Much like Blackwater’s involvement during the Iraq war, there is another rush for American muscle and security details in a region racked by violence. The clients seek protection from kidnapping, assassination, and extortion. The area of conflict isn’t in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, or any other exotic local—its actually on the North American continent. Our next door neighbor, Mexico, has been plagued by unspeakable violence at the hands of vicious drug cartels. Now many of Mexico’s citizens are fighting back with American body guards.
On its surface, the real battle in Mexico’s “War on Drugs” is between the military and the drug cartels, but like so many war zones, citizens are continually caught in the crossfire. Those who can afford protection are paying big money to American contractors who can offer protection from threats and abductions. Many of the companies offering services have reported huge increases in requests for security services in Mexico, particularly amongst government officials not provided a security detail or businessmen traveling between the United States and Mexico on business.
R. Kent Morrison, a former Navy Commando and President of a Texas based security company called BlackStone Group, noted: “What we do is focus on providing security to usually high net-worth individuals who actually have a need for security and aren’t provided that by some government entity.”
However, Mexican law complicates business for many of the U.S. firms doing security related business in Mexico. Mexico prohibits foreign nationals from carrying weapons within its borders. Therefore, groups like Blackstone are forced to subcontract their “gun slinging” needs to Mexican freelancers and local firms. Such reliance on Mexican nationals creates a host of other issues, particularly; can the freelancers be bought out by the cartels? Despite the threat, many Mexican nationals are willing to take that risk in light of the greater dangers posed by the cartels.
The violence in Mexico has become increasingly gruesome and continues to creep closer to the U.S. border. Should the United States do more than sit idly by and wait for the fight to spill into U.S. border towns or is there more that can be done in conjunction with the Mexican government? Is it ethical for Americans to work as body guards for the privileged citizens of Mexico when, for all intents and purposes, they are subject to the Mexican nationals they employ as their firepower? What can be done to protect the poor of Mexico who have no choice but to live in fear of violence with no hope of protection?
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If American companies can make money by providing security for people in Mexico, I do not see a problem with it. One concern I would have if I was someone hiring one of these companies would be how the company was sure that the Mexican subcontractors were not compromised. I would imagine it would be quite difficult to make certain that all of the gun-wielding security agents hired by these companies are not taking bribes from the cartels. Although the company might have reliable agents, what if one of the cartels kidnaps that person’s family? A very good person could do very bad things to keep their family safe. I’m sure the different security companies are taking measures to alleviate this risk, but it is still there. Until the overall problem of drug violence and kidnapping is alleviated in Mexico, those who can afford private security are wise to implement it. The risk of not doing so certainly outweighs the costs.
In support of the private security forces, one might argue that the private security companies are only responding to what the market demands by supplying a needed service. In opposition, one might argue that it is difficult for Mexico to hold American security forces in their country accountable for any potential misconduct.
The fact that American companies are subcontracting the security jobs to Mexicans undoubtedly raises the question of whether the Mexican subcontractors are paid off by the drug cartels. Perhaps this can be measured by comparing the rate of drug-related crime prior to the arrival of the security forces with the rate after the arrival of the security forces. A decreased rate may indicate that the security forces are in fact effectively reducing crime related to Mexican drug cartels and, thus, are not being bought off.
I do not have a problem with American security going in to protect Mexican citizens who can afford it, in part because the alternative would be no protection, less adequate protection, or unaffordable protection. The economic benefits to the American firms is a factor to be weighed, but should only be a secondary consideration in such situations. Granted financial gain is likely a primary consideration for the American security firms, however, international policy should be more concerned with the protection of the civilians. Sadly, the weaker financial position facing most of the Mexican citizens will continue to place them in dangerous positions. The larger issue facing this situation is the regional (and worldwide) drug running problem. The relatively weak governmental infrastructure in nations such as Mexico makes them more susceptible to the threats of drug cartels. The long term solution to this issue would be to aide such nations in improving this infrastructure in order to better position the nation to handle these threats.
I also see no problem with American security companies providing security for people in Mexico that can afford protection. However, as the post points out, poor Mexicans are still being subjected to horrible drug-related violence throughout the country. Additionally, it seems that Mexican drug violence has already spilled over into the United States. Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, has stated that Mexico’s drug cartel violence has become an issue in the state. According to a New York Times article written in 2009, when law enforcement in Tucson, Arizona formed a special squad to deal with increasing home invasions, more than three-quarters of the invasions were linked to the Mexican drug trade. Law enforcement authorities also believe that traffickers distributing the cartels’ drugs are responsible for a number of shootings in Vancouver, British Columbia, kidnappings in Phoenix, and assaults in Birmingham Alabama.
I wouldn’t say it’s unethical for Americans to be working as bodyguards down in Mexico. It’s supply and demand at work. I do think it’s a bit silly to be paying for American bodyguards though if they then have to sub-contract with Mexican guards anyway. It seems like this was what they were trying to avoid in the first place. Louis makes a good point that the Mexican guards that are hired are more susceptible to the cartels. It seems like the violence going on down there knows no bounds. I for one would be very concerned that their ability to do their jobs could be compromised. As the article points out, ‘they could be a team on Tuesday, but by Thursday they could be working with the cartels.’
How can we say it is unethical for American body guards to go protect privileged Mexicans when in the U.S body guards protect the privileged Americans? Do we assume Hollywood’s elite body guards are not carrying weapons when these celebrities travel into Mexico? Should Mexican law provide an exception for protection of foreigners? When the law was enacted, Mexican legislative might have had a valid purpose in preventing foreigners to carry weapons, but now Mexico is unsafe for foreigners.
Why are Mexicans turning to American security companies? Couldn’t is be possible that Mexican civilians have exhausted their own resources? Wouldn’t it be easier for these citizens to contact a local security firm if they would receive the same services? Since these drug lords have corrupted so many Mexican citizens, maybe these innocent Mexicans can not trust their own Mexican bodyguards?