mexico enters 2011, it seems as if a civil war of ideologies is continuing to play out. On one side there lies the majority of the population — those that wish to see an end brought to drug violence and corruption so that they can live in peace and maximize their full potential free from danger.

On the other hand, lies those who carelessly resort to a life of deviance out of personal greed or in rebellion to the reality of profound inequality in the country. We can only hope in the new year that the former will prevail over the latter.