“The Fall of Mexico”


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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19 Responses

  1. Nob Akimoto says:

    The question is whether or not legalization is actually a solution in this case or a bandage that’ll eventually soak through and fail anyway.

    As Mark Kleiman is fond of pointing out, full scale legalization actually creates a market inducement for creating habitual drug users which in turn has a large net social cost. It’s also not clear if it’ll actually get rid of the illicit producers and crime problems or if it’ll simply cloak their activities under a legal pretense.Report

  2. Cascadian says:

    How could the costs possibly be higher than we’re paying now?Report

    • Roberto in reply to Cascadian says:

      While I agree with you, the issue isn’t what it costs “us,” as in the USA but what it costs Mexico. As Andrew Bacevich has written we owe Mexico “big time.” The war over who gets to supply los gringos with the drugs they crave is one just of ways what he wrote was true.

      I know that Mexico isn’t a position to do the follwing but if it were I would say “a la chingada con los gringos, vamos hacer lo que es mejor para Mexico.” IOW, “f**k the US, let’s do what’s best for Mexico.” Of course, that’s what Diaz meant by “poor Mexico.”Report

      • Scott in reply to Roberto says:

        Mexico already does what is best for them by letting all the illegals cross the border. The US doesn’t own them anything. Or is this were everyone claims that everything is the US’ fault?Report

  3. Scott says:

    Even if Mexico legalizes drugs how will that stop the drug gangs from fighting to control the US drug trade? It seems the silly argument to be made is that the US should immediately legalize drugs to stop crime in Mexico. Maybe Mexico will call on the UN to force the US to do just that.Report

    • Cascadian in reply to Scott says:

      Yup, that’s the argument. I’m not sure how silly it is. Through our shortsighted prohibition we fund Afghan, Mexican, Colombian, and US drug lords. At what cost? We devote billions of our own money to the cause and deprive thousands of Americans freedom who will be further economically stunted by their incarceration. Better that we bankrupt our enemies through legalization, save money on the prison industry, and tap into the tax possibilities of the largest economic sectors of many states. Why do we take on these costs? Because we’re afraid some shaggy teen somewhere is getting stoned.Report

  4. Roque Nuevo says:

    I just skimmed the article but I find it to be an interesting report on the situation in Ciudad Juárez, with a lot of detail that relevant to the drug war debate. However, the “failed state” angle is hardly touched upon (unless my skimming missed it). It’s in the intro and the conclusion but the idea is not developed in any serious way in the body.

    The following is from the conclusion, and it highlights the “failed state” problem:

    Dr. Edgardo Buscaglia, a law professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute in Mexico City and a senior legal and economic adviser to the UN and the World Bank, concluded in a recent report that 17 of Mexico’s 31 states have become virtual narco-republics…

    Aside from this, if one were to use a small scale map, instead of just looking at states, one would find a massive number of municipalities under the control of the narco. These are rural, mountainous regions where the government does not go and where it never has gone. These places have been under local law since forever: neither the Aztecs, nor the Spanish, nor modern Mexico has managed to bring them under state control. For one thing, they’re too remote. Today, they are under narco jurisdiction and they are the places that generate the vast majority of illegal immigrants to the US. If one sticks to Mexico’s cities, one will never see the problem, but if one goes out to a small town in most places, evidence of the narco is all around: gangbangers, Cadillacs and Hummers cruising the main squares blaring rap music where boys and girls used to walk eating disgusting sweets and eying the opposite sex, amazing mansionsz on hillsides where one expects to see mud shacks.

    That’s just the drug and immigration problem. There are a lot more problems in Mexico that are exacerbated by the drug war—or, more accurately, by the government’s handling of the drug war. These problems feed into one another in a sick symbiosis that could lead to the “fall of Mexico” practically from one day to another. This does not have to be a gradual process that ends in a failed state. The situation here in 1911-1920 was the result of a similar web of problems that simply burst their bonds and generated civil war with massive death and destruction for all.

    1. The government is practically invading its own territory under the rubric of the drug war. As I mentioned, these are the poorest and most remote places in the country. Young people there have few choices for the future: go to the US; join the Army; join some “opposition” political group; stay on the family farm, dig in the mud and starve.

    When people go to the US, they leave their land under the charge of the womenfolk. The narco will then make them an offer they can’t refuse so as to rent their land for drug cultivation. As this business prospers, the narco will plow some of it back in the form of “social services” somewhat like Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East. Most of all, they will provide a semblance of law and order. When the government invades, they are attacking the poorest and most defenseless people in the country. Hardly a way to get popular support.

    2. If a young kid joins the army, then, if he has any initiative at all, he’ll get all the training he needs so as to desert and join the narco. The statistics for desertion are massive in Mexico. The narco pays more and gives their soldiers respect, which is lacking in the Army. The Narcomantas (drug-lord banners) are famous in Mexico: they literally advertise, “Soldier: join the narco.” They are placed on freeway overpasses for all to see all over the country.

