It’s a big country, and what happens in one part of it doesn’t always make the front pages in another part. So those of you who live along the Mexican border will have to tell me — is the criminal unrest in Chihuahua and Sinaloa making the American papers down there? Because my night job involves farming news with the search term “drug,” I read something almost every night that makes my jaw drop and skin crawl.
Drug-trafficking organizations are warring for control in these and other Mexican states, and the corpses pile up like cordwood. The WSJ reports the body count for 2008 was 6,616, and 354 for the first three weeks — yes, weeks — of 2009. These aren’t just-business Mafia-style hits of a couple slugs to the head, either. In fact, many victims lose their heads entirely, a favorite way to send a message. The same WSJ story said one police commander’s head was left in a cooler in front of his police station, with a calling card from one of the cartels. Bodies routinely show marks of torture, and no one is immune — women and children are regular targets. Reuters moved a story last night about the appeal of the drug lifestyle to the poor but beautiful girls of Sinaloa, where beauty pageant audiences are filled with drug lords shopping for girlfriends. Sometimes, the story said, they take them directly from the runway to a life of indolent luxury:
Such high-profile murders did not deter 18-year-old beauty pageant winner Emma Coronel from marrying (high-ranking drug lord Joaquin) Guzman, who is three times her age, in a lavish secret ceremony in 2007, not long after he escaped from the prison where he and Hernandez were lovers.
Culiacan residents say they sometimes spot Coronel at the salons that do eyelash implants and decorate false nails with garish designs or photos of loved ones. Local reporters say her parents feel like they’ve won the lottery.
Of course, the concern is that this level of violence, so close to the U.S., could easily cross the border. (Needless to say, we’re the destination of the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs being produced in Mexico, and these operations are well-established here.) A NYT story earlier this week offers this stark contrast: El Paso, Texas, is considered the third-safest city in the United States, while Juarez, right across the Rio Grande, had 1,550 drug-related homicides last year. The story said the Bush administration had a plan to send more agents and troops to the region, should the fighting spill over to the American side. But fans of “The Wire” and public-policy debate will appreciate this blackly comic detail:
The conflict in Juárez has led some in El Paso to propose radical solutions. In a symbolic resolution of support for Juárez, the El Paso City Council recently voted unanimously to ask Washington to consider legalizing drugs as a way to end the violence. “We think it should at least be on the table,” Councilman Beto O’Rourke said. On Monday, the Council backed down after the mayor vetoed the resolution and local members of Congress warned that the Council’s stance might imperil federal aid.
The council said: “Think about it.” Congress said: “Don’t even.”
That Wall Street Journal story quotes Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar, from his assessment of what Mexican police are up against:
“The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 cal sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.”
And my ex-congressman thinks the answer to this is: A wall. Good luck with that.
Well. Didn’t want to bring you guys down on a spectacularly bringin’-down sort of day. Seventy-five thousand jobs lost, justlikethat, yesterday. I tried to tally up how much of our discretionary spending could be curtailed in the very likely event we’re included in the carnage before year’s end, and came up with: Not bloody much. Cable, cell phone, gym membership, a few meals out — it doesn’t add up to more than a couple hundred bucks a month. The fixed costs aren’t lavish — our mortgage payment wouldn’t get us a two-bedroom apartment elsewhere in town, but they are fixed. You gotta have a roof and a couple meals a day, after all. I keep reading about how this is all the fault of “our” greed and “our” unwillingness to live within our means, but I’m not the one with an $87,000 rug or a frequent-flyer account at Hermes, so please — include me out.
I’m telling you: President Obama? A few public floggings? Would guarantee you not only a second term, but perhaps a rollback of the 22nd amendment and probably a jeweled crown.
Ah, I’m just another whiner in a nation full of them. We send our good thoughts to Deborah, our NN.C community member, facing a big announcement in her own office today. Fingers crossed all over for her.
Have I crushed your spirit yet? I don’t mean to. Every so often you look around and see the funniest things. In these long, dark winter evenings, Kate and I have taken to watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” again, a reprise of her third-grade year, before Zack and Cody co-opted her. (Also, my former colleague Lynne McKenna Frazier was on last week, and though she didn’t win, I send her belated congratulations on making the cut and answering some toughies.) Last night the winner on “Wheel” was a gay man, accompanied in his victory dance by “my fiancee, Chuck.” It was so sweet and normal you couldn’t help but smile.
In the darkness, we see shafts of light. The days are getting longer. More layoffs ahead, but maybe we’ll survive it after all.
Off to the gym to sweat it all out.