“Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy”

Another in a series describing the decline of the Mexican State, and what this means for America.

Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy“, Financial Times, 13 July 2008 — Excerpt:

The head of Mexico’s intelligence service has warned that the country’s democratic institutions, including the national Congress, are under threat from powerful drugs cartels.

In one of the frankest admissions yet from a leading authority of the scale of the problem confronting Mexico, Guillermo Valdés, head of Cisen, the government’s intelligence organisation, told the FinancialTimes and a small group of foreign media recently: “Drug traffickers have become the principal threat because they are trying to take over the power of the state.”

 Mr Valdés said the gangs, which have grown wealthy from the multibillion-dollar drugs trade, had co-opted many members of localpolice forces, the judiciary and government entities in their efforts to create local structures to protect their business.

Those efforts, he said, could now also be targeting federal institutions such as Congress itself. “Congress is not exempt . . . we do not rule out the possibility that drug money is involved in the campaigns [of some legislators],” said Mr Valdés.

This is a revelation of the blindingly obvious.  Large scale criminal activity always requires political support — whether in prohibition-era America, today’s drugged-out America (both legal and illegal drugs requiring payments to politicos in exchange for their support), or Mexico.

William Lind sums up the situation:

From the perspective of 4GW theory, it is beginning to look as if the drug traffickers/Hezbollah model may be more sophisticated and more successful than the al Qaeda model. Al Qaedaseemingly is on the ropes in Iraq, not because of the “surge” but because of its own blunders. To at least some extent those blunders proceed from its strategy, which faces the state with a life-or-death struggle. In contrast, all Hezbollah and the Mexican drug gangs demand is a deal with the state: we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone. The state’s real sovereignty bleeds away, but the structures remain, allowing the politicians to do what they want, i.e. continue to line their own pockets.

The key question for Mexico — of great importance to America — is the extent of the drug cartels’ ambition.  Will they be content to carve-out a large niche in Mexico (as the Yakuza have done in Mexico and organized crime in the US).  Or are hungry enough to go for more, leveraging their wealth and power into control of the Mexican state?  The answer will tell us much about the role of 4GW in 21st century history.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other articles about Mexico

  1. Is Mexico unraveling?  (28 April 2008) — summary of Stratfor’s warnings about Mexico.
  2. High Stakes South of the Border  (13 May 2008)
  3. Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?“, George Friedman, Stratfor (13 May 2008)
  4. Mexico: Examining Cartel War Violence Through a Protective Intelligence Lens“, Stratfor (14 May 2008)
  5. Crime and Punishment in Mexico: The big picture beyond drug cartel violence“, posted at Grits for Breakfast (18 May 2008)
  6. Stratfor: the Mexican cartels stike at Phoenix, AZ  (6 July 2008)

5 thoughts on ““Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy”

  1. Seems to me that what’s happening in Mexico represent a case of market capitalism more than guerrilla or 4GW. There’s so much money to be make in drug trafficking that the cartels simply buy position. Not much, if any, different from a military contractor or other large corporation.

    For me, the question is not so much “can democracy stand up to drug cartels?” as “can democracy stand up to big business?” Illegitimate businesses simply operate in a more rough and tumble manner than “legitimate” business. Money is the prime tool in both cases.

    Multinational corporations and multinational cartels have outgrown the state. They move in a global economy where the state finds it difficult, or impossible, to follow limited, as it is, by its territorial imperative.

  2. ‘For me, the question is not so much “can democracy stand up to drug cartels?” as “can democracy stand up to big business?” … Multinational corporations and multinational cartels have outgrown the state.’

    I fully agree that representative democracy gets corrupted by whoever has the deepest bribe-paying pocket.

    I wonder if multinational corps could exist if all national governments were totally hollowed-out. Would they be able to keep their internal power structures intact if 95% of the population were hopelessly poor and willing to kill for revenge?

    Suppose that the MNCs hollow out all the states and super-empowered individuals commit mass murder to spread chaos. Would the MNCs be able to ride it out? Probably. Suppose, on the other hand, that super-empowered individuals carried out targeted assassinations on the ultra-rich and ultra-connected decision-makers. Instead of Robespierre leading a mob, there would be thousands of Unabomber types hoping to kill just two or three important targets before their own inevitable demises. Would the MNCs survive?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This seems to be conflating legitimate multi-national corporations (MNC’s) and organized crime. The 1960’s belief that MNC’s would prove more powerful than the state was falsified by the rising in regulation during the 1970’s and 1980’s. What is the evidence that MNC’s are hollowing out the State — or that organized crime is a threat to any but the weakest states?

  3. In contrast, all Hezbollah and the Mexican drug gangs demand is a deal with the state: we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone.

    Taking that a step further, what if there was an unwritten rule between the U.S. and the cartels; we want regular drug arrests, regular seizures at the border, and alerts when people out of the ordinary ask to come into the country?

    Feasible? Or the workings of a tired mind?

  4. “What is the evidence that MNC’s are hollowing out the State — or that organized crime is a threat to any but the weakest states?”

    The issue, as I see it, is not the “hollowing out of the state” as much as it is the circumvention of the state.

    In some areas, Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, some of the Eastern European areas, and elsewhere, guerrillas and illegals find it advantageous to “hollow out the state.” One contemporary model.

    A second model, used by both multi-national corporations and illegals, is to simply shuffle around the state. To “go with the flow” and find shifting points of opportunity. The state, or better states, can’t keep up because they’re tied to particular territories. Corporations and associations simply pack up and move to wherever the laws, or lack thereof, are most beneficial at the moment. Their commitment is only to their well-being and growth.

    Enough global variability exists in legal structures to provide plenty of differential opportunities for those with no allegiance to any particular state.

    As a trivial example, one multi-national that I know shifted its European headquarters to Switzerland, where it was able, because of the nature of it products, to do almost no business, to take advantage of the tax regime there. In that way it made more money in Switzerland via reduced taxes than it made in any of its other European affiliates. It moved to Switzerland from Italy where it had, and continues to have, a long-term market dominance.

    Does such a move contribute to the “hollowing out” of Italy? I would suggest that it does. Is the economy of the US, and many other states, being hollowed out by similar moves? I would suggest that the answer is, yes.

    Drug cartels are making headway in Mexico at the moment. Are similar, or the same, groups making headway in US cities? Are urban gangs gaining headway in US cities. Is this a significant threat and a hollowing out of some key US cities? I think it is.

    Are we likely to see more of this kind of “legal” and “illegal” activity in the US, and around the world? I would say, without a doubt.

    In the overall scheme of things, is the world on the verge of collapse from such activities? I don’t think so. However, I think the challenges are real, and difficult.

    The state confronts a world with which it is ill prepared to deal.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Moving to another state in order to reduce taxation is a serious example of MNC power? Tax evasion is probably as old as civilization, and far more common. I do not see the similarity with the multi-national crime cartels, who seem to be a slightly higher level of threat than these MNC tax-evaders.

  5. “what if there was an unwritten rule between the U.S. and the cartels; we want regular drug arrests, regular seizures at the border, and alerts when people out of the ordinary ask to come into the country?

    Feasible?”

    According to undergraduate scuttlebutt (which is obviously not without error) Japan’s government has just such a cozy arrangement with the Yakuza. Then again, Japan has the advantage of homogeneous ethnicity.

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