Feature Articles

July 2014
Narcotraffickers South Of The Border

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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�The Mexican commandoes crashed through the flimsy wooden door, shouting �marines.� Guzman, the drug kingpin, scrambled out of his bed in his underwear, grabbed an assault rifle, and darted into a small bathroom. �Don�t kill him!� Coronel pleaded, �He�s the father of my children.� The Chapo shouted, �OK,OK,Ok!� He extended his empty hands through the bedroom door way. �I can�t believe you got me.� Later on the plane, Guzman told the marines that he had killed between two and three thousand people�ones he murdered personally and ones he authorized�a gross underestimate.�

�An estimated sixty-two percent of the Mexican economy is tied up with drug money.�

�There is a saying among Mexican narcos that it is better to live one good year than ten bad ones.�

     At the end of 2006, the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, announced with a flourish that the nation was at war with the drug peddlers, who had already infiltrated many parts of Mexico. This declaration of war on traffickers was more promise than reality. Security policies had been barely established; the bureaucracy needed was non-existent. In brief, any sort of implementation was risible at best. Mere posturing does not lead to action. There were no government security policies; if so, who was there to implement them? Mexico, many have said, had a history of corruption, neglect, and extreme poverty. It was a country without a nation. Banditry has been a deeply ingrained part of Mexican culture.

�The government�s war has the disadvantage of being broken up into countless fragments. The drug cartels operate with clear channels of command. Distinct units fight at flashpoints all over the country. The accumulation of small conflicts is unmanageable for the government.�

     The product of the announcement, as one journalist noted, was to make the problem critical by turning vast areas of the country into rebellious territories over which the government could no longer have influence. It stimulated the narco-traffickers to professionalize their operations. The racketeering counterforce to the authorities had both the know-how and the funds.

�Where once the narcos were seen as underground business men and mythical bandits, now they were seen as enemies of the state.�

     Socio-economic problems, the image of a nation state, a sense of identity that extended beyond kin and the native village, a sense of unity and national purpose�all of these have always been problematic. Bribery was universal; segments of the government were at odds. The most successful economic activity was drug pushing, which generated a steady flow of cash and recruits. Those men trained by the United States in intelligence gathering and armed intervention were easily turned by the lure of a big payday. The same scenario included those of the military.

�The drug war is not simply a police problem but a massive firestorm that has taken most of the country�s inhabitants by surprise and directly affects their day-to-day lives. Thousands have been collateral damage.�

     The drug cartels are structured along marshal lines: strict discipline, with no shortage of young recruits eager to hold the population in check through inhumane methods. Dead bodies send the appropriate messages. The cartels succeeded in building states within the state, policing their fiefdoms through the mechanisms of vengeance and payoffs.

     Talkative persons, uncooperative journalists who pry too deeply, and others, who get in the way, are summarily brought to cartel justice. The �Columbian necktie� is a favorite procedure where the victim is tortured and then killed by slicing the neck and pulling the tongue through the gaping wound, the kind of timeworn warning to others, displayed for all to witness.

     The murder rate has soared from a sustainable 8867 killings in 2007 (not high for a country of 120 million) to 14,006 in 2008 and by 2013 to 27,213. As of that year, an estimated sixty to one-hundred thousand victims had been killed by the narco squads. Included in the statistics, since 2000, are eighty journalists, with 18 missing.

     How to explain this Mexican tragedy? Various theories had been set forth. The American CIA meddling has resulted in cartel growth in exchange of anti-Sandinista paramilitary groups in the Iran Contra period; Mexican drug wars as part of a global insurgency of capitalists� reluctance to abide by nation-state rules. Also, one that goes back in Mexican history, namely that Mexico has always been a failed state: �A lifetime of humiliations, betrayals and defeats is embedded in the Mexican psyche.� With the arrival of democracy: �The central government stopped being a father-figure, and without a strong central authority to hold the narcos in check, the cartels started running wild.� And, one could add, the insatiable appetite for the steady fix, north of the border. Whatever analysis one chooses, any solution remains in doubt.

SOURCES CONSULTED: The Hunt for El Chapo by Patrick Ridden Keefe, THE NEW YORKER, May 5, 2014. Narco-Land by Anabel Hernandez, 2013. Midnight in Mexico by Alfred Corchado, 2013. Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano, 2013.

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