New State Department stats contradict media's narco-war hype

A recent editorial in the San Antonio Express-News begins like this:

In this dusty town torn by violence, walking down the street is an act of courage.

It could be Baghdad, where calm is defined as the gap between suicide bombings.

But it is not; it is Nuevo Laredo, and the violence grows every day.

How clever to draw an analogy between Baghdad and Nuevo Laredo. Baghdad is already brimming with U.S. troops fighting a “terrorist insurgency.” Maybe it’s now time to send soldiers into Nuevo Laredo, to protect U.S. citizens from the “narco-terrorists” -- or so seems the subtle message of the analogy.

But is this picture being painted for us based on hype or facts? More from the editorial:

In the fight against the cartels, however, Mexico should not stand alone; the United States must help.

While more than 90 Mexicans have been killed in Nuevo Laredo this year, 42 Americans have disappeared while visiting the city, four of whom are believed to have been murdered, according to U.S. Embassy officials in Mexico.

When Texas received $40 million from Homeland Security last year, Laredo got only $100,000, a paltry amount that indicates officials fail to grasp the enormity of the problem facing the area.

… The border is as porous as the river that defines it, and the two nations must cooperate to destroy the pipeline that carries violence from one country to the other.

This kind of sensationalistic scrawl has afflicted the mainstream press for months now when it comes to reporting on the narco turf war playing out in Nuevo Laredo, which is just across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas.

By setting up the pins so that it appears U.S. citizens are in real danger, justification is created by these media bloodhounds to accelerate the militarization of the border to fight those evil “terrorist-like” narco-traffickers.

Make no mistake about it. Mexican narco-thugs, like the gangsters of the Prohibition era in the United States, are cold-blooded killers — when it comes business. But that’s just it: They kill to enforce contracts, gain or protect territory, and to command respect in the practice of their very special brand of extreme capitalism.

If you go to war with them, they will go to war with you, which is exactly what the Express-News and so many other mainstream press pundits seem to be encouraging. They want an Old West shootout on the border. And the justification always seems to be that American lives are at risk.

And few have done more to promote that premise than our own U.S. government. A still pending travel advisory -- issued in January and reissued in April -- by the U.S. State Department warns:

Violent criminal activity fueled by a war between criminal organizations struggling for control of the lucrative narcotics trade continues along the U.S.-Mexico border. This has resulted in a wave of violence aimed primarily at members of drug trafficking organizations, criminal justice officials and journalists.  However, foreign visitors and residents, including Americans, have been among the victims of homicides and kidnappings in the border region.

A power vacuum within criminal organizations resulting from the imprisonment of several of their leaders along the Mexico-U.S. border continues to contribute to a deterioration of public safety in the region.  In recent months, the worst violence has been centered in the city of Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where more than 30 U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and/or murdered in the past eight months and public shootouts have occurred during daylight hours near frequented shopping areas and on streets leading to the international bridges.  One of the shootouts spilled onto the Mexican side of the bridge itself.  Four police officers have been killed in Nuevo Laredo since March.

Add it up

Where do the State Department and the Express-News get these numbers: “30 U.S. citizens … kidnapped and/or murdered in (Nuevo Laredo in) the past eight months” or “42 Americans have disappeared while visiting the city, four of whom are believed to have been murdered?”

A State Department official told Narco News earlier this year that he is unaware of any report that systematically tracks kidnappings of U.S. citizens in Mexico. And the State Department’s own figures on U.S. citizens murdered in Mexico don’t jibe with the dire travel warnings issued by the department.

In February of this year, shortly after the U.S. State Department issued its initial version of the Mexico travel warning, Narco News debunked the warning by using the State Department’s own figures from a report posted on its Web Site.

That report showed the following:

• In 2003, the first full year for which homicides figures are recorded, a total of 42 U.S citizens were murdered in Mexico. A total of 18 homicides that year occurred along the U.S.-Mexican border.

• In 2004, through Dec. 31, a total of 35 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico, with 17 of those homicides occurring along the border.

So the murder rate actually dropped between 2003 and 2004, yet in January and again in April of this year, the State Department was trying to tell us that narco-traffickers were responsible for a sudden surge in violence against U.S. citizens along the border.

2005 figures

Now we have some new facts to take stock of the picture.

While the State Department and commercial media were frightening U.S. citizens with stories of violence and death in Nuevo Laredo over the first half of this year, it appears it was Mexicans, not “Americans,” who were again doing the dying in the narco-turf war.

How else can we explain the following recently released State Department figures for the six-month period ending June 30 of this year?

Jan. 1 through June 30, 2005

Total number of U.S. Citizen murdered in Mexico: 21

3 in Nuevo Laredo

Area with the highest murder count for U.S citizens: Baja, Mexico, with 7 homicides -- 4 of which were in Tijuana

Here are the comparable figures for 2003 and 2004 from the same State Department report:

Jan. 1 through June 30, 2004

Total murders: 20

3 in Nuevo Laredo

Highest count: 11 in Baja -- 5 of which were in Tijuana

Jan. 1 through June 30, 2003

Total murders: 23

0 in Nuevo Laredo

Highest count: 6 in Baja -- 4 of which were in Tijuana

So the number of U.S. citizens murdered in Nuevo Laredo for the first six months of 2005 is exactly the same as it was for the same period in 2004 -- which was before all the media hype started. Also, the overall murder rate for U.S. citizens in Mexico is actually down between 2003 and 2005 during the comparable six-month periods.

In addition, despite all the narco-hype blanketing Nuevo Laredo, the true blood-letting –- at least when it comes to U.S. citizens -- appears to be occurring in the Baja, just south of the U.S. border in California, and that has been the case for at least the past three years. But even those numbers appear to be on the decline.

And remember, these State Department figures don’t indicate why someone was murdered. So many of the U.S. citizens slain in Mexico could well have been involved in the drug trade or the victims of unrelated violence –- such as a bar fight.

What does that tell us about the way the war on drugs is being reported in the United States? Well, for one thing, it tells us that the government and press-propaganda push for increased militarization of the border can’t be genuinely aimed at saving U.S. citizens from the bullets of the narco-traffickers.

In fact, by putting more guns on the border, it could be argued that U.S. citizens are actually being put at greater risk. The lucrative cross-border drug trade sure doesn’t seem to be threatened by the increased militarization, or why would the narco-traffickers bother to continue battling for the turf in Nuevo Laredo?

So this war, and the push to escalate it, has to be about something else.

And the only thing that comes to mind in my way of seeing things is money and power. The narco-traffickers, politicians and the media all stand to gain those prizes by continuing the war.

The narco-traffickers engaged in the turf battle in Nuevo Laredo can gain control of a lucrative monopoly by eliminating their competition; politicians and bureaucratic careerists in the United States can score power points by dishing out “national security” cash to fund the war; and the media can prop up newspaper sales and ratings by exploiting the fear generated by the violence.

Cynical, maybe. But it’s far closer to the truth than the “narco-terrorist” fiction the mainstream media is asking us to swallow.

But we have to keep in mind that human beings are being killed for this cause, for this pretense called the “war on drugs.” And as usual, it’s primarily poor, brown people – almost all of them Mexican – who are doing the dying.

Look at the facts. This is a war, no doubt, but it’s not a war on drugs.

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