Tuesday, March 22, 2011

US border corruption

As we all know, US consumption of drugs is one of the driving factors behind the violence in Mexico. But another under-reported factor is US corruption, particularly along the southwest border. A new case highlights just how bad the problem can be:

Angelo Vega took over the police force in Columbus, New Mexico, about two years ago. Like many of his Mexican counterparts, he pledged to fight the drug cartels and human traffickers' influence in the town.

Vega is now fighting federal charges of conspiring with the town mayor, a Columbus trustee and eight other residents to buy and smuggle weapons into the hands of the drug cartels.

According to the 84-count indictment, the defendants allegedly bought about 200 guns. The indictment says they made false claims that the guns were for their own personal use. They were allegedly acting as what's known as "straw buyers" – ie, they bought the weapons knowing they would end up in someone else's hands.

And indeed, according to the indictment, some of the weapons did end up in the wrong hands, in the hands of Mexican drug cartels south of the border, in the hands of the very people who are responsible for violence that has cost more than 35,000 lives in just over four years.

This is the kind of story one hears every day in Mexico – good cop pledges to bring peace, good cop turns out to be corrupt on the side, eager for a little extra. In the US, it's more rare, but as this case shows, it does happen. And when it does, it has terrible consequences on both sides of the border.

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