Update Mexico: “The Long Arm of the Lawless”

As Martin van Creveld said over a decade ago, Mexico might turn out to be the greatest threat to America’s sovereignty that we have even encountered.  See the links at the end for more information.

In 2005 the cartels began killing police chiefs (example here), showing that the cartels were growing beyond the government’s control.  In 2007 they began killing Army officers.  Now they torture and kill generals, and the violence has crossed the border into America. 

The global depression will make things worse, esp later this year when their forward sales of oil expire — and they must live on declining production of $40 oil.  However bad things are in Mexico, the future looks far more grim.

The Long Arm of the Lawless“, Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 25 February 2009 — Reprinted in full with permission.  Some of these links go to subscription-only Stratfor articles.

Last week we discussed the impact that crime, and specifically kidnapping, has been having on Mexican citizens and foreigners visiting or living in Mexico. We pointed out that there is almost no area of Mexico immune from the crime and violence. As if on cue, on the night of Feb. 21 a group of heavily armed men threw two grenades at a police building in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, wounding at least five people. Zihuatanejo is a normally quiet beach resort just north of Acapulco; the attack has caused the town’s entire police force to go on strike. (Police strikes, or threats of strikes, are not uncommon in Mexico.)

Mexican police have regularly been targeted by drug cartels, with police officials even having been forced to seek safety in the United States, but such incidents have occurred most frequently in areas of high cartel activity like Veracruz state or Palomas. The Zihuatanejo incident is proof of the pervasiveness of violence in Mexico, and demonstrates the impact that such violence quickly can have on an area generally considered safe.

Significantly, the impact of violent Mexican criminals stretches far beyond Mexico itself. In recent weeks, Mexican criminals have been involved in killings in Argentina, Peru and Guatemala, and Mexican criminals have been arrested as far away as Italy and Spain. Their impact — and the extreme violence they embrace — is therefore not limited to Mexico or even just to Latin America. For some years now, STRATFOR has discussed the threat that Mexican cartel violence could spread to the United States, and we have chronicled the spread of such violence to the U.S.-Mexican border and beyond.

Traditionally, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations had focused largely on the transfer of narcotics through Mexico. Once the South American cartels encountered serious problems bringing narcotics directly into the United States, they began to focus more on transporting the narcotics to Mexico. From that point, the Mexican cartels transported them north and then handed them off to U.S. street gangs and other organizations, which handled much of the narcotics distribution inside the United States. In recent years, however, these Mexican groups have grown in power and have begun to take greater control of the entire narcotics-trafficking supply chain.

With greater control comes greater profitability as the percentages demanded by middlemen are cut out. The Mexican cartels have worked to have a greater presence in Central and South America, and now import from South America into Mexico an increasing percentage of the products they sell. They are also diversifying their routes and have gone global; they now even traffic their wares to Europe. At the same time, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations also have increased their distribution operations inside the United States to expand their profits even further. As these Mexican organizations continue to spread beyond the border areas, their profits and power will extend even further — and they will bring their culture of violence to new areas.

Burned in Phoenix

The spillover of violence from Mexico began some time ago in border towns like Laredo and El Paso in Texas, where merchants and wealthy families face extortion and kidnapping threats from Mexican gangs, and where drug dealers who refuse to pay “taxes” to Mexican cartel bosses are gunned down. But now, the threat posed by Mexican criminals is beginning to spread north from the U.S.-Mexican border. One location that has felt this expanding threat most acutely is Phoenix, some 185 miles north of the border. Some sensational cases have highlighted the increased threat in Phoenix, such as a June 2008 armed assault in which a group of heavily armed cartel gunmen dressed like a Phoenix Police Department tactical team fired more than 100 rounds into a residence during the targeted killing of a Jamaican drug dealer who had double-crossed a Mexican cartel. We have also observed cartel-related violence in places like Dallas and Austin, Texas. But Phoenix has been the hardest hit.

