County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • Mexico at the Brink - NY Times
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  • Editorial
  • Published: June 4, 2008

  • The War on Drugs may be fading from memory north of the Rio Grande, but south of the river, bloody battles are threatening to overwhelm Mexico's democratically elected government. The timid assistance package proposed by the Bush administration and pared down by Congress suggests that Washington doesn't grasp either the scale of the danger or its own responsibilities.

  • President Felipe Calderón's decision to take on the traffickers shows great courage and a sound understanding of the threat they pose to his country. But he seems to be in over his head. More than 4,000 people, including about 450 members of the police department, have been killed in drug-related violence since he took office a year and a half ago. Just last month, four top security officials were gunned down in Mexico City, including the acting chief of the federal police.

  • Mexico cannot wage this battle alone. Its police forces are ill equipped, ill trained and riddled with corruption — and clearly no match for the drug barons, with their enormous wealth and firepower. President Calderón's decision to turn to the military is understandable, but the army is not trained for the policing and intelligence tasks or for dealing with the civilian population. Human rights advocates are already accusing the army of abuses.

  • The United States has a clear interest and a clear obligation to help. This country is the main market for the methamphetamine cooked in Mexican labs and the cocaine moving through Mexico from the Andes. It is also the source of the traffickers' weapons. And no fence will stop the gun battles from moving across the border.

  • The Bush administration is right to acknowledge the shared threat and the common responsibility. But the three-year, $1.4 billion aid package it proposed doesn't do the job. It is too small, notably so when compared with the billions the cartels earn in the United States. And far too much of the aid is military hardware when Mexico has other more urgent needs.

  • Above all, Mexico needs help rooting out corruption and creating a well-equipped, well-trained and respected civilian police force. The Mexican police need help improving their skills in forensic investigations, prison security and witness protection. And Mexico needs a transparent, fair and competent judiciary to prosecute traffickers as well as officials and members of the police who have been bought by the traffickers or are guilty of human rights abuses.

  • Any aid would have to require close monitoring to ensure that it is not squandered and that reports of abuses are not swept under the rug.

  • Washington's role does not end there. Mexico has no hope of defeating the traffickers unless this country is also willing to do more to fight the drug war at home — starting with a clear commitment to stop the weapons smugglers and to do more to take on the narcotics networks on the American side of the border.

  • Unfortunately, rather than bolstering aid to Mexico, Congress is shrinking it. The House approved a first installment of only $400 million, not the $500 million requested by the White House. The Senate approved only $350 million. Both have also attached sensible human rights conditions — but neither the administration nor Congress has made any effort to sell those conditions to Mexican officials. Some of Mr. Calderón's aides are now suggesting that they might reject the help. After years of blaming each other, the United States and Mexico are finally ready to fight the traffickers together. Both governments need to work, urgently, to salvage the aid package and that cooperation. The threat to Mexico, and this country, is far too dangerous.


  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar