This is important for at least two reasons. First, the violence affects the lives of many Mexicans and threatens the society, in general. Second, killing, kidnapping, and increased migration (from desperate civilians in Mexico) is affecting the US.
The circumstance has become this dire for a few reasons -- two of which directly involve the US. First, for too long, these gangs had been left to their own devices or paid off police to leave them be. And continued failure by Mexico's presidents to reform the police has allowed cartels to grow roots in their respective territories. Second, many of the weapons the gangs are currently using to kill thousands come from 6,600 US gun dealers on the Mexican border who frequently sell weapons to middlemen, who then turn around and sell to the gangs.
Third, and most importantly, the bulk of Mexico's drug trade is still feeding the US black market for marijuana.
Given the contributing factors, the solution must be matching. President Calderón has made reversing the first factor -- competent security and governance -- the centerpiece of his term.
The second issue, guns, must be dealt with from the US side by much stricter regulation and tracking over gun sales. For example, new laws could require that gun purchasers prove their continued possession periodically -- maybe every few months.
But as I alluded to before, the third factor is central: the demand for illegal drugs. And the obvious solution -- legalization -- is the reason why the US discussion of Mexico's violence is either insincere or ignored altogether. Take George Will's recent column, for example. He goes on for 90% of the article about the problem of violence spilling over into Arizona, but when it comes to the reality of confronting the problem, he writes one sentence:
Whatever the merits of legalization -- and there are certain to be costs -- it will not happen in the foreseeable future, which is where Arizonans must live.
Shrugging it off sure is easy, huh?
I am not going to undertake a long argument for legalization here -- and I'd like to hear your opinions on it in the 'comments' section. (Besides, many have done a much more competent job than I could right now.) I will confine myself to the most relevant reason: drug cartels will figure out a way to get their products to the tens of millions of Americans who use them -- and will continue to do so -- as long as there are not legal channels. Put another way, the demand is a constant; the only malleable issue is who is supplying the drugs -- a gang or stores.
Americans can continue to deny or ignore the reality at America's door. But what happens when it bursts in anyways?
March 22 - Update: for a better idea of the massive and profitable industry of marijuana in the US, read this article. (The article is from Foreign Policy magazine, but the FP website is having problems right now.)