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Watch What You Wish For

February 5, 2021

After the arrest this week of a dozen Mexican police officers for the murders of 19 refugees, it's clear that the Biden administration needs to educate itself about Mexico and Central America.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Joe Biden and Barack Obama treated Latin America with neglect that was far from benign, and showed little care or understanding. The Biden administration needs to educate itself about Mexico and Central America.

(Art by Carlos Ayala)

Two weeks ago Mexican state police murdered 19 poor people within spitting distance of the international bridge to Rio Grande City, Texas. The Tamaulipas attorney general admitted this week that “at least 12 elements of the state police participated in the events of January 22.”

In Mexico this is old news. It would be old news in Congress, if more than a few of our 535 hereditary criminals read news from Latin America, or cared about it.

At least 30,000 people have been murdered in Mexico each year for 20 years or so. That’s 82 murders a day — a murder every 17 minutes for decades.

Most of these murders are committed by police forces and drug cartels — but that’s redundant — the cartels and the Mexican police are the same thing.

Anyone with brains and a heart should know this by now. (See books* by the late, great Charles Bowden.)

The Mexican government could take out all the cartels in a week if it wanted to. They know where the capos are and have the firepower to take them out. But there’s nothing in it for the government, because the cartels write their paychecks. Not the measly paychecks they get in pesos — the briefcases full of U.S. dollars.

The same goes for the corrupt murderers who run Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Bowden said our “war on drugs” is a farce. It’s a war for drugs, and the profits of the trade.

President Obama, then-Vice President Biden and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstrated their ignorance of Central America and the drug trade by encouraging the military coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, which opened the door to de facto rule by the cartels, which continues today, under President Juan Orlando Hernández and his wealthy, corrupt family. His brother, Tony, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2019 in the U.S. Southern District of New York.

Well, if President Hernández didn’t know about what his brother was doing, he was either stupid or in on it. And he ain’t stupid.

Hillary Clinton justified the Honduran coup through the usual bullshit that “communists” were about to take control of Honduras — through democratic elections — as in Chile and Iran and Guatemala and Greece, and so on.

Today the gangs and cartels run Honduras as surely as they run Mexico — with drug money.

Guatemala is as bad or worse. As is Nicaragua — but not for the reasons you’ll hear from Washington.

It’s true that President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, continue to devastate Nicaragua — but not because they’re “communists” — it’s because they’re murderers and kleptocrats. Capitalists under another name.

Whether President Biden knows any of this, or views it my way, is debatable. What’s certain is that neither he nor Obama seem to think it important.

In the 701 text pages of Obama’s best-selling memoir, “A Promised Land,” he mentions Mexico in exactly one sentence — a toss-away blurb about a state visit, on page 566. Neither Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama or Costa Rica are mentioned even once.

The one bright spot in Central America today is — believe it or not — El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele is confronting gangs and cartels head-on. For this, even The New York Times, which should know better, calls Bukele an “authoritarian.”

Nonsense — Fueled by ignorance.

Bukele took office on June 1, 2019, after tromping ARENA and the FMLN in a fair election. But His New Ideas party has no members in the national legislature. That will surely change on Feb. 28, when voters choose new members of the 84-seat national legislature and 262 mayors.

Bukele today is the most admired president in Latin America, by virtually all polls. His opponents — ARENA and the FMLN — once bitter enemies, today are merely gang fronts, according to reasoned opinion in El Salvador.

The Diez y Ocho and MS-13 gangs today run the FMLN and ARENA as surely as the drug cartels run Mexico.

That’s what Bukele is up against.

I hope with all my heart that the young Biden administration, in its ignorance, does not back a coup against Bukele.

*Books by Charles Bowden: "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); "El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin" (with Molly Molloy) (2011).

Categories / International, Op-Ed

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