Americans and Canadians planning on vacationing in Mexico may want to take a second look at what’s going on south of the border. When they do, they’ll discover what a corrupting influence drugs and drug profits can have on a country trying to revive democracy.

Since December of 2006, 4,909 people – judges, police, journalists and civilians – have died at the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels. The death toll, by the way, exceeds the number of Americans killed in Iraq since hostilities began.

Americans Pat Weber and his girlfriend, Lori Hoffman, were camping on a beach in Baja when two men riddled their RV with bullets then raped Lori in front of Pat before making off with the RV which contained about $8,000 worth of laptops, jewelry, and other items.

In another incident, a family from El Cajon thought they were being pulled over by Mexican police, and prepared to hand over some bribe money, a common practice endured by tourists. Instead, several armed men surrounded Christopher and Debra Hall and their two children. The Hall’s trailer was stripped clean of just about everything, including Mrs. Hall’s wedding ring, cash, jewelry, and tools. Before leaving the four stranded with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the gunmen went through a mock execution, then fled with the Hall’s truck and trailer.

Drug violence in Acapulco has become especially sadistic, with 134 murders over the past year. In one killing, the victim’s severed head was deposited in front of the city’s municipal office building. Vacationers aboard a tourist train that stopped at Creel in Mexico’s Copper Canyon were the first to learn about a gathering that ended with the slaughter of 16 family members of a local politician trying to fight the drug-gang violence. Among the dead: a 16-month-old baby.

As you might expect, in Mexico it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad. In Mexico City, six members of a unit tracking organized crime have been placed under arrest and charged with leaking information on upcoming investigations. The Dallas Morning News reported recently that corruption is suspected within nearly all of Mexico’s law enforcement institutions.

The more law enforcement officials crack down, the worse the violence seems to become. Mexican president Felipe Calderon has made fighting crime the centerpiece of his administration. But The Houston Chronicle, which has been tracking Calderon’s progress – or lack of it – notes that 3,000 soldiers ordered by Calderon to take on criminals responsible for the violence have experienced little success.

The Wall Street Journal as characterized Mexico’s imbroglio as a “life-or-death struggle” and, in its own way, just as precarious as Vladimir Putin’s exploits in Georgia. The Journal blames a significant portion of Mexico’s quandary on the growing demand for illegal narcotics in the United States. Many of the Mexican drug cartels would not exist, were it not for the insatiable appetite for illegal drugs north of the border.

Operatives of a Mexican drug cartel recently kidnaped and murdered the 14-year-old son of a wealthy Mexican entrepreneur. When federal investigators entered the case, they found that Mexico City policemen were involved in the crime. When criminals are captured and tried, they often go free when judges are bribed or threatened. Victims of kidnaping often refuse to press charges because of the perception that various government institutions are infiltrated by criminals.

Just as America looked the other way during Prohibition while Mexico thrived on illegal liquor sales, to challenge and crack down on U.S./Mexico drug trafficking now, could imperil the delicate balance between Mexico’s pro- and anti-democracy forces. Meanwhile, Mexico still offers significant vacationist appeal to Americans and Canadians alike, despite the ongoing shootings and robberies. As vacationers cross the streets of Acapulco to visit the city’s innumerable bars, they frequently have to dodge military trucks crammed with soldiers attempting to bring safety to the main tourists strips. It’s a way of life, and death, that is not likely to change anytime soon.

Chase Hamil

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