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Leahy Blocks Release of Some Mexican Drug War Aid

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, last week blocked the release of $95 million in funds destined to help Mexico prosecute its war on drugs, saying neither the US nor the Mexican governments had shown they had a clear strategy for moving forward.

Sen. Patrick Leahy
The money was appropriated as part of the Merida Initiative, a Bush-era plan to support the Mexican government's crackdown on the country's violent and powerful drug cartels. The Merida Initiative was a $1.4 billion, multi-year foreign assistance program, but it has had no appreciable impact on either the violence or the drug trade there.

"The whole things looks like coughing up money with no accountability," a Leahy aide told CQ Roll Call.

Leahy had originally blocked a $229 million State Department request for Plan Merida funding last fall, but the committee released $134 million in April after receiving a 2 ½ page explanation from State. The committee held up the remaining $95 million pending further information from the US and Mexican governments, but neither government had responded by last week, so last Thursday, Leahy reconfirmed the hold on the funds and called on both governments to define a joint strategy that could succeed.

"We received less than three pages of explanation," said the Leahy aide. "Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that."

In addition to concerns over the lack of strategic vision, Leahy also has raised alarms about increasing human rights violations as the Mexican government handed a larger role to the military and about the issue of coordination and consultation. His aide said that lack of a clear difference in vision under new Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto also contributed.

Washington, DC
United States

Cartel Violence Flares in Western Mexican State

The Mexican government may have scored a victory earlier this month with the arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the leader of the violent and powerful Zetas drug trafficking organization, but nobody told the Knights Templar, another drug trafficking organization based in the western Mexican state of Michoacan. They have been involved in recent violence there that has left dozens dead, including a Mexican vice-admiral.

(wikimedia.org)
Michoacan is a key state in the Mexican drug business. Precursor chemicals and cocaine from South America flow through the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas, while the state is also known for methamphetamine production and marijuana cultivation.

Last week, the Knights unleashed a wave of attacks on federal police in the state, resulting in the deaths of 20 cartel members and two federal police officers. Another 15 federal police officers were wounded. Those attacks took place last Tuesday, when the Interior Ministry reported that federal police around the state were subjected to "pre-planned" ambushes carried out by "individuals with large arms hidden in the hills."

"In all the cases, authorities repelled the aggressions to return order to the areas," the statement said.

Those attacks came just a day after a bloody clash in the Western Michoacan city of Los Reyes that pitted members of a local "self-defense" group against cartel gunmen.  The self-defense group was marching to city hall to protest the presence of the Knights Templar when gunmen opened fire on them, killing five and wounding seven.

Rising violence in Michoacan in recent weeks and months has inspired both the formation of the local "self defense" groups and the insertion of thousands of federal soldiers and police into the state in May at the behest of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Local citizens complain that, in addition to their drug trafficking activities, the Knights have engaged in a broad campaign of extortion, rape, and murder of common citizens, while Pena Nieto views their presence as a threat to his efforts to turn attention away from the drug wars and to Mexico's economic development.

The violence did end with the Tuesday ambushes. Two days later, three more federal police were killed and six wounded in another ambush, this one near the state's southern border with Guerrero. The following days, the bodies of four people were found hanging at the entrance to El Limon de La Luna, where some of the worst clashes between the Knights and unhappy locals have taken place. Before the arrival of the military in May, dozens of people had died in clashes between the Knights and the "self-defense" groups.

On Sunday, the Knights Templar gunned down Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar, one of Mexico's highest ranking Navy officers, and a bodyguard. Salazar's vehicle was traveling on a main highway, but was forced to detour onto an unpaved road after pro-Knights demonstrators holding signs saying "Federales Out" blocked the highway.

The vice admiral did not appear to be deliberately targeted, but his marked vehicle became a target of opportunity once it was forced onto the back roads. On Monday, Mexican authorities announced they had arrested three Knights in the killings.

Mexico

Chronicle Book Review: Smuggler Nation

Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, by Peter Andreas (2013, Oxford University Press, 454 pp., $29.95 HB)

Wow. With Smuggler Nation, Brown University political science professor Peter Andreas has hit the ball out of the park -- or over the border. This book should be required reading for not only for people interested in we got to our current mess in the war on drugs, but also for anyone interested in American history in general, and the twinned growth of illicit commerce and the ever-increasing policing resources designed to thwart it in particular.

