By John Fitzpatrick
The tragic and heinous murders of nine American citizens has highlighted the violent and lawless nature of the current narco-culture which exists in Mexico and along our southwest border. As people across America express shock and outrage, the tenor of folks along the border is more that of despair and mourning. They understand that the only thing that is new about this is the fact that these victims were all United States Citizens and that it is getting national attention.
The barbaric nature of the crime is not new. The callousness and complete disregard for human life and dignity are no different than what has been routinely occurring within Mexico for years. It is after all, a narco-state.
According to the 2015 Congressional Research Service report;
- More than 80,000 people were killed between 2006 and 2015 in drug cartel violence in Mexico.
- There were 20,766 murders in Mexico in 2016 alone.
- As of March 19, 2017, 35 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 1992.
- In Mexico, more than 27,000 people have just disappeared since 2007.
- In 2014, 43 students and their teachers were kidnapped and were never found.
- In March 2017, authorities found unmarked graves containing more than 250 skulls
- In March 2017, the Los Zetas cartel released a beheading video.
- Over 200 border tunnels have been found since 1990
Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently released the CBP Fiscal Year (FY)2018 narcotics seizure report:
*All seizures in pounds
All of the hard drugs seized show a significant increase over previous years, with Fentanyl up 327% over FY 2016 and Cocaine up 68% during the same time period. These numbers continue to trend upward. The only decrease has been a continued reduction in marijuana seizures. For the cartels, it all comes down to dollars. With the decriminalization of marijuana in many states and municipalities the demand for illegal Mexican marijuana has dropped off.
The cartels export $64 billion in illicit narcotics into the United States. The United States spends around $50 billion on the “war on drugs” which does not include money sent directly to the government of Mexico under the 2006 Merida Initiative, a counter-drug aid package intended to assist the Mexican government in battling narcotics in their own country. Billions more of American dollars have flowed directly into Mexico via Merida since 2006 with little to no accountability. It is clearly a high stakes business.
All of these statistics are indicative of a problem that is of an immense magnitude, but they do not tell the whole story. They are just numbers.
There has been a lot of publicity and political grandstanding around addressing the drug crisis, pursuing the cartels and international aid in support of both. But what have the results been? Are we any better off today than we were ten years and half a trillion dollars ago? I believe that we have certainly increased the cost of doing business for cartels. As far as the actual flow of illicit drugs, not so much.
High ranking U.S. agency officials testify regularly before various House and Senate committees talking about our relationship with Mexican law enforcement along the border. You will almost unilaterally hear that we have great partnerships with the Mexicans and that we maintain outstanding working relationships with them. These statements are not untrue. But the question is, “what value do these partnerships bring specifically to the drug issue?”. There is certainly value gained for officer safety, local intelligence sharing and other lower level local concerns, but in the big picture, these partnerships primarily allow law enforcement to function and survive in a border law enforcement environment that is compromised. The impact on the mission depends on who you ask.
There are unwritten rules that even the cartels observe to some degree, which may shed some light on the motive for the recent murders south of Douglas, Arizona. One such rule is that you don’t bring unwanted and unnecessary law enforcement attention into your area. This horrific event took place in a prime smuggling corridor in the heart of Sinaloa Cartel controlled territory. The list of suspects probably starts with competing cartels. Nothing brings the heat into an area more intensely or for a more sustained period than an incident of this magnitude with international outrage and significant political implications. This will have an impact on illicit trafficking in that area for a while. It will increase the Sinaloa Cartel’s cost of doing business there. If this is found to be the case, it would not be the first time this tactic has been employed.
It does emphasize the callousness and depravity of the people involved. Human life simply means nothing to them. It is all about power, and the bottom line. Tom Holman, former Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stated it plainly. “If you want to attack the cartels, you attack the money.” When you attack the money, you attack the power. They can’t have one without the other. The question is, if we can impose change-inducing sanctions and effective monetary restrictions on other nations and groups like ISIS, why can’t we do the same to the Mexican Cartels?
I believe it is a fair question. One reason is that the cost benefit analysis for Mexico to address the Cartels may not make sense for them yet. Mexico receives billions into the national economy via illicit Cartel funds. They receive millions more annually via Merida and other international sources. The pockets of corrupt politicians and military personnel are lined with well-known, illegal, but commonly accepted “mordida” (bribes). To end the illicit drug trade in Mexico would end an incredibly lucrative cash-flow from the United States.
So, while some in America rightfully stand with their hand over their mouths at the atrocity that just occurred, others, who live in the border region, are mournfully shaking their heads and wondering, when is enough, enough?
