The rise of drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico represents growth of illegal trade and activities, law enforcement gaps, and regional instability. The growth of the drug cartels in Columbia does not only reflect ineffectiveness of the legal procedures in the fight against the drug trafficking but it also indicates the need to have revolutionary laws and enforcement procedures to address the situation both nationally and internationally. Corruption may be attributed to the growth of drug cartels since corrupt law enforcement and security officers will allow and manufacture sale and transportation of drugs or materials. Political leaders may not only accept money from the drug cartels, so as to protect them while funding campaigns and enriching themselves, but they may also want to protect friends and relatives involved in drug trafficking. Drug cartels have not only caused instability in Mexico and Colombia but have also penetrated beyond Mexican borders into the United States of America. While the drug activities are themselves illegal, they have contributed to the increase of other illegal activities and moral vices, such as aggravated assault, sexual assault, prostitution, gay relationships, human trafficking, arms trafficking, homicides, and armed robbery.
Violence in Mexico is no longer a purely domestic issue, as it has spread to the northern shores of the Rio Grande – to Texas, California, and Arizona. With the onset of the crisis, spreading Mexican organized crime has reached truly alarming proportions. In the border cities, more than half of all crimes committed are based on drug smuggling or illegal human trafficking of the Mexican labor force. The U.S. media are full of stories about murders and abductions in the U.S. of Mexicans, who fled because of cartel revenge. In clashes, hundreds of random Americans are killed. Residents of the American South feel more and more vulnerable to the “oncoming Mexico”, and they say that California is once more becoming a part of the neighboring state (O’Neil).
The uncontrolled downfall of Mexico into chaos starts to pose before the U.S. national security a serious problem of a strategic nature. The Obama administration has announced its intention to more actively assist the Mexican government in the fight against cartels. Mexican traffickers live on the income from the sale of drugs in the United States, and then use the same income in arms purchasing and trafficking, which is then used to shoot civilians and police officers.
The Confederation of drug cartels
Today, Mexico is a country on the verge of collapse. The country is being torn apart by the cartels fighting with each other and with the state. Over the past two and a half years, the drug wars killed about 10 thousand people (according to the minister of economy Gerardo Ruiz, 75% of all murders in the country happen during the drug shootout). Almost in every Mexican border town, a senior police officer, journalist, politician, or other well-known figure had been killed (Miller).
A lot of Mexicans simply disappear (in January, one of the members of the Tijuana cartel, who was responsible for the disposal of bodies, dissolving them in barrels of acid, was arrested). The government, politicians, the police, and the judiciary – all of them are under constant pressure and regular attacks by gangs and drug cartels. The development of the conflict in the next few years will depend largely on the stability of the Mexican state. So far, the development trend of the conflict is not in favor of the state. In the near future due to the economic crisis and dwindling oil revenues, which account for about 40% of the budget of the country, the Mexican authorities simply will not have financial resources for independent anti-cartel enforcement (O’Neil).
In addition, the rapid growth and influence of the criminal groups are catalyzed by the social structure of the Mexican society. Minimal government intervention in the life of the society, a huge gap between the rich and the poor (10% of the population consumes 40% of GDP) and the absence of the middle class – all contribute to the marginalization and criminalization of the general population.
Birth of cartels
The history of modern Mexican drug traffickers begins in the 1940s when farmers from the mountain villages of the Mexican state of Sinaloa began to grow marijuana. However, for a long time, Mexicans were only serving one of the channels of supply of Colombian cocaine to North America. Thus, they did not even dare to compete with the Colombians (Miller).
The heyday of Mexican drug gangs began after the defeat of the Cali and Medellin drug cartels from the U.S. and Colombian forces. After Americans shut down the Colombian drug supply chain through Florida, the Mexican trafficking route had, in fact, no alternative. The weakened Colombians could no longer overpower the Mexicans and now could only sell them large quantities of drugs at wholesale prices.
As a result, the Mexican gangs have gained control over the entire chain of drug trafficking – from the raw material plantation in the Andean region to the points of sale on the American streets. They managed to significantly expand the scope of business: from 2000 to 2005, the supply of cocaine from South America to Mexico increased by more than two times, and the amount of intercepted only on the US-Mexico border amphetamine – by five times (O’Neil).
However, this expansion of business affected the relationship between the leading Mexican cartels. The increase of cocaine and marijuana trafficking and the number of drug addicts in the United States have led to a sharp increase in cartel competition for the U.S. market. Thus, Mexic’s drug wars began, because if there are certain standards of competition in the legal business, in the illegal drug trafficking the most effective way to circumvent a competitor is to kill him/her.
Accordingly, the cartel structure has undergone some changes. Everything is completely different. Now there are whole groups of trained soldiers. In order to fight each other, the cartels began to create private armies full of mercenaries, sicarios.
These mercenaries are armed with the latest weapons and often excel in the technical equipment and the level of training even the Mexican army. The most famous and brutal of these groups, Los Zetas, is under control of the Gulf Cartel. Its core is composed of former Mexican special forces units (O’Neil).
Before 2006, the periodic mafia showdown practically did not affect the ordinary Mexicans. Drug gangs had even become part of the everyday lives of citizens. There was no large-scale violence in the country. The previous Mexican President, Vicente Fox, just co-existed with the cartels and lived up according to the following principle “Live yourself and mind your own business” (Miller).
This all has changed after the presidential election of 2006 when Felipe Calderon became president. Immediately after his election, the new head of state has declared war on drug cartels. Such a radical decision was made by the president because of the two reasons.
