Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

The Destruction of Mexico

Thursday, October 20, 2011 |

By Joseph Bottum
Hudson New York

You hardly need to read deep into the news reports about Manssor Arbabsiar to realize what a bumbler the man was. He was attempting, you remember, to enlist a Mexican narco in an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States—and all he needed for that plot was a complete misunderstanding of how the drug traffickers of Mexico operate.

If nothing else, Arbabsiar seems not to have realized that his reported offer of $1.5 million for the assassination would not have impressed Mexican drug gangs as a lot of money. But perhaps the thing he most failed to grasp was the chilling prudence these criminals display as they trample Mexican civil society.

As they have repeatedly demonstrated since the 1990s, the drug cartels understand their situation in Mexico with nearly perfect clarity. They know when to be brazen, and they know when to lie low. And assassinating a Saudi Arabian ambassador for pay was not on the list.

Arbabsiar is hardly alone in underestimating the cartels. Even while news emerges of the bizarre Fast and Furious program through which U.S. law enforcement allowed guns to walk out of Arizona gun shops and into Mexico, the American public still has not grasped the depths to which Mexico has fallen.

Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the rest have inflicted a depressing array of indignities on their victims. They have turned Mexico into the kidnapping capital of the world. If young people dare to use social media to speak out against them, the drug gangs will come for them, disembowel them, and hang their remains from a bridge.

Narcos operating in Acapulco recently ordered the city's schoolteachers to hand over their teaching bonuses. The entire police force of the town of General Terán, in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, resigned early this year when drug gangs beheaded two of their colleagues.

All that is the brazen part of the drug traffickers' work. Most of their crimes, however, happen south of the Mexican border—and that is the prudent part of their murderous reign. When moving cocaine, heroin, and other drugs inside the United States, they hire American street gangs "precisely because they respect the FBI and the U.S. justice system," drug-trade expert Samuel Logan told InsightCrime, a site that reports on Latin America. "If it's true that Los Zetas agreed to target a foreign national on U.S. soil, with a bomb no less, this group is either more stupid or more desperate than we thought."

Unfortunately, these groups are not stupid or desperate. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has sent Mexico's army against the drug cartels, supplied with Blackhawk helicopters and other advanced American aircraft (in a program known as the Merida Initiative, begun under President Bush and continued under President Obama). While Calderón himself is not popular, his use of the army against the narcos polls well among Mexicans, with a plurality recently agreeing that the campaign is making headway.

It is not clear, however, that the campaign actually is doing enough good to force the cartels to make mistakes. There are no Latin Americans more haughty or thin-skinned than Mexican elites, and their strange combination of pride and defensiveness has led U.S. officials to confine themselves to security-assistance measures such as loaning aircraft. In particular, what seems off the table—the unmentioned and unused tool in these Latin American struggles—is the threat of extradition to the United States.

In previous decades, such figures as Panama's head of state Manuel Noriega and Colombia's cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar were indicted in U.S. courts. The leverage that the Colombian government had, however—the threat of sending "the Extraditables" to the United States for prosecution—the Mexican government consistently refuses to use.

Colombia possessed a bargaining chip with Pablo Escobar and employed it, dropping extradition efforts in exchange for an end to his bombings, abductions, and assassinations of Colombian presidential candidates. (To be sure, it was a fragile truce: After Escobar surrendered, he escaped from his not-very-secure Medellín jail to kill still more people before being shot to death in a police ambush in 1993. Nonetheless, his surrender marked a milestone on the road to ending the narcos' sway in that country.)

Another thing Mexicans have never had is an intellectual class able to set aside left-wing sympathy for outlaws, even outlaws as savage as the narcos. A public-relations campaign that began earlier this year, No Más Sangre ("No More Blood"), seemed humanitarian and commonsensical at first. Its creator was an editorial cartoonist known as Rius, one of the most respected journalists in the country.

But it turned out that he and others were interested only in generating cartoons and posters depicting undue force by federal authorities—leaving out those who caused the war. As the campaign's spokesmen, cartoonist Antonio Helguera, put it: "We never direct our criticisms against [the victims]—not even in the cases in which the victims were probably criminals—because, in the end, they're dead. It's just something you don't do."

One Mexican writer, Javier Sicilia, joined the No Más Sangre campaign for the saddest of reasons: His son had been murdered, along with six of his friends, and suspects in the killings include the Gulf Cartel and a rival drug gang, the Beltran Leyvas. Nonetheless, Sicilia has lobbied President Calderón to pull back the army, arguing that its aggressive tactics are doing more harm than good.

