Pubdate: Mon, 12 Dec 2011
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2011 The Mail Tribune
Author: Chris Conrad


Casualties of the Mexican Drug War

While Cartel Violence Has Spread into the U.S., It Hasn't Reached
Jackson County, Sheriff Says

Margarita Castillo worries that members of her family who remain in 
Mexico could get caught in the crossfire of a war raging between two 
rival cartels who are fighting over the lucrative drug smuggling route 
to the Western United States.

Castillo, who owns La Placita, an eight-store mini-mall on West Main
Street in Medford, said the cartels have put law-abiding, hard-working
Mexican citizens at risk because of the violence ripping across the

"People who aren't involved with the mafia types might just be walking
by and be killed by guns," Castillo said.

Outside of La Placita a man, who did not wish to be named but who has
visited his family in Mexico recently, said that the cartels mostly
kill each other in an attempt to monopolize the drug market in the
United States.

"I don't know of anyone in the area I live dying in the violence," he
said. "But the gangsters are being killed right and left."

In 2006, Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced a full-on war
against the cartels operating in his country. Since that offensive
began, more than 45,000 people have been killed and hundreds of
thousands of citizens displaced, according to The Associated Press.

The violence south of the border has been well-documented.

But you would be wrong if you thought it's limited to Mexico, says
Sylvia Longmire, an author and former officer and investigative special
agent in the Air Force. Longmire, whose recently published book is
titled, "Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars," has
dedicated years to studying Mexican cartels and sees them as a danger to
residents of Mexico and the United States alike.

"Anyone who thinks that the violence is happening only in Mexico is
not aware of the reality of the situation," Longmire said. "There is a
lot of proof that the cartels are committing violent crimes within the
United States."

Longmire points to a Texas shooting in which a Hidalgo County
sheriff's deputy was seriously injured Oct. 31 while responding to a
reported kidnapping and drug deal near the border, as reported in the
Houston Chronicle.

In March, a man was found beheaded in a home in suburban Phoenix.
Police there linked the killing to a marijuana deal gone bad and
believe members of the PEI-Estatales/El Chapo drug cartel carried out
the hit. The victim allegedly had stolen 400 pounds of pot from the
cartel, Reuters reported.

Longmire said there have been reports of semitrailers shot up outside
Houston by members of the Los Zetas cartel.

"This happened in the middle of a major highway outside Houston,"
Longmire said. "So, the violence is very much here."

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters says it may be "here" in Houston,
but not here in Jackson County. "We haven't seen this level of
violence here and it's unlikely we will since it's so far from their
home base.

"But we are not ruling anything out."

Longmire faults the mayors and civic leaders of towns and cities
across the border for not being more vocal about the cartel violence
creeping into their areas.

"They don't want to admit it because they want people to think the
problems are all on the Mexico side," she said. "There's a real
head-in-the-sand mentality."

Longmire adds that solutions will remain elusive as long as politics
gets in the way of action when dealing with cartels.

"We don't have the resources to stop all the drugs from entering the
country and there's such a huge demand here," she said. "And we're not
going to legalize drugs, so where does that leave us?"

Drug legalization?

According to a group of former drug cops and prosecutors, the only
sure way to derail the cartels is to hit them where it hurts the most:
their profits. They propose to do that by legalizing drugs in the
United States, which would drive down the price of marijuana and
narcotics distributed by the cartels.

That's the position taken by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
(LEAP), a Bay Area-based organization comprised of former cops and
criminal prosecutors.

"We think prohibition needs to end and drugs should be moved into a
legal and regulated market," said LEAP spokesman Tom Angell. "This
will deal a bigger blow to cartels than anything law enforcement can

Angell says the interdiction strategy by law enforcement has proved a
dismal failure, as the flow of drugs into the United States has
increased over the years and drug violence here and in Mexico
continues unabated.

"We can't make the cartels' market go away without making the demand
go away," Angell said.

Angell points to a recent "Fast and Furious" debacle involving the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration
and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives in
which guns were sold by federal undercover agents in an attempt to
track them back to cartel leaders.

"This shows a desperation by law enforcement that they would be
willing to risk putting guns in the hands of cartels in order to make
arrests," Angell said. "It's not helping anyone other than the
cartels, at this point."

In an New York Times editorial, Longmire said that while drug
legalization should be considered because it would lower expensive
prison populations across the country and free law enforcement to
focus on other crimes, it wouldn't be the magic bullet that would end
the cartels influence.

Winters, who is not a proponent of drug legalization, said the
strategy would only work if every country in the world legalized drugs
at the same time.

"It'll never happen," Winters said. "There will always be a large
market somewhere. And you would find cartels there ready to hit the
ground to make money."

Angell agrees that legalization is not a perfect solution to the
nation's drug problem, but says it would be a start toward a
manageable drug policy.

"You would still have drug abuse and the issues that causes," Angell
said. "But at least we would then treat addiction as a health issue
and not a criminal one."

In the meantime, Castillo's family members continue trying to live
their lives in a country that is becoming increasingly dominated by a
drug war that shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.

Castillo is quick to say that the cartels do not define Mexico and its

"A lot of attention is being paid to this 5 percent that is bad," she
said. "You don't hear as much about the 95 percent of people in Mexico
who just want to go to work every day and take care of their families."

She points to a group of Latino shoppers entering her store to shop
with their spouses and children.

"Most people are just like them," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.