Monday, May 23, 2011

Why We're Not Likely To See Mexican Style Narco-terrorism

The intelligence website Stratfor had an interesting piece about the corruption and cartel violence in Mexico. The article looked at the proximity of violence by drug cartels just across the US/Mexican border and why they thought that level of violence was not likely to happen in the US.

(W)e noted that the same dynamics exist on both sides of the border, and the same cartel groups also operate on both sides. However, we also noted the consistent theme of the Mexican cartels being forced to behave differently on the U.S. side. The organizations are no different, but the environment in which they operate is very different. The corruption, poverty, diminished rule of law and lack of territorial control (particularly in the border-adjacent hinterlands) that is endemic to the Mexican system greatly empowers and emboldens the cartels in Mexico. The operating environment inside the United States is quite different, forcing the cartels to behave differently. Mexican cartels and drug trafficking are problems in the United States, but they are problems that can be controlled by U.S. law enforcement. The environment does not permit the cartels to threaten the U.S. government’s ability to govern.

While we have seen a few border state politicians raise the specter of Mexican cartel violence coming to the US, we're probably not going to see the orgy of violence that has become a regular part of life in Mexico. The conditions that allowed the cartels to flourish and grow to the point of near civil war just doesn't exist here in the US.

Probably the biggest reason for this is a near complete corruption of law enforcement and government institutions in Mexico. This culture of "la mordida" or "the little bite" has been part of these Mexican institutions long before the cartels came to power. For instance, when I was a child I spent my summers with my grandparents in south Texas, just across the border from Mexico. It wasn't uncommon then for Americans to cross the border for a day of shopping.

A couple of friends of my grandparents, crossed the border to shop. While these two couples were there, the wives who were blue haired little old ladies at the time, stepped out of a shop to wait in front while their husbands were still inside. A group of local Mexican police officers then arrested the two ladies for prostitution. The husbands were then invited to the local police station to pay their wives' "fine" in order to get them out of this Mexican jail.

For years, Mexico has tolerated this culture of corruption and payoffs as just the way to do business. The problem is that all these years of this has so thoroughly corrupted their institutions that they are not only ineffective, but are probably a big part of the problem.

There's an old adage that sometimes things have to get bad before they can get better. Things are bad in Mexico. But if this violence finally pushes Mexican society to transform their culture to where systemic corruption is no longer tolerated then maybe they can overcome this awful time. It's probably going to take an 'Arab Spring' style popular uprising to begin to reclaim their country. Let's hope they can do it before their country completely collapses.

Excerpts taken from Corruption: Why Texas is Not Mexico and is republished with permission of STRATFOR.


  1. Scott,

    You appear to imply that the violence in Mexico (as it pertains to the drug cartels) is ultimately a result of their weak law enforcement institutions. While I agree that has contributed, have you considered the potential for market forces to dissolve the cartels? The cartels are able to reap enormous profits in a black market where competition is absent and prices are vastly inflated over their costs of production. If we in the U.S. (where the overwhelming majority of the market is) were to legalize marijuana, there's no way the cartels would be able to compete with domestic firms which are transparent and can also be regulated by the government. When it comes to destabilizing the cartels, why not use better public policy in the U.S. rather then rely on reform in the Mexican law enforcement?

  2. TZane,

    I am not saying that the US's huge appetite for drugs and the enormous amount of money generated don't play a part in Mexico's problems. They do. I have said before I think marihuana should be decriminalized and that the way to handle the drug problem is to deal with it as a mental health issue and not a crime issue. However, Mexico does have to reform their system for their own survival.

    The one thing I have found over the years that is that tough problems usually require a multi-pronged approach to be successfully solved. In this instance it's going to require a number of things working together to solve Mexico's problem.


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