Adventures in Mexico: Breaking stereotypes below the border

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By Austin Andersen

Drug cartels, kidnappings, senseless violence and tequila. These words are typically the first that come to mind for Americans when thinking of Mexico.

When I told my roommate in San Diego that I was going to go to Mexico, he looked at me as if I had just suggested a picnic outing to Damascus. He called me insane, but wished me luck.

Prior to leaving, I registered online with the State Department, and I had a hostel reserved in my destination city.

What I wanted to do was take a look at the main players that seem to have brought this highly controversial topic that has been lingering around the forefront of the public consciousness over the past couple of years. I wanted to explore how much of the Mexico “problem” is real and warranting our strict attention, and therefore justifiable fear.

On one hand, we have the Immigration Reform Bill introduced yet quagmired due to the recent shift of attention towards Syria.

On the other hand, there is the controversial and costly War on Drugs that has been steadily losing public support in the United States.

Currently there is a $39 billion dollar value of the drug market in Mexico that is essentially there for the purpose of satiating the American drug appetite.

To combat this, the U.S. has given $1.4 billion dollars to the Mexican army along with a nearly $50 billion sign-off for border protection increases (not to mention the effect the war on drugs has in the States themselves).

Furthermore, because guns are actually illegal for citizens in Mexico, they look to the States’ lax gun control laws to procure its weapons.

About 87 percent of those firearms found at drug crime scenes are traced back to American manufacturers and have been indiscriminately used, resulting in the roughly 60,000 killed in drug wars to date.

The border area has turned into an artificial war zone, where defense contractors can deploy and test wares as “real” wars in the Middle East slow down. I saw the Blackhawk Helicopters and could hear the Predator drones carrying Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar; “Vader” for short. Yes, we are protecting our borders with a security system named after a Star Wars villain.

I went through checkpoints and had to talk to camouflaged soldiers but the only sign of rule breaking my entire time was when I saw a man being lead out in handcuffs in the Tijuana customs line.

The way this border-industrial complex works is that Congress funnels tax dollars to the defense department, which then provides private defense corporations with contract money which in turn provide campaign contributions back to Congress.

It is a vicious yet lucrative cycle that is too attractive to leave be.

Solutions  should include a review of current drug enforcement policy and reform as well as easing the process of granting work permits to undocumented migrants.

These measures would take the money out of smuggling operations, thus cutting the economic influence the cartels hold.

Needless to say, my experiences in Mexico were in stark contrast with the preconceptions I held prior to experiencing Mexico for myself.

To see the good in the world, one just has to be willing to look. You have to be open to new experiences. Take basic safety precautions as far as common sense is concerned and strike forth cautiously yet aware.

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

 

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