Defending America

Republican Congressman Mike Turner told TV host Tucker Carlson that the U.S . should come to the aid of Ukraine, which faces a growing military threat from Russia. But why should we support Ukraine over Russia, asked Carlson, given Russia’s far greater importance as a counter weight to a military expansive and somewhat threatening China?

Moreover, he added, the U.S  is currently challenged on the Mexican border where people we don’t know and drugs we know all too well are pouring across in unprecedented numbers. That’s where U.S.troops are needed, not as the Republicans imply, in Ukraine for some vague reason having nothing to do with the national interest. And why should our troops be defending other countries’ borders and not our own?

The U.S. Mexican border has been one of the world’s most contentious. It is long – 2000 miles through occasional difficult terrrain. Its boundary is the Rio Grande, a meandering river that sometimes changes course, leaving Mexicans and Americans on the wrong side. It has never been free of strife of one kind or another from early Indian raids to alternating Mexican and American cross border attacks to the current invasion of drugs and immigrants. In an explosion of manifest destiny in the 1840’s, the U.S. took half of Mexico. That more than sufficed. Ever since, it has been very wary of pushing Mexico too hard.

The result is limited use of the U.S. military. There’s a reluctance to militarize the border with the army invariably complaining that it doesn’t have enough troops to guard the border properly. While unsettling, that has not mattered too much except on some occasions like the arrival of Napoleon the Third to collect debts owed by Mexico. With the U.S. involved in  Civil War, he decided to take over Mexico altogether and installed Austrian Archduke Maximilian as emperor. The U.S. and France almost came to blows, but Napoleon throught Mexico was not worth a war and retreated to deal with European affairs, leaving his well meaning protege to be executed.

Pancho Villa Photo by: www.britannica.com

Subsequent clashes were purely Mexican-American. Political upheaval was frequent in Mexico, and restless Texans were ready to take advantage of it. Amid the fervor of the times, a plan was circulated with the aim of recovering the half of Mexico lost to the U.S. The fiery Pancho Villa put his stamp on the effort by repeatedly conducting raids across the border that took American along with Mexican lives. As the U.S. readied for World War One, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John Pershing to capture Villa with 20 thousand troops at his disposal  Pershing became a victor in the World War but not in Mexico. The elusive Villa managed to escape, and the Americans came home without their quarry.

General John Pershing. Photo by: www.pbs.org

But the effort was not altogether in vain. It had made a point. The U.S army could cross the border if sufficiently motivated, take the necessary action and than return without staying too long – a limited engagement, not an invasion. There would be no repetition of the U.S.- Mexican war. Americans only had a quarrel with elements of Mexico, and that ended a few years later when Villa was killed by rivals who had nothing to do with the U.S.

In subsequent decades, border disturbances died down only to be revived more recently in another form. Instead of wanting to kill Americans, Mexicans now want to join them. Their plight is their drug cartel controlled country where their lives and livelihood are always in danger. U.S. troops once again on the border could send a clear message to the cartels: there are limits to their poisoning of America and their destruction of Mexico.

Border Crisis 3

Peaceful and quiet much of the time, Mexican border towns can suddenly erupt in violence under cartel provocation. Last month shooting broke out in Matamoros between police and members of the Gulf Cartel. Three of the drug group were killed along with a bystander. Two police were wounded

photo: www.ft.com

In a notable irony one of the deceased turned out to be Ariel Trevino, known as El Tigre, who was the cartel chief in the border town of Nuevo Progreso, a safe shopping stop for Americans and Mexicans alike. It’s heavily policed and considered free of violence. Perhaps El Tigre, before his fatal encounter, was a peacemaker among cartel chiefs. It can happen.

Nuevo Progreso stands out among Mexican border towns. It’s meant to allure passersby to its seemingly endless lines of closely packed shops in an arcade protected from the sun. It takes quite a while to navigate al these tempting offerings at rock bottom prices. I seemed to be the only gringo there on a festive Sunday, but you can’t really tell since most of us were pretty white.

photo by: mycurlyadventures.com

First in line of eager sellers:- “Want a dentist!” To be followed by “Want some pills!” Want a hat!”  Want a taco!” and as the line trails off and only males seem to linger, “Want a girl!” An interesting question is whether there are as many dentists as girls in the line. Probably a close call.

