Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mexican Drug War

The Mexican Drug War is an armed conflict taking place between rival drug cartels and government forces in Mexico. Although Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations, have existed for quite some time, they have become more powerful since the demise of Colombia's Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s.

Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States. Arrests of key cartel leaders, particularly in the Tijuana and Gulf cartels, have led to increasing drug violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.

Mexico, a major drug producing and transit country, is the main foreign supplier of marijuana and a major supplier of methamphetamine to the United States. Although Mexico accounts for only a small share of worldwide heroin production, it supplies a large share of the heroin distributed in the United States.

Drug cartels in Mexico control approximately 70% of the foreign narcotics that flow into the United States. The State Department estimates that 90% of cocaine entering the United States transits Mexico—Colombia being the main cocaine producer—and that wholesale of illicit drug sale earnings estimates range from $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually.

Mexican drug traffickers increasingly smuggle money back into Mexico in cars and trucks, likely due to the effectiveness of U.S. efforts at monitoring electronic money transfers.


Given its geographic location, Mexico has long been used as a staging and transshipment point for narcotics, illegal aliens and other contraband destined for U.S. markets from Mexico, South America and elsewhere. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was the main exporter of cocaine and dealt with organized criminal networks all over the world.

When enforcement efforts intensified in South Florida and the Caribbean, the Colombian organizations formed partnerships with the Mexico-based traffickers to transport cocaine through Mexico into the United States. This was easily accomplished because Mexico had long been a major source of heroin and marijuana, and drug traffickers from Mexico had already established an infrastructure that stood ready to serve the Colombia-based traffickers.

By the mid-1980s, the organizations from Mexico were well established and reliable transporters of Colombian cocaine. At first, the Mexican gangs were paid in cash for their transportation services, but in the late 1980s, the Mexican transport organizations and the Colombian drug traffickers settled on a payment-in-product arrangement. Transporters from Mexico usually were given 35 to 50 % of each cocaine shipment.

This arrangement meant that organizations from Mexico became involved in the distribution, as well as the transportation of cocaine, and became formidable traffickers in their own right. Currently, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf cartel have taken over trafficking cocaine from Colombia to the worldwide markets.

Over time, the balance of power between the various Mexican cartels shifts as new ones emerge and older ones weaken and collapse. A disruption in the system, such as the arrests or deaths of cartel leaders, generates bloodshed as rivals move in to exploit the power vacuum.

Leadership vacuums sometimes are created by law enforcement successes against a particular cartel, thus cartels often will attempt to use law enforcement against one another, either by bribing Mexican officials to take action against a rival or by leaking intelligence about a rival's operations to the Mexican government or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

While many factors have contributed to the escalating violence, security analysts in Mexico City trace the origins of the rising scourge to the unraveling of a longtime implicit arrangement between narcotics traffickers and governments controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which lost its grip on political power starting in the late 1980s.

The fighting between rival drug cartels began in earnest after the 1989 arrest of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo who ran the cocaine business in Mexico.

There was a lull in the fighting during the late 1990s but the violence has steadily worsened since 2000.

Presidency of Vicente Fox

Violence increased from 2000. Former president Vicente Fox sent small numbers of troops to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, on the US-Mexico border to fight the cartels with little success. It is estimated that about 110 people died in Nuevo Laredo alone during the January-August 2005 period as a result of the fighting between the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.

In 2005 there was a surge in violence as a drug cartel tried to establish itself in Michoacán.

Increased government intervention from 2006

Although violence between drug cartels had been occurring long before the war began, the government held a generally passive stance regarding cartel violence in the 1990s and early 2000s. That changed on December 11, 2006, when newly elected President Felipe Calderón sent 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacán to end drug violence there. This action is regarded as the first major retaliation made against the cartel violence, and is generally viewed as the starting point of the war between the government and the drug cartels.

As time progressed, Calderón continued to escalate his anti-drug campaign, in which there are now about 45,000 troops involved along with state and federal police forces.


