Open Graves Across the Border, Colltalers
President Obama’s decision this week to temporarily allow about four million undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. may have another positive implication, besides its intended goal of giving them a fairer chance to apply for legal residency. It may help weaken Mexican drug cartels’ bloody reign, specially in combination with the increasing decriminalization of pot use in this country.
Even if much remains to be done on both fronts, and that south of the border immigration has been on a steady decline, such broader context approach doesn’t come a minute too soon. The recent ‘disappearance’ of 43 Mexican students, now all but presumed death, only exposed once again the horrible collusion between officials and drug lords, aggravated by U.S. aid to the so-called Drug War.
More on the missing, and on the president’s announcement, later, but let’s start with the money trail. It’s estimated that the U.S. has spent, or rather, wasted, some $3 billion dollars since the inception of what former President Felipe Calderón considered in 2006 a priority for Mexico’s future, the elimination of drug traffic. The evidence of the catastrophic failure of such approach is all over the two countries.
In less than a decade, about 150,000 Mexican nationals have been killed or ‘disappeared,’ while consumption driving demand in the U.S. has only increased. The iron-fisted handling of the social crisis caused by drug criminality and its impact on public health resources has also being paired with violations of civil rights, childhood abuse and neglect, and the rampant institutionalized rape of poor women.
And while repression against minor drug offenses, mostly by blacks and Hispanics, has caused the inmate population in the U.S. to soar to unprecedented levels, in Mexico, lacking the American for-profit, minorities first, one-way-only-ticket-to-prison, model, there’s just one likely outcome for anyone caught in the crossfire between pro and con drug armies: untimely death.
The Mexican society seems to be slowly waking up to the reality that after two years, President Enrique Peña Nieto won’t play any role in a eventual resolution of the crisis, and last week, tens of thousands took to the streets to demand a government response. Their answer came in the form of riot-geared police, and what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration, wound up in violent clashes.
What happened to that particular group of 43 students and teachers would be enough to fill volumes of sorrow and grief by an entire nation. According to what’s known, three busloads of Rural Teachers’ College students were stopped Sept. 26 by the bullets of the local Iguala police, and then later, by an unidentified ‘armed commando,’ which left six of them dead.
What came after is little understood. Eyewitnesses and video footage indicate that the police delivered the survivor group to the criminal gang Guerreros Unidos, which later said it had executed and buried them all. No trace of any of them has been found so far.
But as the national manhunt has failed to produce evidence that they’re still alive somewhere, as their families would wish, another terrifying glimpse of the Mexican drug wars has unfolded: search parties started to uncover, one after another, unrelated mass graves.
The sinister findings were not new. Rights organizations had already denounced the lugubrious practice, shared by drug gangs, corrupt police forces, and paramilitary groups, to bury their victims, and a 2013 Human Rights Watch report had documented at least 250 disappearance cases in many parts of the country. Now add to them several other separate mass graves, found just in October.
These clandestine burial sites are still to undergo a thorough forensics analysis to identify their human remains, some badly burned, hacked, and in several stages of decomposing. Worst, some of the holes in the ground had no bodies, as if waiting for the next batch.
As long as this is considered normal in Mexico, and assuming that the 43 ‘undead’ may never be found, the country won’t be able to move on. But while that’s a high call to make, it’s not impossible for a nation so proud of its tradition of resistance and endurance.
That’s why the current liberalization of draconian pot laws in the U.S. is so timely, for it ultimately may deplete Mexican cartels of at least fifth percent of its money clout. With all but only four states still considering it illegal, not just many lives will be saved on both sides of the border, but the parallel underworld of high-powered weapons and political corruption may also suffer big losses.
For those still arguing for the validity of throwing billions of dollars on law enforcement tactics, without proper oversight of how it’s spent, or whether it’s unfairly benefiting only one side of the political spectrum, it’s instructive to invoke the massive number of casualties and the abhorrent culture of corruption the ‘war on drugs’ has been sowing in Latin America’s most impoverish nations.
A new standard may be set by U.S. states where pot is now legal, to break the cycle of drug addition and criminality. Aside obvious gains for the economy, the injection of fresh, taxable revenues can be used for public health programs focused on rehabilitation.
That brings us back to the president’s executive order on immigrants. Although mostly directed at the undocumented already living in this country and caught in the absurdities of our immigration law, it may also benefit the biggest inflow of immigrants, which now comes from other drug and poverty-ravaged Central American countries, such as Honduras and Guatemala.
As the situation of Mexican natives or descendants gets settled here – and chances are that even a Republican Congress will lack the power to reverse the president’s directive – millions will be also positively affected back home. Remittances from now tax-paying relatives living in the U.S. are expected to rise, while involvement and ‘careers’ in the drug trade may lose much of their appeal.
That’s not a stretch. Even conservative think tanks consider poverty and lack of social opportunities major reasons for people to risk everything and come to the U.S. What’s still up for argument is to where this steady demographic rise will tilt the political balance.
A less drug-war devastated Mexico may also influence the whole region. Perhaps then, U.S. aid will finally fit a higher purpose, that of building schools and hospitals, not army barracks and weapons trade.
As for how far this new push for immigration reform may lead to a comprehensive cultural change in how we perceive what it means to be an American, and even why we insist in punishing countries that tend to our collective addiction to drugs and cheap labor, is also a matter for heatedly and possibly alcohol-fueled discussions. One thing is for sure: throwing taxpayer money at it won’t do the trick.
Instead, what this temporary order may carry as its main driver is to give those who’ve been living lawfully here in every other sense, a shot at contributing to the common cause. And those seeking shelter from the drug battlefields of Honduras City, Izabal, and Juarez, a chance at rebuilding their productive lives within a safer environment.
Before we go, it’s important to note that comprehensive immigration reform, and drug liberalization and rehab programs, are but components of a complex set of variables that need to be addressed, if we’re to succeed over the scourge of drug cartels’ power. But no amount of militarization of issues that are essentially of a social nature can make a dent in the problem, as past decades have shown.
Unlike many of those other components, these two are most workable, if there’s minimal honesty and sense of justice. We may be arguing here until there’s no fruit left in the American diet, or adults who don’t routinely get high to face their taxing lives, but the truth is, most dreams are realized by the combination of hard work and fair conditions, not unenforceable laws and injectable junk.
In other words, we can’t continue funding the brutal massacre of citizens of neighboring nations, on the guise of staking the moral ground, while hypocritically feasting on their steady supply of cheap labor and processed drugs. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. WC