Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shelter in the Tempest

There's a front page article in today's WSJ called Mexico Under Siege:

MONTERREY, Mexico--A surge of drug violence in Mexico's business capital and richest city has prompted an outcry from business leaders who on Wednesday took out full-page ads asking President Felipe Calderón to send in more soldiers to stem the violence.

The growing violence in Monterrey, long one of Mexico's most modern and safe cities, is a sign that the country's war against drug gangs is spreading ever further from poorer battlegrounds along the border and into the country's wealthiest enclaves.

It's a story that we've seen all too often over the last few years as the violence and anarchy spawned by Mexico's drug cartels seems to be spreading unchecked, threatening to send the country into an unstoppable downward spiral toward complete failure. News that the drug-fueled violence has now erupted in previously safe havens such as Monterrey is indeed disturbing. But as Duncan Currie reported in the July 5th edition of National Review, it's important to remember that with all the pain there has been progress too (sub req):

Recognizing this progress can help us keep Mexico's current drug mayhem in perspective. The relentless, ghastly violence in certain border cities--particularly Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa--has fostered the perception among Americans that the entire country is a lawless, blood-soaked hellhole. In fact, the carnage has been concentrated in a relatively small number of geographically important areas. "Parts of the country are probably more peaceful than they've ever been," says Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "And other parts are being torn asunder by violence between competing cartels."

The regions that have been hit hardest are thoroughly integrated into the global economy, but also function as points of entry or exit for illegal drugs. Northern Mexico benefited handsomely from NAFTA, yet its chief manufacturing and commercial hubs along the U.S. border have become cauldrons of violence. Campbell reckons that six of the 32 Mexican states--Chihuahua, Durango, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas--are now "close to being narco-states."

On the other hand, he says, "the majority of the country is basically okay." Indeed, large swaths of Mexico have been insulated from the drug havoc, and the capital city, though plagued by very real security problems, has a much lower homicide rate than the District of Columbia. As Mexico-based journalist Alexandra Olson has noted, the Mexican national murder rate was higher in 1997 (17 murders per 100,000 people) than it was in 2009 (14 per 100,000). Granted, because of the massive spike in drug-related killings, Mexico's homicide rate has jumped since 2007 (when it was 10 per 100,000), but it remains well below that of Brazil, which is frequently touted as an emerging superpower.

The threat isn't that Mexico itself will become a failed state as nation, but that some of the states within the country will.

Villalobos is obviously not an impartial analyst. Yet when we review the available data, it becomes clear that innocent Mexican civilians face less risk than commonly believed. In a wide-ranging January 2010 study, political scientist David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, affirms that "the vast majority of drug-related violence occurs between and among organized-crime groups. If you do not happen to be or have ties to a drug trafficker, the odds of being killed by one are extremely slim." Last year, he writes, the overall odds were roughly 1 in 16,300, though they were much greater in the states of Chihuahua (1 in 1,600), Durango (1 in 2,400), and Sinaloa (1 in 3,400).

Shirk uses statistics compiled by the Mexican newspaper Reforma, which he deems "a fairly reliable source" with a sound methodology for distinguishing drug-war murders from other homicides. According to the Reforma data, the number of drug-related killings in Mexico soared from 2,280 in 2007 to 5,153 in 2008 to 6,587 in 2009. More than two-thirds of the 2009 killings occurred in just five states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Durango, and Michoacán), with nearly one-third taking place in Chihuahua alone.

In the past, I've made several business trips to the state of Chihuahua, spending most of my time in Chihuahua City. While the situation there isn't nearly as dire as in Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, or Reynosa, there has been an increase in drug related violence in the city over last few years. As with the majority of the carnage that has gripped Mexico of late, most of that violence has been between members of the various cartels. But at times, bystanders get caught in the middle as well.

During these business trips to Chihuahua, some of my co-workers and I have also taken time to support a local orphanage there called Casa de Hogar Misericordia Orphanage. We've raised funds at work and on this web site and used that money to support the orphanage in various ways. You read about some of these efforts here.

It's been a few years since I've been to Chihuahua (business reasons) and I've wondered how the orphanage was coping in these difficult times. Last month, one of our work colleagues in Chihuahua received an e-mail from the couple who run Casa de Hogar Misercordia. Here's the rough translation:


Last night, a family that live in front of our home were executed, the bullets were so noisy and so near that looks like was at the back yard, we run everywhere, going stair up and down trying to hide when car pass in front, then they leave as nothing happened. We don't know what's going to happen every day, people is killed at out street, there are several business that the killers are asking for money to allow them continue doing business and those that don't want to pay they are threatened and if not get the money about 80K, 100K or even more pesos, they are killed.

God is our lovely and our refuge at the anguish day, the day that I fear I trust in you.

Lovely brothers, God keep us here and we will continue forward and we can't abandon our children neither our families on now dangerous days, but if one day God decides take us with him, be known that we love you and we are pretty thankful with all of you, for all the goodness you have done with all the kids and with us, please support us with your prays and your love and your donatives for this labor.

God bless you and I will keep informing you about what's going to happen.

Fidel and Mariana.

It just so happens that I'll be making a trip to our facility in Chihuahua at the end of August with a few others. We've made plans to stop by the orphanage and have already been raising funds at our workplace. I'd like to continue the tradition of on-line fundraising for the orphanage here at Fraters Libertas, but there's a problem. Pay Pal.

While we've been able to utilize the services of Pay Pal in the past to collect money for the orphanage, we are now longer able to do so. Pay Pal has frozen our account and won't allow us to use to accept donations unless we provide evidence that we are a non-profit organization registered with the government. Well, we're not. We're just individuals who are trying to provide a little support to kids who are in desperate need and would like to use the platform of this web site and the generosity of its readers to do that.

Now, I understand that Pay Pal is concerned about possible fraud and wants to protect its users. I have no problem with that. But I would have thought that there would have been some way to reach an accommodation to allow a non officially registered--licensed--government approved charity effort like this to accept donations on-line. As I discovered through a series of e-mails with Pay Pal officials, the answer apparently is not.

I also looked into some alternatives to Pay Pal, but couldn't find a reputable one that didn't have either monthly fees or onerous transaction charges. So at this point, it looks like the only way we'll be able to accept donations is through the old fashioned check sent by mail (or Pony Express). If you wish to contribute, drop them to:

Chad Doughty
7200 Glenwood Ave
Golden Valley, MN 55427

We leave for Chihuahua in ten days. Thanks for your support.