The Deity of the Drug Cartels

Everybody has its own religious taste, but by any standards this is an unusual one. Many adherents of the Mexican drug cartels pay homage to Santa Muerte – Saint Death – a skeleton goddess dressed as a bride adorned with hundreds of pieces of glittering gold jewelry served up by her devoted followers. Hardly the comfortable image of a Christian saint, but suitable enough for those habituated to the violence that has consumed Mexico. Saint Death is a symbol for everyday life, which is death for so many Mexicans. Those causing it can take comfort in a saint that seems to absolve them of their crimes. She is one of them quite large.

The Holy Death by Dori Hartley

Like so much of cartel life, Saint Death is crossing the U.S. border. She is popular in prisons, and her figure stands in many front yards. Decals of her are seen on cars and pick-up trucks. Some proudly display their Saint Death tattoos. The American media have even caught up with her The Watters World on Fox tv described her rise with appropriate and repulsive video. A good start, but there could be a misleading implication. If only the cartels had a decent religion, they could change their ways.

This overlooks the fact that they do have a religion well beyond Saint Death: the worship of money. This is a bountiful deity indeed that supplies its worshippers with something close to one hundred billion dollars a year in drug sales to Americans. Who then is the true god of this religion? Unwitting Americans whose drug habit makes the cartels possible? For some reason the media avoid making this obvious connection. Saint Death is an easier target than the powerful American interests supporting an indefensible status quo.

Restricting drug demand is an uphill battle. No doubt more could be done, but a growing number of Americans will have their drugs come what may. Supply is another matter. That can be sharply curtailed by sealing the U.S.-Mexican border where most of the drugs arrive. Given the weakness of current border control, an estimated thirty thousand U.S. troops could make the difference along with another ten thousand to uproot the cartel marijuana farms in the California desert and keep others from starting with their attendant activities. That would be just a fraction of the U.S army of 480,000, and troops might prefer defending their homeland rather than remote places and questionable enemies a long distance away.

Use of the military on domestic soil is a challenge to custom and not lightly undertaken. But the cartels can be considered an enemy power – they basically run Mexico – and a clear present threat to the U.S., including increasing conflict with the Border Patrol on our side of the border. Less provocation than this has led to military action elsewhere in the world. It’s time to confront the gods of greed and violence here at home.

Time To Defend the U.S.

The retreat from Afghanistan is a significant U.S. loss, but the Taliban never threatened the homeland itself. Similarly, a variety of other U.S. wars – Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia – have not endangered the U.S. But one country continues to press, indeed invade the U.S. without let-up – neighboring Mexico, or rather the drug cartels that control it. The exceptional country, as we’re sometimes called, has been exceptionally forbearing.

Photo by www.vox.com Megan Jelinger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This geopolitical anomaly has been the stuff of satire. Take the Babylon Bee whose fake headline reads: “President Trump is under heavy criticism for announcing the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexican border with critics slamming him for using the military for the bizarre purpose of defending the country.” No one is sure where Trump got this strange idea. A soldier complains: “I signed up to occupy Afghanistan, not defend the country. When I said I’d defend American freedoms, I meant I’d defend them abroad, not defend them at home.”

The comic approaches reality when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin assures Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the U.S. will help defend Saudi Arabia’s borders with Yemen, a smaller neighbor it has pummeled mercilessly in a six-year war. Some borders are more deserving than others.

The problem is the U.S border has never been more vulnerable. The highly organized, unrelenting drug cartels are pushing more hard and dangerous drugs than ever into the U.S. along with migrants who are forced to pay $12,000 for the trip or more if they’re from outside Mexico and Central America. It has been a cartel bonanza. And now the cartels are making a home in the U.S. interior – more than a thousand illegal marijuana farms in the California desert and counting. Not to mention all the distribution networks throughout the country, leading to the retail gangs that battle one another over drug deals in the inner cities.

Photo by military.com (U.S. Army/Army Spc. Ethan Valetski)

It’s clearly a national problem that needs a national solution. And that would mean engaging the U.S. military to make up for the outmanned and underfunded local law enforcement. Starting with the British soldiers quartered in colonists’ homes before the Revolution, Americans have always been wary of military involvement in domestic troubles. So, it has been used sparingly over the years, occasionally to break up riot-prone strikes or to enforce desegregation against resisting mobs in the south. There was of course the massive deployment of troops in the tumultuous Civil War.

