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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Narcoterrorism and the KKK Model: Inside the Rise of Latin America’s ‘Gangster Warlords’

Posted by Chivis Martinez for Borderland Beat- 
Note: BB friend Doc Bunker sent this in from Daily Beast thinking our readers would be of interest.  Also noted in the article is another BB friend Ioan Grillo....Paz, Chivis

Cartels are getting their swagger back in Colombia, drug-war violence is skyrocketing in Mexico, Central American countries like El Salvador and Honduras are now saddled with some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and parts of Brazil are open battlegrounds. So just what’s behind the angry ride of the apocalypse through this hemisphere?

What we’re seeing is the rise of insurgencies that have no ideology beyond greed, but wage guerrilla wars as fearsome as those of the past that claimed to represent the poor and oppressed.

Bogota thought it had just ended its 50-year-old civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—but surprise!—the drug-fueled killing goes on. Other rebel groups remain defiantly active, and there are signs that the FARC peace accords might not be a done deal just yet, as attacks persist.

One of the reasons FARC commanders can’t convince units to stand down is because those guerrillas in the mist are still running lucrative cocaine production operations. Meanwhile, other narco-traffickers in the Andean nation are firmly on the comeback trail. Add it all up and Colombia is churning out more coca now than it did back when Pablo Escobar was blowing up planes and running for congress, with production at a whopping 710 tons in 2016.

As for Mexico, a recent study makes the case that the current infierno de violencia is now the second-worst conflict in the world behind Syria. In El Salvador the murder rate is 81 per 100,000, with Honduras lagging just behind, making them the deadliest countries per capita in the Americas. As in certain parts of Mexico, the security crisis is so severe in El Salvador that citizen militias called autodefensas are taking up arms to fight the gangs themselves.

The loss of state control to violence-crazed, paramilitary outlaw and vigilante groups across Latin America is an ominous sign, indicative of a twisted new species of conflict that experts say is already impacting U.S. interests.

The “Crime War” Next Door

In his original, superbly researched, and well-titled book, Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America, author Ioan Grillo characterizes the conflicts roiling the region, flat out, as “crime wars.”

“Crime groups and the gunmen they command in Mexico and Central America are not like the traditional insurgents of 20th-century Latin America in that they don’t have a clear ideology whether it be Marxist or Islamist,” Grillo tells The Daily Beast by phone from Mexico City.

“But they do act in ways that go way beyond regular criminals or even the mafia in terms of confronting security forces,” he says. These bandit battalions can involve “martial forces of up to 500 people in ground battles with light infantry weapons, including RPG-7 rocket launchers, which they use to shoot down helicopters.”

While outfits like the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, Colombia’s FARC, or the Salvatrucha gangs of El Salvador “do control territory in certain ways, [they] don’t see themselves really trying to defeat the central government,” according to the British-born Grillo, who has spent more than a decade reporting from crime-war conflict zones across Latin America.

Instead of trying to take over the state apparatus, as ISIS has done in parts of the Middle East, “cartels and gangster warlords look for weak governments that they can bully and corrupt into allowing them to have as much power they want.” They don’t need to set up schools and run waterworks, but they do “put violent pressure on the government to achieve certain things,” such as unfettered control over narcotics production zones or shipping routes.

These are “groups whose power is based on violence, who are often led by psychopathic individuals, with a tremendous capacity for violence,” many of whom can be “heavy drug users themselves,” Grillo adds. But he also points out that there’s a distinct and nasty method to the madness, which marks “criminal insurgents” as distinct from common, garden variety scofflaws:

“They’re well-armed killers obeying instructions and working within a structure,” Grillo says. It’s “a big and complicated problem,” he concludes, and “national security [can be] threatened.”
“Narcoterrorism” and You

Dr. Robert J. Bunker, a security consultant who teaches at Claremont Graduate University, sees eye to eye with Grillo on the threat posed by the cartels and their criminal cousins. And he uses the term “narcoterrorism” to define the tactics they employ.

Narcoterrorism “represents a form of psychological warfare—many times utilizing extreme forms of torture and victim dismemberment—that is meant to intimidate and coerce” rival crime groups, authorities, and local populations, Bunker writes, in an email to The Daily Beast.