And the response from the drug cartels? The drug traffickers routinely issue proclamations on public banners called narcomantas, and a banner about No Más Sangre was displayed in the city of Cuernavaca this May. Posted by the Beltran Leyva organization, it read, "Javier Sicilia can count on our support."

The support, in other words, of those who probably murdered his son. It is their brazen boast, in their prudent and accurate judgment of where they stand and what they can get away with. Since the Sinaloa Cartel began its invasion of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua in 2008, the city has suffered 7,000 dead, 250,000 displaced, 25,000 homes vacated, perhaps 10,000 businesses closed, and 130,000 jobs lost. And that is all in a single city.

Until the United States understands that Mexico is not capable of solving the drug problem—and until the Mexicans understand they need such American help as strong extradition—the drug war will go on, and Mexico will continue on its way toward civil collapse.

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and the author of The Second Spring: Words into Music, Music into Words. Lauren Weiner contributed material for this report.

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30 Borderland Beat Comments:

Pueblo said...

wait didn't Mexico extradite, osiel cardenas, hector palma,Vicente Zambada, the government has killed Arturo Beltran, "Nacho" Coronel heavy hitters in the drug world. where the hell did this reporter get his info from?

Anonymous said...

Excellent article that uses straight foreword logic. It is like preaching to the choir on this blog. We all agree. Getting this message in wide distribution to the general public is a huge problem. I wish that politics were set aside and an ubiased aproach was used. Inocent lives are being lost. Times have changed and they won't change back to what they were befor the narcoterrorists began operating with impunity. We (all of society) do have the capability and the responsibility to step up and defend civility. The sooner the better. The good guy will win the war but the bad guys need to be deprived of any victories no matter how small. In other words we need to crush their nuts at every turn. If they pop up and strike then we must make them pay so dearly that they regret ever trying it.

Anonymous said...

This has and always will be Mexicos war, created by not only greed and corruption but the peoples unwillingness to stand up against it, the Colombian cartels stuck to drugs and left the society out of it for the most part.
The US may help when hell freezes over.

Anonymous said...

Really !!! Until the U.S. realizes Mexico is not capable if solving this !!!! Really. Of course they will never be. Unless...... Mmmmmm. Demand will stop !!! Or wait ..... go to corner store and buy legally !!!!

Now, seriously. Has common sense truly been displaced by sensationalist news ? Somebody please be serious and say what needs to be said. Oh and say it in a way ppl will apply common sense to all that is happening. Supply will prevail as long as there is a demand. PERIOD. The Power struggle to be the "mas chingon" will prevail as long as consumers are pulling for more and more.

Anonymous said...

11:07, I'll say what needs to be said! We will stop our demand for drugs when you guys stop flooding our streets with cheap as dirt narcotics! Remember in the 60's and 70's when drugs were 'harder' to get and coke was for rich people? It's a third the cost of what it once was! No one is putting a gun to Mexico's head and making them smuggle drugs into the US. Is Canada involved in a drug war with tens of thousands of people killed for no reason? NOPE! Greed is why Mexico is screwed. Take your responsability for your actions, and stop blaming the US! I'm so tired of Mexico blaming everyone else BUT themselves! It's bullshit! Not only that, Mexicos cartels are now responsible for a high number of murders in other South American countries! And the second we in the US ever stop our addiction to your fucking drugs is the day the Mexicans will dread! Kidnappings and extortion will skyrocket! Any Mexican making any kind of legit money will be a huge target! These guys will do anything to keep up the money machine, including fucking over their own country! This will only end when Mexicans can legally take up arms to protect themselves and literally have a civil war of sorts, to flush these putos out! But that will never happen, and if it did, some corrupt asshole will fill the void and Mexico will be fucked again. Mexico, a country where Mexicans are it's biggest threat.

Anonymous said...

I found the article thin idealistic "pap" for gringo consumption. Its main premise of extradition of Mexican evildoers to the United States is completely impractical given the potential number of evildoers, the depth and degree of systemic corruption at every level... Mexico is overwhelmed with crime and criminality just as the United States is with its drug addicts.

Mexico is a failed State and nothing less than a violent revolution will fix it. The signs of it starting are evident from scattered incidents of vigilante actions here and there.