In April 2008, General Sergio Aponte, the man in charge of the anti-drug campaign in the state of Baja California, made a number of allegations of corruption against the police forces in the region. Among his allegations, Aponte stated that he believed Baja California's anti-kidnapping squad was actually a kidnapping team working in conjunction with organized crime, and that bribed police units were being used as bodyguards for drug traffickers.

These accusations of corruption suggested that the progress against drug cartels in Mexico has been hindered by bribery, intimidation, and corruption.

On April 26, 2008, a major battle took place between members of the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels in the city of Tijuana, Baja California, that left 17 people dead.

The battle also causes concern about the violence spilling into the United States, as Tijuana and a number of other border cities become hotspots for violence in the war. In September 2008, grenade attacks in Morelia by suspected cartel members killed eight civilians and injured more than 100.

In March 2009, President Calderón called in an additional 5000 Mexican Army troops to Ciudad Juárez. The United States Department of Homeland Security has also said that it is considering using the National Guard to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico from spilling over the border into the US. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked the federal government to send additional National Guard troops to help those already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican cartels are the predominant smugglers and wholesale distributors of South American cocaine and Mexico-produced marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin. Mexico's cartels have existed for some time, but have become increasingly powerful in recent years with the demise of the Medellín and Cali cartels in Colombia.

Closure of the cocaine trafficking route through Florida also pushed cocaine traffic to Mexico, increasing the role of Mexican cartels in cocaine trafficking. The Mexican cartels are expanding their control over the distribution of these drugs in areas controlled by Colombian and Dominican criminal groups, and now believed to include most of the U.S.A.

The East Coast of the United States (mainly New York and New Jersey) have seen little dominance of the Mexican drug cartels. No longer just intermediaries for Colombian producers, they are now powerful organized-crime syndicates that dominate the drug trade in the Americas. According to the FBI, Mexican cartels focus only on wholesale distribution, leaving retail sales of illicit drugs to street gangs. The Mexican cartels reportedly work with multiple gangs and claim not to take sides in U.S. gang conflicts.

Mexican cartels control large swaths of Mexican territory and dozens of municipalities, and they exercise increasing influence in Mexican electoral politics.

The cartels are waging violent turf battle over control of key smuggling corridors from Nuevo Laredo, to San Diego. Mexican cartels employ hitmen and groups of enforcers, known as sicarios. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the Mexican drug cartels operating today along the border are far more sophisticated and dangerous than any other organized criminal group in U.S. law enforcement history.

The cartels use grenade launchers, automatic weapons, body armor and sometimes, Kevlar helmets.

Cartel alliances

While in prison, the head of the Tijuana Cartel—Arellano Félix—and Gulf Cartel leader, Osiel Cárdenas, forged an alliance against the Sinaloa Cartel and its ally the Juárez Cartel. As a result, the cartels are now largely aligned into two blocks, some of which support the Gulf Cartel and others which support the Sinaloa Cartel.

It is these two blocks that are involved in the massive and violent turf wars which are currently being carried out throughout Mexico.

The Sinaloa Cartel

The Sinaloa Cartel began to contest the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the coveted southwest Texas corridor following the arrest of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas in March 2003. The "Federation" is the result of a 2006 accord between several groups located in the Pacific state of Sinaloa. The cartel is led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, Mexico's most-wanted drug trafficker and whose estimated net worth of US$1 billion makes him the 701st richest man in the world, according to Forbes Magazine.

The Juárez Cartel
The Juárez Cartel controls one of the primary transportation routes for billions of dollars worth of illegal drug shipments annually entering the United States from Mexico. Since 2007, the Juárez Cartel has been locked in a vicious battle with its former partner, the Sinaloa Cartel, for control of Juárez City. Vicente Carrillo Fuentes heads the Juárez Cartel.

The Tijuana Cartel
The cartel of the Arellano-Félix family, the Tijuana Cartel was once among Mexico's most powerful but has fallen on hard times, thanks to the arrests of several top capos. The cartel entered into a brief partnership with the Gulf Cartel. It has been the frequent target of Mexican military confrontations and might be breaking into smaller groups.

