Political Promise

War Without End: The Mexican Drug Violence

In Zachary Barker on June 24, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Zachary Barker tells the unrelenting story of violence, corruption and politics inside Mexico’s fiercest drugs cartel.

The Mexican Police seemed to catch a lucky break on the night of the 21st June 2011.  Jose de Jesus Mendez (alias The Monkey) a boss in the La Familia (The Family) surrendered without firing a shot.  Many other bosses targeted by law enforcement in Mexico’s struggle against the problematic drug cartels have violently resisted arrest.  This is a small victory for Mexican President Felipe Calderon.  In 2006 on taking office he declared a crackdown on the activities of drug gangs, declaring his intention to use the army to restore order.

The Mexican government roughly charts casualties from drug related violence at 34,612 from 2007 to 12th January 2011.  Of those years 2010 was the bloodiest year with a body count of approximately 15,273 casualties.  The perpetrators of this violence are a rogue’s gallery of gangs and cartels of various origins. The Zetas for instance were formed by a schism in the Gulf Cartel.  The violence itself tends to focus in cities and states that cover busy drug trafficking routes.  The city of Ciudad Juarez that sits on the border directly opposite the Texan city of El Paso for instance experiences a large fraction of the drug related violence.

It is widely believed that since the 1990s criminal drug trafficking networks have gradually shifted trafficking corridors from the Caribbean and Florida, to Central America.  Disruption caused by heavier law enforcement is believed to have encouraged the move.  In this way the criminal drug industry has adapted like any industry to changing circumstances, and carried on serving its customers.  In turn these criminal elements have a made a shrewd choice in switching opponents from the resourceful US law enforcement forces, to the less resourceful Mexican counterparts.

Efforts by the government to stem the violence are various.  A persistent problem in tackling the violence has been endemic corruption within the police. Low wages have made many policemen susceptible to bribes given out by drug gangs, to make them turn a blind eye to their activities.  To combat this plans are being formulated to restructure the police force, however this process is expected to take years to complete.

The government has justified the deployment of the army in worst effected parts of Mexico on the grounds of checking police corruption, as well as bringing in firepower to match that of the cartels.  However their presence has raised other concerns.  Corruption is far from unknown in the army, and there have been many reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by them.

The United States has since Calderon’s announcement of the crackdown on the cartels offered security aid to Central American countries including Mexico.  A landmark in this stepping up of security aid was the Merida Initiative, which was signed into law in June 2008.  This initiative sought to not only equip government security forces, but also tackle the persistent problem of guns manufactured in the US ending up in the hands of the cartels.  The US arguably has an interest in Mexico’s struggle with drug cartels, since most of the drugs in the network end up being sold on the streets of the US.

At the start of 2011 the UN officially classified Central America as the most violent region in the world, beating Iraq in instability.  While Mexico gladly receives help from the US, desperation has lead the government to discuss the remote possibility of legalising the selling of narcotics.  The outcome of these talks remains to be seen.

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  1. Interesting article, with good novel insights.
    Could you elaborate how the US/Mexico interact together to jointly combat Mexico drug problem, which as you say has had negative trans-border effects for decades? How effective have these initiatives been? Clearly the drug problem in Mexico is endemic, complicated and dangerous; but surely, in the interconnected 21st century and because of the importance of Mexico as a growing economic power – with unity and commitment the drug curse can be attenuated.

  2. Thank you Stephen. The way I see it things are moving in a positive direction in terms of bilateral security cooperation between the US and Mexico. From what I can tell it is generally acknowledged that much of the US security help has helped to achieve many of the latest of cartel boss arrests. Beyond that I am not that certain to be honest. It may be too early to tell bodycount-wise what improvement there has been. And it may be a while to see the effects of the improvements in the Mexican law enforcement infrastructure.

    Arguably initiatives on the domestic front have the potential to carry on the good work. For the US, something has to be done about the assault weapons being smuggled across the border. The assault weapons ban (with many loopholes albeit) or some variant of it ideally needs to be reinstated. Hurdles in the way of this happening includes politicians arguing over states rights vs federal law, more conservative politicians (many in the South) tend to favour the former for tackling problems. It would help immeasurably if there was some national law to keep a minimum standard in firearms checks and waiting periods. These vary from state to state, and are noticeably slack in states effected by gun smuggling.

    As for Mexico it needs to press on with it’s police reforms. Prisons urgently need to be reformed and given more funding. Prison breaks near the US border are an almost monthly occurence, often carried out with the help of a guard on the take.

    The Mexican economy is growing at an encouraging rate given the haphazard security situation. However even there some improvements can be made. I hear the Mexican oil industry in particular has potential to grow but is restricted by a lot of unnecessary red tape.

    Mexico may well at least decrease the drug violence in time, but progress there may be inhibited by the cartel networks elsewhere in the region. I hear that Mexican cartels have set up strong bases and networks in Guatemala in in particular. I think the future lies in more regional initiatives than bilateral ones.

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