By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor
There is a savage war raging south of the Mexican border. Staggering levels of violence and crime have become all too familiar in the midst of the country’s struggle to loosen the grip of the drug cartels. The government and the police are either AWOL, corrupt or complicit, oftentimes themselves working for the cartels. Millions of Mexicans have fled to the United States, leaving their homeland ripe for the plunder.
Although violence has long been rampant between drug cartels jockeying for territory, the government and the population at large turned a blind eye in the 1990s and early 2000s. That changed at the end of 2006 when President Felipe Calderón sent 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacán to end drug violence. It was the first major shot across the bow of organized crime. The action ignited a war between the government and the drug cartels, with the people of Mexico caught in the crossfire. The fighting has killed an estimated 90,000 people since it began seven years ago, and those left in its wake are finally fed up.
The Knights Templar, Mexico’s third-largest drug cartel, is the most powerful cartel in Michoacan, which is about 1,000 miles south of El Paso, Tx on the Pacific coast of central Mexico. The Templars have earnings of more than $75 million each year, according to a recent intelligence report. When the government turned up the heat on the drug trade, cartels began looking for other streams of revenue ... "diversifying their portfolios," if you will. The Templars began kidnapping locals and extorting local businesses. They taxed every aspect of life and murdered those who couldn’t pay. Then they began taking women as payment, including young children and the elderly. The police were useless – in Mexico, only about five percent of reported crimes are solved.
Then one day, an 11-year-old girl walked into the local doctor's office with a three-month-old baby. She had been raped by cartel members when she was 10. That was when Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles had finally had enough. "They kidnapped my sisters, they tried to kill my wife and my children, and when they started going into the schools and taking the baby girls, 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds, that was my breaking point," he said.
Mireles formed squads of vigilantes to challenge the Knights Templar and corrupt government officials. What began as a few scattered self-defense groups has spread to dozens of towns across Michoacan. Despite the overwhelming odds, ordinary citizens armed with machetes and rifles have done what the military has not been able to accomplish in well over a decade. Across the lawless wastelands of Mexico, when the local farmers and workers finally rose up united, the gangs ran away. The stories are reminiscent of the fabled American Wild West made famous by Clint Eastwood films – gangs of marauders terrorizing small towns until someone has the courage to take lead.
These groups of Autodefensas (self defense forces) have risen from the desperation of tyranny. "It's better to die with honor than to live on your knees," said one of the vigilantes. They now operate openly in 13 different states and at least 68 municipalities. With the rebellion spreading, the fate of Mexico could hang in the balance.
“I may live one year or 15, but I will live free.”
Being born in Mexico doesn't leave the average person with a lot of good options. Each year, hundreds of thousands of highly motivated Mexicans cross the border into the United States, risking life and limb to search for a better life. Their journey is extraordinarily difficult – the dangers include being robbed and killed by their guides (commonly called "coyotes"), dehydration, weather related injuries, incarceration, deportation, abuse and forced prostitution, among others. If they stay at home, their prospects aren't much better, but they certainly could be.
In terms of natural resources, Mexico is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. In fact, Mexico is home to Carlos Slim, the wealthiest man in the world. The problem is rampant corruption and a misallocation of resources and, of course, the violence stemming from the $60 billion drug trade. But imagine what the world would look like if the people of Mexico took their country back.
Currently an estimated six million Mexicans are living in the United States illegally. Several groups advocate opening up the border as the humane thing to do. In reality, republicans want cheap labor and the democrats want cheap votes. Immigration reform is on the political horizon. What about the other side of immigration? What about those left behind in Mexico? Is it humane to leave them to be exploited? What if the millions of able-bodied men and women who travel thousands of miles across treacherous terrain instead stayed home to fight?
While the problems facing Mexico are indeed extraordinarily complex, I can't help but think mass emigration only exasperates the situation. What if half of the Continental Army had fled to Canada to avoid the tyranny of the British?