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Grayson: Mexico, narco-violence and the United States

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Mexico, until recently a "blip" on the radar of U.S. President Barack Obama, burst to the fore after three U.S. Consulate employees were murdered in Ciudad Juarez in March. In the aftermath, both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others, flew to Mexico City. The attention is well-placed; it should be ongoing, according to George W. Grayson, the Class of 1938 Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary. "Mexico is much more important to the United States than Afghanistan and Pakistan bound together," Grayson said.

Grayson's recent book Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? chronicles the rise of regional Mexican drug cartels in Mexico, their increased savagery against territorial rivals and uncooperative government representatives, and the related security threat to the United States.

The inability of the Mexican government to appreciatively curb the rashes of sensational murders, including castrations and beheadings, has elevated the specter among pundits that Mexico might become a failed state. Grayson argues otherwise.

Mexico is not a failed state, he explained, but increasingly municipalities are governed by what he termed "dual sovereignty." Mayors and councils operate in one sphere; plaza bosses, who have their own police forces in the form of thugs, according to Grayson, operate in another. The latter want to conduct business, historically involving drug processing, storage and distribution but increasingly including elements such as human trafficking, kidnapping and control of contraband sales, with impunity, Grayson said.

In many cases, the worst violence occurs close to the 2,o00-mile border with the United States. Cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Jaurez virtually have been closed to foreign travellers, yet the atrocities that have made them such dangerous destinations  go largely unreported—Mexican newspapers fear that their presses will be bombed; U.S. newspapers have stopped sending correspondents, Grayson said. Although the violence has "trickled" into the United States, it has yet to "pour over the border," Grayson said. The prospect looms but remains unlikely in part because leaders of the new cartels do not want to encourage the type of direct involvement that the United States has exercised relative to Columbia, he said.

Grayson, a veteran of 125 research trips to and author of more than 20 books and monographs about Mexico and Latin America, continues to get his information through networks of friends and officials, as well as through YouTube and Twitter postings. Often he is asked what the United States can do to intervene. He reminds questioners that Mexico, despite the fact that 40 percent of its residents exist in dire poverty, remains a nation of incredible resources that include oil, natural gas, gold, silver, beaches and fisheries.

"The future of Mexico lies in Mexico's hands, and until the elite begin paying taxes, until there's some trust-busting, which makes the economy more efficient and productive, especially in third-markets where the Chinese and the Indians and the Asian tigers are eating Mexico's lunch and will soon eat its breakfast and dinner too, and until the elite commit themselves to fighting the drug cartels, the United States can have only a marginal impact," Grayson said.