Narcotics smuggling and drug-related assassinations are not the only thing the Mexican criminals have brought to Phoenix. Other criminal gangs have been heavily involved in human smuggling, arms smuggling, money laundering and other crimes. Due to the confluence of these Mexican criminal gangs, Phoenix has now become the kidnapping-for-ransom capital of the United States. According to a Phoenix Police Department source, the department received 368 kidnapping reports last year. As we discussed last week, kidnapping is a highly underreported crime in places such as Mexico, making it very difficult to measure accurately. Based upon experience with kidnapping statistics in other parts of the world — specifically Latin America — it would not be unreasonable to assume that there were at least as many unreported kidnappings in Phoenix as there are reported kidnappings.


At present, the kidnapping environment in the United States is very different from that of Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. In those countries, kidnapping runs rampant and has become a well-developed industry with a substantial established infrastructure. Police corruption and incompetence ensures that kidnappers are rarely caught or successfully prosecuted.

A variety of motives can lie behind kidnappings. In the United States, crime statistics demonstrate that motives such as sexual exploitation, custody disputes and short-term kidnapping for robbery have far surpassed the number of reported kidnappings conducted for ransom. In places like Mexico, kidnapping for ransom is much more common.

The FBI handles kidnapping investigations in the United States. It has developed highly sophisticated teams of agents and resources to devote to investigating this type of crime. Local police departments are also far more proficient and professional in the United States than in Mexico. Because of the advanced capabilities of law enforcement in the United States, the overwhelming majority of criminals involved in kidnapping-for-ransom cases reported to police — between 95 percent and 98 percent — are caught and convicted. There are also stiff federal penalties for kidnapping. Because of this, kidnapping for ransom has become a relatively rare crime in the United States.

Most kidnapping for ransom that does happen in the United States occurs within immigrant communities. In these cases, the perpetrators and victims belong to the same immigrant group (e.g., Chinese Triad gangs kidnapping the families of Chinese businesspeople, or Haitian criminals kidnapping Haitian immigrants) — which is what is happening in Phoenix. The vast majority of the 368 known kidnapping victims in Phoenix are Mexican and Central American immigrants who are being victimized by Mexican or Mexican-American criminals.

The problem in Phoenix involves two main types of kidnapping. One is the abduction of drug dealers or their children, the other is the abduction of illegal aliens.

Kidnapping in Phoenix

Drug-related kidnappings often are not strict kidnappings for ransom per se. Instead, they are intended to force the drug dealer to repay a debt to the drug trafficking organization that ordered the kidnapping.

Nondrug-related kidnappings are very different from traditional kidnappings in Mexico or the United States, in which a high-value target is abducted and held for a large ransom. Instead, some of the gangs operating in Phoenix are basing their business model on volume, and are willing to hold a large number of victims for a much smaller individual pay out. Reports have emerged of kidnapping gangs in Phoenix carjacking entire vans full of illegal immigrants away from the coyote smuggling them into the United States. The kidnappers then transport the illegal immigrants to a safe house, where they are held captive in squalid conditions — and often tortured or sexually assaulted with a family member listening in on the phone — to coerce the victims’ family members in the United States or Mexico to pay the ransom for their release. There are also reports of the gangs picking up vehicles full of victims at day labor sites and then transporting them to the kidnapping safe house rather than to the purported work site.

Drug-related kidnappings are less frequent than the nondrug-related abduction of illegal immigrants, but in both types of abductions, the victims are not likely to seek police assistance due to their immigration status or their involvement in illegal activity. This strongly suggests the kidnapping problem greatly exceeds the number of cases reported to police.

Implications for the United States

The kidnapping gangs in Phoenix that target illegal immigrants have found their chosen crime to be lucrative and relatively risk-free. If the flow of illegal immigrants had continued at high levels, there is very little doubt the kidnappers’ operations would have continued as they have for the past few years. The current economic downturn, however, means the flow of illegal immigrants has begun to slow — and by some accounts has even begun to reverse. (Reports suggest many Mexicans are returning home after being unable to find jobs in the United States.)

This reduction in the pool of targets means that we might be fast approaching a point where these groups, which have become accustomed to kidnapping as a source of easy money — and their primary source of income — might be forced to change their method of operating to make a living. While some might pursue other types of criminal activity, some might well decide to diversify their pool of victims. Watching for this shift in targeting is of critical importance. Were some of these gangs to begin targeting U.S. citizens rather than just criminals or illegal immigrants, a tremendous panic would ensue, along with demands to catch the perpetrators.

