Talk of Obama's biggest foreign policy engagement being only a stone's throw across the Rio Grande seems unlikely in light of the close economic and diplomatic relationship the U.S. has long had with Mexico. Is booming drug violence changing the calculus?
Robust drug trafficking welling up from Mexico is requiring an intense allocation of resources in states like Arizona. Tuscon Sector Agent Mike Scioli unpacked the Border Patrol's strategy for confronting gang-fueled violence coming up from the south. In his jurisdiction there are over 263 linear miles of international border, 222 of which are fenced. But it's the combination of the physical barrier, new technologies and manpower that are, for now, keeping law enforcement ahead of the smugglers.
“Smugglers are now having to become a little bit more creative,” he said today. Sciolia recounted a recent incident in the Douglas area where smugglers drove a car carrier to an isolated location on the south side, bridged a ramp to the U.S. side and drove over several vehicles presumably carrying narcotics. Border Patrol agents became aware of the incident via remote camera and dispatched units to the scene. A firefight ensued in which one Mexican vehicle ended up in flames. "Technology is the future of the border patrol," Sciolia emphasized, highlighting the combination of technological surveillance and manned response as the key to thwarting the incursion and others that will inevitably follow.
Though authorities have seized a record 500,000 lbs of marijuana so far this year, high demand among American drug users ensures the continuation of trafficking. Marijuana is the number one cash crop in the U.S. and 14.4 million Americans over the age of 12 reportedly used marijuana in a one-month period in 2007.
Beyond the standard confront and control approaches, there are voices in the drug debate calling for legalization as a way to curb trafficking. Johnathan Thompson at High Country News said legalization is not a long-term sustainable approach to drug policy but that he'd "rather see a few more heads cloudy from smoking dope than showing up in somebody¹s freezer." The last was in reference to Mexican drug gangs new habit of punctuating hits on rival gangs with beheadings.
Although it could mean more stoned kids out there, legalization could provide a much needed stimulant to the economy, especially if marijuana sales were effectively taxed by state governments like Arizona's that have been hard hit by the slowdown in construction and real estate.