On Friday, once this week's Chronicle has been put to bed, I hop in the pick-up and head for Mexico for a month or so of on-the-scene reporting on the drug war south of the border. If all goes according to plan, I'll be spending a week in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros, the major Rio Grande Valley border towns on the Mexican side, where the Mexican government sent in the army a couple of weeks ago.
After that, it's a week in Mexico City to talk to politicians, marijuana activists, academics, drug treatment workers, and others in the Mexican capital. Then, I'll head to the beaches of Oaxaca for a weekend, then up the Pacific Coast, stopping in the mountains above Acapulco to talk to poppy farmers, human rights observers, and whoever else I can find. A few hundred miles further north, in Sinaloa, I'll be trying to make contact with pot farmers, as well as seeing what the impact of the Sinaloa Cartel is on the ground in its home state. I will also, of course, be making a pilgrimage to the shrine of San Juan Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers, on the outskirts of Culicacan.
And then it's back toward Gringolandia, with a few days on the Tijuana side of the border, provided I have any money left by then.
In the meantime, I'd like to share with you something that appeared last week but that got little attention. It's an analysis of drug situation in Mexico from Austin-based Strategic Forecasting, Inc, and it's pretty grim. Titled The Geopolitics of Dope
, the analysis is a steadfastly realistic look at what drug warrior can hope to accomplish fighting the cartels. You should read the whole thing--it's very, very chewy--but here are the last few paragraphs:
The cartel’s supply chain is embedded in the huge legal bilateral trade between the United States and Mexico. Remember that Mexico exports $198 billion to the United States and — according to the Mexican Economy Ministry — $1.6 billion to Japan and $1.7 billion to China, its next biggest markets. Mexico is just behind Canada as a U.S. trading partner and is a huge market running both ways. Disrupting the drug trade cannot be done without disrupting this other trade. With that much trade going on, you are not going to find the drugs. It isn’t going to happen.
Police action, or action within each country’s legal procedures and protections, will not succeed. The cartels’ ability to evade, corrupt and absorb the losses is simply too great. Another solution is to allow easy access to the drug market for other producers, flooding the market, reducing the cost and eliminating the economic incentive and technical advantage of the cartel. That would mean legalizing drugs. That is simply not going to happen in the United States. It is a political impossibility.
This leaves the option of treating the issue as a military rather than police action. That would mean attacking the cartels as if they were a military force rather than a criminal group. It would mean that procedural rules would not be in place, and that the cartels would be treated as an enemy army. Leaving aside the complexities of U.S.-Mexican relations, cartels flourish by being hard to distinguish from the general population. This strategy not only would turn the cartels into a guerrilla force, it would treat northern Mexico as hostile occupied territory. Don’t even think of that possibility, absent a draft under which college-age Americans from upper-middle-class families would be sent to patrol Mexico — and be killed and wounded. The United States does not need a Gaza Strip on its southern border, so this won’t happen.
The current efforts by the Mexican government might impede the various gangs, but they won’t break the cartel system. The supply chain along the border is simply too diffuse and too plastic. It shifts too easily under pressure. The border can’t be sealed, and the level of economic activity shields smuggling too well. Farmers in Mexico can’t be persuaded to stop growing illegal drugs for the same reason that Bolivians and Afghans can’t. Market demand is too high and alternatives too bleak. The Mexican supply chain is too robust — and too profitable — to break easily.
The likely course is a multigenerational pattern of instability along the border. More important, there will be a substantial transfer of wealth from the United States to Mexico in return for an intrinsically low-cost consumable product — drugs. This will be one of the sources of capital that will build the Mexican economy, which today is 14th largest in the world. The accumulation of drug money is and will continue finding its way into the Mexican economy, creating a pool of investment capital. The children and grandchildren of the Zetas will be running banks, running for president, building art museums and telling amusing anecdotes about how grandpa made his money running blow into Nuevo Laredo.
It will also destabilize the U.S. Southwest while grandpa makes his pile. As is frequently the case, it is a problem for which there are no good solutions, or for which the solution is one without real support.
This is the situation the Bush administration wants to throw $1.4 billion at in the next couple of years. Maybe it and Congress should be reading Strategic Forecasting analyses, too.