Such a shift would bring a huge amount of law enforcement pressure onto the kidnapping gangs, to include the FBI. While the FBI is fairly hard-pressed for resources given its heavy counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence and white-collar crime caseload, it almost certainly would be able to reassign the resources needed to respond to such kidnappings in the face of publicity and a public outcry. Such a law enforcement effort could neutralize these gangs fairly quickly, but probably not quickly enough to prevent any victims from being abducted or harmed.

Since criminal groups are not comprised of fools alone, at least some of these groups will realize that targeting soccer moms will bring an avalanche of law enforcement attention upon them. Therefore, it is very likely that if kidnapping targets become harder to find in Phoenix — or if the law enforcement environment becomes too hostile due to the growing realization of this problem — then the groups may shift geography rather than targeting criteria. In such a scenario, professional kidnapping gangs from Phoenix might migrate to other locations with large communities of Latin American illegal immigrants to victimize. Some of these locations could be relatively close to the Mexican border like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego or Los Angeles, though they could also include locations farther inland like Chicago, Atlanta, New York, or even the communities around meat and poultry packing plants in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. Such a migration of ethnic criminals would not be unprecedented: Chinese Triad groups from New York for some time have traveled elsewhere on the East Coast, like Atlanta, to engage in extortion and kidnapping against Chinese businessmen there.

The issue of Mexican drug-traffic organizations kidnapping in the United States merits careful attention, especially since criminal gangs in other areas of the country could start imitating the tactics of the Phoenix gangs.


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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Other reports about Mexico

  1. Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 13 May 2008
  2. Mexico: Examining Cartel War Violence Through a Protective Intelligence Lens“, Stratfor, 14 May 2008
  3. Crime and Punishment in Mexico: The big picture beyond drug cartel violence“, posted at Grits for Breakfast, 18 May 2008
  4. After Action Report – Vistit Mexico“, General Barry R McCaffrey USA (Ret), 29 December 2008
  5. Mexico Security Memo – Year-end Wrap-up“, Stratfor, 5 January 2008 — Subscription only. 

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts about Mexcio:

  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. Stratfor: the Mexican cartels stike at Phoenix, AZ, 6 July 2008
  4. “Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy”, 24 July 2008
  5. Stratfor reports on Mexico, news ignored by our mainstream media, 19 August 2008
  6. Nonsense from StrategyPage: Iraq is safer than Mexico, 17 December 2008
  7. New reports about Mexico, the failing state on our border, 9 January 2009

27 thoughts on “Update Mexico: “The Long Arm of the Lawless””

  1. The mess in Mexico is, in large measure, a consequence of the failed “war against drugs” policy of the US. The law enforcement business in the US has a vested interest in keeping the policy as is. Maybe, just maybe, this threat from Mexico will start the US to reexamine its prohibition laws. There is a precedent for this as we all know.

  2. The Mexican drug cartels crossed a particularly dangerous threshold recently when they announced they would murder a police officer every 48 hours unless the police chief of Ciudad Juarez stepped down — and they did. And then he did. See “Mexico sending extra troops to violent border city“, AP, 25 February 2009 — Excerpt:

    Mexico will deploy extra troops and federal police to this violent city across the border from Texas where the police chief recently bowed to crime gang demands that he resign, the government said Wednesday. Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez-Mont did not say how many more soldiers and police would be sent to Ciudad Juarez but promised that the reinforcements “would be visible to the residents.”

    Gomez-Mont said the agents would be deployed in the coming weeks. His comments came after a meeting with officials in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.3 million inhabitants across the border from El Paso that has been battered by a wave of drug cartel-related violence.

    More than 2,000 soldiers and 425 federal police are already operating in Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located. The deployment is part of a nationwide crackdown on drug cartels that has grown to include more than 45,000 troops since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006.

    Drug violence has surged since the government launched the offensive, claiming 6,000 lives in 2008. Some 1,600 of those killings were in Ciudad Juarez.

    … Last week, Ciudad Juarez police chief Roberto Orduna resigned after crime gangs threatened to kill at least one of his officers every 48 hours if he stayed on the job. Two days later, gunmen opened fire on a convoy carrying Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza, killing one of his bodyguards.

