Thursday, February 16, 2012
The difficulty of the task at hand
El gran golpe
Sergio Sarmiento/opinión 13 Feb. 12/Reforma.com
"One more such victory, and we shall be undone."
Pyrrhus of Epirus
On February 7th the Mexican Army dealt one of the greatest blows ever delivered in the war on drugs. The magnitude of the victory, however, has raised a paradox that demonstrates the difficulty of winning this war.
In a ranch named Los Villarreal, in the municipality of Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, in the state of Jalisco, a military unit discovered and secured a clandestine laboratory producing synthetic drugs. No arrests were reported. Stored at the site were 15 tons of methamphetamine, as well as 5 kilograms of crystal, a purer form of methamphetamine. General Gilberto Hernández Andreu, commander of the 15th Military Zone, estimated that the drug in its commercial form had a market value of 58,144 billion pesos.
On February 11th, The Reforma newspaper published an article that pointed out a wide variation on the estimated value cited of the drugs seized by the Ministry of Defense. But let's suppose that the 58 billion dollar figure is close to the truth. What does that number signify? We are talking about 4,472 billion U.S. dollars if we use an approximate exchange rate of 13 pesos to the dollar. That amount is almost 15 times greater than the 300 million dollars that have been extremely difficult to gather to provide a rescue package for Mexicana Airlines. As it is it is difficult to find many Mexican companies with a valuation higher than 58 billion pesos.
Can the Mexican State defeat organizations that are able to accumulate, in only one laboratory, product in the amount of 58 billion pesos? I doubt it. This figure is more than 3 times the 2012 budget of 15 billion, 385 million pesos for the PGR, Mexico's Attorney General's Office; it exceeds the 2012 budget of SEDENA, Mexico's Defense Ministry, currently estimated at 55,811 billion pesos.
How many clandestine laboratories like Tlajomulco are there in Mexico? According to official government figures 534 labs have been dismantled to date during the Calderon administration. On November 6, 2011 a raid on a lab in Aculco, Estado de Mexico, netted 3 tons, 397 kilograms of methamphetamine. The value of this product is 13 billion pesos, or 1 billion dollars, if we base the calculation on the 58 billion pesos of Tlajomulco.
The important seizures during the Calderon administration have not only involved methamphetamine. In 2007 a shipment of 23.5 tons of cocaine was secured in Manzanillo. At that time the value of the seizure was estimated at 565.4 million dollars. In July, 2011 a 120 hectare (296 acre) marijuana plantation was discovered in El Rosario, located in the municipality of Ensenada, Baja California. According to General Alfonso Duarte Múgica of the 2nd Military Region the marijuana growing at the site had a market value of 185 million dollars. But the General added that in his region, which includes the state of Sonora, a total of 549 hectares (1357 acres) had been taken out of cultivation. In addition, a total of 130 processed and packaged tons of marijuana were seized in one operation in October, 2010.
These enormous seizures have not caused an escalation in the price of cocaine, marijuana or methamphetamine, nor have they led to a decrease in consumption. This signifies that the production and supply of these drugs have remained at constant levels, which isn't surprising. With the enormous profitability of drug trafficking that even the authorities grudgingly accept, each seizure is a powerful incentive to increase production. This is why the war on drugs is doomed to failure.
(We will probably never know the actual value of the Tlajomulco seizure but let us revise the figures in the above article with numbers recently published in the Deseret News. In the article Frank Smith, DEA assistant special agent-in-charge for the Rocky Mountain Region, announced the seizure of 25 pounds of methamphetamine. Smith gave the seizure an estimated street value of $500,000. He noted that all 25 pounds of meth seized were earmarked for Salt Lake County alone, and that the drugs had been traced to Mexico's "super labs". Using these figures we can estimate a street value of $661,380,000 in the U.S market [if we assume the weight is in metric tons] for the Tlajomulco figure. Using a more realistic peso to dollar exchange rate of 12.75, then we can estimate the value of the seizure at 8,432,595,00 pesos (8.43 billion pesos). Then this single seizure accounts for slightly over half the 2012 PGR budget and approximately 15% of the 2012 SEDENA budget. The article did not include other budgets that have a part in the drug war, such as SEMAR (the Naval Ministry, which includes the Marines), Gobernacion (the Interior Ministry) and Hacienda (the Treasury).
This single seizure dwarfs the $282 million of Merida Initiative funding requested by the Obama administration for fiscal year 2012. Estimates vary widely on the percentage of net profits from drug trafficking that go to buy protection in one form or another from corrupt government officials; the loss of those funds from this seizure must be offset quickly. Although the dollar figure in these calculations may paint a less extreme picture, the situation is still daunting and quite possibly insurmountable.
"You can't arrest your way out of these issues. We're naive when we think law enforcement is the absolute solution," conceded Frank Smith, the DEA special agent. He was not speaking of the global drug war but the status of drug trafficking and drug use in Salt Lake City. This view may also apply to the drug war in Mexico.
The modern war on drugs has been fought since the Nixon administration. After almost fifty years we are still light years away from claiming victory.)