After the latest uptick in violence in the country, the State Department posted a “Reconsider travel to Mexico” warning.
At first glance it seems reasonable: Gunfire hit a U.S. Consulate and Mexican military installations in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo on Sunday night. In late February, up to 17 men were lined up and shot to death, execution style, in the western state of Michoacan. A week later, in the state of Queretaro, more than 20 people were injured during a soccer match between rival teams – authorities called it “a dark day in Mexican soccer.”
And recent killings of tourists in the Yucatan Peninsula and the murders of five Mexican journalists less than two months into 2022 have U.S. officials extra spooked.
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Practice what you preach
No doubt, parts of Mexico are kind of terrifying right now. Nevertheless, there are still some things worth unpacking in the State Department’s announcement.
First, crime in Mexico has been a problem for a while. And Mexico continues to be the one of the most dangerous countries for journalists: About 140 have been killed in the country since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
And in spite of his slogan “hugs, not bullets” since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came to power in 2018, violence has gone up. Clearly the message didn’t resonate.
Second, the United States has played an integral role in feeding and arming that violence. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “In 2016, Americans spent almost $150 billion on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, 50 percent more than in 2010.” It is a strong buyers’ market in the USA for illicit drugs, especially fentanyl, that has helped fuel cartel violence in Mexico.
According to a major lawsuit the Mexican government has filed against U.S. gun manufacturers, a lot of Mexico’s violence epidemic is a direct result of the flood of assault-style weapons from the USA into Mexico.
Other U.S. states back the suit arguing that – given the political polarization and the difficulty of passing effective gun-control legislation – this mightbe one of the few ways to hold gun manufacturers accountable for the deadly consequences families have suffered in both countries because of the sales of their military-style weapons.
After a recent $73 million settlement with the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims in Connecticut, the possibilities for Mexico’s suit succeeding could be better.
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It might surprise Americans that Mexico has significantly stricter gun laws than in the United States. In fact, there is only one place you can go to buy guns legally in Mexico, and the military controls it.
If the types of guns that arms dealers sell could somehow be limited, like it was before the U.S. federal ban on assault-style weapons expired in 2004, then, the Mexican government’s argument goes, the cartels wouldn’t have such easy access to the weapons they can’t buy legally in Mexico.
Mexico is also not alone in its gun violence epidemic. The United States has the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that death toll is falling largely on one group: Young Black men and teens are 20 times more likely to be killed by guns than their white counterparts.
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America can’t solve Mexico’s problems and Mexico can’t solve America’s. Neither one is entirely to blame for the other’s gun violence epidemic, either.
But a warning by the State Department about a problem that America is deeply and inextricably complicit in is at best entirely unhelpful – and at worst, a distraction from something much more rotten.
Carli Pierson is an attorney, former professor of human rights, writer and member of USA TODAY’s Editorial Board. You can follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Violence in Mexico is a result of the US demand for drugs and guns.