The Gulf Cartel
The Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, has been one of Mexico's two dominant cartels in recent years. It is strengthened by its armed wing Los Zetas. The cartel leader, Osiel Cárdenas, was extradited to the U.S. in 2007 and is currently awaiting trial in Houston. Gulf cartel declared war against Los Zetas.

Los Negros
Los Negros was the armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel; it was formed to counter Los Zetas of the rival Gulf Cartel and government security forces.

Los Zetas
The Gulf Cartel hired a group of former elite military soldiers known as Los Zetas, who began operations as a private army. The Zetas have been instrumental in the Gulf Cartel’s domination of the drug trade in much of Mexico and have fought to maintain the cartel’s influence in northern cities following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas. It is known that Los Zetas made a deal with the ex-Sinaloa cartel commanders, the Beltrán-Leyva brothers and now, Los Zetas run the Gulf Cartel. The Gulf cartel with the help of La Familia and the Sinaloa cartel are attempting to exterminate Los Zetas.

The Familia Michoacana
La Familia Michoacana is based in Michoacán. It was formerly allied to the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, but La Familia has now split off and became an independent organization.

The Beltrán Leyva Cartel
The Beltrán Leyva brothers, who were formerly aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, became allies of Los Zetas of the Gulf Cartel in 2008.

Smuggling of firearms

Firearms are not legally available for sale in Mexico, so drug cartels must smuggle them through the U.S. or Guatemalan borders, or by sea. Many firearms are acquired in U.S. by cartel members through straw purchases and then smuggled to Mexico a few at a time.

The most common smuggled firearms include AR-15 and AK-47 type rifles, FN 5.7 caliber semi-automatic pistols and a variety of .50 caliber rifles and machine guns. 30% of AK-47 assault rifles seized have been modified to select fire weapons, effectively creating assault rifles for use by the cartels.

Also, there are multiple reports of grenade launchers being used against security forces, and at least twelve M4 Carbines with M203 grenade launchers have been confiscated. It was believed that some of these high power weapons and related accessories were stolen from U.S. military bases.

However, most military grade weapons such as grenades and light anti-tank rockets are acquired by the cartels through the huge supply of arms left over from the wars in Central America and Asia.


An overwhelming majority of confiscated guns (90%) that are traced actually originated in the United States. The ATF has reportedly traced 22,848 guns smuggled into Mexico from the United States since 2005, and it showed that between 2005 and 2008, Texas, Arizona and California are the three most prolific source states, respectively, for firearms illegally trafficked to Mexico.

About 55% of guns smuggled from U.S. are assault rifles. Mexican officials only submitted 32% of the guns they seized to the ATF for tracing, and less than half of those weapons had serial numbers. Overall, 83% of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico could not be traced.

Mexican cartels often pay U.S. citizens to purchase assault rifles or other guns at gun shops or gun shows, then sell them to a cartel representative.

This exchange is known as a straw purchase. Because there is no computerized national gun registry, tracking guns relies on a paper trail. Police agents must contact the manufacturer or importer with a make and a serial number and work their way down the supply chain by telephone or on foot.

There are about 78,000 gun dealers in the U.S., and ATF agents found that one in five of the guns could not be traced because the dealers had no record of the sale or had gone out of business and the records had been lost.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has approved a bill (H.R. 6028) that would authorize $73.5 million to be appropriated over three years to increase ATF resources committed to disrupting the flow of illegal guns into Mexico. Lawmakers included $10 million USD in the economic stimulus package for Project Gunrunner, a federal crackdown on U.S. gun-trafficking networks.

In March 2009 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for Congress to reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The proposed reinstatement of the assault weapons ban is opposed by 2nd Amendment advocacy groups in the U.S.

