Take responsibility for Mexico’s tragedy

Jonathan Rienstra

On Sunday, the largest newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, El Diario de Juárez, announced in a front-page editorial that it would restrict news coverage of the drug wars currently plaguing the region. The piece came in response to the murder of El Diario photographer Luis Carlos Santiago.

It was the latest blow to the rights of the Mexican people, who saw an estimated 6,500 to 8,000 cartel-related murders in 2009, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. It’s also got me thinking that it is time that we, as Americans, accept our significant role in creating this situation.

The coked-up elephant that is sitting in the Mexican drug wars’ room is that demand from the United States has spurred the cartels into power. In 2009, nearly 1.5 million kilos of marijuana were seized at the U.S.-Mexico border, with an additional 17,000 kilos of cocaine also discovered, according to the Department of Justice.

If that seems like a considerable amount, remember that it was only the stuff authorities found. In fact, the drug business is so vibrant in Mexico these days that the National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that the cartels make anywhere from $18 billion to $39 billion each year. To put that into perspective, Google made $23 billion last year.

That money isn’t coming from the cartels selling to their countrymen. Americans have the appetite and the money for the drugs, and we have no problem ponying up the cash for the weed and coke because we detach our actions in America from the repercussions felt in Mexico. After all, people on the other side of the border should be able to handle their own problems, right?

Only, in this situation, we’re not just funding the cartels that have in essence overthrown the Mexican government — we’re also turning a blind eye to this fact. Everyone believes that Mexico has become significantly more dangerous the past few years because of the cartels, and we hear stories about the Zeta drug group killing 72 migrants, and we say “God, it’s terrible what is happening down there,” but what we really mean is that instead of Playa del Carmen for spring break, we need to learn where the hotspots are in Costa Rica.

When El Diario announced their cease-printing, they were the largest newspaper to do so. While many of the smaller newspapers had already stopped reporting on the drug wars, El Diario was still working to report the news. Carlos Lauria, a senior coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based watchdog group, sounded defeated when he told reporters for The Associated Press, “The fact that they’re giving up is really bad. It’s an indication that the situation is out of control.”

It has become painfully obvious that right now, the Mexican government, for lack of power or saturation of corruption, has become ineffectual against these cartels and is badly losing the fight. El Diario directed its plea to the cartels, writing “We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect.” It appealed directly to the gangs because in the most dangerous city in Mexico, the gangs have become the de facto leaders.

We have done this. I say that in the most blunt terms possible. Some might find issue with it, saying that the Mexican government allowed it through corruption, or that it is not the individual American but the government that is allowing these cartels to thrive like the gangsters did during Prohibition, and those are fair points, but that’s just excusing our actions as a secondary cause.

No, we have done this. We have created a neighbor so desperately poor and fearful that its right to information, that inalienable right that we hold as the constant in our world, has been bullied into oblivion. We have done so without so much as a hint of guilt.

Because I am not yet on a horse high enough, I will mention a quote from James Madison that I find especially relevant to this situation: “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

The tragedy is going on every day in Ciudad Juárez and throughout Mexico. The farce, I fear, rests on this side of the Rio Grande.