But these were all fellow Americans. The cartel invasion is foreign for which there  are Constitutional provisions to react. This is where lessons learned from recent dubious wars can apply. While they were not won, U.S. troops were highly successful in punitive raids, in and out fast with maximum damage and minimal casualties. Writes U.S. Marine veteran Gil Barn dollar in The Wall Street Journal: “Thanks to strategic mobility, expeditionary logistics and high levels of readiness, the U.S. military is peerless when it comes to projecting combat power.”

That would readily apply to any action against the cartels. The idea is not to try to conquer Mexico and take the half that remains after the U.S. conquest of the 1840s. It’s to repel the cartels from the border and from the interior. Some thirty thousand troops could seal the border. Another ten thousand could flush out the cartel marijuana farms in California which alarm and intimidate inhabitants and keep new ones from starting.

Since the cartels have become very adventurous in crossing the border, the U.S. could pursue them if necessary, into Mexico. It’s their land, and they have forfeited it. There may be no final victory. We’re used to that. But in stalling and weakening the cartels, we can come to the rescue of both the U.S. and Mexico whose people have suffered indescribable brutality at the hands of the cartels.

The Drug Cartels Are Here (Part Two)

The U.S. border town Douglas, Arizona, has set an example of how to deal with a Mexican drug cartel. Seizing an opportunity, a cartel sent over a flamboyant youngster to run for mayor of Douglas. He won the election and promptly started to turn Douglas into a replica of a Mexican cartel town. That was too much for the citizenry who rebelled and ran an opposition candidate in the next election – a Mormon with ten children. He won, the cartel favorite scampered away, and Douglas, with some adjustments, was able to return to normal.

Photo by wikipedia.org Creator: Chairiot – Ralph Megna 

The circumstances of Landers (pop: almost 3000) in the southern California desert are different, but the spirit could be the same. At the small post office, which comprises the center of the town, I met two elderly residents who described their plight. They are surrounded by cartel marijuana farms. They stink,” says one, meaning in a number of ways. They produce trash whch they don’t bother to clean up. They steal water needed in great volume for the marijuana plants. Their pesticides destroy wildlife, even two bears, not to mention the slow moving tortoise always threatened with extinction.

Patricia Domay, who lives in Landers, complained to a local newspaper that the name should be changed to  “Potlandia.” My postoffice companion doesn’t want her name mentioned because of the possible danger. In Mexico anyone making this kind of trouble for a cartel would be promptly killed. She says townspeople are understandably intimidated by the spreading maijuana farms. “They are nervous, frustrated and some are scared as they have every right to be.” But a recent community meeting of some 200 people considered ways to combat the ominous newcomers, including, to be sure, harsher laws against them.

The cartels would like us to leave so they can take over, says this impassioned Landers resident. No way. Let them leave. 

For better or worse in this democracy of ours, Landers can’t expect much help from U.S. higher-ups. Complacent dreamers in Washington might even consider the cartel intrusion as a kind of prank. Look at what those silly Mexicans are up to now. Besides, the people of Landers are not our kind of people. Our kind are now bringing “peace and democracy” to various parts of the world.

No dreamers, the cartels are aware of this attitude in Washington. They looked no doubt with astonishment on the tolerance of the recent burning and looting of major American cities. We don’t do this kind of thing, they would say. Surely, the indulgent U.S won’t interfere with our harmless marijuana farms.

In fact, they are much involved. While their farms are quite distant from one another in the desert, they are hardly alone. Free from border restrictions, they sell  directly to the U.S, which requires all kinds of intermediaries to make the deliveries and the sales. They tie into the inner city gangs which profit mightily from their participation and mimicking Mexico, fight among themselves for control of the traffic. How much of this is responsible for the destruction in the cities? No one bothers to look. 
Let small town America – a Douglas, a Landers – show the way out.

The Drug Cartels Are Here (Part One)

Traveling through the vast, timeless California desert, you see little sign of life. But wait! What’s that white speck in the distance? And yet another. And one more. As you get closer, you realize these are the white canopied covers of marijuana farms run by the Mexican drug cartels, who not content with pushing more drugs and migrants than ever across the porous border, have set up shop in the U.S. interior. It’s a first and by any definition an invasion, and they plan to stay. Better get used to it.