    Signs have appeared in Ciudad Juarez applauding Orduna’s resignation and threatening to behead the mayor and his family.

    It would appear that the drug cartels in Mexico now have the authority to dictate who will serve as the chief of police in a given Mexican state. That represents something altogether new in Mexican society.

    Meanwhile, an hilariously contradictory news article plays “dueling lunacy” with the aforementioned headline on the front pages today. Get a load of this gem: ARRESTS `CRUSHING BLOW’ TO MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS, U.S. OFFICIALS SAY, CNN, 25 February 2009.

    If the blow is so crushing, why did the cartels succeed in forcing the police chief of Ciudad Juarez to resign? Sounds like the cartels now control who polices that city, and how.

    The Mexican government has of course duly dispatched the usual army units to Ciudad Juarez, none of which can erase the salient fact that the drug cartels now appear to have attained control over policing in Mexico. As Lind and van Creveld have pointed out, in 4GW, loss of legitimacy never gets assuaged by an influx of troops. On the contrary: more troops equal more targets, thus decreasing the government’s legitimacy even further when it proves unable to protect them.

    Methinks this bodes ill for Mexico, and ushers in an alarming new phase in the collapse of the Mexican state.

  3. Maybe, just maybe, this threat from Mexico will start the US to reexamine its prohibition laws.

    Unfortunately, the anti-drug witch hunt continues:

    Since the plant was first banned in Delaware in 2004, a handful of states each year have made efforts to prohibit the increasingly popular psychedelic. This year, the trickle is turning into a tide despite a rising chorus of opposition from scientists, researchers, public health experts, and people who believe they should be able to control their own consciousness.

    1. More info for my above post, from the same source:

      After more than five years of examination, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has yet to find that salvia divinorum is dangerous or addictive enough to merit placement as a scheduled drug under the Controlled Substances Act, but that isn’t stopping legislators across the land from moving to criminalize it or restrict its sales despite the lack of any real evidence that it does anything more than take its users on a psychedelic journey of a no more than a few minutes duration.

      Since the plant was first banned in Delaware in 2004, a handful of states each year have made efforts to prohibit the increasingly popular psychedelic. This year, the trickle is turning into a tide despite a rising chorus of opposition from scientists, researchers, public health experts, and people who believe they should be able to control their own consciousness

  4. While the Stratfor article brings up a valid point about the danger of a failed state adjacent to the US, I feel its focus on kidnapping in the US is a poor choice to highlight the immediate dangers.

    Kidnapping can essentially only occur in lawless situations. It cannot fourish if the kidnap victim’s family has resources and society as a whole frowns on the activity and will come to the assistance of the victims (which only makes sense because you might be the next victim). This is why the article admits that the vast bulk of the kidnappings occur in illegal situations (failure to pay off drug debts and smuggling people across the border).

    Paying “taxes” to gangs isn’t going to do well in the US in the immediate future either. These so-called “taxes” are nothing more than extortion but they have the same effect as taxation because they reduce the value of the tax base. Let’s face it, the federal, state, and local governments don’t need competition for your tax dollar and they are going to do something immediately and effectively if they detect that it is happening.

    The far bigger problems of a failed state right next door are a vast increase of immigration from the failed state (especially because the bulk of the immigrants are involuntary and aren’t going to be as willing to learn the local language and customs as our earlier crop of job-related illegal immigrants), murder (from gangs pursuing debts and vendettas), and expanding the size of the off-the-books economy through illegal or undocumented trade of goods and services.

    The last item is the least immediately harmful of the three but has the greatest long-term effect. It’s one thing when the government chooses not to expand the tax on cigarettes for example. Its quite another when legal citizens can choose to save a considerable amount of money by purchasing goods from tax-free vendors. This gives the underground economy a serious competitive edge and the above-ground economy will be worn away to the point of collapse if it continues but the legal citizens have a financial reason to not assist the state in prosecuting the people involved.

    If the situation goes on long enough without being addressed, the US border region will become lawless and the cycle will repeat further into the US. What I’m describing is a very slow process but I consider it to be a very real danger.

    P.S. – Sorry about exceeding the 250 word limit but I think this topic deserves considerable discussion.

