Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cartel

The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars
By Sylvia Longmire
St. Martin's Press 246 pgs
978-0-230-11137-0
Submitted by St. Martin's Press
Rating: Yeah....Okay + 1/2

As an introduction to the subject of Mexico's drug wars, Cartel does a good job. It tells you who they are, what they do, and how they do it. The book reads like a textbook and the data is impeccable. It comes alive at times with anecdotes but otherwise is pretty dry. The author, Sylvia Longmire, was an analyst for drug trafficking and border violence for the state of California, which is why Cartel sounds as if it was written by an analyst. I don't recommend it for someone who has been following the news and National Geographic or lives in a border state (I live in Texas and know a few people who have relatives in Mexico) because you won't learn anything you don't already know. But for beginners it is ideal.

The book begins with a short history of cartels in Mexico from their beginnings to the present day, names such as El Chapo, Arellano, Fuentes, Sinaloa and Los Zetas. Once upon a time a man named Gallardo was the king of the cartel. Then he broke up his own monopoly and created Baby Bell cartels with his people in charge. Seems to me that someone should have foreseen that the result would be competition, and that competition would lead to fights over smuggling corridors in the future. There was a time when the Mexican cartels followed the same creed as the Mafia in this country (not that the Mafia is a good thing.) They negotiated, family members were strictly off limits, violence against law enforcement was to be avoided and necessary violence was kept in-house. Sort of an honor among thieves thing. No more. The cartels in Mexico have flipped their lids. They kidnap, torture, kill and extort. Their victims are everybody. To make matters even worse, law enforcement in Mexico, from the local beat cop to the attorney general, are notoriously corrupt, paid off by the cartels to at best look the other way, and at worst perform an execution or two themselves.

And now these atrocities happen here. Phoenix has had such an increase in kidnappings that they have formed a special task force. Arms trafficking is a growing problem especially in Arizona and Texas which have the most lenient state laws. Straw buyers visit gun shops and shows and purchase several firearms that they then deliver to the guy who will take the guns across the border. This is important because, believe it or not, guns are not easy to buy in Mexico. Serial number searches have proven the link between US firearms and deaths in Mexico and in this country.

The cartels are a business like any other, and as such look for efficiencies. One of these is using US public lands such as national parks to grow marijuana. This way they don't have to try and run the product across the border and risk detection. Two or three employees of the cartel will scout a location; set up camp, which can include generators, irrigation pipes, trip-wires, etc. They are armed and will live with and protect the crop from planting through harvest and processing. Our park rangers and law enforcement are up against much more dangerous criminals than have historically been encountered in our parks. So this is another way that the drug war is spreading north from our border.

Presidents of Mexico and their administrations have failed miserably in the past to crack down on the cartels. But in 2006 Felipe Calderon was elected president and he immediately announced a new policy. He would bring the fight to the cartels with the Mexican Army. He deployed thousands of soldiers, then he fired large numbers of state and local law enforcement for corruption. New officers are hired only after they pass a lie detector test. Judicial reforms have been implemented to make the process transparent to encourage in the public more faith in the system. President Calderon has also floated novel legislation to ease up on criminal penalties for users in the hopes that the drug prices would drop and become less lucrative for the cartels. The jury is still out.

The author puts forward a few strategies and tactics to lessen the flow of drugs into the United States and lessen the danger of the fallout of Mexico's drug wars. She says we need to learn to manage a war that we can't win. We should send more money to the right places, increase use of the National Guard, change some of our own drug and gun laws, etc. Those last two will realistically never be done.

President Calderon has about a billion strikes against him and those strikes are dollar bills. Consider what he's up against. Cartel chiefs have been listed in Forbes magazine's list of the world's top billionaires and Forbes world's most powerful people. Check out El Chapo Which brings up an interesting point. The truth is that the cartels incomes are larger than Mexico's defense budget. Larger. More money than the government. There's an event coming up in 2012 in Mexico which I cannot stress enough the significance. Mexico elects a new president next year. I'll be watching with great interest because cartel influence will make or break the next presidency.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for your honest assessment of my book! You're right; folks who are very knowledgeable about the drug war may not learn many new facts, but the book *is* aimed at those who have only heard a bit about it (and subsequently need a good introduction). I appreciate you taking the time to read it, and share your thoughts about it with your own blog readers!

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