Nuevo Progresso, to be sure, is a detour from border towns more acclimated to violence. In Hildago on the US. side I drove into private farmland to reach the river. A lean watchful rancher was by the side of the road. Can I get to the Rio this way? I asked. “Depends who you are,” he replied. “I usually shoot people trying to steal on my property.” “Thanks for not shooting,” I said.  “But I’m not a thief. I’m a journalist. Let’s talk.”

And that we did for a half hour. Chet Miller has a reputation in these parts. He speaks his mind and then acts on it. And he does shoot, sometimes to the annoyance of local law enforcement for which he has little respect. Given current conditions, he said, “you have to create your own law.”

He would have no hesitation to shoot a cartel member who trespassed on his land.  “The cartels are afraid of me.” I couldn’t check this out with a cartel. So, I’ll have to take his word for it. He could be right.

The cartels don’t run into much opposition as they advance on the U.S. Is a lone gunman of uncertain temperament the best we can do? The U.S. Government and its attendant media don’t seem to take the border very seriously like, say, China’s threat to Taiwan. Yet the Chinese are not on our border threatening us. It’s wreckers of Mexico on their way to wrecking the U.S with their poison, more easily done than ever with the arrival of fentanyl, a speck of which can kill. Deaths by overdose are rapidly climbing in the U.S. A psychiatrist says drug abuse is likely when there’s so much available. The cartels see to that.

The only genuine solution is to seal the border with U.S. troops. They can stop the cartels from shooting over the border and crossing it. If necessary, they can pursue them into Mexico in the kind of raid at which the U.S. army is particularly skilled. The aim is not to repeat anything like the all-out war of the 1840’s but to show the cartels there are limits and to reduce their power and influence in Mexico. They have never been tested in this way.

Some border residents say many Mexicans would welcome this intervention given their ravaging by the cartels. Now Americans can come to the aid of both countries.

Border Crisis 2

Some 15 thousand Haitian migrants put Del Rio, a small U.S border town, on the map. They huddled together with minimal care under the bridge connecting to the Mexican town Acuna until they were hastily removed by embarrassed U.S. authorities. Some were flown back to Haiti, others crossed the river to Acuna, where Mexican authorities pushed them out. A few thousand were sent by bus and plane to sent to various parts of the U.S. where they will probably be allowed to stay.

Thousands of undocumented migrants have camped under the International Bridge in Del Rio. (Credit: SBG)

Today no trace of them remains under the bridge or the debris they let behind.  Rio is is back to normal which means daily contact with Acuna. While migrants reach the town illegitimately by crossing the Rio Grande – the border – others legitimately use the bridge for their every day needs. Since almost all are Hispanic – same looks, same language – it’s sometimes hard to distinguish legal from illegal, as the Border Patrol has found.  

But there’s one major distinction, according to residents. The people of del Rio who took the cumbersome route of becoming U.S. citizens, resent the illegals who may reap the same benefits by just showing up. It’s definitely not fair, they say, which explains a much higher Hispanic vote for Trump in the last election.

Bob Kapoor, a central fixture of del Rio, tracks the changing moods of his town.   Owner of a hotel in the center of town, ”Whispering Palms,” with a parrot that doesn’t whisper but whistles, he also manages an orphanage for 25 abandoned children in Acuna. If all roads don’t lead to Del Rio, his certainly did from a highly successful travel agency business to a snug perch on the border where he can sample two cultures.

As the migration crisis grows, Governor Abbott is under pressures to close the border, a difficult undertaking considering political opposition and limited resources. On a trip outside town with Bob and his wife Jyoti we came upon his efforts which are problematic. A fence under construction was quite a distance from the border. We asked a supervisor for the reason. He wasn’t sure. Perhaps we knew. It was also less than half the height of the thirty foot Trump fence which can be scaled by agile migrants. A worker explained that this fence is not meant to be climbed but to funnel migrants along the road into the waiting arms of state troopers. Governor Abbott assured Tucker Carlson that this will work. We’ll see.

