Time magazine takes an on-the-ground look at drug violence on the U.S.-Mexican border. In El Paso, which is receiving a stream of exiles from Juárez across the border, the city council voted unanimously to ask Washington to consider legalizing marijuana. The move would crimp the drug cartels’ cash flow, estimated at more than $25 billion a year. El Paso’s mayor vetoed the resolution, but “the discussion is changing,” says council member Beto O’Rourke, who insists the U.S. has for too long relied too heavily on military aid to producer and trafficker nations and on stiff sentences for drug possession at home.
Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz, who has received death threats from the gangs, is trying to purge the city’s corrupt, 1,600-member police force and hopes to build a more professional department twice the size. Only one-third of a U.S. aid plan to Mexico is directed at police reform. It is police officers, not soldiers, who staff the kind of investigative bodies that bring down organized crime. Says Tony Payan of the University of Texas at El Paso: “This effort is doomed to fail if it’s not accompanied by effective [Mexican] cops, and Washington isn’t treating that as a large enough piece of the puzzle yet.” Reyes agrees. “The U.S. needs to assure that police forces along the border are sufficiently robust,” he says, “precisely so they’ll be the first line of defense for the U.S.” American officials say they’re waiting to see whether reform programs like that of Reyes are serious and whether other Mexican mayors and governors will finally join the effort.