by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the
government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be
enforced. - Albert Einstein
May 4, 2012: Nine bodies were found hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the border from Laredo, Texas. Police could not confirm who was responsible for the murders but a message seen with the bodies indicated it may have been an attack by the Zetas cartel against the rival Gulf cartel.
The Houston Chronicle is carrying a story with startling revelations of drug gang brutality in Mexico. Among other things, it reports of kidnapping young men and forcing them to engage in contests to the death in order to find and recruit killers. This made me wonder what kinds of things deter people from behaving like this, and what kinds of conditions produce this kind of behavior.
1. The state forbids something, like drugs.
2. Production MUST therefore be illegal, and production will occur because the demand doesn’t disappear when the drug is made illegal.
3. Going illegal is a necessary condition for all those who are willing to produce and supply the drug. The profit motive remains, even heightens, and so there will always be people who will go illegal.
4. The people attracted into the illegal business are going to be the people who already have the least inhibitions about doing anything immoral and illegal. They are the ones most willing to take risks.
5. Competition is all within illegality. This means that moral rules that govern peaceful competition do not prevail among the suppliers. They therefore select among any actions and rules that bring them survival, profits, and growth. The most effective means of gaining market share and preventing the incursion of rivals within a situation of illegal rivalry will include a reputation and readiness to kill and maim so as to enforce one’s will.
6. The means include corrupting law enforcement. This is virtually a necessity and always occurs in these conditions. The results include gang warfare. It also includes uneasy peace among gangs and division into territories and fiefdoms.
7. The competition need not lead to the practices mentioned in this article whose aim is to find and groom the most merciless killers. Yet it probably happened in the 1920s gangs that this mode of competition also prevailed as the many stories of Capone suggest. Most gangster movies also depict that the more brutal gangsters rise to the top.
I don’t claim that this is a complete explanation of what’s going on, but I did want to make the point that what’s going on in Mexico is not a random thing and not a peculiarly Mexican thing. These things often have rational explanations. It’s akin to terrorism and assassination and other forms of violence in that respect. There are often reasons that we can find that explain it even if the behavior is awful.
The U.S. government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.
But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life - without parole.
Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses - men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.
Firefighters remove the body of a man hanging from a bridge in Ciudad Juarez, on March 3, 2012. The body was found hanging from its neck on a bridge late Saturday, local media reported. The body showed signs of torture and the head was covered with duct tape. (Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez)
Locals look at the screening of names of 10,000 victims of violence in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, on the facade of Annunciation House, a shelter for immigrants and indigent people in the US city of El Paso on April 23, 2012. Annunciation House organized a mournful tribute called Voice of the Voiceless in which more than 10,000 names were screened on the facade of the building.
The DEA in Afghanistan
WikiLeaks Highlights Drug War Mission Creep | Antiwar.com (January 2011)
According to The New York Times, which has access to a cache of DEA-related State Department cables, the DEA now has 87 offices in 63 countries – pretty much double the number of countries from 20 years ago, before 9/11. Today, the Global War on Terror has infused the drug interdiction agency with an expanded mission as a paramilitary and intelligence-gathering agency on par with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces overseas.
[…] Welcome to Drug Hunters International, which, for all of the $2.1 billion in taxpayer funding the agency gets in a year, has accomplished very little by way of the metrics: the illegal drug industry is considered as lucrative and even more dangerous than ever, particularly in neighboring Mexico, while the situation in Afghanistan – counter-terror and counter-narcotic alike – is on a widely accepted downward trajectory.
[…] Of course, that the U.S. has set up secret wiretapping programs with the aid of foreign governments all over the world, particularly in South America, where it has been operating heavily for years, is no surprise. The New York Times was perfectly right when it said the cables “do not offer large disclosures.” But they paint an interesting portrait of classic mission creep, of a bureaucracy constantly reinventing and recalibrating itself to maintain its significance in the annual budget; and most importantly, how the war on terror has been used to advance those goals for the DEA. By no means is it the only agency doing it, but it is certainly the most obvious.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, President Obama, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper - “The Three Amigos” - at the North American Leaders’ Summit on Monday.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon again called on Congress to renew a ban on assault weapons.
“The expiry of the assault-weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Calderon said. “We have seized over 140,000 weapons in four years — and the vast majority of these weapons were sold in gun shops in the United States. Along the border of the U.S. and Mexico, there are approximately 8,000 weapons shops.”
The Mexican president spoke at length during a Rose Garden news conference about what is an uncomfortable subject for Mr. Obama, whose administration is under investigation by Congress over the notorious “Fast and Furious” program.