I was surprised to find many pleasant homes along this scenic stretch of border. Isn’t it something of a risk living here? It’s possible that the drug cartels tell crossers not to make trouble for the homeowners. It’s bad for business, which comes first. It may also be the case that come what may – say, another flood of unwelcome guests – the people of Del Rio as well as others on the border will continue to lead their customary lives despite outside pressures. It’s a way of life.

Border Crisis 1

Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls the town of Roma the “hottest spot” on the border. With reason. The increasingly aggressive drug cartels are now shooting across the river in the direction of the Border Patrol who are not allowed to fire back. So far no one has been hit, but if he is?

The cartels who basically control the Mexican side of the border like to taunt the Border Patrol and see how far they can go. We’re told they harbor political ambitions beyond drug profits. Time to avenge the Mexican War of the 1840’s when half of their country was lost to the U.S.?  The cartels are sufficiently ruthless, organized and wealthy beyond dreams of avarice to act on their ambition.

Photo by www.latimes.com

Their presence is felt in Roma and across the Rio Grande – the border – in the Mexican town Miguel Aleman. Having paid $10 thousand or more to the cartels or forced to carry their drugs to reach Roma, desperate migrants can be spotted daily. The river is shallow and easily crossed, and there are not enough border guards to be constantly on the watch.

“They come night and day,” says an employee at Jack in Box close to the river. Nothing special, she says. It’s just routine. “It’s easy to hide here,” says a saleswoman at the Dollar Store nearby. Migrants will duck behind the many tables of merchandise. The Border Patrol comes searching for them in a continual game of hide and seek

Some of the newcomers don’t even have to wade into the water. They try to cross the bridge from Aleman. They can be very inventive, says a U.S Customs agent on the bridge. “We get everything.”

The governor has sent the National Guard to the border, but they are unarmed and cannot detain the immigrants. They can only call the Border Patrol who may arrive too late to make an arrest. To keep bad news away, Border Patrol agents are told not to talk to outsiders like reporters. Please go to my superior, one will say, and the superior says the same all the way up to where? The White House? Out on the road, maybe a very dusty road, the BP tends to open up. They have a job to do and are doing it as best they can.

Miguel Aleman is a brisk sunny walk across the bridge from Roma. It’s quite similar to other Mexican border towns – colorful facades of shops that line the streets, lively people at work and play, and an abiding sense of poverty with the continuing background hum of drug cartel control. The town has been the center of a violent dispute between the Zetas and Gulf cartels with dead bodies appearing from time to time.

 A group of undocumented immigrants wade across the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border in Roma, Texas. (credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

But Americans still arrive for good dentistry at a third of the cost back home. All kinds of other goods, respectable or not, are on sale at bargain prices. Is it safe to come and buy? Yes, provided you stick to your purchases and don’t go out of your way to antagonize anyone, especially a cartel member

A resident says that these days you don’t have to worry just about the cartels but also their imitators. Cartel violence is contagious and others have picked up the habit without the cartels’ more astute strategy. The cartels don’t like this, but they have only themselves to blame.

There are a few rather dowdy hotels in town which fill up with illegals on their way across the river. I’m told the cartels have also removed the town planting along the Rio in order to make a speedy getaway for migrants headed for Roma.

As Roma goes, it seems, so goes the border

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.

Drugs and Migrants on the March

A surge is when Grant took Richmond. It doesn’t describe the more refined tactics of the Mexican drug cartels in their effort to outwit the outmanned U.S. Border Patrol as they push drugs and migrants across the border. Seizing on President Biden’s more lenient immigration policies, they have sent clusters of desperate Mexicans and others into strategic openings along the 2,000 mile border, popping up here and there, day and night to the consternation of frustrated guards.

More than in the Trump era, migrants are piling up in overcrowded facilities which the Biden Administration has tried to conceal from prying media eyes in an information crackdown that is new to the border. One exception is Catholic Charities whose shelter in McAllen, Texas, houses hundreds of migrants in reasonably comfortable conditions. What’s that long line? I asked. They’re going to breakfast.