  5. Large communities of illegal aliens already exist north of the border, and they are a law unto themselves. The US southwest is changing inexorably (but perhaps not irreversibly) into a no go zone for the US federal, state, and local law enforcement. In the sanctuary cities and states there is no citizen-vetting for social services. These lawless communities will survive through any economic hardship in these areas of the US, courtesy of you the taxpayer.

    Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a much reviled law enforcement officer for Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio did not create the conditions of the county, rather the conditions created Arpaio. In times of lawlessness, such men are tumbled in the vortex and either become criminals themselves, fight crime, or both. People who criticize rough tactics against crime from afar might try living under the rough regime of the criminals themselves, for perspective.

    President Obama does not have the experience to lead any type of fight against encroaching lawlessness. All he can do is to let slip the rough, crude dogs of crime war in his kennel. What he is likely to do is to muzzle them instead.

    These gangs exist above and beyond the drug war. If the US legalized marijuana, the drug gangs do well selling cocaine and heroin. If the US legalized cocaine and heroin the gangs would move to something else.

    FM reply: First, we know little about Obama. So these confident forecasts of what he will or will not do look like nothing but wild guesses. A President needs no experience fighting crime to order legislative or executive action. No person has expert knowledge for more than a sliver of the things a President must deal with; that’s why he has experts on call.

    Also, see the Wikipedia entry on Sheriff Arpaio for more information about this colorful and contraversial man.

  6. @6: the organized crime that flourished during the Prohibition era didn’t “move on to something else” once the Volstead Act was repealed; it collapsed. You can’t just sidestep the dilemma, and say that if drugs were legalized, the gangs would find something else. It’s the black market that gives these groups power; take away the black market, and you go a long way towards rendering them impotent.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Are you saying that after prohibition the strength of organized crime dropped to the levels before the Volstead Act? I have no expert knowledge in this field, but that does not seem correct from what little I’ve seen. Rather their strength dropped from the prohibition peak, but remained far above pre-prohibition levels.

  7. According to Hobbes, citizens grant the state the exclusive right to the use of violence in order to protect them from external enemies and from aggression against each other. This monopoly on the use of violence becomes in turn the strongest pillar of the state’s authority, unconsciously producing obediance in the citizens whether the violence is overt or not.

    In a mega-state like the US, the arsenal of violence is vastly disproportional to the possibilities of its use, and so its justification requires constant updating, in the form of ever more threatening, elusive external enemies. What could be more convenient than a criminal conspiracy right next door?

    The Depression is going to bring many forms of social tension and violence. These will have to be dealt with by force. Citizens may not feel comfortable with Blackwater units roaming their streets, or hungry pensioners lined up outside a supermarket being carted off to jail. Such things will be much more palatable if the original threat is a shadowy dark-skinned underworld waiting to kidnap your child on the way to school!
    Fabius Maximus replies: As I said in Everything written about the economic crisis overlooks its true nature, maintaining social cohesion will be a key to getting thru this downturn, if it is as bad as I fear. Let’s hope you fears prove excessive.

  8. Until you take the profit from the drug market violence will continue to escalate. It took a lot of death and despair for the US to repeal the prohibition act. Once repealed the gangsters moved into the next illegal trade. The drug laws in this country continue to empower the drug cartel through out the world. We would much better off to use our resources for treatment, than to continue to throw money into archaic pursuit of drug runners. If only one drug was made legal, marijuana, it would reduce the prison population in half, reduce the court loads by nearly 40% and reduce time spent by police departments on drug related crimes by nearly 60%.
    Then by taxing it and following the same guidelines that we apply to alcohol, we could increase revenue to the government for more worthy law enforcement goals. We would relive prison over population and make more room for the violent offenders that are released every day to make room for the new arrivals.
    You want to do something about the border violence? Take out the money and see what happens.

  9. Re FM’s response to my comment #8: clarification well-taken. “Collapsed” is too strong a word; my point is simply that I disagree with any statement on faith that legalization will just simply transfer criminal activities elsewhere. By ceding large sections of the “real” economy to the black market, nations are complicit in their own hollowing out. Where the correct balance is remains to be seen.