With the economic uncertainties in the US and worldwide, I fear that Mexico is in for horrible times ahead and I hope the United States does not meddle in the cleansing chaos that is coming.

Mexico Watcher

Anonymous said...

"the threat of sending "the Extraditables" to the United States for prosecution—the Mexican government consistently refuses to use. "

Thats because they are ALL fucking DIRTY! Crime runs DEEP in the Mexican government for generations!

Anonymous said...

" drug-trade expert Samuel Logan told InsightCrime, a site that reports on Latin America. "If it's true that Los Zetas agreed to target a foreign national on U.S. soil, with a bomb no less, this group is either more stupid or more desperate than we thought."

__________________________________________________

Except for the fact that there is no evidence that the Los Zeta's were ever involved in any of it.

As I understand it, that the Iranian agents never actually spoke with or coordinated the plot with Los Zeta's.

Instead the Iranians, two of them, were actually dealing with a paid informant.....

.....who was working for the DEA.

Once the informant told the DEA "Yo man, these two Iranian dudes are trying to set up a deal to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador on US soil, by possibly setting off a bomb in a DC restaurant", the DEA then converted the plot into a sting operation with the FBI and other federal agencies.

The Iranians were tricked by a sting and a paid DEA informant. It indicates rather low sophistication and amateur skills by the Iranians involved.

Further, I have not seen any report that specifically names the Zeta's as the one's the Iranian THOUGHT he was dealing with.

Regardless, there is no proof that the Zeta's were ever involved whatsoever. It was a sting operation involving only the Iranian(s) and undercover US agents.

And for all anyone knows has elements of false flag and "Wag The Dog".

Anonymous said...

@ October 20, 2011 10:53 PM - "The good guy will win the war"


How sure are we really? Is everyone so certain about that? What if the US, Mexico and many other nations in the world continue to collapse into a Great Depression and economic calamity?

What if more and more people turn to the drug trade out of desperation? I have seen some estimates that "millions" of people are involved in narco trafficking in some form or fashion.

All it would take is one mega-disaster such a a major super-volcanic eruption that plunged the world into chaos such as Yellowstone or a large meteor impact that created havoc and disruption while still leaving the world population largely intact. Or some kind of pandemic that left even government forces staggering. The cockroaches then come out.

Anonymous said...

I don't know with which government agency Mr. Joseph Bottum is affiliated with (or how about FOX news :D ). In any case, what a cheap piece of propaganda cover-up (which means it will swallowed whole by FOX viewer). Bet Mr. Bottum argues that Sadam had WMD's, but shipped them to the Iranians as the Yankees invaded :D (just love my own jokes!). So the mexican cartels are not stupid or desperate, but the Iranians must be, huh! What a clown!
Blackhawk helicopters huh! Well Mr. Button why not just Nuke all of LatAm? that would solve the supply side issue wouldn't it? I got news for ya. It is not the supply which is the problem, it is the demand! You (and your cohorts) don't want to do anything about that since what will then be the scapegoat for the US's failed domestic social-economic policies? What would then feed the police and prison apparatus greasing the political establishment.

Anonymous said...

i don't understand it all that much. what i do know is, these cartels exist. then there is this situation were normal people are involved, trying to go to work and your taken off the road, placed a gun on your head and get the choice, join or die. the moment you join you take the chance to be taken out by another group because you joined one. the moment you don't join, your dead already. there is the option to arm civilians BUT this can also either lead to more scattered groups or people might defend their selves.
now at another scope, these is demand for drugs so there well be supply of drugs. these cartels deliver it but are also killing each other for it. these killed people have to be replaced, guess whos going to be the victim.
these normal civilians want to go to work without worries.
on a different scope the humane part drops, outsiders don't see more than "This has and always will be Mexicos war, created by not only greed and corruption but the peoples unwillingness to stand up against it". remember if you got a gun on your head you don't have a will. they are running into an endless cycle of doom and all they hear is "all Mexicans are bad, its their fault and they don't wanna do anything about it". when hell brakes loose and try to flee to where its safe they get to hear "we don't want Mexican immigrants".
so IMO some people lost sight of the humane part and rather see it as 1 big dirty group.
think as a human.

Anonymous said...