Catholic Charities immigrant center, McAllen, TX

Vice President Kamala Harris has been in contact with Central American leaders to determine the “root cause” of the enhanced migration. She doesn’t have to look very far. When questioned, migrants say they are fleeing the violence for the safety of the U.S. The drug cartels who are threatening their lives are also encouraging them to leave. It’s very profitable. They charge as much as $25 thousand per migrant, and they control the whole border on the Mexican side. You don’t pay, you don’t cross, and maybe you don’t continue to live.

As usual, the American media has little to say about the role of the cartels in the current “crisis” or “challenge.” That’s because American drug consumers, abetted by American money launderers, keep the cartels in business. Stop the drug traffic, and the border would clear up. But too many are making too much money for that to happen.

The U.S doesn’t have to be quite so tolerant of the cartels. They are more aggressive than ever. A group of U.S. senators boating on the Rio Grande that divides the two countries were startled by cartels taunting them from the other side. Goodness me! The cartels knew what they were doing. Nothing to fear from U.S. officialdom.

It does seem strange that the U.S. sends its military to obscure places all over the world to preserve borders, but won’t put troops on its own border in defense of the country against a genuine threat. When traffickers toss a couple of small children over the fence on to U.S. soil, we simply watch them do it. Then off they scamper. If U.S. soldiers went over the fence in pursuit and apprehended them even if it meant venturing into the interior, long suffering Mexicans under cartel rule would only applaud. We need a clear view of what is in the national interest on the border.

A Welcoming Mexican Town

Don’t go to Agua Prieta, we were told. Too dangerous. Indeed there have been drug cartel shootings as recently as June a year ago. But today I can vouch that it’s easy and quite safe to visit the border town across from Douglas, Arizona. It’s humming with activity with a growing population, though it is of course under the control of the drug cartels which are in charge of the rest of Mexico.

My guide for the day, Keoki Skinner, is an American who has lived in Agua Prieta for thirty years. He married a Mexican woman, and they have five bilingual children who are at home in both countries. He takes pride in Cafe Justo, a coffee co-op started by a Presbyterian ministry that has lifted some forty growers in the south out of poverty. The prized coffee is roasted, sipped and sold at a congenial setting in Agua Prieta.

Picking coffee beans for Cafe Justo

Similarly, a group of equally industrious women called DouglaPrieta Works are engaged in sewing and painting a variety of items for sale here and in the U.S. They take time out from their pleasant work to offer visitors some food from the garden they tend. The aim of this kind of enterprise is to make conditions in Mexico livable so that people don’t feel they have to risk crossing the border for a better life.

The women of DouglaPrieta Works

But they are not entirely free where they live. Drug money rules Agua Prieta, as it does the rest of Mexico, and it’s an exacting boss. Offend it, and you become part of the statistic of an ever rising murder rate. If people mind their own business in Agua Prieta, the cartels leave them alone. Besides, the town is profitable and a nice place to live for relaxing cartel chiefs. Keoki points out their splendid mansions, what he calls “drug architecture,” clearly distinguishable from the lesser abodes around them. The most ostentatious one of all, outfitted with columns, is presently empty because its owner was forced to flee. Nobody seems in a hurry to take it over

Another home is owned by a sicario (combination body guard and hit man) who was given it as a reward for saving the life of the drug chief he served. His door looks open, but Keoki is not tempted to go in, though he says, not in jest, that if he’s in trouble, he would call a sicario rather than the police. His one brush with cartel activity came one night when he was awakened by the sound of an air cannon shooting bundles of marijuana across the border – a latest device to get their product to avid consumers

Wherever you go in Agua Prieta it’s hard to miss the houses of exchange where dollars of U.S. drug profits are converted to pesos. Business is booming. Yet many billions remain in the U.S. circulating into willing hands who are not so willing to have the fact revealed. That may explain why so little is heard or read about cartel activity. In a vast contribution to economic inequality in the U.S., the money that Americans pay for their poison further enriches the affluent.

Can Agua Prieta serve as a model for other Mexican towns under cartel supervision? It’s currently spared violence and can prosper. The cartels could moderate, but don’t count on it. Money is king. Many say the U.S., now involved in countless wars and struggles half a globe away, must turn its attention to the more threatening struggle just across its border.