Bunker, who has also taught at the U.S. Army War College, says Mexican cartels in particular pose a “major threat” to the United States, involving “creeping institutional corruption along the American side of the border.”

One of the major frontier flashpoints of late is the Mexican city of Reynosa, just across the border from McAllen, Texas. The turf war between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas for control of Reynosa has claimed about 50 lives since the dust-up began in April, and American citizens allegedly have come under fire as well.

Mexican journalist Emmanuel Gallardo, who specializes in crime war coverage, says the Gulf Cartel is the top dog in Reynosa, in part because of a willingness to swell their ranks with “very young sicarios (hitmen), many of them just teenagers, who have no education” or job prospects.

He describes zones of mob rule within the city where “everything is controlled by the Cartel del Golfo, even the Jefe de Manzana (Block Chief), and the municipal leaders.”

Their opponents, the Zetas, were originally formed by disgruntled dropouts from the Mexican army. Although they’ve been somewhat weakened by clashes with authorities, Bunker still calls the Zetas “the poster children of narcoterrorism” who are “special forces trained, extremely ruthless, and highly competent in psychological warfare techniques.”

Recent reports indicate that smugglers are increasingly able to penetrate the U.S. without even breaking a sweat, as hundreds of border agents accepted some $15 million in bribes over the last few years (and those are just the ones who got caught).

“Mexican border plaza cities and crossing areas controlled by the cartels are able to generate ‘zones of corruption’ that can potentially extend along the trafficking corridors northwards,” Bunker writes. “The U.S. can readily handle violence directed at it, but the undermining of governmental trust among its citizenship is an entirely different matter.”

Know Your Enemy

Writer Ioan Grillo points out that many of the countries embroiled in mass-scale crime wars share certain common traits, such as “governments which are corrupt, with largely dysfunctional justice systems, and high rates of impunity.”

Economics also plays a role, according to Grillo, as most of these violence-wracked nations are also known for “divided populations with high rates of poverty, a few rich people, and a struggling middle class.”

While Bunker agrees that there are similarities in the symptoms that lead to explosions of well-organized crime groups, he also notes distinct differences from region to region:

“The Mexican cartels are far more sophisticated” than their counterparts, he says. Some of those groups can “field tactical units that possess armored SUVs, body armor, and infantry small arms that include assault rifles and grenade launchers, [and] 50 Cal sniper rifles.”

The Maras plaguing Central America “are far less militarized—more representative of violent street and prison gangs. They operate more at the handgun, shotgun, and rifle armament level but have been known to utilize IEDs,” Bunker says.

Then there is Colombia. According to Grillo, the conflict there is more of a hybrid that blends powerful cartels with a “more traditional Marxist insurgency, a more traditional war.”

Bunker concurs. “The FARC is an interesting case. They have guerilla training and access to infantry small arms.” With disarmament deadlines delayed, and the peace process uncertain, FARC foot soldiers have taken to sharing the lessons they learned in five decades of anti-government operations.
Reports coming out of Mexico claim FARC fighters have been schooling cartel sicarios there, and “we are seeing some numbers of their former fighters now going over to local Colombian and Brazilian street gangs to tactically train their members and provide new enforcer capabilities,” says Bunker, who has also advised Congress on security concerns.

The favelas (ghettos) of Brazilian cities have long been home to powerful gangs like the Red Commandos, which specialize in local narcotics trafficking. More recently, violence has flared up in the northern Amazonas state, as crime groups, often run by imprisoned leaders, battle for control of a drug “superhighway” near the regional capital of Manaus.

Taken altogether, Bunker sees the rise of these forces as part of a new, worldwide trend, one that “exists outside of the modern Clausewitzian paradigm of state-on-state conflict,” he adds.

