NOTE: I wrote this piece last Friday evening, after watching the Current documentary for the first time. In the few days that have passed since then, both the New York Times and 60 Minutes have shed light on the growing Mexican crisis, as well as being mentioned in David Gregory's wide-ranging interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Meet The Press, and in several other mainstream news outlets. Thus, while it may now be a story people are finally reporting, I'm only too glad to add my voice to the chorus, and ask you all to take a closer look at the world on our Southern Border.
In November 2008, fresh off my triumph as a staffer with the Indiana campaign for now-President Obama, I made my way back across the country, seeing the USA in my...well, Toyota Corolla (sorry, GM) and making some interesting pitstops along the way. One night, it was a Monday as I recall, I laid my weary head to rest in El Paso, Texas, along the Rio Grande and the US border with Mexico. It wasn't much of a town, I arrived after dark, having driven from Dallas that day - all day - and didn't get to see much, other than getting turned around off the freeway and nearly making for Juarez, the Mexican city just over the river.
That night, after a fast food dinner in my moderately priced airport hotel room, I threw on the local news. They began with the local news in El Paso, which was inconsequential at best, I seem to remember some kind of bond issue, and maybe some controversy at UTEP, the local college.
Then, the newscasters began the news stories from Juarez, three miles away from my hotel. The fourth and fifth stories that night are ones I'll never forget. First, they had B-roll footage of what looked like a staged scene from a drug movie, like Traffic or something of that ilk. They proceeded to discuss the seven "executions" - they don't go through the pretense of calling them murders, sensing premeditation, or killings, intimating there had been some sense of targeting - that had happened that afternoon, in full view of police, on one of the main streets in the city. I looked up from the newspaper or magazine or whatever it was I was reading with the TV blaring in the background, jaw agape, to learn the details. A police officer had been killed in cold blood, and then, just for good measure, bystanders were shot with assault rifles. They joined the more than six thousand executions in 2008 alone, becoming almost faceless, nameless victims to the internecine battle that is gripping Mexico. The next story detailed a warning for young women of the Borderland, as three women had been kidnapped, again, in broad daylight. They were now among the hundreds who had been taken in the last year, most of whom end up raped, or worse, or sold into slavery or - if they were truly lucky - ransomed to fund the Mexican drug cartels and their all out assault on the world drug market.
These stories were treated as de rigeur by the media. Ho hum, another spate of killings, some more young women kidnapped, just another day in Juarez. And it wasn't that the anchors were trivializing the stories either, it's that they had become all to familiar. This was an ordinary day.
Laura Ling and Current TV recently traveled to Juarez, and other cities throughout Mexico to shine a light on this story. It is a battle of epic proportions, one that threatens to turn America's neighbor to South and one of our largest trading partners into a failed state within the next year. And it is a battle that the American press refuses - either wilfully or, more likely, blindly - to cover. Their full hour documentary is below, and I encourage you all to watch it. It is a gripping hour which should open all of our eyes to the crisis just miles away from our Southern border.
One scene in particular struck me. Laura and her crew travel to Culiacan in Sinaloa state, one of the centers of the drug cartels in Central Mexico, where they grow and distribute marijuana and cocaine. They follow a police brigade to the scene of a fresh killing, one man was dead at the hands of the cartel. And with the sun shining down, and the blood still wet on the ground beneath their feet, the officer Laura interviews says, "At least it's only one person, that's lucky. Here, they kill by the handful."
The cartels kill at will, without fear of retribution. How long until this war spills over the border? How long until these drug lords see fit to kill and rape in the streets of San Antonio? Phoenix? Atlanta? New York? Chicago?
The time has come to shine a light on people who murder at will. The time has come to reevaluate how we fight a "war on drugs" and start targeting murderers and rapists and torturers and work at the source instead of targeting users.
If nothing else, Lara Ling and her team show us that until people in power target these cartels, they will continue to operate at will. President Calderon of Mexico has done well and taken key steps to begin stemming the violence, but it may be time to bring international pressure to bear against the cartels. If nothing else, people must begin to expose this issue and bring it into the light of day, so that "executions" and kidnappings are treated like the crimes they are, not footnotes in the daily news.