The Potential Benefits of Mexican Drug Cartels
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The Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are a collection of criminal enterprises. Some, such as the Gulf cartel, have existed for decades; others, such as Los Gueros, are relative newcomers. Because of shifting alliances and breakaway cells, it is almost impossible to state definitively which cartels are in operation at any one time, and the extent of the crime, corruption, and instability associated with them has been difficult to quantify precisely. Without a clearer idea of what the DTO s are doing, the violence will only continue.
Drugs are just the tip of the iceberg. In the popular U. The sale of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and meth remains extremely profitable. The U. But the DTOs have diversified their business considerably, both to increase their profits and to exclude rivals from new sources of revenue. For example, they are dealing increasingly in pirated intellectual property, like counterfeit software, CDs, and DVDs. The cartels have built a multibillion-dollar business in human trafficking, including the shipment of both illegal immigrants and sex workers. Wal-Mart was one of the first retailers to run its own fleet of trucks, providing tailored shipping at a lower cost that in turn gave the company an edge over its competitors.
Drug-trafficking organizations are using the same philosophy to cut costs, better control distribution, and develop new sources of revenue. The one element of the U. The Sinaloa cartel, for example, has an extensive network of expertly constructed tunnels under the border, some featuring air-conditioning.
The workers who build the tunnels are frequently executed after the work is completed.
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At the other extreme, traffickers have used catapults to launch deliveries from Mexico into the United States. The most brutal DTO battles are not over customers or suppliers but over ports and trade routes. This May, Los Caballeros Templarios ambushed and shot 10 farmers after they met with government officials to protest cartel extortion. On the U. Cartels also use violence to further less concrete objectives. Assassinating the family of a Mexican marine who had participated and been killed in a raid against a DTO, as happened in late , was an unambiguous threat against all law enforcemen t personnel.
And the DTOs regularly threaten and kill reporters — Mexico is the fourth most dangerous nation in the world for journalists behind only Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan , according to Reporters Without Borders — both to prevent the release of specific information about cartel activities and to discourage reporting on them in the first place.
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Violence, in other words, is not a function of the drug trade specifically. It is how the cartels manage everything from marketing to public relations to human resources.
Not at all. Jack Riley, head of the U. Proponents of immigration reform have no wish to promote stereotypes of immigrants as dangerous criminals. Advocates for higher and longer border fencing acknowledge the danger but prioritize major cities and more populated areas, failing to realize that this tactic simply shifts cartel operations to remoter areas that are harder to control.
The Border Wall: Making Mexican Drug Cartels Great Again
Governors of states that border Mexico have little interest in drawing attention to crime that results from their inability to contain the DTOs. While Washington looks the other way, cartel activity in the United States is only getting worse. To keep their operations going, the DTOs have been engaging in money laundering and bribery on both sides of the border.
Like many successful legal businesses, the cartels are vertically integrating. The integration goes down the supply chain as well.
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Part of the reason that Chicago law enforcement officials are so alarmed by El Chapo is that Sinaloa no longer outsources its retailing to local dealers but is taking an ever more active role in selling the product in the United States. And that means that cartel-related crime is only going to get worse.
Legalization Would Help. But because DTOs are dealing in far more than just illegal drugs, the disappearance of one revenue stream would not eradicate the cartels or decisively erode their power. Licit drugs can also create highly profitable arbitrage opportunities for enterprising criminals if the laws that govern their distribution differ from state to state, as would likely be the case if marijuana or other drugs were widely legalized.
Cigarettes are legal, yet interstate cigarette smuggling makes a great deal of money for organized crime; because of differing state tax rates, the opportunity for profit is substantial. Virginia, for example, which has among the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation, is grappling with increased criminal activity, because of trafficking to high-tax states like New York and New Jersey. Decapitation can also increase violence, at least in the short to medium term, as wars of succession engulf not only the cartel itself, but also law enforcement personnel and civilians, as well as members of rival organizations.
Furthermore, under pressure to prove they are still powerful, decapitated cartels may lash out in dramatic displays of violence. The capture and imprisonment of DTO leaders, particularly in Mexico, has proved to be of limited utility. The men who control these organizations have a well-established capacity for brutality and the ability to rise to the top of a large criminal enterprise without being killed.
These qu alities make them formidable and, in many cases, help them to operate their businesses from prison. The ability to bribe or intimidate prison guards, for example, can win an inmate the freedom to communicate with the outside world. The scope and capabilities of MS have now caught the attention of both Los Zetas and Sinaloa, which have taken steps to ally with a potentially dangerous rival.
In , U.
How the Cartels Work
If anything, the opposite occurred. More legal options to work and seek safety would eliminate the need for people to use cartels and smugglers. Rather than criticize the use of smugglers in speeches, including in the State of the Union address, it would be better to give individuals and families viable options that do not place them at the mercy of human smuggling operations. I am the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and relate.
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I write about globalization, business, technology and immigration. Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin. Stuart Anderson.
source site I am the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and relate