  10. //I disagree with any statement on faith that legalization will just simply transfer criminal activities elsewhere//

    I want to second this assertion. The drug trade is nothing if not a lesson in capitalism (market forces). Demand will create supply – legal or otherwise. My hope is that Obama will undertake a serious dialog on the legalization of drugs. I have *never* read of any other workable solution – short of creating a totalitarian state.

  11. Calm yourselves, I have little doubt that the new, enlightened, administration in Washington will soon expose the real cause of the disorder to the South: the easy availability of firearms in the United States. Media reports—featuring the usual photogenic piles of “captured assault weapons”—of how the Mexican gangs are armed by weapons purchased in the U.S. are already appearing with increasing frequency. Obviously, the solution is for the United States to fall in line with Mexico’s strict gun laws. When our citizens are as helpless as those of Mexico, then everything will be good.

  12. Criminals tend not to re-train for law abiding work, once acclimated to criminal activity. They tend to specialize, but if their preferred crime is taken away they find another criminal trade. Have you ever tried to see life from a crimnal’s perspective? I thought not.

    The best criminals often discover politics, the ultimate organized crime. We may be gathering a collection of such in high places as we comment together here.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any references for these assertions?

  13. @13: If we DON’T legalize, that means that the black market will be becoming a (much) more dynamic economy than the tanking-rest-of-the-market. The recession is already increasing crime by driving people to it; surely it’s worth at least considering an initiative that could move things in the other direction?

    I also think at this point that the scale of the economic/geopolitical catastrophe we’re now in should cause us to seriously reexamine every assumption we’ve made as a society. Drugs being illegal is definitely one such assumption, as is the assumption that the government should have a right to tell me what I can put in my body.

  14. If violence in the border region continues to escalate, and spills over further into U.S. territory, it may very soon pose a dilemma for President Obama. Historically, governors rely upon Nation Guard forces as a backstop for their law enforcement agencies, i.e. during civil unrest or national disasters, but Guard forces are already high operational tempo due to overseas duties. How will the shortfall be made good? Are there enough sworn law enforcement personnel in the SW border region to handle dramatically increased levels of violence by heavily-armed narcotics gangs? If open civil war breaks out in the northern states of Mexico, are we prepared to handle the possible flood of humanitarian refugees northward? Should U.N. aid be accepted in such an eventuality?

    If the expedition against Pancho Villa nearly a century ago, under General John “Blackjack” Pershing is any precident, it will not take too many incidents against American citizens to provoke calls for intervention by U.S. forces in Mexico. The deleterious consequences of such an operation can be imagined. Can you say 4GW??

    Lastly, if things go badly in a hurry along the southern border, and sufficient manpower isn’t available to handle the situation, Obama will be faced with some tough choices about his policy objectives, in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention such politically-charged topics as the draft, recruiting and retention, end-strength levels and the like.

    As usual, Martin Van Creveld and William Lind are ahead of the game. Our leaders continue to ignore the risks of 4GW at their peril.

  15. “As Martin van Creveld said over a decade ago, Mexico might turn out to be the greatest threat to America’s soverignty that we have even encountered.”

    Mexico is already a threat to America’s sovereignty, and was well before the violence on the border started to worsen. As far back as two decades ago, relatives of mine who work in healthcare in Tucson, Arizona told me of the crushing burden illegals put on emergency medical care, and the local healthcare system generally. Another friend, a correcions officer, has told me of the percentage of Mexican illegals behind bars in Tucson area prisons. Still another, a teacher, has mentioned the effects of uncontrolled immigration on the public school system. These stories are anectdotal, but such informal information channels provide ground-level evidence of the problem well before it hits the local papers or the news. Victor David Hanson documented the effects of these phenomena on California in his book “Mexifornia,” some years ago. This has been building for many years now, and is not something that sprang up overnight. Illegals are far from the only reason California now has the lowest bind rating of any state, but neither are they a minor one.

    Any predictions as to the second- and third-order effects of the violence in Mexico upon these already strained city and state economies?