“What most people do not realize is that what we are seeing take place with the cartels and narcos is but one component of a larger global struggle. Engagements with al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and other countries represent yet another component of the wars now being waged [by insurgents] against the modern state form.”
Criminal Insurgencies, Civil Wars, and the Klan

While the criminal insurgencies in places like Colombia and El Salvador are certainly capable of deadly violence, the Mexican cartels are the most virulent of such groups operating in Latin America. There were 23,000 homicides in Mexico last year, making it the second-deadliest conflict zone in the world after Syria, and ranking it ahead of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that most of the bloodshed in Mexico results from small arms fire, with few casualties resulting from airstrikes or the use of artillery.

The soaring death toll (the murder rate has gone up now for the last three years in a row, increasing by at least 50 percent in one out of three states since 2016), has some observers wondering at what point Mexico’s “crime war” might slip into full-blown civil war. And it’s not just a question of semantics.

“If we can’t figure out how to categorize things we can’t figure out how to respond,” says Greg Downs, a University of California, Davis professor of history, in a phone call with The Daily Beast.
Downs points out that the phrase “civil war” carries an unpleasant stigma, since the phrase can grant unwanted legitimacy to the other side. During the early days of the fighting between the Union and the Confederacy, he says, it was called “revolution” or a “rebellion,” and the terminology “didn’t really harden into ‘Civil War’ for another 40 years.”

The author of the highly acclaimed After Appomattox, says that “virtually all [civil conflicts] include insurgencies and widespread criminal activity. They’re all wrapped up together.” Concrete definitions are “always going to be unclear in the moment.”

He goes on to mention a popular, 19th century term for these murky, low-grade, seemingly endless wars: “Mexicanization,” which was coined to describe “how countries fell into cycles [of violence] they could never escape from.”

Yet he stops short of calling Mexico’s current crisis a civil war, at least by the textbook definition of the phrase.

“Insurgency lies in this in-between state—a civil war is a claim of sovereignty. Are the cartels making the claim of a shadow state? Or is it the kind of older question of who makes the law where I am?”

Looking back through history, Downs draws an analogy between the narcos plaguing Latin America today, and groups of racist militias that roamed the South during the Reconstruction Era.
The cartels, he says, are “much closer to the Klan than to the Confederacy. The Klan didn’t want [to] write laws, but they believed they could make the law.”
How to Win (or Lose) a Crime War

So what can be done to end Latin America’s crime-war conundrum?

For Gangster Warlords author Grillo, the struggle needs to take place “on a global level.”

In part, he advocates international drug policy reform in order to reduce the thug armies’ profits from black market narcotics.

Grillo also suggests changing “the reality of ghettos which are outside the system [and] of helping these areas” with education programs and social work.

Mexican reporter Emmanuel Gallardo says that, in his country, the first step is for the state to clean up its act, and eliminate “corruption and impunity” for criminals.

“Here in Mexico if you have enough money and you commit a crime you just pay and are let go,” Gallardo tells The Daily Beast. “With money you can do whatever they want. You can kill a journalist if you want, and no one is going to stop you.”

Like fellow journalist Gallardo, Grillo also sees that building “real justice, law enforcement they can trust, real security for people,” may be the most challenging hurdle of all. 

“The justice system has a lot of problems in the U.S., but it’s still largely functional in that people who commit murder go to jail,” Grillo says, contrasting it to the situation in Mexico “where most people who commit murder don’t go to jail.”

Less than 3 percent of homicides result in a conviction in Mexico, according to the Wilson Center, and other crime-war wracked countries in Latin America have similarly low rates.

Security consultant Bunker says local and state authorities are often simply outmatched:

Because the narcoterrorist groups “engage in both corruption and coercion, neither police nor military responses on their own are sufficient,” he says. “Police do not possess combat capability and the military does not possess anti-corruption and investigative capability. This is why these groups are so hard for states to deal with—they are literally evolving into nation-state killers.”

Bunker recommends “integrated law enforcement and military” forces which can be used “together or separately as appropriate to the threat...”

Civil War historian Downs worries that, in the absence of serious social reforms, even such a unified strategy won’t be enough: “With overwhelming force, states can break up an insurgency,” but criminal insurrections “don’t tend to come in ones—they come in groups.”

That raises a “dispiriting lesson from Reconstruction,” he says, referring to the Union Army’s futile attempts to quash the Klan. “It’s hard to keep it from turning into whackamole.”

