Events on the U.S.-Mexico border were already creepy. Now they’re eerily familiar.
Ninety-three years ago this month, Mexican outlaw-turned-revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa led more than 500 men on a raid of the U.S. Army garrison in Columbus, N.M., killing soldiers and stealing machine guns and ammunition.
Villa was pursued into Mexico — unsuccessfully — by 10,000 troops under the command of Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing.
The raid was recently re-enacted in Columbus, as it is every year, by Mexican riders dressed as bandits. Greeted by Luna County sheriff’s deputies and riders on the U.S. side of the border dressed as cavalrymen, the faux “Villistas” later joined their American hosts at a picnic complete with mariachis.
The re-enactment was probably a welcome diversion. Most days, in Columbus and all along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, dealing with reality means wondering if today is the day that a town’s luck runs out and the violence that is tearing Mexico apart spills across the border and takes American lives.
In an attempt to prevent that, President Obama recently told reporters that he is considering sending National Guard troops to the border to help contain the drug violence.
Although Obama claimed that he is “not interested in militarizing the border,” the president is not messing around.
“I think it’s unacceptable if you’ve got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens,” Obama said.
You’re on the right track, Mr. President. It makes sense to send the National Guard to the border, with orders to stop the guns going out of the U.S. as well as the drugs coming in.
Just one thing: We don’t have “drug gangs” crossing the border. San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne told me that, most often, Mexican drug traffickers contract with gang members already on this side of the border — and often born in the United States — to carry out murder and mayhem.
The gangs aren’t imported. They’re domestic.
What are being imported are drugs and spillover violence. According to the Justice Department, Mexican drug cartels have set up shop in at least 230 U.S. cities. USA TODAY recently reported that Atlanta has become the Mexican drug cartel’s principal distribution center for the eastern United States.
Meanwhile, there has been a rash of drug-related kidnappings in Phoenix. And there have been murders in San Diego and Houston that authorities believe were carried out on orders from drug traffickers in Mexico.
Don’t kid yourself. This isn’t just a border problem. You’ll find traces of the Mexican drug trade as far north as Alaska, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
And even across another border. According to the Globe and Mail, Canadian authorities are worried that they could be facing a national security threat because of what one official called a “river of drugs” that connects Mexico, the United States and Canada.
It’s NAFTA for narcos. With less cocaine coming from Mexico because of the government crackdown, the river is drying up. Rival gangs in Canada are fighting over what little gets through.
Meanwhile, along the Mexican border, much has changed since the days of Pancho Villa. Today, the outlaws don’t have to steal machine guns and ammunition. They pay cash.
And they find plenty of Americans eager to sell them all the AK-47s, grenade launchers, shotguns, 9mm handguns and bullets the narcos can haul back to Mexico by the truckload.
According to The Dallas Morning News, one of the must-have items for the cartels is a Belgian-made handgun known in Mexico as mata policias — cop killer — because the bullets penetrate the body armor worn by law enforcement officers.
Or maybe the drug dealers use “straw” purchases where U.S. citizens can earn $100 per transaction to act as proxies by procuring weapons for the traffickers.
But gee, that sort of thing is illegal, say the gun lovers I’ve been hearing from who want to downplay the role that U.S. weapons are playing in the Mexican drug war.
Illegal? You don’t say. These are drug dealers! Get serious. Every aspect of their industry is illegal.
The drug traffickers aren’t playing games, and so neither should Americans. They’re destroying; we’re debating. They take lives; we refuse to take responsibility. They’re trying to control Mexico and the drug business; we think this is about gun control.
Luckily for both countries, Obama isn’t playing. And to prove it, before this is over, he might just send American troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Goodbye, Baghdad. Hello, El Paso.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org