THE DRUG violence in Mexico no longer is a concern just to that country. More than forty-three thousand people have died in the fighting there since President Felipe Calderón initiated his military offensive against the powerful drug cartels in December 2006. Uneasy officials in the United States understandably worry not only about the potential of the growing turmoil to destabilize Mexico; they also worry about the prospect of the violence seeping northward into the United States.
That could happen. But currently Mexico’s drug violence is spreading south into Central America, not north into the United States. That may prove to be only minor comfort to U.S. officials, though, because the expanding influence of the Mexican cartels is posing a security threat to fragile Central American countries. That development could put the region back on Washington’s priority security agenda for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
One reason the cartels are expanding their operations into Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American countries is Calderón’s vigorous antidrug offensive in Mexico. Although powerful players such as the Gulf, Sinaloa and Zetas cartels are not about to abandon their positions inside Mexico, they are dispersing some of their operations to safer arenas. David Gaddis, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, observed that the cartels are moving into countries “where they feel, quite frankly, more comfortable” than they do in Mexico.