In June 2009 Rep. Connie Mack called for increasing the number of federal agents on the Mexican border. U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to ratify an inter-American treaty known as CIFTA to curb international small arms trafficking throughout the Americas. The treaty makes the unauthorized manufacture and exporting of firearms illegal and calls for nations in this hemisphere to establish a process for information-sharing among different countries' law enforcement divisions to stop the smuggling of arms, to adopt strict licensing requirements, and to make firearms easier to trace.

Colt AR-15

AK-47 style rifle (locally called Cuerno de chivo)

M4 Carbine with grenade launcher.

Sources of weapons
  • AK rifle variants (semi-automatic) United States
  • AK rifle variants (select-fire) Central America, South America, Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia
  • AR-15 rifle (semi-automatic) United States
  • M16/M4 rifles (select-fire) Vietnam
  • Fragmentation grenades M61/M67/MK 2/K400 United States, Central America, South Korea, Israel, Spain, Soviet bloc, Guatemala, Vietnam, Unknown 
  • RPG-7 /M72 LAW // M203 Grenade launchers Asia, Central America/Guatemala,[82] North Korea
  • 50 caliber Barrett M82 United States.
  • M2 Browning machine gun Vietnam
There have been some speculation by the U.S. public media that Islamic terror groups may be supporting drug cartels in Mexico, however, the former Mexican national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, Adolfo Aguilar Zínser, as well as Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, the director of Mexico’s Center for Intelligence and National Security (CISEN) and now Attorney-General, noted that there are no indications that foreign terrorist organizations may have established contact with Mexican organizations and had no reason to believe that there was Islamic terror groups presence in Mexico

Effects in Mexico

Many people in Mexico have suffered the violence of the conflict, although it is not present all over the country. The states that suffer the conflict mostly are Baja California, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Sinaloa (highlighted red on image right).

President Calderón's government is currently fighting the drug-dealers, especially in his home state of Michoacán, but there are more operations going on in the states of Jalisco and Guerrero, and in 2009 drug-related violence increased considerably in Sonora.

The states where most of the conflict takes place, marked in red.On December 24, 2006, the governor of Baja California Eugenio Elorduy announced a similar operation in his state with cooperation of state and federal governments. This operation started in late December 2006 in the border city of Tijuana.

By January 2007, these various operations had extended to the states of Guerrero as well as the so called "Golden Triangle States" of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa. In the following February the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were included as well. Organized crime responded to the increased pressure with a failed attempt to assassinate the federal deputy representing Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.

As of early October 2007, the war did not appear to have significantly affected the drugs trade in the United States. In 37 states the price of cocaine has gone up by as much as 24%, while the average purity has dropped by 11%.

Seizures and arrests have jumped since Calderón took office in December 2006. Calderón has also extradited more than 100 people wanted in the U.S., including Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, a former agent of the Federal Judicial Police and the head of the Gulf cartel, who is waiting trial on drug trafficking charges in Brownsville, Texas.

A new rule that forces all private airplanes to stop for inspection at either the Cozumel airport on the Caribbean coast or Tapachula on the Guatemala border is credited, in part, for leading to confiscations of more than 270 planes in the past 1½ years.

A narco submarine being seized by a Mexican Navy helicopter unit. July 16, 2008On July 10, 2008, the Mexican government announced plans to nearly double the size of its Federal Police force to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking.

The plan, known as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking, also involves purging local police forces of corrupt officers. Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military.

On July 16, 2008, the Mexican Navy intercepted a 10-meter long narco submarine travelling about 200 kilometers off the southwest of Oaxaca; in a raid, Special Forces rappelled from a helicopter on to the deck of the narco submarine and arrested four smugglers before they could scuttle their vessel. The vessel was found to be loaded with 5.8 tons of cocaine and was towed to Huatulco, Oaxaca, by a Mexican Navy patrol boat.

One apparent paradox for the Calderón administration has been that even while the government has clearly succeeded in damaging the cartels, the country’s security situation continues to deteriorate at what appears to be an unstoppable rate.

