Against equal opportunity drug law enforcement

I haven’t studied the Mexican drug wars carefully, and it’s always dangerous to opine about drug policy on the basis of newspaper accounts.

That said, if it’s true that the Sinaloa group headed by Joaquín Guzmán Loera has more or less won the war for control of Ciudad Juarez, and if it’s also true that President Calderón said that his government continues to fight all drug trafficking organizations – including the Sinaloa group’s rivals – on an equal-opportunity basis, then it seems to me that Calderón (and the U.S. government, to the extent we are advising and supporting him) is making a huge mistake. Not all drug dealing is created equal, and taking down the Sinaloa group’s competitors necessarily strengthens Guzmán’s grip on power. Right now, he has enough armed force and money at his command to challenge the Mexican state.

Fighting “drugs” or “drug trafficking” is as meaningless as fighting “terror.” Real enemies have proper names. Two of the Sinaloa group’s rivals – the Gulf group and Los Zetas, which is more a private army than a drug-trafficking organization – pose comparable threats. Perhaps there are one or two more names that belong on that list. Mexican and U.S. enforcement should focus on those groups, and on the groups on the U.S. side of the border who handle their drugs, to the exclusion of every other drug trafficker in Mexico. And if Sinaloa is winning the war just now, then it ought to be at the top of the priority list. Any organization that is just dealing drugs, and isn’t shooting at cops and journalists and citizens, needs a good leaving-alone.

Comments

  1. Brett Bellmore says

    "Any organization that is just dealing drugs, and isn’t shooting at cops and journalists and citizens, needs a good leaving-alone."

    Bravo! That's true, even if there aren't any organizations around that are dealing drugs, AND shooting at cops and journalists and citizens.

    But we disagree on that, of course. Having said it, though, I remember a bon mot to the effect that, "Diplomacy is the art of saying "nice dog!" while groping around for a bigger stick." Are you sure Calderón isn't being diplomatic?

  2. says

    For once, I agree with Brett. Calderon may well be buying whatever time he can by being deceptive about his intentions. If I were up against what he's up against, I'd lie to my enemies, too.

  3. Brett Bellmore says

    "For once, I agree with Brett."

    I get that a lot. I'd probably get it a lot more, if I didn't enjoy a good argument too much to have much interest in commenting when I know I'm going to be agreed with…

  4. John G says

    It would be helpful if the US did something about the flow of weaponry across the Rio Grande in the opposite direction to most of the drugs – but apparently the Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to bear arms to Mexicans.

  5. says

    Re Any organization that is just dealing drugs, and isn’t shooting at cops and journalists and citizens, needs a good leaving-alone – terrific idea. But law enforcement must enforce the law, so presumably you are proposing legalization here.

    One cannot but applaud.

  6. Brett Bellmore says

    "It would be helpful if the US did something about the flow of weaponry across the Rio Grande in the opposite direction to most of the drugs – but apparently the Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to bear arms to Mexicans."

    It would be helpful if the Mexican army weren't being bribed to supply drug cartels with arms and munitions. The idea that the Mexican drug cartels are obtaining most of their firearms in the US due to our 2nd amendment in nothing but a bit of anti-gun propaganda. The majority of traceable firearms in the hands of Mexican criminals originated in the US, but traceable firearms are very much the minority of guns in the Mexican market. In particular, full auto firearms used by the Mexican cartels are almost always NOT of US origin.

    I suppose they could crack down on smuggling of goods across the Mexican border, but since it would incidentally interfere with smuggling of people across that border, we're not going to see that happen any time soon.

  7. K says

    The post leaves the impression the Mexican government currently is devoting a lot of drug-war resources to (small) DTOs that are "just dealing drugs, and [aren't] shooting at cops and journalists and citizens." Do we know this?

    There's a dilemma. If there are fewer-but-bigger DTOs, then the dominant groups have more resources to threaten the state, but if there are more-and-smaller DTOs, there is more fighting among them, which also threatens the state. To the limited extent we can guess what strategic approach the Mexican authorities are following, but it's widely assumed that they prefer the stability a few large groups bring.

    (Calderón made his statement about targeting Sinaloa as a response to widespread comments – including by very sober & well-informed analysts, not just the usual conspiracy theorists – that the state is working for Sinaloa. The other DTOs clearly believe there is such an alliance, & are acting accordingly. Question: can a dynamic concentration strategy be effective in such an environment?)

    I think Brett Bellmore is basically right about guns. A lot of them clearly are crossing the border, to bad effect, but the DTOs don't rely on them for their health. There are other sources. (FWIW, I think this is also Jorge Castañeda's view.)

    It's wise to be reticent about things we don't know about, but if one is going to talk about drug policy, esp. from a consequentialist perspective, one is increasingly almost forced to learn enough about Mexico to be able talk about it. (Tijuana is, I dunno, a two- or three-hour drive from LA.) If we're evaluating drug policy by consequences, either we include the Mexican violence among the consequences or we, in effect, set the value of Mexican lives at zero.

  8. says

    You could hardly blame the Mexicans if they tacitly laid off the biggest gang, in exchange for relative peace. That was the policy in most of the US during Prohibition. It's not a very good policy, and was in fact one of the reasons we ended Prohibition. But it's not as though the Mexican market is driving the drug trade there, and I wouldn't blame them if they didn't think they should bear the major burden of drug prohibition.

  9. CharlesWT says

    From Mexico City's point of view, Mexico's northern border is out in the boondocks. Why should they care much what goes on in the boondocks as long as all that drug money keeps pouring into the country.

  10. says

    No, obviously you "haven’t studied the Mexican drug wars carefully," if at all. First off, you are assuming that an administration that was only elected with a bit over a third of the vote has the support of the entire Mexican electorate. This "war" isn't all that popular here, and there are a number of alternatives being floated, as well as alternative points of view. Secondly, you are following the simplistic U.S. narrative, ignoring root causes, not just the massive narcotics usage in the U.S. (Mexico's drug USE rate is about 0.5 percent of the population, yours is something on the order of 8 to 10 percent) and gun-running from the United States, but agricultural economics (with massive corporate subsidies for U.S. agriculture, Mexican farmers are turning to the export crops that sell… marijuana and opium poppies), the collapse of industrial manufacturing jobs in Juarez, etc. The narcotics export business, in the view of many, is the symptom of industrial decline in the North, not the cause of it (since you seem to be narrow-focused on the United States, think of Detroit in the 1970s).

    There is open speculation within Mexico that the Calderón Administration is NOT going after Chapo, which in turn leads to charges that the administration favors the Sinaloans. To follow your suggestion would be political suicide for PAN and it's unlikely to follow that prescription.

    Your assertion that the Sinaloans aren't bumping off journalists and police is ridiculous. As is most U.S. reporting on the situation here, and those that depend on U.S. sources for their information.

  11. Brett Bellmore says

    "(Mexico’s drug USE rate is about 0.5 percent of the population, yours is something on the order of 8 to 10 percent)"

    That sounds, off hand, exaggerated on both ends. But some quick research finds it has some support, on our end. (Guess I just run in atypically sober circles.) Makes me wonder why drug legalization doesn't have more political traction…

    Looks like it was exaggerated downwards for Mexico, after all. About 5%, not 0.5%. Or maybe that was a typo?

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