As a sovereign nation, one would think that the question of at least having borders is settled. However, there are those in leadership among us who would have none. What has definitely been unsettled for decades is the security of our borders and it seems that is has not really mattered much until recently. Border security is not synonymous with racism or xenophobia. It is synonymous with sovereignty. Without a clearly defined and clearly defended border it is only a matter of time before that line becomes meaningless. It is not a symbol. It is the physical notification of where people begin to fall under the freedoms and protections of the Constitution of the United States of America. It defines international jurisdiction. It claims the land that Americans have died to define and defend for over 200 years. It is not symbolic. It is the demarcation of sovereignty, and if it is not defended, it is meaningless.
Illegal immigration in the United States has historically been driven primarily by social and economic inequality across our border. Over the past ten years, politics have become more and more of a factor. For decades, illegal immigration occurred practically unimpeded. Since September 11, there have been enhancements to physical and technical border security as well as improvements in intelligence gathering and sharing. The mission along the border has evolved from a strictly detect and respond mode to more of a threat analysis and prioritization of resources method of operation. Detection is still a critical component of border security as is the ability to respond. When the push pull factors start to equalize and the risk/cost benefit analysis no longer makes sense for the would-be illegal crosser, the flow is reduced. However, border security has yet to even be defined, let alone achieved, and the flow of people is but one aspect of the equation.
The illicit narcotic business is driven purely by demand. That element of the equation falls squarely on the shoulders of the United States. We consume whatever the cartels can provide. And, yes, the cartels are extremely effective at pushing their product and creating a self-perpetuating market driven by addiction and drug culture, however, the United States cannot stand without pointing a partial finger back at herself for generating a seemingly insatiable demand.
We cannot force Mexico to do anything about their problems, especially if we are not willing to address our own. Mexico is a known quantity. It is a narco-state. Regardless of what our own State Department says at a given time, it is a dangerous place to travel. Many United States citizens live in and travel to Mexico. Those that have been around understand the risks and know where they should and should not be. It can be a very tenuous situation and it can change at a moment’s notice. But regardless, it is all dependent on the will of the cartels and those that they control. Known “tourist safe” areas have become nightmares from one moment to the next due to rogue narco-incidents. It is just not predictable, as highlighted by the recent tragedy.
One often overlooked concern with border security is spillover. It is a question that is asked often by politicians, and usually timed close to an event such like the recent one. Are we seeing any indicators that this kind of activity is “spilling into” the U.S.? The answer from those who live along the border is unequivocally, yes. The murder of Robert Krentz is but one example of the spillover that is a result of an unsecured border. Ask his family if the impact is real. There are countless other examples such as running gun battles on the freeways, kidnappings, and other associated crimes in towns and cities throughout the border region. And from aa big picture view the countless murders, drug overdoses and lives destroyed due to fentanyl and other drugs are part of the equation of the narco-state to our south.
The truth is, that if we do not clearly define and secure our borders physically, and define who we are culturally and from a national values standpoint, then it is only a matter of time until what is within our borders becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the world. Other “border-less” countries have stood in judgement as America struggled to deal with the flood of illegal aliens and many within criticized the men and women of Border Patrol and ICE for doing the job of enforcing the laws that Congress enacted and our agents swore to uphold. It seems that those countries are now changing their tune as they face massive crime and the undermining of their national identities and way of life. Here at home, people are just beginning to wake up to the impact of criminal illegal aliens who are provided sanctuary by municipal officials and politicians who are unilaterally implementing policies out of ignorance that endanger their citizenry. Just the other day, Tucson, Arizona soundly rejected the idea via voter initiative in the local election but many communities across the nation are at the whim of their elected officials.
What happened less than 100 miles from our border is a senseless tragedy perpetrated by evil against Americans. It is most likely violence perpetrated by those associated with the illegal drug trade. America needs to decide collectively if we are willing to allow them continue to destroy us. ISIS has nothing on them and they are in our back yard. They operate by a different set of rules.
They have invited themselves into our house and brought death and destruction. They will not stop until they are stopped. It’s time to kick them out, show them the line and enforce the rules. Without borders we have no sovereignty. Without sovereignty we have no country. Is our sovereignty, so dearly paid for, really so cheaply for sale to the cartels?
John Fitzpatrick is a Freelance Writer and Consultant with a focus on border and immigration related issues, personal security and leadership development/mentoring.
John retired from and draws on 29 years of experience with the United States Border Patrol where he held various positions during his career to include:
Associate Chief, Unmanned Aerial Systems, Headquarters Border Patrol
(A) Deputy Chief, El Paso, Texas
Division Chief Operations, Tucson, Arizona
Assistant Chief, Tucson, Arizona
Agent in Charge, Nogales, Arizona,
Spec Ops Supervisor, Prosecution Supervisor, BORTAC Tactical Team
John has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maine and completed an Advanced Management Program at the University of Chicago Booth.John has been on various church boards, been involved with community event planning and enjoys traveling and engaging in consensus building, leadership development and mentoring.