Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Ignored Wildfire In Our Backyard

- Local militias identified by armbands and armed with an odd assortment of outdated US-made firearms.
- Police and local politicians forcibly expelled from towns and cities, threatened with death if they return.
- Roadblocks and checkpoints set up at the entrances to the towns, with the bell towers of local religious congregations used as lookout points.
- Ringing of the bells used as a signal to summon scores of armed men to the checkpoints at a moment's notice to search suspicious vehicles and deflect unwanted entrants to the town.

What country am I describing? Syria? Yemen? Egypt? Ukraine, perhaps? No, fellow Americans. This is going on in our own highly industrialized southern neighbor with a population of over 100 million - MEXICO. It's a day's drive from our own borders, to paraphrase Reagan's cheesy warmongering propaganda, and spreading rapidly.


Several months ago I wrote an editorial for Tony Stiles describing the growth of regional militias in Mexico that have arrested and expelled local law enforcement and governments on drug cartel payrolls and taken it upon themselves to protect the locals from the cartels. I predicted much of the escalation and contagion described in the CNN article, but one thing I did not specifically see coming was the Mexican Federal government bringing in its military to restore order and disarm the militias - largely because this move is futile and moronic. Let's examine why that is, and how it's an indicator a Mexican civil war is around the corner:

Firstly - Mexico's previous President, Felipe Calderon, had a habit of invading his own cities with his military to crack down on the cartels, and it only made things worse every time. The cartels are not monolithic and beheading one only enables another to take over its share of the smuggling market and have more resources to either bribe or fight the government. The military, on the other hand, has limited resources and makes a TERRIBLE police force - their presence in cities quickly becomes expensive and unpopular and politicians are forced to pull them back. Much like the US's occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the overpriced short-term peace is followed by greater destabilization as criminal organizations invariably win the game by not playing by the government's rules of accountability.

Secondly - The military can't handle the militias anymore than it can handle the cartels. Seriously now; the situation with the cartels has gotten so out of hand that ordinary citizens are taking up arms in organized militias to protect themselves, and the military that can't effectively stop the cartels (motivated by profit and pride) is going to stop the militias (motivated by desperation)? The militias are not monolithic either, and many of them have been formed due to mistrust for the government. If the military applies pressure and tries to force their disarmament, their numbers will swell while the military is likely to face a serious desertion problem. These are young conscripts and they come from the same communities they're being deployed to. They're glad to fire on the drug-trafficking animals terrorizing these communities; but order them to open fire on regular citizens trying to stay safe - and you will have another Syria scenario.

Finally - The military is stretched too thin. While governments don't like for people to realize this, they rely on compliance and do NOT have the resources and manpower to control a significant proportion of their own citizens in desperate rebellion. That critical mass required to break down law and order isn't anything close to a majority of the population; with an obedient military, a government is lucky to contain 30%. The military's obedience here is fickle at best and their insertion into the equation only increases the number of proportion of people in desperate rebellion. It won't take many more militias or much more cartel manipulation to break the government's law and order down completely.

While I'm not surprised seeing my predictions materializing, it is nevertheless infuriating that the US government continues to obsess over crises in economically interesting hotspots 10,000s of miles away but pretend a civil war is not about to begin in our own back yard. Mexico's last civil war (100 years ago) lasted 10 years, introduced several short-lived rival currencies to the dollar as regional governments in Mexico's Norte printed them and business and merchants in the US Southwest accepted them, and included several disastrously failed US military expeditions into Mexico to get Pancho Villa. I realize that propaganda spread by Neocon politicians has created the illusion in some US citizens that our border with Mexico is now controlled. But consider the fact that despite billions spent on walls, information technology, detentions, and a slew of fancy surveillance toys, 100,000s of unarmed migrant workers continue to beat that border yearly. A brutal, multi-sided, 21st century conflict in Mexico will swell this tide with refugees and likely put it into the millions, along with invariable and devastating economic and safety consequences. Unlike Middle Eastern unrest that requires intelligence-insulting lies and propaganda to get Americans to care about, this will genuinely be OUR problem.


I realize this is unpopular, radical, and highly unlikely to actually become policy, but just as I did in the Tony Stiles' editorial - I'm going on record that there is only one viable solution that can avert this crisis. The United States must legalize all drugs and enact immigration reform that streamlines border crossing, this making smuggling highly unprofitable and removing the cartel-feeding fuse from this rapidly ticking time bomb. The cartels have demonstrated they are beyond the Mexican government's control, and as long as they have this unstoppable source of revenue their brutality will continue to destabilize Mexico until it reaches the point of martial law under anti-cartel militias. At that point, the cartels and their pet politicians will be lynched and missed by no one, but putting Mexico back together from such a political crisis will resemble the poem "Humpty-Dumpty".


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