The Law of Unintended Consequences
TIJUANA, Mexico -- We drove the rental car to the end of the line, where the border fence disappears into the Pacific Ocean, and there we found a cadre of Mexican federal agents. They were just hanging, like tourists taking postcard pictures.
The beach town is called Playas de Tijuana, and it looks like a more colorful, more dodgy version of Imperial Beach to the north. The seaside neighborhood has traditionally been popular with the upper class of TJ, which includes both managers of assembly plants and some well-to-do narcos.
On the U.S. side, the Border Patrol earlier this year closed Friendship Park to make way for the new triple fence. The park plaza was dedicated by First Lady Pat Nixon back in the 1970s as a symbol of a shared reality, and its closure is symbolic too.
One thing that struck us on our reporting trip along the border was how the law of unintended consequences plays out in the region, sometimes in perverse ways.
Ciudad Juarez has become the murder capital of Mexico in part because the Mexican military is attempting to crush the cartels, which have responded with vicious fighting among themselves and against government forces.
The consumption of heroin and cocaine in Ciudad Juarez has soared because the weakened cartels are seeking cash from street sales. Heroin addicts who seek refuge in drug rehabilitation centers are attacked and killed, at the very moment when they try to rebuild their lives.
In Ascension, the local cops have their weapons taken away by the military, which does not trust them. Then during a gunfight with assassins, the police cannot return fire -- because they don’t have any bullets.
In Palomas, drug violence -- along with fears of the flu -- have scared American tourists away and ruined the the local economy, which is built on visitors seeking discount dentistry. As the dentists move away and the town loses its middle class, Palomas becomes more lawless.
When the U.S. builds a fence, the smugglers use the roads that run alongside it to move drugs. The fence may slow or stop illegal crossers, but it also stops grassland fire and the movement of migratory animals in a region that environmentalists consider one of the most vital wildlife corridors in the hemisphere.
In Mexicali, narcocorrido ballads are more popular than ever -- in part because the government has sought to ban them from the airwaves.
As Mexican migrants in Tecate find the border harder and harder to cross there, they move further out into the desert, where hundreds of illegal crossers die each year of heat stroke and thirst.
One thing was clear from our trip: The extreme violence associated with drug smuggling along the border is crushing civil society in Mexico. Helping to make the shared region more secure and prosperous is going to take smart people on both sides of the line.
Reporter Arturo Chacon contributed to the border journey.
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