First, he had to start some popular campaign to strengthen his political positions after the controversial election results (the gap to the closest rival, Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, was less than 0.6%). Out of the two potential popular trends, the war against crime and the beginning of far-reaching economic reforms, he chose the former, which in his opinion, was the easiest.
Second, the new president realized the danger of co-existence of cartels and the state. Calderon realized that following the previous principle of “Live yourself and mind your own business” would inevitably lead to the weakening of the government.
By the time Calderon was elected, the police in all of the northern states of Mexico was bought over by cartels. At the same time, the law enforcement officers did not fear for their future in case of disclosure of their links with criminals. If they were dismissed from the local police for corruption, they just went across the street and were recruited to the cartel (O’Neil).
It is for this reason that the president began his war with the cleaning of the law enforcement structures. After the inauguration, he put his loyal person, Minister of Public Security, Genaro Garcia Luna, in charge of both the national security agencies, AFI and the PFP. In a short time, Luna fired about 300 senior officers on charges of corruption. The president then started to use the military for the war against drug cartels.
As a result of this active campaign, Calderon managed to cause some damage to the drug mafia. During 2007-2008, the cartels have lost 70 tons of cocaine, 3,700 tons of marijuana, 28 thousand units of arms, 2000 grenades, 3 million rounds of ammunition, and 304 million dollars. In the U.S., the data is controversial: cocaine prices have soared by more than half, while the average purity declined from 67.8% to 56.7%, and the cost of amphetamine has increased by 73%.
Mexico is losing
Despite tactical successes, Felipe Calderon’s government is strategically losing the war to the cartels, both from the military point of view and from the public. After the new president has violated the secret truce, the cartels have declared revenge on the government and national security forces, which has to lead to the inherent cruelty and intransigence. Those, who did not run away and did not sell themselves out to the cartels, were mercilessly shot (Miller).
Drug lords have won the most important victory, they managed to intimidate and configure the civilian population against the government of the country. Cartels are not set out to seize power in the country. They use terror to influence public opinion, to reduce Felipe Calderon’s rating; thus, diminishing his anti-drug campaign and depriving him of the people’s support, as well as ensuring that the next presidential elections would be lost by him.
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The victory of drug traffickers would not be possible without American weapons. Free sale of weapons in the U.S. is one of the main reasons for the defeat of Calderon in the war against the cartels: 86% of illegal weapons supplied to Mexico comes from the northern coast of the Rio Grande. “Over the period of two years we have intercepted and confiscated from the cartels more than 25,000 units of weapons, and 90 percent came from the United States – said the Mexican President Felipe Calderon. – And this is the full range of weapons – from rocket launchers to machine guns” (O’Neil).
You cannot buy so many weapons in Mexico itself. The local laws are very strict in terms of weapons acquisition. Civilians wanting to purchase a weapon must first get permission from the military. Besides, they are forbidden to have powerful weapons of big caliber, not mentioning the semi-automatic rifles.
In the United States, as we know, almost anyone can buy a weapon using a driver’s license and having a clean criminal record. Mexicans generally use the Americans themselves – “straw men” (mostly single mothers, who cause no suspicion) earning at 50-100 dollars for the service. Then the guns are transferred to the dealers, who, collecting a whole package, then smuggle it across the border.
The Mexican borderline patrol cannot stop arms trafficking themselves. Or, rather, they do not want to. Mexicans are not really into active and thorough searching of cars passing the border from the north. This passivity is due to the fact that the borderline patrol faces a choice «Plata o plomo» (silver or lead). Many people prefer to take bribes and turn a blind eye to the smuggling. Those, who refuse to get paid, usually do not last long (O’Neil).
In recent months the relationship between the global economic crisis and the uncontrolled power of the drug cartels has become stronger, the violence has begun spreading to the United States. When George W. Bush was in office, there were clashes between the drug cartels on Mexican territory. However, in the last few months, the violence spilled over and is present north of the Rio Grande. Kidnappings in Arizona, murders in Texas, the list can go on forever…
American mafia consisting of ethnic Mexicans closely cooperates with the Mexican drug traffickers. California based “Mexican Mafia” gang deals with the Tijuana cartel, “The Texas Syndicate” deals with the Gulf cartel and the MS-13 gang deals with both.
If you take into account that during the economic crisis, the ranks of Mexican mafia ethnic groups in America have augmented, it can be concluded that with each coming month the level of violence in the United States will increase. This will worsen the already difficult crime situation in the states bordering with Mexico (O’Neil).
As a result, U.S. President Barack Obama is facing the necessity of immediate intervention in Mexican affairs. He promised to increase financial aid to Mexico and at the same time to significantly strengthen the U.S. border security measures. Unlike his predecessor, Obama is not a friend of the gun lobby and has his own opinion, so perhaps he will be able to take control of the weapons problem and solve, it at least as an internal issue in the United States (Miller).
To stabilize the situation in Mexico, the United States will have to take very serious and large-scale actions. If they only cut off from Mexico with a sanitary border, this will not solve the problem of arms and drug trafficking, and of course, will not help Felipe Calderon to fight organized crime. The desperate Mexican president is looking into the option of returning to the old waste form of coexistence with the cartels. For Calderon, who, in fact, has already lost the war, it may be the only hope for peace in the country. However, for Mexico, this peace may bring the state into full collapse, and for the United States – the slow detonation of the bomb in the backyard.