Growing up in South Texas, my friends and I would skip school to cross over to Mexico. We would drink cheap beer and eat tacos on the street, check out the shops and generally cause a ruckus. It was only a few years ago, but then the streets were always filled with tourists, cars and people trying to sell trinkets.
Those days are gone now. The places we once frequented are deserted; tourists are now replaced by armed Mexican military; and shops are replaced by abandoned buildings and bullet holes. The bars we would go to are all gone. The famous restaurants are boarded up and nearly forgotten.
“We were warned that the conflict was bad, but we never thought it would be this bad,” said Yosi Sandler, a recent UT graduate and resident of Monterrey. “It’s crazy to see the streets so empty, and it is so tense you can feel it. It is so corrupt that you can no longer trust cops. We have all heard stories of them turning people into the cartels. Now we try to not stop at the red lights because you can’t trust the car that may pull up next to you.”
If students were looking for a cause to get involved with, this is it. This is not some far-flung war halfway across the world or some nuanced civil war in a country most people have never heard of; the conflict is next door.
Every month the stories from the north of Mexico grow more horrifying. Just this year, mass graves were found near the city of San Fernando, a priest was killed during a gun-fight between two warring factions and a police chief of a Monterrey suburb was shot and killed in his own office when gunmen simply walked through the front door of the station.
UT-Brownsville government professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera believes that more than 40,000 civilians have been killed in the north of Mexico since 2006. The number of people who have fled from their homes or voluntarily evacuated is still unknown.
“Most of the guns, 70 to 80 percent are coming from the United States,” Correa-Cabrera said. “People in the north [of Mexico] are living this everyday. Many have left, and of course people are afraid.”
On the other side of the border, however, one can hardly tell that there is a conflict going on. In fact, since the border violence started, the Rio Grande Valley has slowly and quietly benefited as more affluent Mexican families relocate themselves in an attempt to reach safety.
Cities like Brownsville and McAllen have seen a spike in real estate sales and in new business and tax revenue. The city of Brownsville is even planning renovations to the downtown district to accommodate its new residents. South Texas is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States and has received some national recognition because of this. Yet hardly any publications mentions the border violence as a factor.
The popular perception in the United States is that the border violence is being driven by a culture of corruption in Mexico, which is partly true. But the reality is that the violence in Mexico is fueled more by American vices and luxuries than anything else.
Using guns that they easily procure in the United States due to lax gun laws, Mexican cartels are killing each other and anyone in their way for the privilege of selling drugs to Americans.
American officials have been of no help so far. A bungled operation known as Operation Fast And Furious by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently allowed the transfer of hundreds of guns to Mexican cartels.
The American media and leaders have mainly tried to avoid this problem. There must be a change in our habits, in our laws and in the attitudes of leaders on both sides of the border if the situation is to improve. The longer the conflict continues, the more likely that violence will spill over the border and into Texas’ cities. The issue of border violence is deeply complex, and other issues, such as illegal immigration, drug use, poverty, unemployment, hunger and gun rights, continue to compound the problem.
Texas students can and should play a role in stopping the violence. This issue is not going to go away anytime soon, and the longer it is ignored on this side of the border, the worse it will become. A new direction must be taken by both sides. Real immigration reform, and an end to the drug war are just two issues that students can campaign on to help end the violence in Mexico.
As long as there is a market in the United States for cheap drugs and cheap workers, the conflict to supply those services will continue. Students can start on campus by calling for real immigration and drug reform in Texas, and for stricter gun laws. Students could also support and volunteer with grassroots organizations such as the Latin America Working Group to give support to refugees and the families of those affected by the violence.
“There is a lot of misinformation about the issue right now,” Correa-Cabrera said. “Many people don’t understand that there are issues on both sides of the border driving the violence in Mexico. Activism from students in the United States would help. There must be more knowledge about what is happening with the drugs and the guns and what the relationship between the two countries really is like.”
Fisch is a rhetoric and writing senior