When talking about Mexican drug dealers its kill those animals and they deserve it! But the American addict is the "victim". The one we are all supposed to feel sorry for... The only victim here is Mexico who lives right next door to the 24hr. party capital of the world. Unfortunately the drugs to satisfy the American demand come thru Mexico and destroy the country. Willie Nelson will continue smoking and being on the cover of High Times. Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan will continue being crack heads. It dosen't matter who died or got hurt for these to get high. They are living the "American Dream". Or should I say a drug induced false reality where all is good and you don't have to own up to your mistakes...

Anonymous said...

I always laugh at the "typical" legalize comment posted here. All that would do is fuel their foray into the legal drug business in the USA, while keeping the status quo in Mexico. You're a fool if you think legalization would do anything for Mexico outside of increasing violence due to the market being more competitive for them. It is not like they will stop growing and producing just because it is legal here.

The USA should never be directly involved in the Mexican drug war as all that would do is solidify the people and the criminal element together against the occupiers. The only people who can solve this problem are the Mexicans themselves, and that will take a major mindshift about the role of narcos and society. They are still romanticized and make no mistake they employ MANY people who would otherwise be starving.

If you want to solve the problem in Mexico, start with good paying jobs and the overall influence of the narcos will start to decline. The solution is economic, not military.

Anonymous said...

Drugs for Americans, and guns from Americans
(either illegally or from ATF). It's all about the money.

Anonymous said...

I think Calderon realizes he needs US help and is trying, but the stubborness and lack of intellect as put by the author of the Mexican people ties his hands.

Anonymous said...

On the comment about not being diretly involved we most definitely are without a secure border its a two way traffic.

Esteban Cardenas said...

@ 12.15. You really sound like a first or second generation descendant of illegal immigrants; your use of Latin American jargon denounces it. It must have been hard to grow up trying to get your back to dry, you really show so much resentment in your comments. The author is right, Mexican elites are proud, and for very good reasons which you obviously dont share. The demand for drugs and the supply of weapons are definetly the cause of this war. Still, Mexican authorities are responsible for whatever happens in Mexican territory, and that is why president Calderon is tacking action, achieving several high profile detentions and MANY extraditions (the author of this article is plainly WRONG in that respect). Likewise, the US government is responsible for whatever happens in US soil, so it is NOT the Mexicans flooding your streets with drugs, but AMERICAN mafias which operate with great impunity...tons and tons of illegal cargo, delivered by the cartels at the border, get distributed across such a big country like the US without major disturbances... that can only be explained by a sever problem of CORRUPTION among US authorities.

Anonymous said...

LOL, now we get the Jew perspective?
Starting off by re stating rumour as fact?
A DEA informant as a credible witness and an Iranian American, that is pretty lame

Anonymous said...

"Another thing Mexicans have never had is an intellectual class able to set aside left-wing sympathy for outlaws, even outlaws as savage as the narcos."

Left-wing peacenik activists weaken Mexico's fight against the Cartels. The only way that the Military will defeat the Cartels is to really take the gloves off.

Anonymous said...

No drug cartel... None whatsoever will ever be so dam stupid to cross such a line by which it gets itself to the point that U.S troops an force is all on them. There buisneesmen, not your typical wallstreet guy, but its a whole other ballgame in which they operate. What they fight for is turf, this is mine and dont cross into it. And no amount of mexican troops will stop such thinking. Just clear as vodka when u see the 6 yr term and tactics used by mexican president calderon. Body count has only risen, by the minute, not days, hour! No real damage to no cartel has been done except in personnal, but hey u lose 20, u got 60 waitn to take their spot and make the 800 dollar a week payoff. In mexico 100 dollars a week workibg in a factory job, come on kids want money, power, respect and even if the pricetag is ur life, they accept. Its never going 2 end its all a game and really theres nobody losing but the mexican people as a society in a whole. Srugs are gettn to U.S streets at the same pace, just alot more expensive.. Inflation! Really its more money 4 the risk it takes to place it in ur hands.

ATTE: ME!

Anonymous said...

Correct, the problem is a better wages and benefits for all. If it's true the military only gets one ration a day and told to fend for the rest then there's your problem right there. Also federal legalization of marijuana would help as It is well know that is their foundation crop and if the govt legalized it people would grow their own...just like George Washington did and the US govt mandated back in the day for military resources before Mr. Hurst had it outlawed thru his political pressure as he owned a paper company.

Anonymous said...

When a drug dealer comes into your neighborhood and starts selling crack and getting your neighbors hooked on that noxious shit, you dont blame your neighbors. You might be mad at your neighbors for being so weak, but ultimately you know you need to drive the scum drug dealer out of your neighborhood.

