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The war next door that America ignores

While wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, from a comfortable distance, been a preoccupation of the American media and public, a war much closer to home is now starting to spill across the southern border. Drug cartels, fighting for control of the lucrative US market, are now engaged in open war with each other and the Mexican government. Violence has escalated so rapidly that the Pentagon warns that in a worst-case scenario, the state of Mexico could be at risk of a 'rapid and sudden collapse'.

While wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, from a comfortable distance, been a preoccupation of the America media and public, a war much closer to home is now starting to spill across the southern border. Drug cartels, fighting for control of the lucrative US market, are now engaged in open war with each other and the Mexican government. Violence has escalated so rapidly that the Pentagon warns that in a worst-case scenario, the state of Mexico could be at risk of a 'rapid and sudden collapse'. "The US defence department thinks Mexico's two most deadly drug cartels together have fielded more than 100,000 foot soldiers - an army that rivals Mexico's armed forces and threatens to turn the country into a narco-state," Sara Carter reported. " 'It's moving to crisis proportions,' a senior US defence official told The Washington Times. The official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the sensitive nature of his work, said the cartels' 'foot soldiers' are on a par with Mexico's army of about 130,000. "The disclosure underlines the enormity of the challenge Mexico and the United States face as they struggle to contain what is increasingly looking like a civil war or an insurgency along the US-Mexico border. In the past year, about 7,000 people have died - more than 1,000 in January alone. The conflict has become increasingly brutal, with victims beheaded and bodies dissolved in vats of acid. "The death toll dwarfs that in Afghanistan, where about 200 fatalities, including 29 US troops, were reported in the first two months of 2009. About 400 people, including 31 US military personnel, died in Iraq during the same period." The New York Times reported from Ciudad Juárez, a city of 1.6 million just across the border from El Paso, Texas, the two cities separated by the Rio Grande river. Although designated as a "City of the Future" in 2008 by Foreign Direct Investment, a Financial Times magazine, in drug-related violence there were 1,600 murders last year. "Mayor José Reyes Ferriz is supposed to be the one to hire and fire the police chief in this gritty border city that is at the center of Mexico's drug war. It turns out, though, that real life in Ciudad Juárez does not follow the municipal code. "It was drug traffickers who decided that Chief Roberto Orduña Cruz, a retired army major who had been on the job since May, should go. To make clear their insistence, they vowed to kill a police officer every 48 hours until he resigned. "They first killed Mr Orduña's deputy, Operations Director Sacramento Pérez Serrano, together with three of his men. Then another police officer and a prison guard turned up dead. As the body count grew, Mr Orduña eventually did as the traffickers had demanded, resigning his post on Feb 20 and fleeing the city." In an effort to reestablish the rule of law and quell drug violence in Juárez, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon has ordered a law enforcement "surge" in which 8,000 members of the army, federal and municipal police will mount 24 hour patrols. Security on the US side of the border will be reinforced by 1,000 National Guard troops sent at the request of the Texas Governor Rick Perry. ABC News reported: "In what officials caution is now a dangerous and even deadly crime wave, Phoenix, Arizona has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City and over 370 cases last year alone. But local authorities say Washington, DC is too obsessed with al Qa'eda terrorists to care about what is happening in their own backyard right now. " 'We're in the eye of the storm,' Phoenix police chief Andy Anderson told ABC News of the violent crimes and ruthless tactics spurred by Mexico's drug cartels that have expanded business across the border. 'If it doesn't stop here, if we're not able to fix it here and get it turned around, it will go across the nation,' he said. "California Attorney General Jerry Brown warned that as the US government focuses so intently on Islamic extremist groups, other types of terrorists - those involved with the same kidnappings, extortion and drug cartels that are sweeping Phoenix - are overlooked." Late last year, the Pentagon released its Joint Operating Environment report for 2008. It warned: "There is one dynamic in the literature of weak and failing states that has received relatively little attention, namely the phenomenon of 'rapid collapse'. For the most part, weak and failing states represent chronic, long-term problems that allow for management over sustained periods. The collapse of a state usually comes as a surprise, has a rapid onset, and poses acute problems. The collapse of Yugoslavia into a chaotic tangle of warring nationalities in 1990 suggests how suddenly and catastrophically state collapse can happen - in this case, a state which had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, and which then quickly became the epicentre of the ensuing civil war. "In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico." In an analysis for GlobalPost, Ioan Grillo said: "While potentially alarming, the [Pentagon] study has to be taken in context. Its scenarios are pure projections and they go through to 2034. In no place does its assert that Mexico's institutions are already broken. "But many media headlines flashing across the internet missed these nuances, warning that, 'Mexico Is On Verge of Collapse'. In turn, Mexican politicians and pundits understood that their nation was being accused of being a failed state now. "Naturally such images butt against the Mexican reality, in which most institutions function to at least some extent and a semblance of fairly normal life carries on despite crime and killing. "Simple anecdotal evidence marks how different Mexico is from a failed state such as Somalia. "In Somalia, many foreign visitors move with 20 or so armed bodyguards. In Mexico, millions of foreign tourists visit each year with no protection." Writing for Alternet, Bill Weinberg said: "Arguably, Nafta is to blame for what could be Mexico's impending destabilisation. The largest surge ever in both legal and unauthorised Mexican migration to the US began after the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. "Sociologist James Russell finds that the percentage of all North America's Mexican-origin persons living in the United States jumped from 13.6 per cent to 20.5 per cent between 1990 and 2005. Russell argues that 'Nafta allowed tariff-free imports to flood into Mexico, taking markets away from many Mexican peasants and manufacturers. With work no longer available, displaced peasants and workers joined in increasing numbers the migrant route north into the United States.' "The privatisation of Mexico's communal peasant lands - the ejidos - was another Nafta-related measure that helped force hundreds of thousands from their traditional rural communities. In these same years, Mexico's narco economy exploded, the trafficking of cocaine and growing of opium and marijuana filling the vacuum left by the evaporation of the market for domestic maize and beans." Essayist and PBS commentator, Richard Rodriguez has noted: "The economies of Afghanistan and Bolivia, of Southeast Asia have been distorted by the appetite for drugs in first-world countries. Third-world despair meets post-modern despair in the movement of drugs. "Mexico is different only to the degree that it exists within the gravitational force of the largest drug-using economy in the world. US officials estimate that as much as $15 billion a year flows from the United States to Mexican suppliers. "Mexican officials point out that most of the cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, and heroin in Mexico is destined for points north, not for domestic consumption. "Who in America is asking, 'Why?' Why are Americans so sad?"

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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