What makes Smuggler Nation so essential for people primarily interested in drug policy is the manner in which it situates drug prohibition and efforts to suppress the drug trade within the larger historical context of state efforts to control -- or prohibit -- trade. The war on drugs (or at least its interdiction component) didn't drop on us out of the sky, but was built upon already existing national-level efforts to enforce proscriptions on free trade, dating back to Jefferson's abortive ban on US ships trading with any foreign nations, the more successful, but still long-lasting and highly contentious effort to ban the slave trade, and Prohibition-era border enforcement.

Andreas shows that, going back to colonial times, smuggling and illicit commerce played a crucial role in the creation and expansion of the American economy, and, indeed, in the anti-British sentiment that led the way to the American Revolution in the first place. Whether it was enriching Providence and Boston merchants in the triangular slave trade, stealing intellectual property from England at the start of the Industrial Age, selling American cattle to hungry British troops stationed in Canada during the War of 1812, allying with the smuggler-pirate Jean Lafitte in the Battle of New Orleans in that same war, selling contraband whiskey to Indians, smuggling guns into Mexico (in the 1840s, in addition to now) -- the list goes on and on -- smuggling and illicit commerce was, and continues to be, part and parcel of the American story.

Andreas also show that those efforts to control unsanctioned commerce led directly -- and continue to lead directly -- to ever larger, more expansive, more expensive, and  more unintended consequence-generating law enforcement efforts to suppress it. We saw it with the early growth of the US Navy to combat tax evading smugglers, and how those efforts rerouted, but did not defeat, illicit trade. We saw it with the expansion of drug war interdiction efforts in the 1980s, where blockading the Caribbean route for Colombian cocaine rerouted, but did not defeat, illicit trade, and helped provoke the metastasis of what had been largely low-key, local Mexican smuggling networks into the Frankenstein monster drug cartels of today.

We can see that at work today in the current debate over the immigration reform bill working its way through Congress. House Majority Leader Boehner thought he could sell the bill to his conservative caucus by agreeing to expansive provisions to "regain control of the border" or "secure the border" by spending billions of dollars and adding 20,000 more federal agents along the Mexican border. (Nevermind that even that's not likely to be enough to satisfy Boehner's caucus, some of whom might support the bill but others of which have charmingly compared Mexican immigrants to dogs and asserted that those DREAM Act kids are mostly drug mules.)

There were 3,000 border agents in the early 1990s, 7,000 by the late 1990s, and there are 20,000 right now. The immigration bill would double that number again. As Andreas, relying on the historical record, notes, that is unlikely to stop drug smuggling or people-smuggling (there are much deeper driving forces to such phenomenon than law enforcement), but merely to divert it or reroute it, to corrupt enforcers, and to inspire the smugglers to come up with new technologies to get around it and gain entrée into Fortress America.

Andreas also makes an important point about "the threat" of transnational organized crime. That's pretty much just a fancy way of saying smuggling, he asserts, and it is nothing new. As he shows throughout Smuggler Nation, trade in contraband has been part of global trade since, well, forever. And now, given the rapid expansion of global commerce in recent decades, it would be surprising if contraband trade isn't expanding, too. It is, he argues, but possibly at a slower rate than the expansion of licit global trade. All of the hulaballoo over "the menace" of illicit trade is overdone, he dares to suggest.

Andreas is an academic who specialized in the US-Mexico border in his early career, and his publisher, Oxford University Press, is an academic press, but his writing is quite accessible to the lay reader. Smuggler Nation is chock full of great lost stories from American history, stories that hold serious lessons for us today as we struggle against the behemoth that our prohibition industry has become. Smuggler Nation will help explain how we got here, and you'll learn plenty and have lots of fun along the way.  This book needs to be on your bookshelf, and well-worn at that.

Chronicle Book Review Essay: Murder and Mayhem in Mexico

The Executioner's Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State They Created, by George Grayson and Samuel Logan (2013, Transaction Publishers, 338 pp., $34.95HB)

Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War, by the Fugitive Reporters of Blog del Narco (2012, Feral House, 389 pp., $24.95 PB)

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/executioners-men-200px.jpg
With the capture this week of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, "Z-40," Mexico's most notorious drug cartel is front page news around the world. Originally composed of highly trained Mexican armed forces personnel gone over to the dark side, the Zetas served as praetorian guards for the Gulf Cartel of Osiel Cardenas Guillen -- his enforcers and hitmen -- before turning on their erstwhile employers after Cardenas' 2004 arrest and striking out on their own.

