Mexico’s Drug War Ghost Towns

November 22nd, 2010 at 10:21 am | 11 Comments |

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Ciudad Mier is a small town on the U.S.-Mexico border south of Laredo.  It’s a town that traces its roots to the Spanish colonial era and was the site of a noteworthy incident in the history of the Republic of Texas.  It now has a more recent and terrible distinction: it’s a city that has been largely abandoned due to drug cartel violence in Northern Mexico.

The residents of Mier have fled their homes because of ongoing warfare between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, two groups fighting for control of the lucrative drug smuggling routes into the U.S. through South Texas.  While drug-related violence is nothing new on the U.S. – Mexico border, this conflict, and the response to it from the Mexican government, has escalated to a point that is far beyond what has been normal in the past.  The conflict is now creating something new – a refugee crisisThe Economist has reported that the area “resembles a war zone more than ever” and that many “smaller municipalities along the border have also become virtual ghost towns this year”.  Mier is now largely abandoned, with its residents fleeing to neighboring towns like Ciudad Miguel Aleman.  Many people are staying in makeshift shelters, such as in the Miguel Aleman’s Lions Club building, where the city government of Mier has set up shop.  Others have fled across the border to the small town of Roma, Texas, which because of this influx has reported the installation of 1500 new water connections in recent months and hundreds of new students in its schools.  Since February of this year, firefights have led to the shutdown of schools and public services in Mier, and the neighboring town of Ciudad Nuevo Guerrero has also faced a similar evacuation.  As stated in a Mier city official’s report cited in a recent article in the McAllen Monitor:

The livestock ranches that surround Mier have ceased to operate, with ranchers fearful of tending to their land.  “Rural roads are full of armed men, who have kidnapped a number of people making a living off the land,” the report states. “Most of the ranches have been taken and are destroyed in the hands of the armed people.”  Besides livestock, the region’s natural gas exploration industry “is of the utmost importance” to Mier’s economy, the report states, and has all but ceased… Local officials say there has been little cooperation from state or federal authorities to provide security in the eight months Mier has been under the control of criminals.

Violence on the border is nothing new and as mentioned in one of the articles linked above, much of Mexico has escaped this carnage.  Furthermore, sometimes press sensationalism can exaggerate local dangers.  That is not the case in this circumstance, however.  The escalation of violence in Northern Mexico has had terrible effects upon the citizenry on the Mexican side of the border, and is directly linked to the seemingly insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States.  When one sees what is now happening in the drug war in Mexico, one cannot help but think of the famous lament of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

Recent Posts by Mark R. Yzaguirre

11 Comments so far ↓

  • octopus

    The greater threat to the US in the next five years isn’t out of the Near East, it will be the collapse of the Mexican state…

  • samgilbert

    The demand in the U.S. has to be curbed. If we only fight the supply, we put more money in the hands of fewer drug lords who have a lot of incentive for violence. We should legalize cultivation and usage of relatively harmless drugs like marijuana and impose Draconian punishments for users of drugs like meth. That will take a lot of money out of the hands of Mexican drug lords.

  • JohnnyA

    As a regular business traveler to Mexico for many years who has studied the country, I can tell you there’s not a chance of that happening.

    But you are on the right track. Over time, Mexico’s military will increasingly get a handle on the drug war and the cartels/gangs will shift to smaller, less prepared countries in Central America or Venezuela, which seems well on its way to becoming a narco state. Our illegal drug users provide an order of magnitude more money per year to drug gangs than the Al Qaeda or Taliban get. Assuming we continue to make no serious progress in reducing illegal drug use and trade, it’s not much of a stretch to see how these groups will become more sophisticated and powerful, eventually capable of carrying out a September 11th scale attack on the US. My best guess is we’re another 10-15 years away from that being a possibility…

  • JohnnyA


    Agreed. Our current enforcement policy encourages larger, more sophisticated drug cartels.

    As other studies have already pointed out, legalizing marijuana will do very little. The cartels get most of their money from coke.

    The way to fix it is putting drug use offenders in mandatory treatment programs rather than jail, where many are recruited into gangs. Mandatory in prison drug treatment programs for prisoners that are known users/have tested positive for drugs. Break up the gang rackets in the prison systems. But there’s a correctional facility industry that likes things the way they are…

  • easton

    johnnyA, I live in Mexico, the pot crop is almost pretty large and lucrative, don’t sell that short. I too favor legalization for pot for the reasons samgilbert laid out.

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    [...] Refugees: no return to town hit by Mexico drug warThe Associated PressCIUDAD MIER, Mexico (AP) — Shell casings carpet the road outside a bullet-riddled subdivision on the outskirts of this colonial town on the Rio Grande …Refugees: No Return To Town Hit By Mexico Drug WarNPRRefugees: no return to town hit by Mexico drug warKIII TV3Mexico's Drug War Ghost TownsFrumForum [...]

  • JohnnyA

    Easton, it may be and I have no doubt it is not a large crop, my information comes from the recent RAND study (see below) debunking the government’s former estimate that marijuana was 60% of the revenue, claiming it is more like 15-24%.

    It may be that RAND got it wrong in the other direction.

    While I’m not a supporter, I’m open to the idea of legalization, but I think a lot more serious discussion and study needs to take place before it’s time will come. Not sure we have done enough thinking about the unintended consequences.

    Personally, I would go one further and reduce the drinking age. The drinking age in the DC area went up to 21 shortly before I turned 18 (many years ago). I remember easily being able to get into many establishments when I was 15, but by the time I was 18, I needed a fake ID that may not be accepted everywhere and could result in arrest. Sitting around in the neighborhood bar was a normal, social thing and we weren’t going to go farther than drink beer and do shots. When we couldn’t get in anymore, we ended up in the basement of someone’s house or at a field party where drugs flowed freely. Getting alcohol illegally was about the same or less level of effort (and sometimes more expensive) than getting drugs. I know a lot of people that went off the rails on drugs and doubt it would have happen if the alcohol rules had stayed the same.

  • armstp

    If I was a Mexican I would be as mad as hell at the U.S., as the U.S.’ insatiable demand for drugs in killing Mexico.

  • hsames

    So for from God, so close to the United States. Mexico’s political and economic system could not handle the problems that have been created by US drug demand. The conservative PAN party is new to governing and it takes time and effort to learn to govern when things are going right. It is almost impossible when you have to fight drug cartels that are creating economic dead zones in the country. Unfortunatly, the PAN does not have a lot of time to succeed. There are cries to bring back the PRI party because they know how to run the government.
    The United States needs to change its policies if there is to be any hope for Mexico. We need to legalize, rehabilitate, and educate our citizens. Free to choose should include free to choose not to do drugs.

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