Despite the difficulties, Downs warns against a policy of “acquiescence” whereby certain regions are abandoned to insurrectionists in order for state actors to achieve “stability at the cost of democracy.” And he likens the plight of freed people in the post-Reconstruction South to the struggle faced by poor campesinos and indigenous populations in many parts of Latin America today where “gangster warlords” often hold sway.

Cartels want to be left alone “to rule their fiefdoms, not for symbolic reasons,” but for economic ones, Downs adds, “to make money” and “assert control over the laboring population.”

That kind of criminal control—that new brand of narco-feudalism—helps explain why the “Pale Rider,” Death, is running roughshod over so many parts of Mexico, and Central and South America.

The failure to win the crime wars, Downs says, means nothing less than “surrendering democracy to oppression.”


  1. Wow,
    Thank you so much Chivis !
    Quite the pair of Posts this am.
    Paz y Amor ✌🏼💝

  2. Aleluya! I can see! I can walk! I am back alive!
    Now seriously Chivis, glad to see, yer welcome to the best wishes.🐐
    You make us feel like a million dollars

  3. Dr. Mireles defiant. EPN lost his chance at dialogue. Now it's Doc's turn. The government can never be trusted, the Army tortures. Hopes for a leftist alliance in 2018. Thanks AMLO for his pleas for his release. His health is stable and he's following dr's advice. The fight continues:

  4. Interesting how Grillo, the Brit talks first of drug policy reform, but Gallardo, the Mexican expert says: "the first step is for the state to clean up its act, and eliminate “corruption and impunity” for criminals."

    1. Easier said than done.
      Mexicos corruption is deeply embedded into every aspect of life. Trustworthy exams for all those government/ municipal officials. No one should be exempted.

    2. E42 those "examinations" are just purges, and have been leaving othing less than the worst of the worst owning most of the power, doing more crimes than ever, nice to see...

    3. 4:05 I guess you include the new born and the little girls, and their mom's and all the high school students in the "corrupt without exception"
      No mames tanto güey, are you trying to be like little Herodes?

  5. What I find interesting about the Trump administration is that they are focused on squashing MS-13. As if MS-13 is some major threat to the security of the country. I guess they don't realize that MS-13 was started in the streets of LA and not in El Salvador. MS-13 started just like any major gang of the US and that's as a protective gang. Maybe they should focus alittle more on the KKK and Aryan groups who have come out of the wood work since his campaign started. Make no mistake about it the KKK is the first terrorist organization to attack America and Americans.

    1. What aryan groups, and what attacks? Don't just listen to what CNN spouts. The guy who ranted about muslims and stabbed them in Oregon, was a Bernie supporter, hard core lefty who voted for Hillary. Name me one time someone who vowed to be a trump voter or supporter has commuted some terrorist act in the name of whiteness. The Left and the Dems love to scare people into voting away their paycheck with that crap. Before deciding if something is true, give it a look to see if the left or the right is doing the old divide and conquer. I notice you aren't concerned with groups that really exist, and are on dozens of videos beating people, destroying property, rioting, etc... BLM and Antifa ring any bells. I couldn't name one supremacist group, bc they are all a joke, and the few that exist hide by themselves in the woods. There hasn't been a legitimate or active kkk for 40 years, except for some retarded kids playing dress up in their basement and covering the Internet in troll juice of elementary school sophistication. They just focus on MS because it's in their face and the day to day routine of DC area people, as it's big there. So yes, targeting MS like it's communism in the 50's is ludicrous.

    2. You don't have MS-13 in your area, do you? The KKK and all are rather harmless compared to MS

    3. Comparing ms13 too the kkk lol fake News

    4. The KKK love their families, their trucks, their jobs, the good pay, they were not trained by the School of the Americas, not fair comparing them to the maras...or the mexican cartels.