Now, the Zetas are locked in a murderous struggle with the Sinaloa Cartel of El Chapo Guzman for domination of Mexico's multi-billion dollar drug smuggling industry. Other players -- the Tijuana cartel of the Arrellano Felixes, the Juarez cartel of the Carillos Fuentes, the battened down remnants of the Gulf cartel, the former Sinaloa cartel allies the Beltran Leyvas, the Familia Michoacana and its successor, the Knights Templars -- have seen their fortunes wax and wane, but mainly wane, in the multisided battle that pits the cartels not only against each other, but against the Mexican state. (Never mind for now that the war also pits various elements of the state against each other in service to the cartels.) The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel have emerged on top, but they are standing on heaps of bloodied, broken bodies.

Some 80,000 people have been killed in the Mexican drug wars since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in late 2006 and tens of thousands more have gone missing. Many of them are undoubtedly spending eternity in the unmarked (and rarely remarked upon) narcofosas (narco-graves) that dot the Mexican countryside. Those mass burial grounds are occasionally uncovered, with hazard-suited workers bringing up 10 bodies, 30 bodies, 100 bodies at a time. Many, if not most, of those mass graves are the work of the Zetas.

In The Executioner's Men, named for Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, the head of the Zetas for eight years until he was gunned down by Mexican marines last year, College of William and Mary Mexico drug war scholar George Grayson and coauthor Samuel Logan tell the sobering story of the group's origins, its bloody-minded rise to prominence among the country's competing cartels, and its steady expansion, both geographically into Central America and entrepreneurially into human smuggling, extortion, and other rackets. It is a highly researched and detailed account of one of the most sadistic criminal organizations on the planet.

The Mexican drug war has generated an extensive literature, much of which has been previously reviewed in these pages, but The Executioner's Men stands out as a truly magisterial study of an organized crime group. With its (sometimes mind-boggling) naming of names and its contextualization of events, Grayson and Logan's work will for years to come remain a crucial sourcebook for students of the Zetas and Mexico's drug wars in general. Except they're going to have to update it -- it was written before the killing of El Exterminador Lazcano Lazcano, and now his immediate successor has been removed from the field of play, too.

Will the arrest of Z-40 mark the end of an era for the Zetas? Grayson suggested as much in post-arrest interviews this week, saying he thought they would decline into a number of squabbling factions. Others are not so sanguine, predicting lethal struggles for power among Zeta lieutenants and Sinaloa cartel moves to take advantage of the disarray in their rivals' ranks. Only time will tell, and we await the next edition of The Executioner's Men to make sense of what will be going down.

If The Executioner's Men is scholarly and erudite, Dying for the Truth is something entirely different, but equally powerful, if not more so. It reprints verbatim (in English and Spanish on alternating pages) a year in the life of the Blog del Narco, a Mexican web site that appeared late in the last decade to chronicle the drug war stories it claimed the mainstream Mexican press was too terrified to cover. (There is some controversy over this and other claims made by Blog del Narco lead author "Lucy," who has fled Mexico in the wake of the killings of two of her collaborators and the disappearance of another. Here is Bernd Debusmann Jr.'s take on it.)

The Mexican press had and has reason to be frightened; the country is one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists. At least 84 reporters have been killed since 2000 and another 20 or so have simply vanished, according to Mexican human rights sources. Many -- though by no means all -- have been killed by the narcos for paying too much attention to them and their doings.

Blog del Narco (which I followed online during 2010, the year covered in the book) said it would provide the coverage missing from the mainstream press, and whether or not it cribbed material from other outlets, it also presented much information that would otherwise have never have seen the light of day. Its blogging format allowed anonymous contributors to post items, which in turn allowed the cartels to use it as a medium for sending messages. Too often, those messages were sent via horrifying videos or photos. If they were designed to terrify, it works.  (This, too, has raised questions about just what Blog del Narco was trying to accomplish.)