Photo by losangeles.cbslocal.com

The grim gray midsummer desert demeanor wouldn’t see to offer an attractive change of life, but people are coming, some fed up with Los Angeles to the south. Home prices are rivaling Florida’s, though there’s no sparkling water or beach. For the cartels it’s a perfect setting – hot, dry and spacious. No nosy neighbors, who like the police, tend to keep their distance. Don’t make any unnecessary contact, the locals are warned. Farm occupants are not to be seen during the day, but lights burn all night with their activity. Normally very aggressive at home, they are more cautious here. Business comes first. Violence can wait.

Frank Luchino, city manager of Twentynine Palms, a town with many cartel neighbors, says every level of government and law enforcement is doing its best to remove them. But there’s a big bump in the road. When an illegal farm is discovered, it’s only a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, not even chump change for cartels whose product, including marijuana, earns close to one hundred billion dollars a year from American consumers. A more severe penalty is needed but is slow in coming.

Too slow for the citizens of the region. “It’s outrageous that this is going on and nothing is done about it,” says Liz Shickter, a manager at the historic 29Palms Inn who lives a few miles outside the town center. There are periodic raids that destroy some farms, but they are quickly replaced by others in all the available land. “I smell it,” she says of the ever-present marijuana. She notes how a complex of farms has been provocatively located in view of a U.S. Marine base – a brazen gesture since the US. military, unlike the Mexican, doesn’t belong to the cartels. Still, the U.S military is not allowed to confront the cartels. They are more or less safe.

This doesn’t account for Marine retirees and others in the area who carry guns and are good shots. In Mexico, which has very strict gun laws, the cartels don’t have to worry about the resistance of an armed citizenry, and they of course have plenty of guns with which they have given Mexico one of the world’s highest homicide rates. In the California desert, they would have to take pause. No use losing a shootout. Supreme strategists, they will figure.

Deporting a Journalist to His Death

Since more journalists are murdered in Mexico than anywhere else on eartth – 125 in the last ten years – it seemed reasonable for newsman Emilio Gutierrez-Soto to seek asylum in the U.S when his life had been threatened. He had committed the offense of writing about corrupt police practices in a small town in northern Mexico. For that he was warned he was about to die.

Photo by NPR

But when he reached the New Mexico border with his son Oscar in 2008, he found U.S. officials unimpressed. What was he so excited about? he was asked. The pair were placed in detention – a kind of prison while their request was leisurely considered. Eventually, a U.S. immigration judge turned them down, saying they had nothing to fear back in Mexico. They had even been promised bodyguards.

The ignorance displayed is breathtaking. It’s as if the judge, while next door to Mexico, had no idea of what was going on there. Perhaps he gets all his news from the mainstream media which mostly ignores the  murdered journalists and treats neighboring Mexico as just another normal state instead of the criminal enterprise it actually is. The judge may be a casualty of the media.

The bodyguards he recommended are under drug cartel control and would make quick work of the offending journalist unless torture were also involved. Gutierrez-Soto remarked: “I’d like to see the judge spend a weekend in Ciudad Juarez (a border town once known as the murder capital of the world) without protection.” Apparently, the judge has not taken him up on that, though it must be said that Americans who visit the border towns briefly and carefully are spared the kind of violence inflicted on Mexicans. That would be bad for business.

Released from detention after six months, Gutierrez-Soto worked on a food truck while awaiting the decision on asylum. Various groups came to his defense as the years went by, and in 2017 the National Press Club gave him an award. That seemed to speed things up but in the wrong direction. Father and son were ordered deported and in handcuffs they approached the border when an emergency injunction kept them in the U.S. and back in detention.

Thanks to pressure from the National Press Club and others, they are now living freely in Ann Harbor, Michigan, where Gutierrez received a fellowship from the University of Michigan. His treatment as an endangered journalist seeking help in the U.S. is truly extraordinary. It’s as if the U.S. sides with the drug cartels in wanting him to go back home to face “justice” in Mexico, e.g., certain death.

The case is indicative of a strange permissiveness toward the criminal rulers. They continue to pour their lethal drugs into the U.S. through a porous border that enrich Americans along with Mexicans. U.S. Immigration continues to withhold documents in this case, suggesting there’s something to hide. What could it be?

In Pursuit of the Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels have a key role in the current outbreak on the U. S. border. Basically controlling the entire 2000 mile border, they decide who enters and when. They divide migrants into small groups that can be sent across at any time day or night, making it difficult for the under-manned U.S. Border Patrol to keep up with them. There are long stretches where it’s possible to go leisurely back and forth over the border with no one in sight. It’s a clear invitation to death-dealing drugs headed north and desperate humans trying to escape the all-pervading violence of Mexico and Central America.