The most obvious sign of this deteriorating security situation is that the total number of drug-related homicides continues to climb dramatically. Violence has also escalated with intimidation and fear. The discovery of hit lists with the names of police officers has become increasingly common in many Mexican cities along the U.S. border. It also is common for the officers named on those lists to be gunned down one by one.

In addition, drug trafficking organizations have now begun displaying large banners over highways in cities around the country. Many of the banners make threats against rivals, or accuse a particular criminal group of being supported by local and federal government officials. In several cases, purported recruiting banners appeared in northern Mexico offering higher pay and better equipment to soldiers and police officers who defect to Los Zetas.

One escalation in this conflict is the traffickers' use of new means to claim their territory and spread fear. Cartel members have broadcast executions on YouTube, tossed body parts into crowded nightclubs and hung banners on public streets.

The 2008 Morelia grenade attacks took place on September 15, 2008, when two hand grenades were thrown onto a crowded plaza, killing ten people and injuring more than 100.

Some see these efforts as intended to sap the morale of government agents assigned to crack down on the cartels; others see them as an effort to let citizens know who is winning the war. At least one dozen Mexican norteño musicians have been murdered. Most of the victims performed what are known as narcocorrido, popular folk songs that tell the stories of the Mexican drug trade—and celebrate its leaders as folk heroes.

The extreme violence is jeopardizing foreign investment in Mexico, and the Finance Minister, Agustín Carstens, said that the deteriorating security alone is reducing gross domestic product annually by 1% in Mexico, Latin America's second-largest economy.

Corruption of officials

Mexican cartels advance their operations, in part, by corrupting or intimidating law enforcement officials.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reports that although Mexico has made concerted efforts to reduce corruption in recent years, it remains a serious problem.

Some agents of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI) are believed to work as enforcers for the Sinaloa cartel, and the Attorney General (PGR) reported in December 2005 that one-fifth of its officers are under investigation for criminal activity. The PGR reported in late 2005 that nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457 were facing charges.

In recent years, the federal government conducted purges and prosecution of police forces in Nuevo Laredo, Michoacán, Baja California and Mexico City.

The anti-cartel operations begun by President Calderón in December 2006 includes ballistic checks of police weapons in places where there is concern that police are also working for the cartels. In June 2007, President Calderón purged 284 federal police commanders from all 31 states and the Federal District.

Under the 'Cleanup Operation' performed in 2008, several agents and high ranking officials have been arrested and charged with selling information or protection to drug cartels; some high profile arrests were: Gerardo Garay Cadena, ex-chief of the federal police, Noé Ramírez Mandujano, ex-chief of the Organized Crime Division (SIEDO), José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, ex-chief of the Organized Crime Division (SIEDO), and Ricardo Gutiérrez Vargas, ex-director of Mexico's Interpol office. In January 2009, Rodolfo de la Guardia García, ex-director of Mexico's Interpol office, was arrested.

Julio César Godoy Toscano, who was just elected July 5, 2009 to the lower house of Congress, was discovered to be a top-ranking member of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel and is accused of being in charge of protection for the cartel. He is now a fugitive.

United States

The U.S. Justice Department considers the Mexican drug cartels as the greatest organized crime threat to the United States. During the first 18 months of Calderón's presidency, the Mexican government has spent about $7 billion USD in the war against drugs.

In seeking partnership from the United States, Mexican officials point out that the illicit drug trade is a shared problem in need of a shared solution, and remark that most of the financing for the Mexican traffickers comes from American drug consumers.

On March 25, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stated that "Our [America's] insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade", and that "the United States bears shared responsibility for the drug-fueled violence sweeping Mexico." U.S. State Department officials are aware that Mexican president, Felipe Calderón’s willingness to work with the United States is unprecedented on issues of security, crime and drugs, so the U.S. Congress passed legislation in late June 2008 to provide Mexico and Central American countries with $1.6 billion USD for the Mérida Initiative, a three-year international assistance plan.

