OTHER VOICES

Casino fire signals new stage in violence that Mexico, US must battle together

Posted Aug. 31, 2011, at 5:10 p.m.

The appalling barbarity of a deliberately set casino fire that left 52 people dead in the northern city of Monterrey last week is all the more reason for Mexican President Felipe Calderon to intensify his country’s courageous fight against drug criminals and for the United States to do everything it can to help its southern neighbor. Mexico is waging the fight of its life, with an uncertain outcome that carries huge stakes for the future of that country and the well-being of the United States, as well.

Mexicans have traditionally been wary of any “help” from the United States. They fear it comes with strings attached and represents some form of intervention in domestic affairs. The latest escalation by that country’s savage mobsters should be reason enough to set aside all such notions once and for all.

The casino fire was a flagrant act of terrorism that cannot go unanswered. If once there were well-founded reasons for Mexico’s suspicion of U.S. motives, such attitudes must change as the two countries face a common enemy that flaunts its brutal methods and shows deep contempt for authority and disregard for common decency.

Clearly, Mexicans are getting exhausted, and increasingly fear for their lives. In the five years since President Calderon decided to confront the growing menace posed by drug criminals, some 35,000 people have died. Not since the days of the Mexican Revolution, 100 years ago, and the Cristero uprising that followed it, has Mexico undergone such incredible violence. But giving in to the drug criminals — just standing aside and letting them go about their business undisturbed — is no solution.

Colombians learned that the hard way decades ago when they turned a blind eye to narcotics gangsters whose toxic product was destined for the United States, with the result that before long the gangsters were challenging the power of the state and murdering presidential candidates who believed criminals should be in jail. The casino fire in Mexico might not be tied directly to narcotics trafficking, but the violence of the drug wars has led to an inevitable deterioration of social norms and a general breakdown of law and order that no civilized country can tolerate.

President Calderon rightly blamed his own Congress for failing to understand the nature of the challenge the country faces. In a speech after last week’s attack, he called on lawmakers to enact security reforms and bravely vowed to press on. He also blamed corruption within Mexico’s judiciary and police forces for abetting the criminals and called for a national campaign to clean up the nation’s institutions.

More important, for the United States, Mexico’s president scolded the United States for its consumption of drugs — the driving force behind the illicit drug trade — and the ease with which Mexican gangsters can buy their weapons in this country. President Obama responded by accepting a share of “responsibility for meeting this challenge.”

If he means that, Obama should do everything in his power to crack down on gun sales along the border. The White House has already taken steps to increase reporting of large-volume gun sales in an effort to cut down on such purchases in states bordering Mexico. Clearly, that’s not enough. Obama should defy the knee-jerk opposition of the National Rifle Association to every sensible form of gun regulation and ask Congress to do its part to stop the violence engulfing Mexico.

The Miami Herald (Aug. 29)

 

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