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Fighting the ‘bandidos’

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It is one of the tragedies of external cultural influence on our people that we have been inculcated with negative images, not only of ourselves, but of other peoples in developing countries. Say India, and immediately images of half-naked, starving people come to mind, ignoring India’s impressive advances in development and the fact that it is today major power in the world, with nuclear capabilities satellites in space and perhaps the most advanced information technology sector in the entire world.{{more}} And there are the infamous images of Black Africa, reinforced by current-day problems highlighted by the western media.

Mexico is one such country which has suffered from negative imagery. The strong US influence on our culture has painted Mexico as “South of the Border,” to quote one of the country and western songs. That same portrayal in western movies, on which unfortunately my generation was fed, gives the impression that Mexicans are scamps and crooks, with not too much brain, “BANDIDOS” as the movies termed them. It was a none-too-clever was to cover up the USA stealing a good part of Mexican land and its subsequent economic domination of that country.

Over the years Mexico has worked hard to correct such damaging portrayals. It has had some success, and today Mexico is one of the most important developing nations in the international community. Indeed the United States itself recognizes this as is evidenced by the fact that in 1992 it signed a free trade agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with Mexico and Canada, its first such with a major country. Mexico today is not only in the leading pack of Latin American nations (along with Brazil, Argentina and Chile), but it also assists other developing nations as is demonstrated by its assistance to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But Mexico sits “south of the border” with a rapacious northern neighbour. US firms operate in Mexico, utilizing cheap labour and NAFTA inducements, but they also induce Mexicans to migrate across the Rio Grande, to work on the farms in factories and sweatshops, fuelling the hypocritical claims of “illegal immigrants.” It is as though the founding fathers of the American state were not themselves illegal immigrants.

A far more dangerous inducement lies north of the Mexican border, however. This time attracting not honest workers, but criminal drug traffickers. It is the lucrative US drug market. For decades US drug consumption has depended heavily on supplies from Mexico, for obvious reasons. Its nearly 2000-mile long border with the Unites States makes it the ideal supply point. That drug trade between Mexico and the USA is estimated by official US sources to be worth some US $20 billion. That’s a lot of money. Many would kill for piece of that pie.

That is happening in fact. Mexican society is being torn apart as the gunmen hired by the drug lords murder indiscriminately in their internecine fights among the drug cartels. Worse, as the Mexican government tries to clamp down on drug trafficking and related criminal activities. They are now waging war on the Mexican state itself, shooting down law enforcement officers at will. So far more than 1400 persons have been murdered in this bloodbath this year alone. Among these are 450 police and government officials. The state of Sinaloa in western Mexico, home of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal outfits, is one of the most affected. The Mexican government had to rush 2000 more troops there, some of the 30,000 deployed, yet there was a 50 per cent increase in cartel-related deaths over 2007. In May alone, six senior police officers were murdered. In the border city of Ciudad Juarez the Director of Police and the Acting Director of federal Police were gunned down. So bad is the situation that senior police officers have fled to the USA, seeking political asylum to get away from the gunmen. And in Tijuana, the Mexican government had to order that guns be taken away from THE ENTIRE POLICE FORCE because of strong suspicions that the police were protecting the cartels and using their guns for drug-related business.

A frightening situation indeed. But we cannot take comfort that such things only occur in the bikes of Mexico and Colombia. We are already in the early stages – check Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Antigua, St. Lucia and yes, SVG. Police here will tell you that many of our murders are drug-related, and big money is floating around. Enough to kill a man for, or a police officer, or government official. Small states like ours are relatively easy prey for the drug barons. With our lifestyles, corruption breeds easily and our silence can be bought. Political parties can be financed and made malleable. The judiciary can be threatened.

This is a matter of concern for all of us. Already our bandidos are acting with impunity. Guns are everywhere and when guns are prevalent, bullets fly. Soon it will not just be the bandidos who become victims but YOU and ME also. We cannot afford to surrender. The scourge must be combated by us all.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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