Stop blaming the US for the Mexican drug war. Mexico needs to clean its own house. The US has enough problems without scum drug dealers flooding the streets with every flavor imaginable.

The US needs to try a different tactic for sure. The drug war has been a massive failure. But damn, it sure would make things easier if mexicans werent shipping loads of drugs into the US every single day.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to agree with both anonymous October 21, 2011 12:15 AM posters. However, when did the US ever keep its hands off when it comes to "fixing" other countries?
This is Mexico's problem and it is Mexico's to fix, but Mexico's victim and entitlement mentality will prevent them from ever developing a functioning society.

Layla said...

How do you "start with good paying jobs"? That was tried with the maquilladores in Juarez. American companies went into Mexico and established factories with decent wages (according to Mexican wage standards)in Mexico. People had a place to go earn a decent living. The conditions might not have been ideal but they were as good as if not better than a Mexican factory. Then the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels started a war. Often they seek to extort payments from companies in Mexico to allow them to operate. People are killed on their way to work. What kind of a company can operate under these conditions? And it doesn't matter if its a US company or a Mexican company; if its in Juarez or Cuernavaca.

The point here is 'government' is not some omnipotent resource that 'creates jobs' out of thin air. Businesses create jobs and they and their workers pay into the tax system. This is where government gets the tax money to 'create jobs' and other welfare programs.

So yes the problem is in part economic, but if you tax your businesses and citizens to death like they do here in the US, no new business is created, no new jobs are created, and you have stagflation ready for an economic meltdown. Which is where the US is headed.

Now consider Mexico is further down the statist road than we are ... without, in some instances, a strong constitution like the right to bear arms... The cartels have imprisoned its people through fear of violence and corruption...businesses are shutting down, people are running from their own cities, trying to find a place of relative safety... How can you achieve economic growth and prosperity under these circumstances??

And yet, it is in this very environment that criminal organizations thrive... And in Mexico, they have no problem killing off half the population

Anonymous said...

shitty

Anonymous said...

Mexico should be wiped out off the face of the earth.

Anonymous said...

I guess if there was alot of oil in mexico the U.S wouldnt think twice about going over there and taking over, our goverment is the real cartel. What the hell we doing in iraq and libia i dont think there bullets can reach over here from there plus they havnt found no weapons of mass destruction. Dont forget your in mexico we didn't cross the border it crossed us. Damn white folks worry about animals cruelty more then humans till its there family or kids being chopped up or hangged.

Anonymous said...

Well i'm one of those Fox News watching gringos and the only insightful comment i read in the whole bunch is from

Mexico Watcher

October 21, 2011 12:15 AM

With the exception of his/her last sentence.

"With the economic uncertainties in the US and worldwide, I fear that Mexico is in for horrible times ahead and I hope the United States does not meddle in the cleansing chaos that is coming"

Mexico is already a failed state and it will definitely get worse before better. What is puzzling is the people refuse to stand together for any thing other than requesting Calderon to make a truce with the cartels. Maybe becuase the poeple can't arm themselves or they are too downtroden who knows.

I thought it ironic when i read that Calderon is now complaining to the US media that the US government is dropping all it's Illigal criminals at the border now cuasing undue pressure on Mexicos resources. About the only thing Obama has accomplished appropriately is demanding ICE round up and deport 400,000 illegals annually for the next few years.

Corruptions is the single biggest obstacle to Mexico climbing out of it's current morass.

But the US can only ignore Mexico for so long. When the Mata Zeta's go on a couple more killing sprees and the Cartels start retaliating with vehicle born explosives or IED's the US will be forced to intervene for national security reasons.

The sooner it comes to a head and both sides address it, the faster both sides can get to making money and living in peace.

Anonymous said...

@October 21, 2011 3:54 PM
Anonymous said...

"Mexico should be wiped out off the face of the earth."

____________________________________________

That's horseshit. There are good, honest, decent, hard working Mexican people. Many are professional and well educated. They don't ALL do this stuff. A relative small percentage does.

I'm white, a US Citizen and a former US Soldier.

Just like we'll never get rid of all the racists on all sides, I fear that it could be another hundred years before Mexico stabilizes. I know there will be no quick, easy fix. And the US is not in the best of shape right now either.

So not every white person is a racist, just so you know when you hear hurtful words directed at those who haven't done anything wrong.

Anonymous said...

I hear vigilantis and marxis marching in the distance

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