The Enemy Within

These days it can be dangerous to cross the U.S.-Mexican border as the drug cartels make their presence known by their customary violence in a region that was once considered relatively safe. An open border lures them in. What’s to lose and plenty to gain from drug sales and migrant needs with human casualties a by-product.  Recently, three surfers – two Australians, one American – were shot on a beach south of San Diego. Their bodies were found at the bottom of a well. At the eastern end of the border, south of Brownsville, Texas, two Americans were killed in a crossfire, two others kidnapped until released by the Gulf cartel which apologized for the mistake. Harming Americans is bad for business.

This represents a significant, unfortunate change. While reporting on drug cartel activity, I never ran into any hostility in Mexican border towns or objections to the information I was gathering. A year ago I crossed the foot bridge from El Paso, Texas, to Juarez, once known as the murder capital of the world, where I was greeted by a security guard – no doubt a cartel appointee – who was amiable and helpful as I interviewed a group of Venezuelans awaiting a signal from a drug cartel to cross to the U.S. With the increase in violence can Juarez reclaim its exceptional title?

The drug cartels are doing their best. More than ever, thanks to a U.S open border, they are swamping their northern neighbor with illicit drugs and unknown migrants, many of whom are in their employ. It’s truly an anomalous situation, perhaps near unique in human history.  It’s not the country receiving the immigrants that decides who will enter but the country – Mexico – sending them. The drug cartels, who hardly constitute a normal country, now control the total 2000-mile border, an organizational feat. Nobody crosses without paying them a hefty fee of well over ten thousand dollars for which they are given suitable equipment for the trip and a guide to show them the way.  If they fail to pay, they cross at their own risk which is considerable. U.S. Border Patrol reports seeing bullet ridden bodies in the Rio Grande that were not shot from the U.S. side.

Once they have crossed there’s no stopping them. They move according to plan. Some fan out to various cities where they help direct the drug trade, subversion within by pill. Others join the illegal marijuana farms proliferating throughout the American west – small chunks of violent -prone Mexico transferred to the U.S. to the dismay and terror of Americans living near them. If anyone gets too close to a farm, a guard emerges with a gun. More than drug profits are involved. Some ambitious cartel leaders say they envision reclaiming land lost to the U.S. in the 1840’s war. The marijuana farms are a start.

The U.S. media takes little interest in this. It’s almost as if the cartels have become an acceptable part of the American landscape, unwelcome but tolerated. It’s significant that no cartel leader has been singled out for denunciation as is usually the case with a genuine enemy. The one drug boss who has been apprehended and locked up, El Chapo Guzman, is almost a mythical figure, not to be taken too seriously. The rest are hard to hate because they are faceless. No evil Putin here. Relax.


Current U.S. border law enforcement is no match for the drug cartels. It’s undermanned and cannot take serious action against the well armed cartels who are in the habit of randomly shooting across the border or tossing small children over the border fence. Is any other border in the world so casually defended? There’s occasional reckless talk of bombing cartel labs or even invading Mexico, a tall order considering Mexico is three times the size of equally mountainous Afghanistan with which U.S. forces couldn’t cope in a guerrilla war.

Given the insatiable U.S. demand, the drugs can only be stopped by sealing the border which requires manpower. A thirty foot high steel fence is helpful, but as we’ve seen, skilled invaders can go under, over and through it. Manpower is readily available. There are over 35 thousand U.S. troops still stationed in Germany, an artifact of the Cold War. Not even a fire-breathing Stalin, arisen from the grave, would be tempted to invade today, much less a more restrained and non-expansionist Putin. So the troops in Germany could be transferred to where they are needed – defending the U.S against its principal enemy right on the border.

 When a nation’s border is effectively violated, it ceases to exist. We have the familiar example of Rome where the barbarians, as they were perceived, poured across with heavy weapons and ended the empire. Today’s drug cartels are armed with pills, contemporary killers in the case of fentanyl. Disarm them by cutting off the pills at the border, where almost all of them arrive. Their profits slashed, the cartels will weaken and then Mexicans, including the outstanding brave journalists among them, will take matters into their own hands and reclaim their country from the drug lords who have wasted it.

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