If it were a work of literary artifice, Dying for the Truth would be wildly and stunningly successful. Like JG Ballard doing bad acid after a three-day meth bender, the anonymous contributors drag readers through a nightmarish and surrealistic Grand Guignol via a multimedia mix of torture/execution videos, interrogation transcripts (almost always followed by the execution of the prisoners by heavily armed masked men in paramilitary garb), gruesome atrocity exhibition photos (skinned faces sewn onto soccer balls, anyone?), charts and graphs, and the day-by-day killings, bombings, shootouts and busts that constitute Mexico's drug wars.

But unfortunately, Dying for the Truth is no work of inventive fiction. It is all too real, as are the dismembered, disemboweled, and decapitated victims whose remains it displays. WARNING: DO NOT BUY OR EVEN LOOK AT THIS BOOK IF YOU CANNOT TOLERATE HORRORIFIC IMAGERY. This is deeply, deeply disturbing stuff. I watched some of those videos when they first appeared on Blog del Narco, and they will haunt me for as long as I live.

Warnings aside, Dying for the Truth serves purposes beyond spreading narco-messages and scaring the hell out of people. Once you get past (or block out) the imagery, you have a fairly comprehensive narrative of a bloody year in Mexico's bloody drug wars. Those killings that may appear senseless when they sporadically show up in US media accounts -- 13 handcuffed bodies found on the roadside here, a row of human heads sitting in a park there, a pile of dismembered body parts over there -- take on a certain savage logic when chronicled as tit-for-tat responses in an ongoing battle between amoral killers.

Drug prohibition cannot be blamed for the sadistic savagery of Mexico's drug wars. At the risk of sounding like a pop psychology pontificator (and suffering the "national character" fallacy), I would suggest there is something in the Mexican national character at play here. It is a society founded by two competing bloody theocracies, the human-sacrificing Aztecs on one hand and the "Cross and Sword" Spanish Catholics on the other. It's the country of Posada's famous skeletons and the candy skulls of Day of the Dead. It's the country where the statues of Christ in the Catholic cathedrals are the bloodiest and most wounded anywhere. It's the country where tabloids like !Alarma! have specialized for decades in displaying dead and battered bodies. Add in lots of booze and cocaine, multi-billion dollar stakes, ruthless military training, deep-rooted corruption and brutality, and here we are.

That said, while there may be something in the Mexican psyche that has turned these cartel wars into the stuff that would give Syrian jihadis the heebie-jeebies, it is of course drug prohibition that has provided the oxygen that allows such evil to flourish. Given the spread of the cartels into other economic spheres, even if we were to legalize everything tomorrow, this nightmare isn't going away easily. But that would be a good start.

Mexico

Guest Commentary: Capture of Zeta Boss Not Likely to Stem Bloodshed or Flow of Drugs

(Bernd Debusmann Jr. has lived and worked in his native Mexico for the last two years, most of it as a full-time freelancer for Reuters TV, also contributing to Fox Latino. Previously he worked as a reporter in New York City and as a freelance producer for the Reuters Latin American Television Desk in Washington DC, during which time he dealt with many drug trafficking stories. During 2010 and 2011 he authored the weekly Mexico Drug War Update published by this newsletter, available in our Mexican Drug War archive section.)

On Monday, July 16th, Mexican marines captured Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the leader of Mexico’s notorious Zetas criminal organization, just outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, along with his bodyguard, an accountant, some $2 million in cash and eight weapons. How much difference will his capture make on the flow of drugs to the United States? Probably not much.

Trevino Morales, widely known as Z-40, is the most important criminal figure captured or killed so far during the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, and is widely regarded as one of the most powerful, violent and high-profile violent drug traffickers in the country, having previously served as a regional “plaza” boss in Nuevo Laredo and Veracruz and second-in-command of the organization under his predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano.

Aside from being a key player in the Mexico-US drug trade and other illicit businesses, Trevino is thought to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Mexicans as well as foreign migrants. (He has so far been charged with the kidnapping and murder of 265 north-bound migrants in the San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in 2010 and 2011.)

But what effect will his arrest have on Washington's war on drugs? The unfortunate answer is that it is unlikely to mean much in the long term. History shows that men like Trevino are quickly replaceable, and that business goes on.

His predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano, was gunned down in a firefight with the marines in October 2012, only to be replaced by Trevino. Lazcano's predecessor, Rogelio Gonzalez Pizaña, was arrested in October 2004, just two years after the founder and first leader of the Zetas, Arturo Guzman Decena, was killed in a gun battle with the Mexican army in the city of Matamoros.

Despite being repeatedly decapitated, the organization continued to grow and become more powerful, eventually splitting off from its Gulf Cartel bosses and becoming an independent entity in 2010.

In terms of stemming the flow of drugs to the United States, Trevino's arrest is unlikely to have any positive effect. In a videotaped 2011 interrogation of Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, an army deserter and one of the original Zetas, Aguilar revealed that the Zetas' drug trafficking business is managed by personnel dedicated only to that task.

There is no reason to believe that Trevino's arrest will have any more effect on that apparatus than the arrest of previous bosses. Did the death of Pablo Escobar and the arrest of the heads of the Cali Cartel stem the flow of cocaine from Colombia? No. Did all the kingpins killed or captured under the administration of Calderon (and before) make a difference on the flow of drugs across the Mexican border? No, and neither will Trevino's.

Trevino's arrest, however, is likely to have a significantly negative impact on the level of violence in Mexico. Pena Nieto came into office with a promise to stem the bloodshed, but the events of the last few years have shown that the death or arrest of high-level criminals often unleashes a wave of violence as their underlings fight among themselves, as was the case after the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva in 2009.

The Mexican military has been asked by its government to become very good at decapitating cartels, and they have. But it hasn't made much difference.

In the months before his arrest, Trevino seems to have consolidated his power over the organization, which had experienced factional infighting in 2010 and 2011. While it is likely that Trevino's brother Alejandro (Z-42) will take the reins of the organization, it remains to be seen whether his leadership will be disputed by other high-ranking Zetas, or whether the organization will fragment without a strong leader.

Another possibility is that -- sensing a moment of weakness -- the Zeta's enemies, such as the Sinaloa Cartel under Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and the Gulf Cartel, will make a concerted effort to control the city of Nuevo Laredo, long considered the "Crown Jewel" of the Mexican drug trafficking landscape. Previous efforts to wrestle control of the city from the Zetas were extremely bloody, drawn-out affairs.

This isn't to say that Trevino should have been ignored. He is a ruthlessly efficient criminal with blood on his hands. But the triumphant congratulations on the capture from Mexican and US officials may be premature.

The fact of the matter is that a military-focused strategy, or a strategy focused on individuals, is unlikely to have any long-term positive effect in Mexico's Drug War.

As long as Americans want to buy a commodity which the Mexican cartels can supply, they will continue to exist, and violence will inevitably follow as a consequence of disputes in a very profitable, unregulated industry. Any change will have to come from a combination of law enforcement and more sensible drug laws in the United States focusing on demand reduction.

Nuevo Laredo
Mexico

Will Mexico Cartel Leader's Capture Reduce Violence or Drug Abuse?

The leader of Mexico's brutal Zetas organization has been captured in northern Mexico, authorities announced. According to the Associated Press:

Trevino Morales, 40, was captured by Mexican Marines who intercepted a pickup truck with $2 million in cash on a dirt road in the countryside outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which has long served as the Zetas' base of operations. The truck was halted by a Marine helicopter and Trevino Morales was taken into custody along with a bodyguard and an accountant and eight guns, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told reporters.
 

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/miguel-angel-trevino-morales.jpg
Trevino Morales (state.gov)
The US State Dept. had offered up to $5 million for help in capturing him.

The report is mainly about the facts of the capture, and of Morales and the Zetas. There's one expert quote, about Morales:

"He is the most sadistic drug capo in Mexico," said George Grayson, a professor of Latin American politics at the College of William and Mary and an expert on the Zetas cartel. "He delights in inflicting torture and pain. He deserves to be in the lowest rungs of hell."
 

Grayson's take on Morales is easy to accept, if one has read any articles about the Mexican drug wars of the past several years. In fact there are reports I wish I'd never read. That said, I wish the reporter had sought some expert quotes about whether capturing a kingpin like Morales is likely to reduce drug trafficking or availability or abuse; and whether it could reduce the violence.

The answer to the first question is decidedly "no." The Zetas will continue doing business and/or will splinter into rival factions doing business and/or other drug trafficking organizations will get the business. This is what has always happened previously.

