One of the most amazing things to me in the recent electoral process was the complete absence of serious discussion by either camp of anything relating to Latin America.
While Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have formed a new anti-U.S. and pro-Iranian axis, perhaps the most dangerous developments are taking place directly on our southern border. It is to the point where the Mexican government, despite commendable efforts by the Calderon administration, is barely hanging on.
I say this with deep sadness. I lived through the similar Colombian experience where the narco-violence shattered the country, almost took over the state, and claimed the lives of many of my friends, including journalists I worked with. That is part of the reason I cannot understand the lack of attention to the crisis.
We are looking at the creation of a series of mini narco-states along our border, and from our border heading south through Central America. Mexico’s own southern border with Guatemala is now awash in cartel violence, and much of Guatemala is no longer under state control. El Salvador is a money laundering sanctuary, as is Panama, and Nicaragua, along with Venezuela, have become black holes where an increasing amount of cocaine transits.
This is a clear and present danger not only to the United States, which will (and already has) suffer from the spillover of violence and border security-but to the Mexican state as well.
Senior police and government officials are assassinated with such frequency their deaths seldom make the news here at all. Some are killed because they are trying to do the right thing, some because they are on the losing side of an intra-cartel battle, but it is shredding the authority of the state.
Illegal immigration of non-Latin Americans, including Iranians, Chinese and Turks, is on the rise. Why does this matter? Because the cartels in their many different iterations and factions, thrive on instability, and their ability to move anything (drugs, people, weapons) across our border. Iranians and Turks arriving this way are not here to see the Empire State Building or the Grand Canyon.
The situation is grim on many fronts. Journalists are being shot and killed in record numbers, outpacing even Iraq. Those that are not dead-and there are some great and courageious journalists in Mexico-are largely silenced because of the threats.
While the United States has just released the first part of its $400 million for the Merida Initiative, the situation continues to be dire, and likely will be for some time.
The collapse of Mexico into the hands of drug traffickers is exacerbated by the global financial crisis. Remittances from the United States have dropped sharply, and Mexican migrants are returning home in droves. This has its positive side, but right now it means that more and more people will turn to drug trafficking to make a living, strengthening the narco side of the conflict.
This crisis has to be (another) priority for the Obama administration. The Bush administration seemed content to work on the margins and ignore the realities on the ground as long as possible. Obama will not have that luxury.
(Douglas Farah fue corresponsal en El Salvador durante la guerra civil)