Mexican man would rather Obama and Romney leave Mexico alone - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Candidates have similar drug policies, Mexican man wishes they had none

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The U.S. government has contributed $1.3 billion to the Mexican military since 2008. (Source: Diego Fernández/Wikimedia) The U.S. government has contributed $1.3 billion to the Mexican military since 2008. (Source: Diego Fernández/Wikimedia)

(RNN) - Barack Obama has snorted cocaine and Mitt Romney has a cousin who was kidnapped by drug traffickers in Mexico. Despite these personal connections to the drug trade, neither candidate has offered any new solutions to the 40-year-long drug war that has cost $1 trillion and thousands of lives with no positive results.

But instead of hoping they do something different, Julian Lebarón, a home builder whose brother was killed by drug traffickers, hopes they do nothing.

Chihuahua is considered the most dangerous state in Mexico; it has suffered the highest death tolls during the drug war (approximately 12,000), kidnappings are a regular occurrence, and corruption is rampant.

Julian Lebarón is from the Chihuahua town of Colonia Lebarón, a mostly Mormon community about four hours from El Paso, TX. Like the Romneys, his family is Mormon. Also like the Romneys, the Lebaróns are relatively wealthy - making them a target for narco gangs looking to kidnap people whose family can afford a high ransom.

That happened in 2009, when Julian's 16-year-old brother, Eric, was kidnapped by cartel members. The kidnappers demanded a $1 million ransom, but the Lebaróns refused to pay, thinking that if they did, they would feed a beast that would never be satisfied.

"If we paid, that would be the end of our society," Julian said.

Rather than paying, the Lebaróns went to the government and demanded that they do what they're supposed to do – protect the people. That seemed to work because about one week later, the kidnappers released Eric.

But kidnappings continued and only days after Eric Lebarón was released, Meredith Romney, one of Mitt Romney's cousins, was kidnapped near his ranch in Janos, a town in Chihuahua not far from Colonia Lebarón.

According to various reports, Meredith's family paid a ransom and the former Latter Day Saints temple leader was released.

At that time, the number of reported kidnappings in Mexico was 70 per month. By 2011, kidnappings would increase to 49 per day. In order to protect themselves, the community in Colonia Lebarón got organized.

Julian's other brother, Benjamin, led the way. He formed a group called "SOS Chihuahua" that trained locals how to defend their community and work with law enforcement. The group gained recognition and Benjamin made some people nervous.

"We obviously represented a threat to the people that were doing this," Julian said.

Unfortunately, Benjamin would pay the price.

"[The narcos] went to his house, like four vehicles and 20 guys with machine guns and grenades and busted all his windows," Julian said. "They basically terrorized the family and wanted to send a message to everyone to be afraid of them."

Benjamin, along with his brother-in-law, Luis C. Widmar, who lived next door and came to help when he saw the armed gunmen, were kidnapped. They would later be found on the side of the road, each man shot in the head four times.

"Later, we kind of found out that the state authorities might have been involved," Julian said.

Since then, Julian Lebarón has taken the mantle of his slain brother to organize the community to protect themselves from the narcos and persuade the government to do its job.

But Julian is not asking the government to do more. He's asking them to do less.

Talking to Julian, one gets the sense that he really doesn't like government. And when the people who helped kill your brother are suspected to have been working for the government, that's understandable.

But it's more complicated than that. For Julian, the U.S.'s drug policies allow for criminal drug cartels to flourish, killing while profiting off of a multi-billion dollar black market.

"The Americans, they snort the cocaine and suck the marijuana but we're the ones that are having all of our people die," he said.

Another problem for the Colonia Lebarón community is that Mexico's strict anti-gun policies make it nearly impossible to defend themselves against the narcos.

"I think there would be less violence if there were more guns, in the sense that I could barge in here and do whatever I want, knowing that this guy doesn't have a gun," said Jose Widmar, the brother of slain Luis, according to NPR.

In Mexico, owning a gun is a mess of red tape and restrictions. There is only one legal gun store in the country (which is owned and run by the military), permits can take months to process, only one gun is allowed per person, and the strongest weapon one can by is a .38 caliber pistol - no match for the powerful semiautomatic weapons the narcos get from the U.S.

However, in an interview with Vice magazine, Alex Lebarón, a congressman working to loosen Mexico's stringent gun laws, admitted that the community has illegal guns that have been smuggled in from the United States.

"We told the traffickers, come and find them if you want," he said.

Julian Lebarón does not want to resort to violence. But he says that the combination of drug laws and gun laws are bringing the violence to him and he would really appreciate it if the government would stop making things worse through legislation.

"I think that the more government intervention, the worse it is," he said. "The more you attack the market, the more profitable it becomes to the most violent people in society. And that's why we have 80,000 people murdered."

Julian continued: "There's really no hope for the government to solve the issue of violence. I don't think it's a thing that can be legislated. The most an army or a police force can hope to do is suppress the violent tendencies of people. But the violence itself cannot be solved through legislation. It can't be solved by a police force. The most you can do is suppress the violence in people and figure if it gets so bad that it manifests itself into people chopping off heads and bodies hanging from bridges."

Julian advocates for decriminalization as opposed to legalization, which he says would open the door for government to "be in charge of" drugs. With decriminalization, he says, government has no regulatory authority over drugs and cannot incarcerate people for drug use, which he believes is a crime against one's self, not society.

"Drugs are a civic issue and it has to be solved by the people themselves," he said.

Whether the solution to Mexico's drug war violence is decriminalization, legalization, or continued prohibition, is debated by policy-makers every day. But it doesn't seem to be debated by the candidates, despite the enormity of the problem.

But Obama's position has been to send in federal officers to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and he has sent $1.3 billion to the Mexican government to assist in their deadly drug war since 2008.

Romney has stated numerous times he would continue the status quo on drugs and, in the only mention of the drug war on either of the candidate's websites, said he would order "enhanced military-to-military training cooperation" with the Mexican military.

But for people living in the middle of the drug war, the silence is deadly. And Julian Lebarón wishes that whoever wins, he lets people solve this problem on their own.

"It's about freedom, not the drugs in and of themselves," he said. "My struggle has never been the drug war. My issue is violence and freedom."

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