There was a piece in The New York Times yesterday on all the major issues the candidates should touch upon during tonight's third presidential debate. The list was quite thorough and elegantly detailed. There was Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Arab Spring and its consequences, Syria and, of course, Benghazi, places and milieus that should rightfully worry not only Barack Obama and Mitt Romney but the average American citizen. As I kept going down the list, I was hoping to find Mexico. Alas, the Times didn't deem the neighboring country with a conflict of almost civil war proportions worthy of a place among the foreign policy priorities of the next president of the United States.
Of course, The New York Times is not alone. I went through a good number of pieces by journalists and experts I truly respect. I couldn't find one that included Mexico in the topics worth debating. It's a sad state of affairs. The fact that America's mainstream political debate has decided to avoid Mexico's bloodshed is a sign of disgraceful irresponsibility, unworthy of the United State and its (better) history on the world stage.
One possibility, of course, is that, after careful consideration, the nation's politicians simply don't think Mexico's problem is big enough or that it doesn't threaten America's national security. I truly hope that isn't the case. Here's why.
Mexico's war on drugs is fast approaching 100,000 deaths. The army is deployed all over the country in a strategy not unlike general David Petraeus' famous "clear, hold and build formula" but with much more uneven success. Vast swaths of the country, from Durango to Michoacán, Tamaulipas and Coahuila, are held hostage by the different drug cartels. At the municipal level – and all life is local – many areas of Mexico are now ruled, and have been ruled for a while, by the country's criminal organizations. Mexico's judicial system is in shambles, as is its decrepit and corrupt circuit of penitentiaries. Basic freedoms are being lost every day. Being a journalist in Mexico has become extremely dangerous. In the last decade, almost 100 journalists have been killed: not one of those crimes has been convincingly solved.
Even with the government's successful strategy of capturing the leaders of the cartels (it has gotten rid of 25 of the country's 37 main drug dealers), violence has not significantly abated. What is worse is some of these organizations have decided to branch out. The Zetas have begun bleeding Mexico's oil pipelines in a new lucrative illegal business. The Sinaloa Cartel has also been very active, making inroads in Europe's cocaine market.
All in all, Mexico's criminals may not be ideologically driven or have a political agenda, but they are in it to win. They have the capacity to become efficient mercenaries all over the world. Secretary Janet Napolitano herself has repeatedly said that a Zeta-Al Qaeda alliance could prove to be catastrophic. She should add that, for the Zetas, it's only a matter of will: Their power in northeastern Mexico is just that worrying.
One might add, of course, that this whole mess wouldn't be possible without American guns and a voracious demand for drugs. There's no question: Mexico's troubles are America's troubles.
So, what is keeping American politicians from engaging in a public and courageous debate about Mexico? The answer, unfortunately, has to do with deep-rooted cynicism and electoral pragmatism. Neither candidate will talk about Mexico's situation because that would lead to a discussion of gun control, and no one, apparently, wants to anger the all-powerful NRA. Neither candidate will speak openly about drug policy because that would mean grappling on a thorny subject in the nation's so-called "cultural battles". It's all too risky, too…inconvenient. I'm betting that the only way we'll hear about Mexico tonight will be through "Fast and Furious", a program that is electorally profitable for the GOP and which the NRA loves to hate.
Naturally, I hope I'm wrong. I long to witness an honest discussion on America's role in its neighbor's tragedy. But I wouldn't count on it. As has been the case for a while, 90 minutes will go by with plenty of time allotted to the travails of societies that lie ten thousand miles away but almost nothing devoted to a country held hostage and just a stone's throw away.
León Krauze is the news anchor for Univision's KMEX 34 in Los Angeles.