Anderson Cooper, on assignment in Mexico for 60 Minutes, walked into visiting hours at the federal prison where Sandra Ávila Beltrán is behind bars and had a sit-down with "La Reina del Pacífico" as part of this extensive piece on the drug war. Ávila Beltrán repeatedly pressed into Cooper the idea that the Mexican government is not the solution but part of the problem behind the current wave of bloodshed here.
Can they win? he asks her. "I don't think so," the Queen responds. "You'd have to wipe out the government to wipe out drug trafficking." Watch the exchange here.
With this piece and many others filtering through since last week, it was as if the United States suddenly sat up and realized there was a problem brewing south of the border. Janet Napolitano, the new Homeland Security Secretary, sounded the alarm before a committee in Congress. And the Justice Department announced more than 700 arrests across the U.S. in a crackdown on the Sinaloa cartel. New U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. used his first press conference to issue an open warning to Mexican cartels operating distribution cells within the country, but it sounded a bit hollow; how long have the cartels been building networks of distributors in the U.S.? Two decades, at least? Three?
Check out this L.A. Times Flash map to see just how deeply a part of the criminal landscape Mexican druglords are in gringolandia. And we're only talking about this now?
Could it be that a more general fear factor is taking hold? One U.S. poll suggests so. Last week The Wall Street Journal appeared eager to fan the flames, directly comparing Mexico's battle against the cartels with Pakistan's battle against Islamic radicals. The rest of the piece takes us through Monterrey, detailing the Zetas' hold on the streets, but as a work of journalism it read as overtly hysterical. (Let me know where this place known as "Tepitoto" is located, if you find it.)
What's needed is a far more honest discussion on the United States's several points of responsibility for what is happening in Mexico. The U.S. is the biggest narcotics market in the world. A large majority of the weapons and cash that fuel the war come from the north to the south.
President Felipe Calderon meanwhile will to continue to insist that Mexico is not a failed state. But all signs right now point to the country's vast state of failure. Maybe we should start listening to former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and his friends on this one. As an Intersections reader pointed out, things are so hairy in Ciudad Juarez that its mayor is hiding out across the river in El Paso -- and is considered in danger even there.
* Photo above by Bloomberg via NYT.