Organized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and overseen by the Department of Justice, the program sent thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers, or people who legally purchase guns in the United States with the intention of illegally trafficking them somewhere else.
At least 300 people in Mexico have been killed with weapons provided by Fast and Furious, and at least one killing in the U.S., the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, has been blamed on the program.
Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Calderon mentioned Fast and Furious in public Monday. Mr. Obama said stopping the flow of illegal guns into Mexico is a “difficult task.”
“We’ve actually put into practice efforts to stop illegal gun trafficking north to south,” Mr. Obama said. “We will continue to coordinate closely with the Mexican government because we recognize the toll that it’s taken with respect to families and innocent individuals inside of Mexico.”
Mr. Calderon said he appreciated the “administrative effort” being undertaken by the Obama administration to stop gun trafficking.
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For meth manufacturers, lawmakers’ attempts to stop meth production and regulate the drug’s requisite precursor chemicals are at best temporary obstacles. For example, meth manufacturers in the United States have begun mixing methanol and anhydrous ammonia to circumvent regulations on methylamine. These chemicals can be purchased at a variety of locations, such as hardware stores.
The volume and profit of Mexican methamphetamine producers have decreased and will continue to decrease, albeit slightly, as a result of precursor chemical regulations in the United States. Regulatory measures are reactive and have failed to stop manufacturers from finding ways around the law, giving manufacturers a distinct tactical advantage.
Mexico is the United States’ biggest external source of meth — geographic proximity determines as much — and it will continue to provide meth to the U.S. drug market because the drug is so cheap and convenient to produce. While regulations continue to be imposed, authorities’ ability to enforce these regulations has not curtailed meth production.
As of May 2011 the United States was home to 1.4 million known meth users — certainly a massive market on which criminal manufacturers can capitalize. Due to the drug’s popularity and high profit margins, methamphetamine will continue to be manufactured, distributed and used regardless of regulation.
March 3, 2012—Vice President Joe Biden heads to Latin America Sunday amid unprecedented pressure from political and business leaders to talk about something U.S. officials have no interest in debating: decriminalizing drugs.
[…] Dan Restrepo, the top Latin America official in the White House, said the vice president does expect a “robust conversation” about the security problems Latin American countries face as drug traffickers battle to control the lucrative U.S. sales. But he said Latin American leaders shouldn’t expect a shift in policy.
“The Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs,” said Restrepo.
Meanwhile, the legalization debate is gaining ground in Latin America:
Two weeks ago, Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina, a right wing conservative and former army general, stunned observers when he declared the U.S. inability to cut illegal drug consumption leaves his country with no option but to consider legalizing the use and transport of drugs. He vowed to galvanize regional support.
Since then, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes have said they’re open to the discussion, while Panama’s leaders say they do not agree with decriminalizing drugs.
For decades Latin Americans leaders and the U.S. have cooperated on a war on drugs, with more than a trillion dollars spent by the U.S. to support enforcement and eradication in Latin America, as well as promises to reduce cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use in the U.S. that generates an estimated $25 billion in profits each year.
But during that time, demand for drugs has increased, fueling violent competition between dealers.
In 2009, former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia blasted the war on drugs and said it was time to consider the decriminalization of marijuana. Last summer they were joined by more than a dozen high level international leaders including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. officials George P. Shultz and Paul Volcker, again slamming the war on drugs as a failure and calling on governments to undertake experiments to decriminalize the use of drugs, especially marijuana, to undermine the power of organized crime. +
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August 2011—As the death toll continues to rise in Mexico’s drug war, now claiming more than 35,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, fewer than half (45%) of Mexicans say their government is making progress in its campaign against drug cartels; 29% say the government is losing ground and 25% say things are about the same as they have been in the past.
Still, an overwhelming majority (83%) continues to endorse the use of the Mexican army to fight drug traffickers, virtually unchanged in recent years. Moreover, many welcome U.S. help in training Mexican police and military personnel (74%) and providing money and weapons to Mexican police and military forces (64%).
And while Mexicans broadly oppose the deployment of U.S. troops to combat drug traffickers in Mexico (38% support and 57% oppose), more now support this strategy than did so in 2010, when only about a quarter (26%) favored the deployment of U.S. troops in their country and two-thirds opposed it.
The survey of Mexico conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project between March 22 and April 7 also finds that illegal drugs and cartel-related violence rank among the top national problems facing Mexico; 71% say illegal drugs are a very big problem in their country and even more (77%) see the violence associated with drug cartels as a major challenge. +