- - Sunday, November 10, 2019

Is Mexico a failed state? With the horrific slaughter of a family of Americans living there earlier this month — and a host of other bad news to boot — signs point to yes.

Nine Mormon Americans — six children and their mothers — were killed in the horrifying attack, when the SUVs they were traveling through northern Mexico in were attacked by gunmen. Many were shot at point-blank range or burned alive in their cars. Miraculously, eight survived. The spasm of violence against an innocent family has been blamed on Mexican drug cartels, and may have been a case of mistaken identity. The Americans were traveling in the same kind of cars that drug cartels tend to use.

“A conflict between two criminal groups fighting for control of a region in northern Mexico is a focus of the authorities in their investigation into the massacre of nine members of a Mormon family, [Mexican] officials said,” The New York Times reported. “The attack terrified communities that had learned to coexist with violence in the remote, rural area, said a human-rights activist who lives and works in the region and who did not give his name out of fear of reprisal from the gangs.”

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Mexico is enduring another blood-soaked year as cartels battle for control of territory and the lucrative drug trade. In just the first half of this year, there were an astonishing 17,000 murders in the country. Projections suggest that by the year’s end, 32,000 will have met a violent end. By definition, not all of the victims were in the cartels: Many were innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Vast swaths of the country are effectively no-go-zones for law enforcement.

That sad fact came into stark focus earlier this year in another shocking event. In October, Mexican law enforcement moved in to arrest the son of notorious drug lord “El Chapo” Guzman. Guzman’s son went into the family business, and is wanted on drug trafficking charges.

But when Mexican officials went and arrested the son, they were met with a ferocious response. “As word spread of Guzman Lopez’s capture Thursday afternoon, intense gun battles broke out between cartel gunmen — armed with military-grade weapons — and Mexican authorities. Cartel thugs torched cars and buses, and left their burned-out remains blocking main roads in and out of the city. Other roads were shut by the army, according to local reports. Images shared on Twitter show masked gunmen manning a machine gun mounted on the back of a truck on Culiacan streets. Other gunmen loyal to the cartel fired .50-caliber sniper rifles from the backs of trucks,” the New York Post reported.

In the event, the Mexican authorities took the extraordinary step of releasing the wanted drug trafficker. (And by the way, in the same month, an ambush killed 13 Mexican police officers.) The Mexican government has capitulated to the cartels, in other words, raising the question of who exactly is in charge south of the border.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador certainly doesn’t seem to be. The leftist leader has an avowed policy of “hugs, not guns” when it comes to taking on cartel violence. That has been an abject failure. Hopefully, the president now recognizes the folly of his gentle approach and begins a military-style campaign to root out what are, essentially, terrorist militias. That approach worked well in Colombia, where the drug gangs have finally been pacified. The United States should offer to help in this campaign, as it did in Colombia.

Mexico’s suffering is not only a terrible tragedy for the people there, but a real problem for the United States as well. Cartel violence is increasing transnational, after all. And the deplorable security situation in Mexico will only encourage more Mexicans to transit to the United States — legally or otherwise. Both the United States and Mexico have a vested interest in stabilizing the situation there. Actions must be taken, and swiftly.

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