Mexico’s Drug War: The Fight That Never Ends

Angela McKinzie ’21 , Assistant News Editor

For more than a decade, the war between drug cartels and the Mexican government has been an ongoing battle that only seems to escalate in each passing year.

Since 2006, when the anti-drug campaigns began, the country has experienced “over three hundred thousand homicides,” and in 2018 they “hit a new high of almost thirty-six thousand. This trend continued in 2019, with about ninety murders daily,” according to The Council on Foreign Relations (also known as the CFR.)

In response to this unfathomable number of deaths, the current President of Mexico Andres Manuel López Obrador has tried to target the root causes of violence in Mexico by launching programs to combat the poverty and youth unemployment rates in the country. Even though these institutions will promote a better long-term policy for Mexico, these policies have not helped the onslaught of violence from drug cartels, rather, they have gotten worse because of it. In past years, cartels avoid any punishment for the crimes they commit by bribing judges, police, politicians, and other officials to look the other way and let them continue to make their illegal profit. With the change of parties from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held uninterrupted power from 1929-2000—for 71 years— to the National Action Party (PAN), the cartels “ramped up violence against the government in an effort to reestablish their hold on the state” (CFR).

This evident worsening and expansion of the cartels’ grasp on Mexican and American lives alike comes to the surface in the brutal attack on the LeBarón family. On November 4 of this year, nine members of this Mormon family were killed near the border of Mexico and America—six of the deaths being children.

The dual citizen family of Mexico and America has lived in a fundamentalist Mormon community in the border region of Chihuahua since the 1940s, and have lived and/or visited this relatively peaceful area but have spoken out against the cartel violence that they have seen over the years. According to Mexican officials and other family members, the family was traveling in three separate vehicles from La Mora, in the state of Sonora, to Colonia LeBarón, in the state of Chihuahua when the gunmen attacked them. Rhonita Lebarón, one of the victims, was going to North Dakota to celebrate her and her husband’s anniversary when her car broke down and the gunmen “opened fire on Rhonita and torched her car,” Julian Lebarón said, which killed her and her four children: an 11-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl and twins who were less than a year old. The two other cars were also attacked and two women were killed as well as two children: a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old boy. David Langford, one of the family members, said that eight children survived the attack with six injured and one of them in critical condition—their survival only achieved by hiding by the roadside. 

As of now, it is uncertain if the attack was intentional or if the family was mistaken for a rival drug cartel. The link between the family and neighboring drug cartels was created a decade ago when two members of the Lebarón family who spoke out against the cartels were kidnapped and murdered; however, there has been no issues between the two groups in recent years, and “there seemed to be a sort of truce,” said Ruth Wariner, Rhonita Lebarón’s aunt.

The whole family, along with both countries involved, was/were taken aback by this grotesque and unimaginable massacre against an innocent family and even more innocent children. President Trump has offered support and his opinion on the Mexican Drug War tweeting, “This is the time for Mexico, with help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new President!” (Twitter). However, Obrador wants Mexico to handle the issue alone by saying in response, “We appreciate and thank very much President Trump and any foreign government that wants to help, but in these cases, we have to act with independence, according to our Constitution and our tradition of independence and sovereignty.”

 More recently, Trump has stated on Bill O’Reilly’s conservative radio show that these drug cartels should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations due to the amount of American deaths caused by the drug trafficking across the border into America, which could create violent intervention from America in Mexico—a sentiment that President Obrador continues to push back on by maintaining his administration’s non-confrontational stance with Mexican cartels of “abrazos, no balazos,”or “hugs not bullets”—and not attempting to start an all-out war. The notion of naming the cartels foreign terrorists and the move to retaliation from America has Obrador saying only, “cooperation, yes, intervention, no.”

 This ongoing issue has left a stain on Mexico and the lives of its citizens as the streets and government have turned red from the growing number of helpless, vulnerable victims as the cruelty and inhumanity from drug cartels lives on. If the appropriate steps aren’t taken to rectify this seemingly never-ending dilemma, the people of Mexico and America will not be victims of violence from cartels, but from the inaction of governments.