Image by David McNew/Getty Images

Among the newcomers are cartel members who are increasingly setting up shop in the US, the better to direct drug traffic and assert their power locally. An endless series of cars cross the southern U.S. daily with Mexican passengers paying as much as $20,000 for the ride. If they don’t pay the full amount at the end of the trip, they’re sold into slavery. The U.S is basically under attack and is not properly defending itself.

Remedies to date have not worked. Border restrictions, loosened under President Biden, can be restored, but inventive cartels can get around them. They lure people to the border and sometimes coerce them because it is so very profitable. Pay up or carry drugs to enjoy a pleasant life in the U.S. Refuse, you take your chances and maybe lose your life. A border wall, only patches today, can be a partial impediment, but cartels can go over, under or around it.

Given that drug-addicted Americans will continue to finance the cartels, there is only one genuine solution – put U.S. troops on the border, which is not unreasonable since they currently guard borders in various parts of the world. Why not here at home were the danger is greater? And why must they stand pat? If cartels infringe on the U.S., like tossing small children over the border fence, U.S. troops are justified in going after them. It’s worth noting that present-day Mexico is less a functioning state than a criminal enterprise where cartels, police and army work together.

In a provocative column in The Wall Street Journal, Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and a Marine veteran of the Afghan war, notes that in fighting a series of inconclusive wars after 9/11, the U.S. military has demonstrated a proficiency in what he calls raids – “peerless when it comes to projecting combat power, putting thousands of soldiers on someone else’s soil on very short notice.“ Quickly and effectively in and out. The goal is not winning an all-out war, much less nation building and democratizing, but making a geopolitical difference in favor of the U.S.

The U.S. has had a checkered past with Mexico, involving above all the 1840’s war that surrendered half the country to its northern neighbor. But it’s possible that present day Mexicans, long suffering under brutal cartel rule with one of the world’s highest homicide rates, would welcome U.S help in curbing that power. No conquest, no occupation, no total war, but a clear demonstration of what the U.S. military does best.

What If the U.S. and Mexico Were One?

Visiting the town of McAllen in southern Texas, you may think you’re in Mexico. Everyone speaks Spanish in a town considered to be 90 per cent Hispanic, and that may underestimate. There’s no sign of fear of any kind as people contentedly go about their business in a bustling community.

That’s the north side of the U.S.-Mexican border. To the south it’s a different matter. Even by Mexican standards, the city of of Reynosa is violent, reflecting near total drug cartel control. No racial divide – a crime divide. Migrants are now piling up in the city, waiting their turn to cross the border under the supervision of the cartels who charge heavily for the privilege of entering the U.S. Cartel approval is the passport.

The cartel chiefs are as careful about people coming as going. Look-outs are posted on top of buildings to monitor everyone who enters. Any possible trouble makers are going to have trouble. A manager of the Fairfield Inn in McAllen has a grandmother in Reynosa who pays a lawyer with cartel contacts to remain safe, a cartel tax. The manger would like to visit her but doesn’t dare. She says she would be trapped in a cartel financial web from which there’s no escape.

Genuine solutions for this impasse are in short supply – two utterly contrasting nations with governments that couldn’t be farther apart. That said, a startling cure was once proposed during the U.S. war against Mexico in the 1840’s. Ambitious imperialists urged taking all of Mexico instead of just half, as it turned out. This would be best for both countries, they said, a greater U.S., a better governed Mexico.

Other Americans were aghast, abolitionists and slaveholders alike. Popular U.S. Senator Henry Clay asked: “Does any considerate man believe it possible that two such immense countries with populations so incongruous, so different in race, in languages, in religion and in laws could be blended together in one harmonious mass and happily governed by one common authority?”

But with U.S. troops in Mexico City, some prominent Mexicans asked them to stay and offered $1.2 million to victorious general Winfield Scott to assume the presidency of Mexico along with its annexation to the U.S. Observers at the time said many Mexicans agreed. But war weary Americans weren’t buying it. They wanted to go home and forget an unpopular war.

What if the improbable had occurred and Mexico joined the U.S.? There would be no border today and no cartels since U.S. law enforcement would extend to Mexico. A more genuine Mexico could emerge from cartel rule. It’s true the U.S. would have become more culturally diverse with attendant problems, but including more gradations between black and white might have softened extremes and, as in other countries, led to the abolition of slavery without the vastly destructive Civil War which still reverberates today.