Looking at the second question, the backdrop is that illegal drug trafficking exists because of prohibition. Absent drug prohibition laws, the trade and the vast revenues it currently generates would mostly reside in the licit economy, not encouraging violence in the trade. All that would be left in the underground is a sliver from "gray market" activity, smuggling to evade taxation and so forth.

Mexico's drug wars have reached the height of violence they have in recent years, in part because of the escalation of anti-cartel activity -- such as the capture of cartel leaders like Morales. It's had the effect of producing many localized drug trafficking groups, fighting many more wars than was the case before. The current weakness of the government in terms of keeping a lid of crime is also a factor. The aggressive escalation of anti-cartel activity undertook by the administration of former Pres. Enrique Calderon came at a time when the government was least able to minimize the unintended consequences of such a program, which made it even worse.

Does that mean that Morales's capture will necessarily provoke yet more violence? It might, but that depends on which way Mexico goes. One of the truisms of prohibition is that tolerating the prohibited activity can sometimes reduce the violence associated with the prohibited activity. One cartel can be replaced by a less violent one, if the government quietly allows that to happen.

So Mexico has some choices to make. But it would be better to expand the set of choices by considering international legalization systems, as Latin American leadership is currently pressing for a discussion of.

Mexico to Rein In US Agencies in Drug War

In a sharp break with the policies of his predecessor, recently installed Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is moving to restrict the open relationships US law enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies have developed with their Mexican counterparts as the two countries attempt to repress violent and powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels.

The US-Mexico border (wikipedia.org)
The move was hinted at broadly in the Washington Post Sunday and confirmed by the Associated Press Monday. The AP cited deputy foreign secretary for North American affairs Sergio Alcocer as saying that all US law enforcement contacts with Mexican agencies will go through "a single window," the Mexican Interior Ministry.

Mexico has had a historically prickly relationship with US drug law enforcers, but under former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose term ended in December, US law enforcement and security cooperation with Mexican agencies expanded dramatically. The DEA, as well as the FBI, CIA, and Border Patrol, had agents working directly with units of the Mexican Federal Police, the army, and the navy.

US law enforcement and security agencies worked closely with their Mexican counterparts on a strategy that aimed at arresting or killing top cartel figures, and managed to eliminate dozens of them, but at the same time, prohibition-related violence only mounted, with the death toll somewhere above 70,000 during Calderon's six-year term. The incoming Pena Nieto administration has previously signaled that it wants to shift away from high-profile target strategy to one centered on crime prevention.

The Pena Nieto administration also represents a reversion to governance by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had famously ruled Mexico as "the perfect dictatorship" for most of the 20th Century before falling to conservative National Action Party (PAN) presidential candidate Vicente Fox in 2000. Like Fox, Calderon ran under the PAN banner and cultivated closer relations with the US, especially on drug enforcement, than the PRI ever had. The PRI's relationships with US drug enforcers could be characterized as one of mutual suspicion and distrust, with occasional bouts of cooperation.

As the Washington Post reported, high-ranking incoming PRI officials who met with US DEA, CIA, FBI, and other security representatives in December were stunned and "remained stone-faced as they learned for the first time just how entwined the two countries had become during the battle against narco-traffickers, and how, in the process, the United States had been given near-complete entree to Mexico's territory and the secrets of its citizens."

Now, the Pena Nieto government is moving to get a better grip on the assistance it gets from its neighbor to the north. It was in the interest of Mexico to do so, Alcocer said. "The issue before is that there was a lack of coordination because there was not a single entity in the Mexican government that was coordinating all the efforts," he told the AP. "Nobody knew what was going on."

The DEA and other agencies declined comment, leaving it the State Department, which said it looks forward to "continued close cooperation" with Mexico. President Obama flies to Mexico City Thursday for a meeting with Pena Nieto, whose administration says it wants to expand its bilateral agenda with the US beyond drugs and immigration, as well as shift from dramatic law enforcement actions to crime prevention and public safety.

"For us the security theme is one of our top priorities, but it's not the only one," Alcocer said. "The relationship has issues such as the economy and trade, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, energy."

Mexico City
Mexico

Sinaloa Cartel Dominates Meth Trade, Report Finds

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel dominates the methamphetamine trade in the Asia-Pacific-Mexico-US area, controlling 80% of the market, according to a Mexican security report released this week.

