Mexico's Drug and PR Wars

Mexico is fighting two wars at once: a bloody battle against drug cartels and a less publicized but equally vexing public relations battle against the United States.

Just look at who is listed in the most recent issue of Forbes magazine as the 701st richest person on the planet. It's none other than Jorge "El Chapo" Guzman, the reputed head of the Sinaloa cartel. The magazine claims that Guzman is worth about $1 billion.

Given that about 8,000 Mexicans have died as the result of a war against people like Guzman, Mexican officials are furious at Forbes. Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized the magazine and the rest of the U.S. media for "not only attacking and lying about the situation in Mexico but also praising criminals." Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora blasted Forbes for "comparing the deplorable activity of a criminal wanted in Mexico and abroad with that of honest businessmen."

The Mexicans were already in a bad mood thanks to their neighbors. A few weeks ago, the U.S. State Department put out an explicit travel advisory, warning Americans that drug violence made travel in Mexico a dicey proposition. Many American tourists appear to have taken heed, putting their spring break plans on hold and staying away from Mazatlan, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta. In fact, a cab driver in Vallarta told me that the charming resort town -- which once claimed among its famous residents Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton -- hadn't really had its traditional spring break surge in tourism and that it looked as if it wasn't going to happen this year.

Mexicans resent the hit being taken by their tourism industry, which usually brings in more than $12 billion per year. And they're angry at the hypocrisy of Americans who criticize Mexico for drug violence while buying the drugs and supplying the guns that produce the violence. Now Calderon and members of his administration are upset that an American magazine is glorifying the very criminal element that the Americans helped create and that now has them running scared.