Donald Trump is making headlines by claiming that Mexican illegal “aliens” are raping and murdering their way across America – and that the Mexican government is deliberately directing their criminals our way. Mexico’s leaders are “very smart” and ours are “incompetent” or complicit, declares The Donald, whose demagogic denunciations have catapulted him to the top of the polls. However, like much else that the reality show star says, the exact opposite is the case. It isn’t Mexico’s worst who are coming here – it’s the best who are fleeing what is essentially a failed state.
The Mexican government is failing at what is the fundamental function of all governments everywhere: maintaining a monopoly on the use of force within its own territory. Drug gangs have taken over large swathes of Mexican territory, wherein they rule like medieval lords, killing with impunity and getting away with it. Government officials are bribed and bludgeoned into submission: journalists who expose their crimes are killed and “disappeared.” The drug cartels are states within a state, and their tentacles reach into the highest levels of the ruling elites. A more perfect example of regulatory capture can hardly be imagined.
The most recent – and dramatic – example of high level corruption is the escape of Mexico’s top drug lord, Joaquin Guzman Loera, a.k.a. “El Chapo,” from a Mexican maximum security prison. His cell was continuously monitored by a video camera, but for some reason guards didn’t sound the alarm when he went over to the shower, reached down, and then disappeared into the tunnel that had been meticulously cut beneath the floor. The 60 ft. deep tunnel, almost a mile long, was fully equipped to facilitate El Chapo’s escape: complete with electricity, an oxygen tank, and a rail system on which was mounted a motorcycle with a pushcart attached to the front. El Chapo was apparently driven by this contraption to a house on the outskirts of the prison. He had plenty of time to reach his destination and disappear into the wide world, because the alarm in the prison wasn’t run for at least 20 minutes, by which time he was well on his way to his eventual hideout.
The Mexican authorities had good reason to suspect their charge – the richest, most brutal drug lord of them all – would attempt an escape. After all, he’d done it before. Arrested in Guatemala in 1993, El Chapo was extradited to Mexico and was incarcerated: there he continued to direct his criminal empire from behind bars, where his lawyers reportedly delivering suitcases of cash to his cell in order to facilitate his comfortable prison lifestyle and prison guards “scurried around like servants.” When Mexico’s Supreme Court paved the way for his extradition to the US, where he was charged with transporting cocaine, the drug lord bribed his way out of jail, reportedly escaping in a laundry cart.
The American authorities had ample intelligence to suspect a second such operation was in the making. According to the Guardian, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) knew something was up:
“In March 2014 agents in Los Angeles reported a possible escape operation funded by another drug organization run under the auspices of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel. That plot involved threatening or bribing prison officials. That July, the same investigation revealed that Guzmán’s son had sent a team of lawyers and military counterintelligence personnel to design a breakout plan.
“In December of the year, agents in the DEA’s Houston field division reported that a Mexican army general stated ‘that a deal was in place to release both Guzman-Loera and imprisoned Los Zetas Cartel leader Miguel Angel ‘Z-40’ Tevino-Morales.’”
It’s hard to believe the DEA failed to share this information with their Mexican counterparts, although given the level of corruption in those circles it’s doubtful this made much of a difference – except perhaps to alert El Chapo & Co. to take the appropriate precautions.
El Chapo is still at large, and no one higher than a prison guard has been prosecuted – or even arrested – for helping him escape.
The drug cartels have inaugurated a reign of terror in Mexico with little resistance from the government. And they are outfitted with military-grade weaponry, including handheld rocket launchers and even makeshift tanks. The government forces, riddled with corruption, have in effect ceded large areas to the cartels, prompting the rise of citizens’ militias to fight the criminal gangs alone. The government’s response has been to attack the militias, while leaving the cartels largely alone.
Rife with violence, and increasingly insecure for the Mexican upper and middle classes, Mexico is experiencing a massive brain drain. In the year 2000, there were 300,000 college-educated Mexican nationals living in the US: ten years later there were 530,000. Over a third of those with doctorate degrees live here. In addition to the escalating chaos, Mexican professionals and academics come to the US because their home country doesn’t have the resources, the infrastructure, or the inclination to make it possible for them stay and work in their chosen fields.
The Mexican government is well aware of this problem, and in response has initiated a “Program for Retention and Return." However, this is unlikely to attract many expatriates unless conditions at home improve markedly and in very short order – or unless Trump is elected President and gets to implement his plan to deport all 11 million “illegals,” strictly limit legal immigration, and dam the southern border.
Trump constantly tells us how he’ll get the Mexicans to pay for the wall he wants to build, and this is usually met with skepticism by his critics: but there is good reason to believe, despite their face-saving denials, that the Mexican government would indeed cooperate in some way just to stop the brain drain that is depriving the country of its best and brightest. A wall, after all, is designed for two reasons: to keep people out – and to keep them in.
Yet such a wall as envisioned by Trump would not succeed in keep out the boiling overflow emanating from the Mexican cauldron. The triumph of Trumpismo would only ensure that the pressure would build and increase over time, finally erupting in a full-scale upheaval south of the Rio Grande.
As the cartels successfully challenge the authority of the central government, and Mexico’s middle and upper classes find themselves pushed up against Trump’s wall, the conditions would be met for a social explosion – and the fallout would inevitably rain down on American soil. Mexico’s narco-culture is already breeding a volatile mix of criminality and pseudo-religious mysticism that has the potential to create a phenomenon on a par with Peru’s infamous Sendero Luminoso. With a civil war erupting right on our border, and a rising tide of anti-Americanism fueled by President Trump’s bloviations, I would not want to be living in southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, or California.
With all this going on, it’s hard to believe our War Party would resist the temptation to call for US military intervention: after all, it wouldn’t be the first time we intervened in Mexico’s internecine conflicts. Can’t you just hear Lindsey Graham declaring: “We have to stop them in Mexico City before they get to Los Angeles”?