Mexican drug cartels are spreading their influence across the border into the United States, and members of Congress have placed part of the blame on Americans. During a hearing Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the cartels are being funded by guns from America — a dangerous trend that must be checked before the cartels become any more powerful.
Using statistics from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Durbin said about 90 percent of guns seized in Mexican raids can be traced back to the U.S. According to the Brookings Institution, about 2,000 firearms are sent into Mexico each day.
At the hearing, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said, “We’re not winning the battle. The violence that we see in Mexico is fueled 65 to 70 percent by the trade in one drug: marijuana.”
According to the CIA World Factbook, 90 percent of cocaine sent to the U.S. from South America travels through Mexico.
America has a long history of supplying firearms to foreign countries, but the guns in this case may be used on American civilians, as Mexican cartels seem only to be getting bolder.
Violence has increased in border states, according to CNN. Durbin said that, according to federal statistics, 366 kidnappings for ransom were reported in Phoenix, Ariz., last year. Most of these cases were connected to Mexican drug cartels.
According to a Justice Department report, the cartels are operating in 230 American cities, up from only 50 in 2006.
Mexican drug cartels are now behaving like the American Mafia at its height. The Mexican government reported 6,290 cartel-related killings last year, with 1,607 of those in Ciudad Juarez, the city at the center of the drug wars. The Mexican government has at last begun to respond to the violence, sending 5,000 soldiers and more than 1,200 federal police officers to Ciudad Juarez. Violence in the city seems to have lulled after the military surge, according to USA Today. However, the military presence will likely not be permanent, and the cartels can simply move to other areas of the country.
Cartels also seem to be expanding their trade, shipping illegal exotic pets into the U.S. along with drugs, and the bosses are keeping some in private zoos. According to the Vancouver Sun, a raid on a drug mansion in Mexico City last year uncovered two Bengal tigers, two lions, two black jaguars and a monkey.
Though the Mexican government has made a good start by cracking down on local cartels, they must be cut off at the source. Americans must stop funneling firearms and drug money into these violent organizations.
This will prove rather difficult, as America has long been waging a war on illegal firearms and drugs. The most effective way to stop the flow of drugs is to reduce the demand, but advertising campaigns highlighting the negative health and social consequences of recreational drug use have proved ineffective.
Drug use has often been considered a “victimless crime,” harming only the users, who presumably accept the consequences willingly. However, the high demand for drugs in America has indirectly produced thousands of victims — with more likely to come, an increasing percentage of whom will be American citizens. Reducing demand will not be easy. Even if drug users are informed of where their money is going, many will likely not stop using. Reducing the flow of firearms may prove no easier: The U.S.-Mexico border is far too long to prevent all illegal exports.
The best strategy is to work with the Mexican government both to police the cartels and work toward social reform. By improving the standard of living in Mexico, fewer Mexicans will turn to crime or join the cartels. Reform must take place at every level and on both sides of the border.
Michael Hardcastle is afreshman majoring in mass communications.