"El Chapo" Guzman makes billions off drug prohibition.
The report, "Methamphetamine Traffic: Asia-Mexico-United States," by researcher Jose Luis León, was presented as part of the 2012 Security and Defense Atlas of Mexico (both are in Spanish), which was released this week. It estimates the Sinaloa Cartel's take from meth sales at about $3 billion a year.

The Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico's most powerful, is headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, one of the world's wealthiest criminals, as well as Mexico's most wanted fugitive. Guzman has eluded capture since escaping from a Mexican prison in 2001. The US Treasury Department considers Guzman the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.

The Sinaloa Cartel has been a leading actor in the prohibition-related violence that has plagued Mexico, especially since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in December 2006. At least 70,000 have been killed in the violence, much of which pits the Sinaloa Cartel against national-level competitors such as the Zetas, as well as against regionally-based rivals.

"The Sinaloa cartel is an authentic global enterprise since both their markets and products exhibit a high degree of diversification," León said in his report.

In addition to methamphetamine, the Sinaloa Cartel traffics cocaine, marijuana, and opiates throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. It also purchases precursor chemicals from China, India, and Thailand, which in uses in drug production laboratories hidden away in the cartel's Western Mexican heartland.

Mexico City
Mexico

HuffPost Live on Mexican Drug War and Security, 11:30am EST TODAY

I am participating on a HuffPost Live panel starting at 11:30am EST this morning: Is Mexico's Security Policy Failing?

Update: The archive is already online, embedded below. The link from the live broadcast is also the permalink.

The panel was hosted by commentator Alicia Menendez, and I shared the panel with Alejandro Hope of the Instituto Mexicano para la CompetividadProf. John Ackerman of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and former ONDCP official Paul Chabot.

Chronicle Review Essay: What Next for Mexico?

The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America by Ted Galen Carpenter (2012, Cato Institute, 307 pp., $24.95 HB)

Drug War Mexico: Politics, Neoliberalism, and Violence in the New Narcoeconomy by Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda (2012, Zed Press, 260 pp., $24.95 PB)

As of this month, Felipe Calderon has finished his term as president of Mexico, and while history may prove kinder in the long run, he leaves office known as the man who plunged his country into a drug war. Some 50,000 people, or is it 60,000 or 70,000? -- nobody seems to know for sure -- have been killed in the multi-sided conflict since Calderon, in almost the opening act of his administration, deployed the army against the so-called cartels six years ago.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/the-fire-next-door.jpg
Thousands more have disappeared. The Mexican government says it has 9,000 unidentified corpses. The addition of tens of thousands of Mexican army troops and federal police into conflict-ridden cauldrons like Ciudad Juarez or Michoacan where intra-cartel violence ran rampant only seemed to jack up the number of killings. Cartel-linked corruption plagues the police forces and tarnishes the not-so-sterling reputation of the Mexican military.

Calderon's throwing the military into the fray and his strategy of attempting to decapitate the cartels by going after their top leadership have produced some results -- the government proudly says 25 of 37 top capos have been captured or killed -- but have clearly failed to destroy the cartels, stop the traffic of drugs into the US, or reduce the horrendous levels of violence. He -- and the country -- have also paid a disastrous price, not just in terms of lives lost, but in public cynicism and insecurity, loss of confidence, international dismay and disgust, and domestic political capital.

Indeed, only a dozen years after "the perfect dictatorship" of the PRI fell in disgrace at the hands of Vicente Fox and the PAN, Calderon and the PAN are out, and the PRI is back. Calderon's disaster of a drug war and steady increase in violent crime in general while he was preoccupied fighting the cartels certainly deserve credit, if that is the word, for the return of the rejected.

Now, Calderon's successor, the PRIista Enrique Pena Nieto, has a chance to change course, and his administration has made no secret it wants to. Just this week, Pena Nieto's secretary of the interior, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, bitterly attacked Calderon's US-backed strategy for causing violence to increase, saying its decapitation strategy had only fractured the cartels, making them "more violent and much more dangerous." The new government will abandon that strategy and instead concentrate on reducing violent crime affecting ordinary civilians, Osorio Chong and Pena Nieto have said.

