Fifty-two dead in Monterrey

… apparently as part of the turf battle between the Golfo group and Los Zetas. Current policies incentivize violence. We need a new enforcement strategy to make the drug traffickers afraid of acting scary.

… as a commando group attacks a casino, apparently as part of the Golfo/Los Zetas turf war.

The basic problem is that current enforcement policies lead the big Mexican drug trafficking organizations to value a reputation for violence: it creates a competitive advantage. Smart policy would try to reverse that by penalizing such reputations with differential enforcement pressure.

At the extreme, that would mean singling out the most violent group for destruction (via a public, transparent process), taking it down with a combination of Mexican pressure on the target group and U.S. pressure on its distributors here, and then picking the next target.

We need to make them afraid of acting scary.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

6 thoughts on “Fifty-two dead in Monterrey”

  1. In your article, Mark, you say that police could rank drug organizations by their levels of violence, and that they “would designate the most violent organization for destruction.” But does this mean arrest and trial, in which judges would have to pass long sentences when their own lives are likely to be forfeit? Or does it mean something more like treating the organizations as if they were guerillas at war with Mexico, and going in with bombers, tanks, and well-trained infantry to kill as many members of the organization as possible? The raiders of the Monterrey casino have no fear of arrest and incarceration, we are told. “Destruction” of such an organization under a law enforcement model is different from “destruction” under an armed insurrection model. Like Quantrill’s bushwhackers during our Civil War, the Zetas have no fear of law enforcement. What kind of “destruction” will work against them?

  2. Mark, out of the people who are supposed to take up drug use if it’s legalized, how many of them would end up in the heavy user category, that is apparently to blame for most of the drug money going to these demons? Would their increased funding to bad people outweigh the reduction from legalizing?

    I believe you said something like 10 to 30% of the money would be cut from mere legalizing? And then an additional 40% (I think) would come from using that Hawaii approach on the heavy users. Well, isn’t 50% or so a big enough chunk to put a dent in these folks’ activities? We have to do something. This is just not acceptable and I don’t know why people in the US think we can stay immune. This is our fault.

  3. I hope there is a vigorous and responsive response to this terrorism. It is tragic that the Mexican state is unable to prevent such attacks.

    Something that has surprised me about the US/Mexico drug wars is how comparatively little of the violence has spilled north of the border. Obviously, the cartels and other factions have good reasons for behaving this way (they don’t want the US government coming after them), but I’m still surprised that it has been possible to enforce such a norm so effectively. Is this aspect of the situation unusual, or is it similar to comparable situations elsewhere?

    The apparent effectiveness of the “keep it in Mexico” policy might be a piece of evidence that the sorts of targeted interventions Mr. Kleiman advocates have a good chance of working–that the various actors are able to respond to long-term incentives.

  4. We need to make them afraid of acting scary.

    The operative word here is “we.” The stark difference in the DTOs’ conduct on either side of the border is a measure of the stark difference in state capacity in the two countries. The US is already involved in this crisis (through Mérida, etc) and will inevitably become further involved in ending it. The issue is how. For those not paying attention, there’s rising pressure, primarily but not only from the right, for a large deployment of US ground troops on Mexican territory. The current Republican frontrunner is among those who’ve made noises in that direction, and if his party does well in 2012 — and depending on the outcome of the Mexican elections in July — the pressure for direct military intervention will become stronger. On the right, the question is embedded in a larger anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic narrative, which further complicates things.

    Side note: the notion that there hasn’t been catastrophic spillover violence in the US is aggressively contested on the right. Actual crime statistics notwithstanding, the view that the American Southwest has been turned into a slaughter bench by Mexicans is, if anything, dominant there. Demagogues set the terms of popular discourse in the region.

  5. The first link is broken, with an extra : “http://”

    I like the idea in approach, it seems like the right thing to do, but are we able to execute this sort of plan effectively. For example, didn’t we hunt down Escobar in the early 90s, only to find subsequent generations more violent? What was it about us that kept us from being effective at pulling Colombia out of the death spin?

  6. @Ed Whitney: As the article says, “destruction” means neither arrest and incarceration nor military attack, but sufficient enforcement pressure – especially on their U.S. markets – to put them out of business. Think of it as the law enforcement version of economic sanctions on genocidal regimes.

Comments are closed.