  16. A few comments not rationally tied together as I believe anyone not involved in executing or preventing drug trafficking has no sound concept of whats going on with these events, and maybe even they don’t know or don’t care.
    -I heard a Mexican native comment the other day that this type and level of violence in support of the drug trade is not new to rural Mexico. What is new is its concentration in urban areas and its carelessness for publicity.
    -I heard an expert say the other day that this situation is in some part a result of our “success” in the war on drugs in Columbia. We have successfully chased the opportunities in the trafficking business up the supply chain and hence closer to our borders. Perhaps the next level of success is to chase those opportunities right into our cities.
    -Its notable that the apparent level of violence has increased inversely with the decline of our economy:
    -Declining economic conditions lead to increases in substance use and,
    -Increased incentives to traffic in weapons
    -Increased immigration, emmigration, migration
    -Decreased alternatives to trafficking
    -Increased incentives to overlook trafficking
    -Decreased cash transfers to Mexico from the U.S., which last I heard accounted for approx. 1/3 of personal income in Mexico
    -The fencing of the border concentrates trafficking routes therefore enabling the traditional role of “tolls” in trafficking, while enabling the belief of Amaericans that they are safer because of it.
    I’ll stop here out of respect for the FM sites limits.

  17. I think some of this can be traced to the decimation of Colombia’s cartels. Mexico’s have stepped into the power vacuum.

  18. While the Mexican situation waxes, a new problem is growing in West Africa: “The West Africa Connection: how drug cartels found new routes“, Times, 28 February 2009 — Excerpt:

    Guinea, where even the First Family has been involved in the drug trade, is not an isolated case. Drug cartels from South America have moved into West Africa, establishing themselves all over the region and opening up a new route for transporting cocaine from the plantations of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia to the consumers of Europe, particularly Britain and Spain.

    Five years ago the amount of cocaine shipped to Europe via West Africa was negligible. Today 50 tonnes a year worth £1.4 billion pass through the region. Interpol estimates as much as two thirds of the cocaine sold in Europe this year will reach the Continent via West Africa.

  19. Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the credit crunch is empowering Italy’s mafia and other organized crime rings:

    As banks stop lending amid the global financial crisis, the likes of Mauro are increasingly becoming the face of Italian finance. The Mafia and its loan sharks, nearly everyone agrees, smell blood in the troubled waters.

    “It’s a fantastic time for the Mafia. They have the cash,” said Antonio Roccuzzo, the author of several books on organized crime. “The Mafia has enormous liquidity. It may be the only Italian ‘company’ without any cash problem.”

    At a time when businesses most need loans as they struggle with falling sales, rising debt and impending bankruptcy, banks have tightened their lending to them.

    Italian banks, which for years had been widely criticized for lending sparingly to small and medium-size businesses, now have “absolutely closed the purse strings,” said Gian Maria Fara, the president of Eurispes, a private research institute.

    That is great news for loan sharks. Confesercenti, the national shopkeepers association, estimates that 180,000 businesses recently have turned to them in desperation. Although some shady lenders are freelancers turning profits on others’ hard luck, very often the neighborhood tough offering fat rolls of cash is connected to the Mafia, the group said.

    “Office workers, middle-class people, owners of fruit stands, flower stalls are all becoming their victims. . . . We have never seen this happen,” said Lino Busa, a top Confesercenti official. “It is as common as it is hidden.”

    Many experts say organized crime is already the biggest business in Italy. Now, Fara said, the untaxed underground economy is growing even larger. “Certainly I am worried,” he said. “The banking system doesn’t work, and the private one that is operating is often managed by organized crime.”

    The consequences for Italy and its 58 million people are huge, Fara said: “Stronger organized crime means a weaker state.”

    Nino Miceli, an adviser to Confesercenti, said the Mafia’s goal is to take over the struggling businesses. When the loans, typically at interest rates in triple digits, are not repaid, the threats of violence begin, and restaurants, grocery stores and bars become the property of criminal gangs.

    “As we sit here in this cafe,” he said over an espresso near the Colosseum, “do we really know who owns it?”

