The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has issued its annual report on global wars, causing some shock. It cites Mexico as second only to Syria in deaths from war in 2016 – almost 23 thousand killed as compared to Syria’s 50 thousand. That puts Mexico ahead of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and other wars currently underway.
But who talks of war in Mexico? IS IISS being presumptuous? The Mexican government thinks so, heatedly questioning the statistics used. But even if the figures are off a thousand or so, the casualties, mostly civilian, are impressive. If this isn’t war, what is?
It’s just not a war involving foreign troops or a classical civil war of two opposing forces. It’s a criminal assault spun way out of control. The enormously wealthy and extremely violent drug cartels fight among themselves for routes and sales to the United States. In doing so, they have increasingly targeted civilians not involved in drugs. It’s as if their violence has become contagious, murder by habit and perhaps pleasure.
Call it what you will, this conflict is worthy of attention in the neighboring country that buys almost all the illicit Mexican drugs; namely, the United States. But coverage in the major media is minimal. The IISS report is an example – a lot of mention on the web, but hardly anything in newspapers or TV with the wider audience.
This arouses concern and suspicion on the part of those who care about Mexico. The drug cartels earn an estimated 60 billion dollars a year from American consumers. Much of this returns to Mexico via money laundering, but a substantial amount remains in the US to be distributed by cartel chiefs who may be comfortably housed in America.
So, appearance can count. The largest stockholder in the New York Times is billionaire Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest citizen, who also provided the newspaper with a $250 million loan a few years ago. He has no known ties to drug cartels, but he is somehow tolerated amid all the tumult in what is described as a narcostate. Can he influence Times coverage or lack of it?
Americans are very attuned to civil rights violations around the world and have gone to war in some cases to correct them. How then can Mexico be overlooked just across the border? Are drugs and the money they bring worth more than the thousands of Mexican lives routinely lost because of them? “What do you expect, it’s a third world country,” is a typical rejoinder. If so, our appetite for drugs and drug money is keeping it a third world country.