    3. If he joins some opposition group, then he’ll be called upon to block highways to protest whatever the opposition is protesting at the moment, shut down towns and cities, an so forth. These events also generate a lot of violence. But he will be able to survive as a “pirate” taxi driver, selling pirated CDs and DVDs, other merchandise that falls of trucks somewhere in Mexico. It’s better than digging in the mud with no hope at all.

    The above is just an outline of the situation but it may give you a better idea of the situation that is leading to the “failed state.”

    It’s important to note that all of these groups are armed (or have an armed faction attached to them) and none of them are afraid to use extreme violence. And here I’m only talking about groups outside the government. Inside there are more armed groups. In the first place there’s the Army itself, and then there’s the federal police. Following them are the state police, political parties and so forth.

    All of these groups, but especially the narco, prosper under anarchy. Anarchy could happen any day now if the president is killed or if he resigns. Calls for his resignation have been increasing of late. The narco has shown that they can get into position to kill him whenever they want.

    If the above happens, the shit hits the fan. That’s because under the Mexican constitution there is no real law of succession if it does happen. It has only happened once in Mexico’s history: in 1913 FI Madero was murdered. This brought in the civil war and a failed state.

    Under the law, if the president dies or resigns, then the Congress will name an interim president to finish his term (ends in 2012). Congress probably has less respect among Mexicans than even the police do—and that’s saying something. They will make some deal to put up some politician to run the country after fighting about it publicly for months, if they can make the deal at all. Once he is named, he will automatically be opposed by the vast majority of Mexicans.

    Will all the armed and dangerous groups I outlined above just sit back and wait for the constitutional process to work its magic and generate stability? That would be acting against their own best interests, which is to generate anarchy. It just isn’t possible for me to imagine how this process could work non violently, but, then, I’m a pessimist.

    This is really the risk, though. This is why Calderón’s drug war is so idiotic: he’s not just rising his own life, so that he becomes a macho man facing down the narco. He’s risking the whole nation in a stupid effort to defeat the narco.

    What does the US have to do with it? I’m not one to blame the US for everything. Just the opposite. In the case of Mexico, I recognize a lot of dirty deals we have done to Mexico in the past, but there are always other circumstances that mitigate US responsibility. And the US has obviously done a lot more to help Mexico than to hurt it in the past.

    But in this case, the US drug war has been an unmitigated disaster for Mexico. It was imposed on the country by blackmail back in the ’70s by Nixon/Gordon Liddy. If there is any US foreign intervention that is all black, with no shades of gray, this is it. Moreover, the entire value system that underlies the drug war, and that produced criminalization, is imposed on Mexico. This value system was imposed on the US as well, by the 19th century progressives and other religious fanatics, but it’s our country. Nobody else in the world sees drugs as “bad.” In fact, throughout history, people have thought drugs were good. And why not? If one can smoke or drink the extract of some plant that kills or deadens pain, or that simply allows one to have a good time, then people are all for it. The alternative is the “short brutal life” of antiquity, filled with pain and hardship. For anyone to tell the ancient Greeks that opium was bad, because God doesn’t want you depending on “substances,” would be ridiculous. If it was good enough for Aristotle, then it’s good enough for me. Even today in Mexico, women in rural areas will eat some peyote before going down to the river to beat their clothes into submission and carry water back to the shack. It gets them through the night, so why not? I’d like to see someone go there and convince them the peyote is “bad” when their own experience says it’s “good”.

    Just one small example: the oil reserves are running out. Oil is a state enterprise and revenues are used for political/social programs, not for improving the oil industry. The government does not have the money to upgrade oil infrastructure so as to explore for more oil, which is out there in the Gulf. Their biggest oil field is the Cantarell field (second-biggest in the world after Saudi Arabia). That was discovered by a fisherman, by accident, named “Canterell.” So, we can either open up the oil industry to private capital to find more oil or pray to the virgin and send out fleets of fishermen into the Gulf, which is what we’re doing now. It just might work, but I doubt it.

    The president has tried to reform the oil laws here but has been blocked by the opposition. He has no influence in Mexico because he lacks legitimacy. He lacks legitimacy because he won by a hair in 2006 and the opposition cried fraud (a time-honored opposition technique). He cannot get any legitimacy because, for one, he’s invading his own country under the drug war. Therefore, the nation is floundering. This situation is identical to all the other reforms the president has sponsored. Take away the drug war and the president gets more legitimacy and thus more power to pass his reforms, and therefore solve Mexico’s financial problems.

