On the bicentennial of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s call to arms against oppression from Spain, Mexico’s residents now find themselves held down by another powerful enemy: fear.
Traditionally, the country’s independence celebration begins with a “grito” at midnight on Sept. 16, leading to daylong celebrations on the 16th. This year many cities, including Matamoros, held closed ceremonies rather than parades.
Reynosa and others held festivities early on Sept. 15 so that people could get home and out of danger from possible late-night gun battles.
Fears of such violence are well founded; armed confrontations between drug cartels, and between them and the Mexican military that’s trying to restore order, have become more frequent in recent weeks. They occur with little warning, and in the middle of busy streets. Grenades have been tossed at buildings with little regard for the safety of passersby.
Ciudad Juarez, which has been hardest hit by the violence, canceled its Independence Day celebrations altogether.
Many argue the violence has grown — or at least was allowed — by an unfortunate combination of factors. The first is the war on drugs in Mexico and the United States, where most drugs are delivered. The high demand and interdiction efforts have made the illegal drug trade so profitable that thousands of people are willing to ignore the law — indeed, are willing to kill — in order to reap the benefits. Those benefits also have contributed to rampant corruption among Mexican law enforcement agencies, which often help the bad guys rather than the very agencies that employ them.
Another factor, many argue, are strong anti-gun laws that have left law-abiding Mexicans largely unable to defend themselves. With little opposition from the citizenry and a military that at times has been overmatched, the drug runners have been able to operate with relative impunity.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently spurred outrage by comparing Mexico’s current situation with the Colombian insurgency of the 1980s, and hinting that as in Colombia, U.S. troops might need to go in and help the Mexican government fight the cartels.
This isn’t the first time Clinton has drawn controversy with her comments on Mexico’s drug problems. Early last year she declared the war on drugs has failed. Americans’ “insatiable demand” for drugs and our inability to control the illegal flow of weapons into Mexico were fueling the problems in that country, and neither interdiction nor efforts to reduce demand have worked, Clinton said.
Rather than voice anger at Clinton’s assessment — which is correct — we should acknowledge the drug war is increasing unrest and instability. But rather than impose ourselves into that nation’s problems, as she suggested, we should encourage Mexico to support a new movement toward independence by working to eliminate the factors that are contributing to the violence. That includes enacting more reasonable drug policies that respect individual rights, acknowledge viable uses for some currently banned drugs, and reduce the highly profitable black market.
We can also support the empowerment of Mexico’s citizens so they can better defend themselves from street criminals.
If Mexico can take steps toward progress in these areas, perhaps next year its citizens can celebrate a new independence — from the crime and fear that now shackle the country’s progress.