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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Can Mexico "Decapitate" the Drug Cartels

Posted by Global Post

Global Post's Ioan Grillo tracks the string of high-profile arrests of alleged drug kingpins, but concludes they won't end the drug war.

Eznel Cortes Jimenez, aka "El Teniente," is guarded by a federal police officer as he is presented to the press in Mexico City, Tuesday, June 15, 2010. According to federal police, Cortes Jimenez is a member of criminal organizations led by alleged drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villareal, aka "La Barbie".

Standing 6-foot-6-inches with broad shoulders and a wild beard, the arrested drug lord known as "El Grande" or "King Kong" made a bulky prize for the Mexican government when he was shown on TV screens Monday flanked by masked marines.

Sergio Villarreal, who had a $2.3 million reward on his head, is the latest alleged kingpin to be detained or shot dead by Mexican security forces, adding credence to President Felipe Calderon's claim that he is winning his war on drug gangs.

In December, marines gunned down Villareal's old boss, Arturo Beltran Leyva; in January, federal police nabbed Tijuana mobster Teodoro Garcia; in July, soldiers shot dead Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel; and in August, police grabbed the smiling beefy Texan , alias "The Barbie Doll."

However, on the bullet-ridden streets of Mexico, weary residents ask a pertinent question about these arrests -- do they really mean the Mexican government is regaining control or will they only lead to more bloodshed?

The question underlines a central issue with the war on drugs -- and the tactics that have been developed during its four-decade history.

In the optimistic 1970s, when U.S. President Richard Nixon first made a declaration of war, officials were convinced they could stop the flow of drugs by taking down the big fish like Villareal. It was a victory defined in absolute terms.

"Our goal is the unconditional surrender of the merchants of death who traffic in heroin. Our goal is the total banishment of drug abuse from the American life," Nixon said in 1972.

After decades of arresting kingpins and failing to stop the rivers of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth, drug warriors created a new rationale: limiting the power of drug gangs.

This strategy was honed in Colombia, where gangsters such as Pablo Escobar [8] became so powerful they were blowing up airplanes and kidnapping politicians.

American and Colombian officials worked together to take down Escobar and the string of mobsters who came after him. They now argue that while cocaine still flows north, no Colombian kingpins have the power to challenge the government.

"Escobar was running a cartel for 15 years. Now the kingpins in Colombia only last about 15 months," an American law enforcement official told me recently in Bogota. "If you get on the radar, you will be taken down."

It is a bit like a giant hammer constantly swinging down. Gangsters will move drugs, but anyone who gets too big will be struck by the hammer.

President Calderon appears to be using a similar strategy for Mexico: hammering the kingpins to reduce the power of the drug mafia.

Drug analysts call this cartel decapitation -- or cutting the heads off so that the trafficking organizations fall apart into more manageable little chunks.

Calderon concedes that this tactic may mean more violence in the short term as rival gangsters fight to take over the routes of fallen villains.

Such turf battles are blamed for the majority of the 28,000 drug-related murders since Calderon took office in December 2006.

But in the long term, Calderon argues, the power of the government will prevail and violence will go down.

Residents who have watched daily executions and gun battles all hope that he is right.

But there are two factors in Mexico that signal the Colombian strategy may not ease the situation here.

The first is the sheer number of cartels.

In Colombia in the 1990s, there were two main trafficking organizations: the Medellin and Cali cartels.

In Mexico today, there are seven major drug gangs. All appear to maintain billion-dollar trafficking routes and hundreds of men at arms and to threaten the power of the government, at least on a local level.

For Mexico, to "decapitate" all these organizations, it would have to take down some 15 high-level gangsters in a relatively quick time.

Another problem is that several Mexican gangs have developed into cell-like organizations that depend less on kingpins and more on their brand name and structure.

Among these is the dreaded Los Zetas gang, which is blamed for the brutal massacre of 72 migrants last month. The quasi-religious La Familia is also organized along similar lines.

The Mexican and U.S. governments both promise other methods to aid the fight, such as reducing American demand for illegal drugs, slowing the flow of U.S. guns to the gangsters and rebuilding poor Mexican communities where mobsters flourish.

However, such promises have yet to be met by any results. Until they are, many more kingpins like Villareal are likely to be shown off in front of the cameras, while many more corpses scatter the Mexican streets.


  1. Is this ever going to end? Maybe things were better off before 2006.

  2. This drug war will not end as long as countries like the United States and other countries continue to have this voracious appetite for drugs. Anytime you read about or see a friend, a neighbor, family member,a sports figure, movie, tv star,or politican ingesting drugs,they are contributing to the drug war and profits of the cartels. Thing were quieter in Mexico before 2006 and it was because President Fox of Mexico was not doing anything. They let the drug cancer get out of hand.