    I quite agree with Roberto, above, who says that Mexico should simply say, “Fuck off!” to the drug war. But that will never happen. Another thing that will never happen is for Obama to recognize the grave damage we have inflicted on Mexico and all of Latin America by the drug war and just call it off. Disband the DEA. Bring the troops home. He’s good at apologizing so I think he could handle it. Forget about legalization. Just call of the dogs. Then, as part of Obama’s apology, he could devote the resources he’s saved to post-war reconstruction, like the Marshall Plan for Europe. So many billions of dollars for such and such a time period, under the condition the Latin American nations cooperate in spending the money. This could create a capitalist “Bolivarian dream” that Hugo Chávez could stick up his ass. Then, if Obama is not officially declared a saint, he will be treated as such by the vast majority in LA. There will be Obama cities, Obama Bulevards, Obama parks and so forth. Plus, he’ll get my vote next time.Report

    • Cascadian in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

      Thanks for the post Roque. I feel like I gained another layer of understanding. This is what’s so great about the webs.Report

      • Roque Nuevo in reply to Cascadian says:

        I appreciate it. Just keep in mind that this stuff is filtered through my perverse and pessimistic mind. Others in Mexico may disagree, especially about the probability of violence if Calderón steps down or “is stepped down” (like they say here.)

        To critique the article that Will links to, the author says that predictions of a “failed state” in Mexico are “hyperbole.” The following quotes from his article contradict that conclusion and in fact promote the opposite:

        What began as a war on drug trafficking has evolved into a low-intensity civil war with more than two sides and no white hats, only shades of black.

        The Juárez organization, headed by Vicente Carillo, and the Sinaloa federation, whose boss, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, is the most-wanted man in Mexico.

        “El Chapo” appeared on this years Forbes list of the world’s richest men. He had been captured back in the 90s but he “escaped.” I put the word in ironic quotes because nobody believes that he escaped. He was released by corrupt prison authorities. There have been massive (50 plus men) prison breaks here for the same reasons. (With all the authority and violence of a SWAT team or an A team of US special forces. In fact, drug lord armies were trained by US special forces before they deserted the army. The police, either in Mexico or in the US is no match for them.)

        O’Day concluded that the army was a cartel unto itself.

        The drug gangs have acquired a “military capacity” that enables them to confront the army on an almost equal footing.

        Plus, to further advance your understanding, I forgot to mention all the guerrilla groups in the country—EZLN and EPR are the best known, but there are others.

        Another thing to consider is that Hugo Chávez/FARC have their fingers in the Mexican pie. No doubt about it. For one thing, Chávez has been caught with his hand in the EPR. For another, Chávez is in on the financing for the latest protest movemtent here: the electricians’ union strike. Calderón broke up the union (part of the state-run utilities) with violence about a month ago and the electricians have mounted some highway blocking and city shut-downs since then (we’re talking about one of the main highways from Mexico City to the northern border and Mexico City, pop. 25 million or so). It’s clear to me that the union is a drag on the economy and needs to be broken up. Calderón can’t do it peacefully because he lacks the “political art” and because of the War on Drugs, which undermines his legitimacy.

        So: Caldrón resigns, or “is resigned,” and this is just part of the shit that will hit the fan. According to my pessimism.Report

  5. Roque Nuevo says:

    Coming soon to the USA: La Familia Michoacana drug gang. They are noted for being extremely violent: they subscribe to some wacky ideology invented by their leader; they manufacture meth; they are blamed for the Independence Day massacre (2008) in Morelia (a bomb was placed in the middle of the celebrations and killed innocent civilians); they torture and behead their enemies, like the Muslims do.

    La Familia Michoacana Cell Indicted in Chicago

    U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald announced Nov. 18 that 15 defendants allegedly working for La Familia Michoacana (LFM) had been indicted in Chicago, Ill. The indictment stems from the joint U.S.-Mexican federal law enforcement operation that ended Oct. 22 known as Project Coronado, a 44-month-long operation that netted 1,186 individuals in 19 states along with 1,999 kilograms of cocaine and $33 million.

    The indictment charged the individuals based in Chicago for conspiring with an unnamed commander based in Michoacan state, Mexico to distribute large quantities of cocaine and funnel proceeds from drug distribution back to Mexico. The operator in Michoacan formed a command-and-control group to oversee the distribution of drugs in Chicago and northern Illinois, made up of the six charged in the indictment as well as smaller-scale distributors personally approved by the commander. The Chicago cell maintained residential property where it clandestinely stored and transferred cocaine and cash proceeds to and from retail operations in Chicago and other towns in northern Illinois. The cell fronted cocaine to their distributors and were paid once the consumer sales were made — indicating a high level of trust and cooperation between the traffickers and the distributors. Members of the cell also maintained ledgers documenting transactions with their distributors and tracked inventory at the various stash houses. The commander, according to the indictment, required his associates in Chicago to report to him on the cell’s distribution activities and collection of cash proceeds.

    The details revealed in the Nov. 18 indictment indicate that LFM has had a deeper involvement in the U.S. narcotics network than previously thought. It was known that LFM was trafficking cocaine through Mexico and even across the border into the United States, but the activities of the Chicago cell show that LFM was also heavily involved in the smaller-scale distribution of drugs far from the U.S.-Mexican border, in addition to their known large-scale, cross-border trafficking activities. This shows that LFM had a reach all the way to the neighborhood streets of Chicago and other U.S. cities, not just the highway networks and metropolitan hubs that facilitate the large-scale flow of drugs throughout the United States.