U.S. officials have argued that atrocities committed by the militant group ISIS are barbaric and that the group is a threat to the homeland, but it’s worth remembering that the horrific violence perpetrated just across the U.S. border by Mexican drug cartels is equally barbaric and the cartels also pose a threat to Americans.
This week brought another bloody reminder of the cartel’s brutality. Mexican activist Maria Del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a physician and citizen journalist who had taken a prominent stand against Mexican cartels on social media, died with a bullet in her head. And her killers, in an obvious effort to terrorize others, tweeted her murder.
Yes, as President Barack Obama noted in his Sept. 24 address to the UN General Assembly, ISIS is leaving a trail of rape, beheadings, dead children and mass graves. The numbers are terrifying: More than 5,500 people have been killed in Iraq since June, according to the United Nations.
But here are some numbers – also terrifying – from just across the U.S.-Mexico border: In 2013, Mexican drug cartels murdered more than 16,000 people, and Human Rights Watch estimates more than 60,000 people were killed in drug-related violence from 2006 to 2012.
Here’s the part, however, that seems to get overlooked. Mexican drug cartels have been spreading out across U.S. cities for years. From Texas, to Columbus, Ohio, to Raleigh, North Carolina – in 2010, at least 1,000 U.S. cities cited the presence of one of the four major drug cartels according to a U.S. Justice Department report. According to that report:
There is no disputing that Mexican cartels are operating in the United States. Drug policy analysts estimate that about 90 percent of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine on U.S. streets came here courtesy of the cartels and their distribution networks in Mexico and along the Southwestern border. DEA officials say they have documented numerous cases of cartel activity in Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.
Cartel violence isn’t restricted to one side of the border. “Spillover violence” has taken thousands of U.S. lives, according to the FBI. In other words, the cartel threat – while certainly different from the jihadist-style threat of ISIS – is nevertheless a threat.
A whole stream of disturbing statistics about the Mexican drug cartels was brought to light in an opinion piece written by Musa al-Gharbia, a research fellow at the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts. This is not a list for the fainthearted:
Beheadings – Mexico is ranked directly below Iraq on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. On May 13, 2012, Mexican authorities found at least 49 decapitated and dismembered bodies along a highway in Nuevo Leon state, between the cities of Monterrey and Reynosa.
Killing children and women - As if decapitations and hanging dead bodies from bridges wasn’t enough, the drug cartels have made a practice of targeting women and children to further terrorize communities or prove they are tougher than the next gang. Children are shot in cars, in their grandmother’s arms or sitting next to their parents.
Mass graves: Mexican authorities have discovered several mass graves with hundreds of corpses of victims of the drug gangs in recent years. Some are filled with victims of the drug wars, others with those murdered for refusing to join the gangs. Most recently, as part of the search for 43 young Mexicans studying to become teachers, searchers have found six mass graves but so far none of the bodies has been identified as any of the missing students. Six mass graves, and they still haven’t found the right mass grave.
As noted, the comparison between ISIS and the cartels has its limits. Operation Inherent Resolve (the silly name the administration has given America’s military action against ISIS) and the “War on Drugs” are about different threats. ISIS wants to vanquish all sorts of infidels, including Americans. The drug cartels are about business – and anyone who gets in their way – including Americans – is a target.
It comes down to this: If the U.S. is being spurred into action against ISIS because of indignation and a threat to Americans, then it is worth remembering that a beheading in Mexico is just as horrifying as one in Iraq or Syria – and a threat against Americans is still a threat whether it is the result of ideology or criminal drug traffickers.
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