Things change, usually for the worse, and always against the innocent. (This truth is a principle of curmudgeonry.) When I came to Mexico some eight years ago, it was a peaceful, moderately successful upper-Third-World country—middle-class, barely, literate, though often barely, and as democratic as the United States, which is to say barely. Things were improving, though often they had a long way to go. The young were visibly healthier than preceding generations. The birth rate was in sharp decline. Women entered the professions in substantial and growing numbers.
And it was safe. Expats sat over coffee at the plaza laughing at people back in the States, insular, fearful, ignorant of the world outside their borders. (For recent college graduates, Mexico is a country south of the United States. “South” is down on maps.) Mexico, they believed, was most astonishing perilous. Don't drink the water, avoid ice. Salads were thought especially lethal. The Federales would kill you for sport, like squirrels. On any given day, you would probably be shot several times by bandidos. It was nonsense.
Then Vicente Fox left office, and Felipe Calderon came in. He declared war on the narcotraficantes. Why he did this, I don't know, since Mexico didn't have a drug problem. My guess is that Washington pushed him into it, but I don't know.
Unfortunately Mexico, which neither produces nor uses a lot of drugs, lies between Colombia, which produces vast amounts of drugs, and Americans, who want vast amounts of drugs. Washington does not want Americans to have vast amounts of drugs. Neither did it want to lose votes by imprisoning white users of drugs, such as college students, high-school students, professors, Congressmen, lawyers, and blue-collar guys driving bulldozers. The answer was to make Mexico fight Washington's wars.
But Mexico couldn't fight the narcos, because the United States was actually on the side of the traficantes. Does this sound counter-intuitive? What happened was that the narcos gave the Americans the huge quantites of drugs they wanted, and in return Americans gave the narcos huge amounts of money and military-grade weaponry: chiefly AKs, but also grenades and the occasional RPG. The Mexican police, lightly armed, barely paid, and utterly corrupt, could do nothing against these odds. The narcos had a further argument: Do what we say, and we will give you money. Otherwise, we will kill your family.
You figure it out.
The Mexican army doesn't do a whole lot better. It is chieftly a disaster-relief outfit since it has nobody to fight. Mexico doesn't want to invade Guatemala, and has not for some time been openly invaded by America, though truculo-louts north of the border urge this bright idea.
So Washington, to keep Americans from doing what in fact they are contentedly doing with no restriction and little inconvenience—using every drug known to man or beast— is wrecking yet another country.
The killing was for some time largely in the northern tier of states, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Durango, and of course Sinaloa, but now the states of Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan and Jalisco have decapitated bodies strewn about like cherry blossons in spring.
Jalisco, a state in west-central Mexico, contains Guadalajara, Lake Chapala, and me. Along the north shore of Lake Chapala lie Chapala, Ajijic, Jocotepec, and lesser towns inhabited by lots of expat gringos. These towns, as I say, were quiet when I arrived. You could wander home at two in the morning with little concern and a beer in hand. But now the narcos have arrived. Ergo:
A few weeks back in downtown Chapala there was a firefight with automatic weapons. A few days ago a police car on the local by-pass was attacked with automatic weapons. A few days more ago three bodies, buried by kidnappers, were found in Joco, and three local police were arrested for complicity. Various beheaded or chopped-up former people have surfaced locally, as well as a couple of meth labs. I could go on.
So far, gringos have not been targets. This may last. It may not. Still, things are out of control and getting crazier. For example, in Guerrero the narcos told the teachers in the schools of Acapulco to hand over half their pay in protection money, at which point many dozens of schools closed as teachers declined to attend. This comes close to qualifying the country as a disaster area which, without the narco wars, it wasn't even close to being.
What does this mean for Americans? It depends on the Americans. If gringos begin to be attacked here, there will probably be a mass exodus back to the Northern Rubber Room. A few are already bugging out.
For Mexico, such a remigration would be a catastrophe. To simplify and approximate vigorously, Mexican law requires expats to have incomes of a thousand bucks a month. Most have a lot more. I have read that a million gringos live in Mexico. So, a thousand times a million times twelve is, well, a bunch of money annually. Losing it would unhelp the local economy, and probably send people toward the Rio Bravo in bathing suits.
Most Americans don't care at all what happens in Mexico, or anywhere else they can't actually see. However, it is hard to figure the advantage of having a major trading partner turn into Afghanistan with better music.
Conservative bozos of immoderate idiocy fantasize, as mentioned, of sending the Marines. Oh sure, that will work. The Pentagon couldn't win a rigged lottery, much less a war. Mexico, especially in the godawful, broken, infernally impassibe mountains where the dream-weed grows, is perfect for displaying the clownish incapacity of the Nintendo military. The GIs don't know the territory, most don't know the language, the people, or the culture, but they can yell “Ooo-rah!”really well. That's because it has only two syllables.
Nothing can change things except the utter collapse of the US economy and the burning of its cities, a singularity the other side of which is not visible. Any possible sollution would require a decision. The US no longer does decisions. It can neither stop the drug traffic nor legalize it. It can neither win wars nor abandon them, neither make money nor stop spending it, neither stop immigration nor assimilate the immigrants. Washington can beat its thumb with a hammer, yes, and notice that it hurts, but it can't stop beating its thumb. That would take a decision, and Washington doesn't do decisions.
People email me, asking where I would go if I were trying to get out of the crumbling US before the roof falls in. Argentina. Thailand. Viet Nam. China. Pederably to a country without oil. Chile. Maybe Uruguay. Almost anywhere in Europe if you can afford it. Mexico is a fine place, but getting dicey. Very dicey.