    5. Timothy Mcveigh, okc bombing, pretty sure he wasn't from El Salvador or mexico, also part of aryan groups, but u do sound ignorant if that's what u were aiming for

    6. The right wing reps Are scaring people. Americans Are full of fear social fear women fear fear fear fear fear.....

      Pinche gringo

    7. 12:15 I am a black American male and the KKK has attacked my bloodline for over 200 years so don't tell me it's the left wing politicians and media trying to scare Americans. Let me give you a history lesson on terror. May 31-June 1, 1921 the Tulsa race riots where 39 black Americans were killed, 6,000 were arrested and 800 were hospitalized at the hands of white residents. Even though the bombing in Oklahoma City wasn't race motivated it was still orchestrated by an Aryan group against the government. I can keep giving you examples but it's my belief you will never be convinced either way.

    8. 12:15 and 1:00 ignorance is bliss.

    9. This is a lame article.People are greedy no matter what their background is. White (Aryan)people came to America and raped the Native tribes and made Mexicans and also brought negros from Africa over. White people feel invaded in territory that doesn't even belong to them and kept the best for themselves and most blacks think they are owed something and are not civil. Right wing and left wing its all the same who is good anymore? Islam has never been part of America and now they want to have sharia law wtf? Two males or two females cant procreate. This is the Mexicans land and take a look at all their neighborhoods mostly messed up and uneducated. Humanity as a whole is doomed

    10. 8:36 "you stole my comment"
      Exactly, Timothy McVeigh was sent to Indiana for training in making and exploding fertilizer bombs in some white power supremacist farm, I don't think "Tim" was a drug addict

  6. narcoterrorism - is business
    kkk is racism


    1. Kkk is business through hypocrisy

  7. Whats interesting to me is how the counterculture of the 60's was for many, the vehicle in which the current drug/culture arrived. Millions of young, (mostly white) kids were rightly fed up with "the system", and searching for a way out. Enter the CIA. Think MK-ULTRA. Ken Kesey was a participant of this experiment. The Grateful dead, Tim Leary and countless others encouraged us to get 'high'. The brotherhood of eternal love was a 'gang' and was quite involved in creating at least part of the distribution network that has evolved into this mess.

  8. Whats interesting to me is how the counterculture of the 60's was for many, the vehicle in which the current drug/culture arrived. Millions of young, (mostly white) kids were rightly fed up with "the system", and searching for a way out. Enter the CIA. Think MK-ULTRA. Ken Kesey was a participant of this experiment. The Grateful dead, Tim Leary and countless others encouraged us to get 'high'. The brotherhood of eternal love was a 'gang' and was quite involved in creating at least part of the distribution network that has evolved into this mess.

  9. "They have no ideology." I'll agree with that. Politicians included. We call those people "IDIOTS" here in the US.

    1. He wasn't elected by the people. It was decided by the electoral college. Not everyone can have the great and amazing EPN.

    2. @3:45, I know my kids are safe from drug cartels running entire states. It really wouldn't matter who was pres here in the US. Although I DO support Trump. Makes me & mine feel even SAFER.

  10. 2 heads found in a cooler in Cabo San Lucas.

  11. El 20 was caught again

    1. And will be released, caught, released. You see a Pattern!

    2. When El 20 started he was a 5 por lo quintito, by now he is about a 85, too many receptions...

  12. Darwinism states the low IQ will be killed and the higher IQ will survive! When America and the world realizes that it is bankrupt and impoverished and can't meet its entitlements the SHTF! The smart are locked and loaded!
    Russo Nazi!

    1. Nah, Darwinism says that the 'most adaptive' will survive.

    2. Your a f'!:ING weirdo Russo. Darwinism was proven null & void yrs ago. Don't u watch Ancient Aliens?? Geez!!

  13. Border patrol agent kidnapped and fingers dismembered in New Mexico.

  14. When you're going after your enemies don't ever turn it into a racial matter. The last thing you want is 2 make their resolve 2 kill you that much stronger against you. - Sol Prendido

    1. Race matters, sol, that why CRACK was invented and pushed to them, along with guns and gangbanging from junior high or younger, and race profiling that gave us Black Lives Matter in RESPONSE to the paramilitary training trying to establishore that black lives don't really really matter at all.
      Chicago Police insurers have paid more than 500 million dollars in out of court settlements, their trainers have not ben brought to court or investigated...

  15. Good article, thank you for posting. Could you kindly cite the author?

  16. good read,but Anonymous talk too much


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