But having a smarter drug war is not going to get the job done, argues libertarian-leaning Cato Institute senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies Ted Galen Carpenter in The Fire Next Door. He rather convincingly makes the case that there is no solution to the Mexican drug war short of ending drug prohibition and sucking the money out the multi-billion dollar black market business in the substances we love to consume north of the border. Only then will the cartels be weakened enough to recede as a threat to Mexico and to the US, which as his subtitle indicates, is the real focus of his concern.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drug-war-mexico-politics-neoliberalism-and-violence-in-the-new-narcoeconomy.jpg
British academics Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda are Carpenter's polar opposites in terms of ideological orientation, but in Drug War Mexico, they arrive at some similar policy prescriptions, at least when it comes to drug prohibition itself. "If the illegal narcotics were decriminalized and stringently controlled, it is likely cartel profits would be severely constrained," they write.

But even that would not suffice, they argue. Legalization is probably a pipe dream for now, and even were it to occur, "it would not necessarily on its own present a long-term answer to the institutional corruption and the eruption of violence in the last few years," they write, noting that drug revenues now make up only about half of cartel earnings, and that legalization does nothing in itself to address the broader economic and political problems that allow the illicit drug business to flourish in the first place.

And that's where they part ways with Carpenter. For Watt and Zepeda, Mexico's "narcoeconomy" is a manifestation of its insertion into the global capitalist economic order, which is the main problem. For Carpenter, global capitalism, the free market, neo-liberalism, whatever you want to call it, is just the status quo.

Thus the differences. Carpenter sees legalization as a market-based solution to the problem of Mexico's drug violence, while Watt and Zepeda see the free market as the problem, legalization as no better than a partial solution to Mexico's drug violence, and fundamental social and economic reform as the necessary precondition.

Differences notwithstanding, both Carpenter and Watt and Zepeda provide histories of drug trafficking in Mexico, the complicity of the state and other actors, and the ins and outs of the cartel wars, and both cast a leery eye on US policies toward Mexico and its drug wars. The US has backed Calderon's militaristic approach with hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly military and law enforcement aid under Plan Merida. Carpenter views this as dangerously empowering the military against civilian institutions, while Watt and Zepeda see it as backing a Mexican ruling class strategy of using the military to repress and intimidate political opposition in the guise of the drug war.

Both are valuable contributions to the ever-growing bibliography of Mexico's prohibition-induced dance of death. Carpenter's primary concern is from a US national security perspective, and his examination of the dangers of the violence left unchecked for the US is sobering. His concentration on the US also leads him to focus like a laser on calling for ending prohibition in the US, after which surely others will follow.

Watt and Zepeda do especially well in unraveling the networks of complicity that embed the Mexican drug trade squarely within the larger economy and polity, and make an especially strong case that the Sinaloa Cartel has received favorable treatment from various state actors. They also deserve kudos for clarifying just how exhaustively and effectively the former PRI-state did not so much repress as manage the drug trade during its tenure.

Those "good old days" of Mexican drug trafficking, where the violence was kept within limits, where the occasional exemplary bust of drug lord kept the Americans at bay, where the drugs flowed quietly and the money accumulated in the pockets of policemen, politicians, and army officers, doesn't look so bad now. That's one strong reason we're starting to hear a lot of talk about reaching an accommodation with the cartels or, more pejoratively, appeasement.

Will Pena Nieto and the PRI cut a deal with the cartels? As Carpenter notes, things have changed. The unitary PRI-state is no more; the number of parties and players who would have to be cut in has grown, and whatever deals are done could be undone in the next election. And the US certainly wouldn't approve. Still, Pena Nieto seems to be signaling to the cartels at least a truce of sorts: "You don't mess with us (by killing, kidnapping, and extorting the good people) and we won’t mess with you (by trying to decapitate your leadership).

That would be a very uncomfortable accommodation, but short of ending drug prohibition, it may be the best Mexico can hope for, at least in the short run. Let's see if the crime rate starts to drop, the grisly killings grow less frequent, the "neutralization" of drug bosses less frequent. There will certainly be no public pronouncement.

But that's a bargain with the devil. Perhaps Mexico can live with the tamed cartels and their insidious corruption, but if it's going to get serious about eliminating their wealth and power, the only answer is increasingly clear, whether you're on the left ,the right, or in the middle.

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