If one looked at the Western Hemisphere from outer space, one would not see the borders that separate nations. At best we would see two large land masses — North and South American — united by a “thin bridge” between the two — Central America.
On land, our political leaders and governments see it differently. We have three nations of North America; seven tiny republics that make up Central America, and a score of nations in South America. They carefully monitor boundaries as a most important task.
Leaders of the drug cartels, including those who grow the coca leafs in Perú and Bolivia, who process it in Colombia and traffic it through Central America and México do not recognize these borders, however.
They are just as comfortable operating as a “mara,” or street gang in Atlanta or Los Angeles, as they are in northern Mexico, where the drugs cartels rule the border, or in Central America, where drug gangs and the Mexican cartels are rapidly extending their reach, or to the high mountains of Peru and Bolivia, or the jungles of Colombia.
To drug dealers, it makes no difference where they operate. They abide by no boundaries. Their law is the one they impose by force.
For years, the United States and nations in the hemisphere have waged an uneven war on drugs. The U.S. government invested more than $1.1 billion in Plan Colombia to help restore a semblance of governance in that South American nation.
Mexico has received several hundred million dollars for its Plan Merida to fight the drug cartels. But Mexico is losing the war against the better armed drug cartels.
Last week, Central American leaders met with high officials of the United States and the United Nations to try to create a joint Central American effort to stop the Mexican drug cartels and the local gangs from doing to the region what they have already done to northern Mexico. El Salvador and Honduras are studying Guatemala’s UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity. With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promising another $300 million, and international institutions and other developed nations another $700 million, it is a start.
It is not enough. No country is blameless. Some produce the drugs; others traffic in it; and still others consume it.
The whole region must come together and recognize that the fight will not be fair — much less won — as long as one side ignores borders while governments insist on protecting them. This is not pie-in-the-sky. True, it has never been done before. That does not mean it cannot be done, and it must be done.
The war on drugs has no national boundaries.
Guillermo is a veteran newsman with experience in print and broadcast journalism in South Florida and throughout Latin America. He won the Inter American Press Association’s Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary on Latin America.