The COVID-19 pandemic is creating some very odd bed fellows.
The daughter of Mexican drug king Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was recently shown in a video distributing boxes of groceries and other household necessities in a city neighborhood. Mexico’s media has named the gifts “Chapo food parcels.”
The Chapo family also owns El Chapo 701, a brand of narco-themed clothing. Meanwhile the elder Guzman remains behind prison bars in the United States.
The Guzmans aren't the only narco kingpin families to engage in such acts of charity in Mexico. Numerous gangs have made headlines distributing food and other goods to families in need. Mexican authorities have been essentially powerless to stop them.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised. An analyst with a global crisis assessment firm said, “Mexican cartels are using the current (pandemic) situation to strengthen their social base.” Cartel leaders also understand their continuing internecine wars are costly in dollars and body count, much more so than their new branding strategy of giving away food, hand sanitizer and helping the poor.
In the cartel culture, violence and charity now share equal billing in a global crisis. Still, March was one of Mexico’s bloodiest months in more than a decade, with 2,585 drug-related murders.
Cartel decision-makers are relying on the fact that Mexico's social-welfare programs are inept, don't cover everyone who needs such support, and are highly politicized. If Mexico’s government can’t step up its game, the cartels are positioning themselves to step in, replacing any form of elected leadership.
See what we mean by odd bed fellows? The bad guys replacing the good guys in a matter of months.
In a very real way, Americans and our drug addictions are responsible for the paradigm shift in Mexico. California author Don Winslow wrote the following passage in his novel “The Cartel”:
“Mexico, the land of pyramids and palaces, deserts and jungles, mountains and beaches, markets and gardens, boulevards and cobblestone streets, broad plazas and hidden courtyards, is now known as a slaughter ground.
“And for what?
“So North Americans can get high. …
North Americans smoke the dope, snort the coke, shoot the heroin, do the meth, and then have the nerve to point south … and wag their fingers at the ‘Mexican drug problem’ and Mexican corruption.
“As for corruption, who’s more corrupt — the seller or the buyer? And how corrupt does a society have to be when its citizens need to get high to escape their reality, at the cost of bloodshed and suffering of their neighbors?
“Corrupt to the soul. …”
A harsh assessment, to be sure, but one that makes sense in the context of how we have chosen to conduct our lives.
We bring this up because it is a time of reflection for most of us. As America goes through a reopening process, the pace of our lives will accelerate. We will begin to put the pieces of our daily existence back in places they were before the coronavirus pandemic.
But will America’s taste for illegal drugs change? The pandemic has forced alterations in the relationship between law-abiding Mexican citizens, their government and that nation’s drug cartels, but will the cartels reshaping their image mean a governance power struggle will have been won?
At the moment, we all want our normal lives back, but what will that normal be? A tiny, deadly virus has changed the way we live and the way we think. Will it be for the better, or will it be for the worse?
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