  20. There is a great difference between organized crime and racketeering, the former having connections with political power. John Gotti was said to be a leader of O.C. By then the mafia connections with NY politics had been severed, making it “safe” to do him in and create wonderful amusements for us all. While it is true that our drug law, our wealth and desire for drugs created great opportunities for drug gangs, “cartels” in Mexico and other countries, south and north, but there is something else going on in Mexico. I know little about Mexican politics but it cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that the sitting President won a strongly contested election vs. the Mayor of Mexico City who refused for some time accept the legitimacy of the result. Then he fades from “our”news and Mexico, which has a long struggle with serious crime and corruption, is confronted with assaults on all levels of federal authority. Am I missing something or is there something other than America here? Obviously there is. Our responsibility is to defend our borders resolutely, clean up the shameful disgraceful human rights mess we created by encouraging millions to come here to be our coolies. If O. cannot lead this fix, he is worthless.

  21. Despite all of Mexico’s internal problems along with America’s major economic problems are there still people seriously calling for the USA to legalize the approx. 25% of Mexico’s population which is currently residing illegally within U.S. borders and drawing high levels of welfare?
    Fabius Maximus replies: The population of Mexico is aprox 110 million. If 25% lives in the US, that’s 37 million people out of the US population of 305 million — 12%. That’s a big number.

    The US Census’ 2006 American Community Survey gives the population of “Hispanic or Latino” in the USA as over 44 million, 14.8% of the total (source).

  22. As a follow thru to my prior post about West Africa, note this: “President of Guinea-Bissau Said to Be Killed by Soldiers“, New York Times, 2 March 2009 — Excerpt:

    “Army troops shot dead the president of the tiny west African country of Guinea-Bissau early Monday, following a bomb attack that killed the army chief of staff, according to diplomats in the region. …. Guinea-Bissau is a former Portuguese colony flanked by Senegal and Guinea. It is known as a transit point for South American cocaine shipments bound for Europe. Two other countries bear similar names; all three have been racked by instability in recent months.”

  23. While I agree with many commentators here that our prohibition laws are sometimes silly, I think we need to step back from that political argument and put Mexico’s problems under the heading of ‘general governance.’ The reason why drug use and the attendant violence is so pervasive is not because of prohibition but weak governance. Governments all over the world prohibit a wide variety of things and can enforce them successfully. For example, slavery is widely outlawed and prohibition generally enforced, though there is still a strong demand for cheap, unempowered labor and some notable exceptions (the sex trade in the US, for example). Despite these exceptions, I would posit that these law enforcement efforts are largely successful, and this relies upon culture being in line with the enforcement priorities of the government (though not always).

    Mexico has been characterized by decades (if not centuries) of weak governance, which allows political and economic space for criminal activities to flourish. The fact that the PRI was (and is) so corrupt only magnified the problem. So when the NAP comes to power with an agenda to end organized crime, they are now confronted not only with weak enforcement institutions but high levels of infiltration that further hampers the ability of the government to respond to lawlessness. These problems, more so than the scheduling of narcotics, are responsible for the violence. Drug running merely exposed the flaws, it is not responsible for them. Legalizing it won’t end the trade in heroine, cocaine, or human trafficking. Addressing those problems might only force cartels to export cheap and counterfeit medicines, goods or to smuggle natural resources for gains. Again, not a vote of support for prohibition, but pointing out that as long as Mexico cannot enforce its own laws there will always be a risk of a turf war turning terribly and publicly violent.

  24. Also, it occurs to me that it is worth parroting the official (and somewhat misleading) statement that amplified violence signals that the authorities are winning. They aren’t winning, but it shows that the cartels fear authority and enforcement. The hyperviolence we see now is more about defeating the political will of Calderon (who has only 6 years to fight) than about winning trafficking routes (which could just as easily be won in a covert war). The cartels by their very nature (fragmented and prone to infighting, locked in a costly civil war, and opposed by law enforcement to varying degrees internationally) are in an unsustainable position versus the Mexican government. This doesn’t mean Mexico can end crime, but they are in the position to achieve a Colombia solution, with enough political will. Colombia is not a great example of how to run a country, but it’s probably Mexico’s best role model for taking back the streets. From the point of this hypothetical victory, it would then be up to Mexico to address the fundamental issues that push people towards crime (lack of opportunity in the formal economy, etc.).

  25. So, who are the drug lords on the USA side that are buying all the drugs? If there are Mexican drug lords, you better believe that there are American drug lords who are making even more money.

    Who are they?

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