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Op-Ed

Neither magic nor realism

January 20, 2023

With apologies to Gabriel García Márquez, United States policy in Mexico, and throughout Latin America, can best be described as Neither Magic nor Realism.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

The first thing we must understand about U.S. policy in Mexico is that it is based upon fraud, and always has been.

The Mexican government could roll up all the cartels tomorrow and kill all the capos and most of the lieutenants — but why would they kill the guys who deliver them suitcases full of dollars?

That would make no more sense than it would for us Yanquis to demand that our congressmen’s, senators’ and presidents’ campaigns stop taking “contributions” from corporations and billionaires.

President Biden’s made-for-TV smoochfest with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City this month won’t do a damn thing to change the fact that the drug cartels call the shots throughout that battered country. Though I give credit to AMLO for openly denouncing the United States’ centurieslong high-handed approach to Latin America, throwing that bit of raw meat to the masses won’t help dismantle the cartels either.

I lived in Sonora in the late 1980s as a correspondent for The Arizona Republic, after which I spent a few years as city editor of The Brownsville Herald in Texas, just across the river from bloody Matamoros, Tamaulipas, then I became an editor at newspapers in San Diego County, California. I still have friends and sources throughout Mexico, none of whom I shall name, for obvious reasons. If this column does nothing else (and I presume it will do nothing else) perhaps it might offer a few leads for enterprising U.S. reporters. 

Mexican reporters don’t need my help. They need bodyguards. 

Mexico has been the most deadly country for news reporters for years. López Obrador’s relentless, nearly daily attacks upon journalists has exacerbated that. I recall chatting up a barmaid in Ensenada one night, and she asked what I did for a living. “I’m a newspaper reporter,” I said.

“Oh,” she replied, “you must be very brave.” 

Umm … not really.

When I began writing this column, I asked Google: “How many Mexican governors have been accused of drug trafficking?” I abandoned that angle when the list rose into the dozens. There’s only so many corrupt governors you can squeeze into 700 words. 

On trial this week in federal court Brooklyn is Genaro García Luna, former head of Mexico’s powerful Interior Ministry — supposedly the lead player in Mexico’s war on drugs — who is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa cartel. As Mexico’s top drug cop, García surely had access to tons of information from our own FBI and DEA. Which he — trust me on this — may be reasonably suspected to have passed along to his overlords in the cartels, among them El Chapo, Joaquín Guzmán, who is serving a life sentence in the United States for exporting “tons of drugs” to the United States. El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzmán, was arrested in Mexico in 2019 but AMLO ordered him released because the president of Mexico could not, or dared not, stop his cartel’s mass killing spree

Garcia Luna may expect to receive a bit more skepticism from our federal prosecutors than a former crony, Mexico’s Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, accused of similar charges, whom our own Attorney General William Barr graciously exported — excuse me, deported — to Mexico, to let him be tried there; and where — brace yourself — the Mexican ‘justice’ “system” dropped the charges.

This should not surprise anyone, from Tijuana to Washington, D.C.

As the late, great writer Charles Bowden wrote, there is no “war on drugs” in the United States and Mexico; it’s a war for drugs, and control of the traffic. On both sides of the border.

Pardon me for stating the obvious, but President Joe Biden shirked his duty by presuming to dump “the border problem” on Vice President Kamala Harris.

Pardon me again, but I don’t think that, with all their access to “national security secrets,” neither Biden nor Harris has a clue about the border. They surely will not get a clue from our corrupt Border Patrol.

Mexicans are fleeing their own corrupt government and police forces, and despite U.S. politicians’ demands that Mexico do something about it, it is not a crime to leave Mexico.

Anyone who wants a true picture of the so-called drug wars could do no better than read Chuck Bowden’s five books about the border: “Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future” (1998); “Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family” (2002); “Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing” (2009); “Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields” (2011); and “El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin” (with Molly Molloy, 2011).

But don’t expect anything even near the truth from the U.S. State Department — or the office of the Mexican president — any Mexican president, or senator, or governor, or police chief. They know how the system works, but they’re powerless to stop it.

Sort of like us, up here in the North.

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