WASHINGTON – As the body count rises in the escalating drug war along Mexico's northern border,a slew of responses from Washington has signaled a serious change in the commitment of the United States to alleviating the conflict,which has threatened to spread across the border into American towns and cities.
President Obama's administration has recognized that Mexico should never have borne the sole blame because the drug conflict is driven by demand that originates primarily in the United States.
The administration has consequently decided that the first step to stem the tide of violence on the U.S.-Mexico border is to look at the problem as a shared one,and instead of placing external blame,to acknowledge responsibility by both countries.
Similar sentiments have also resonated within academic and non-governmental circles. “We are part of something larger that is North America; we want to make it work,” said Robert A. Pastor,a professor of international relations at American University,expounding on U.S. policy with Mexico and Canada.
“The rest of the world is waiting for the U.S. to listen and stop dictating,” he noted. “We need to think of ways to make integration work better. … Canada and Mexico are ready,but the United States hasn't paid attention.”
In other times,meetings at the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce might have centered around NAFTA or other economic-related developments. However,at its 13th Annual U.S.-Mexico Congressional Border Issues Conference this year,the hot topic was the surge in violence related to the drug conflict.
On the first day of the conference,at a congressional reception,Rep. Michael McCaul,R-Texas,recognized the importance of paying attention to the uproar of violence along the border. “This issue has been highlighted more in Congress,and we want to do something about it,” he said,suggesting that even Congress is paying closer attention to the domestic implications of the violence.
In a gesture of compromise,enforcement agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration have taken steps to include Mexican voices in the search for a binational response to the troubling situation. Ariel Moutsatsos,the adviser for international affairs for the office of the attorney general in Mexico,was recently invited to speak at a DEA conference about specific solutions to the cross-border drug trafficking. Aside from speaking to the need for greater cooperation between Mexican and U.S. law enforcement agencies,Moutsatsos also called for greater attention to the ultimate source of the drug industry – end users.
“It's very important that we stop our societies from getting into drugs if they have not done so…[and] that the current drug addicts get rehab,” Moutsatsos said. He ended his comments on an upbeat note,declaring,”This is a war that can be won because we are winning.”
Even policy organizations like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence,whose efforts have long focused on improving registration standards for gun ownership,have openly voiced their concerns about the drug crisis.
“Clearly,violence in Mexico is something that we are now starting to pay attention to in the United States,particularly because anything that happens in Mexico that destabilizes the Mexican government affects us,” said Brady President Paul Helmke. His organization is calling for new laws to tighten access to weapons from private dealers and at trade shows,joining others to suggest these are primary sources of weapons for Mexican drug traffickers.
“Until we get those laws on the books,we are going to continue to be the source of guns used by the Mexican gangs,” Helmke said.
Meanwhile,high-level diplomatic officials are recognizing the need for a new era of cooperation between the neighboring nations.
“We do not always agree on everything,” said Arturo Sarukhan,ambassador of Mexico to the United States,at the Chamber of Commerce conference. Nevertheless,he reassured the crowd that there will be an honest search for solutions to the crisis based on bilateral relations.
“We can win this battle only if Mexico and United States work together,” Sarukhan concluded.