  3. @ Santiago Del-Rio

    I do not agree comletely with you. The US consumption for the past decade especially hard drugs such as cocaine has been down. It was announced and played up in Mx that US consumption was up. "record levels" as Mx reported @ ElUniversal. But when you take a closer examination of the facts you will see that hard drugs like cocaine continues to go down, but the real "culprit"is pot, which is on the rise.
    Being the inquisitive buela that I am, I have been studying this since the announcement was released. The conclusion is rise was fueled by a sharp increase in MJ use. Now here is the clincher: they included in this sutdy all states even those like California who have medical MJ laws in effect. So In essence even where it is legal they counted those users.

    I am a proponent of legalizing MJ. I have never used MJ or any drugs for a very personal reason, but virtually all my friends in the 60s and 70s were users and today are among the finest society has to offer the world.

    If pot is legal that is 60% of all cartel business so it essentially compromises their market to 40% of what it is today. I would do this in conjuction with strong controls on US Banks that allow money laundering with impunity, applying strict consequences using the existing laws.

    If we did this...we would be strong against the cartels and they would be rendered weak.

    I have concluded that even if Mx "wins" the war, no one is speaking about the elephant in the room..Central America, in weak countries such as El Salvador, Guatemal Honduras, easy to de stabalize and the Mx Cartel have been setting up operations there, even Edgar. I am certain when the heat became relentless in Mx they all turned to we must do what is possible in our country.

  4. PS
    I was not too clear, which is what happens when you attempt to multitask at my age;

    I am in no way promoting useage or legalization of anything other than MJ...and my friends used MJ not hard drugs. The only person I knew that did hard drugs was my beloved brother which resulted in his death at the age of 22 .R.I.P. Anthony

  5. Abuela Chivis,
    Would you legalize marihuana just to take the business,profits and violence from the cartels?
    We have enough problems with alcoholics.Can you imagine having a marihuano/a driving a vehicle in a stupor. Chale ese! We don't need to add more problems to society here in Texas or the US. Now in the People's Republic of California, if you pay $50.00 for a doctor's prescription,you can then go and choose any cannabis Sativa joint for $10.00 that you want from a "medical pharmacy". I am against legalizing any kind of a drug.

  6. Santiago Del Rio, you should research marijuana a lot more. Most studies show that it does not impair your driving ability any where near the impairment one drink of alcohol has. Either way, alochol is legal, but it is illegal to drink it and then drive. So should marijuana. This is a decision a responsible adult should make - to not drive if they feel impaired - but not the governments. Tylenol PM impairs your driving ability as well, is it illegal? No.

    The truth is, marijuana is the safest psychoactive plan on the planet and we have allowed the words criminals in the world control its sale and a manufacture. It's a bad idea and this web site shows u the results. Where were these cartels 100 years ago?

  7. @ santiago

    Amigo..I hear you loud and clear..I am a conservative mid road republican, but that does not preclude me from analyzing constructively and pragmactically. This makes perfect sense and I would never suggest taking actions for the sole purpose of hindering the cartels. The fact remains in the Peoples Republic of California the facts are that while in some areas such as the Bay area at some holiday weekends DUI was slightly up...but overall down. You must understand MJ use would be the under the same rule of law as alcohol and the same harsh penalties as alcohol, and remember in the PRC we are a 3 strikes state. 3X=life sentence

    Having said that, you are correct the medical MJ is a joke and irresponsible, I never supported the law, but do support legalization, which may seems contradictive but it is not. Also if it remains illegal that will not slow down useage it only invites the criminal element.

    I understand your passion, and I at one time shared your view for personal reasons, but I came to the conclusion it made no sense to place all drugs in the same classification and I believe MJ like alcohol can surely be abused but those who do pay the consequences, in one way or the other. Are you saying we should go back to prohibition? History tells us that would be a disaster and would simply invite organize crime to set up shop, useage does not go away. I myself will have a glass of pinot grigio a couple times a year, but I am responsible and the overwheming majority of citizens are. I would never use MJ because of a promise I made to my brother and parents among other reasons.

    BTW I love Texas, & have a home there, but SoCal is my heart and home, we have many good people here, it is all in how you choose to live. I believe in the goodness of people, and try to refrain from personal attacks on others or the things that they love.
    My dos centavos

  8. Buela, it is very rare to find a republican that can think for themselves and not follow blindly the republican ideology. I'm glad to see that I’m not alone.

  9. @ 3:47
    I think there are many of us, just are not vocal..especially if you are Mex as I am. remember Harry Reid said "I cannot understand why any hispanic would be republican"..obviously he did not realize how racist that was.


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