The Mérida Initiative provides Mexico and Central American countries with law enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice to strengthen the national justice systems. The Mérida Initiative does not include cash or weapons. In January 2009, a U.S. military assessment expressed some concern that if the war is extended 25 years, it could cause a collapse of the Mexican government due to the military strength of organized crime, and that the conflict could possibly spread to border states. Currently, the Mexican drug cartels already have a presence in most major U.S. cities.

Multiple researchers propose focusing on prevention, treatment and education programs to curb demand rather than the continued support of combating the supply of drugs. Studies show that military interdiction efforts fail because they ignore the root cause of the problem: U.S. demand.

During the early to mid-1990s, the Clinton administration ordered and funded a major cocaine policy study by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center; the study concluded that $3 billion USD should be switched from federal and local law enforcement to treatment. The report said that treatment is the cheapest and most effective way to cut drug use. President Clinton's drug czar's office rejected slashing law enforcement spending.

The Bush administration proposed cutting spending on drug treatment and prevention programs by $73 million, or 1.5%, in the 2009 budget, which hasn't been approved yet.

In March 2009, the Obama administration outlined plans to redeploy more than 500 federal agents to border posts and redirect $200 million to combat smuggling of illegal drugs, money and weapons

U.S. death toll and national security

U.S. authorities are reporting a spike in killings, kidnappings and home invasions connected to Mexico's cartels, and at least 19 Americans were killed in 2008. Also, more than 200 Americans have been killed in Mexico since 2004.

For the U.S. Joint Forces Command, in terms of worst-case scenarios, Mexico bears some consideration for sudden collapse in the next two decades as the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels.

The Joint Forces Command are concerned that this internal conflict over the next several years, will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state, and therefore would demand an American response based on the implications for homeland security alone.

In March 2009, the United States Department of Homeland Security said that it is considering using the National Guard to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico from spilling over the border into the US. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked the federal government to send additional National Guard troops to help those already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.

On March 26, 2009, the body of a U.S. marshal, who was the subject of an arrest warrant, was discovered in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.


Private policing

In October 12, 2009, private security company Jax Desmond Worldwide announced an offer to assist the Mexican government in its fight against the Los Zetas. The project nicknamed "Operation Duvdevan" alleged the company would eliminate the Los Zetas in four months.

The project would include the use of former Israeli and U.S. Special Forces equipped with state of the art weaponry and logistical solutions that Jax Desmond claimed was far superior to that of the Los Zetas.

Guns supply

Fox News has reported that the federal government is exaggerating the percentage of guns recovered from crime scenes in Mexico, and states that the total of guns purchased in the U.S. is not 90% but 17%.

The two Fox reporters explain that 68% of the guns that were recovered in Mexico were never submitted to the U.S. for tracing "because it is obvious from their markings that they do not come from the U.S."

The article explains that not every gun seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market. These two reporters believe that the rest of the guns and explosives smuggled into Mexico originate from Russia, Asia and Latin America through the Guatemalan border and Mexican seaports. (see table above)

Chris Cox, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said that the official but false 90% number is intentionally used to weaken the Second Amendment and force a ban on assault rifles in the United States.

Most news reports also fail to differentiate between weapons sold by private US businesses and weapons sold by the US government to the Mexican government for use by the military and various police agencies. Given the level of corruption in Mexican law enforcement and the desertion rate of the Mexican military, it is possible many of the weapons traced back to the US were sold legitimately through the US government.

A failed war

According to former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, the United States-led drug war is pushing Latin America into a downward spiral; Mr. Cardoso said in a conference that "the available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war".

The panel of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy commission, headed by Cardoso, stated that the countries involved in this war should remove the "taboos" and re-examine the anti-drug programs. Latin American governments have followed the advice of the U.S. to combat the drug war, but the policies had little effect. The commission made some recommendations to President Barack Obama to consider new policies, such as decriminalization of cannabis (marijuana) and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs states it is time to seriously consider drug decriminalization and legalization.


RAND studies released in the mid-1990s found that using drug user treatment to reduce drug consumption in the United States is seven times more cost effective than law enforcement efforts alone, and it could potentially cut consumption by a third.