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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Cartels dont exist, narco trafficking and culture in Mexico by Oswaldo Zavala

Translated by Otis B Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from a Proceso article

Subject Matter: Book by Oswaldo Zavala
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required

"The cartels do not exist: that is the early lesson learned by the traffickers themselves," says Oswaldo Zavala in The Cartels do not exist. Drug trafficking and culture in Mexico, a daring book that demystifies the scarecrows and archetypes created by the governments of Mexico and the United States around drug trafficking and drug traffickers. What there really is, explains the writer and collaborator of Proceso, is "the market for illegal drugs and those who are willing to work on it. But not the division that according to the Mexican and US authorities separates these groups from civil society and government structures. 

Reporter: Oswaldo Zavala
On February 19, 2012, the still president Felipe Calderón offered the last speech of his government on the occasion of the Day of the Army and the Mexican Air Force. In the program of events, something extraordinary happened that the sociologist Luis Astorga, expert in drug trafficking and security, rescued from the journalistic coverage of that day. It is the moment in which a group of soldiers simulated the search of a car to illustrate to the president the procedures to detect drug. Anota Astorga:

In a vehicle where it was concealed, presumably marijuana, the soldier who played the role of trafficker was dressed according to the archetypal image that is had of them, even in the museum of Sedena dedicated to the issue of drug trafficking, ie with boots, hat and listening to corridos of traffickers: "Scene that  at Calderón, his wife Margarita Zavala and the Secretaries of National Defense and Navy, General Guillermo Galván and Admiral Francisco Saynez started laughing", according to the journalistic note that gave an account of the act.

The military carried out a performance of their activities for the fight against drugs, personifying the figure of the trafficker that the Mexican political system has built for specific political purposes: a man dressed as a cowboy listening to narcocorridos. That image, as Astorga recalls, has been incorporated into the Drugs Museum of the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena).

There is a mannequin dressed like that same "narco" that the military improvised: a rancher boasting vulgarly the sudden wealth generated by drug trafficking and that is inevitably incorporated into his personal image with Versace shirts, leather crocodile boots and that infallible hat without which he would not be recognizable. To that image, the museum adds objects that confirm the profile of the mythical Mexican narco:

The performance of the military allows us a rare sighting of the way in which the Mexican political system has created a formidable enemy in these times of permanent national security crisis. The "narco" imagined by the military is, in theory, the opposite of the soldier: undisciplined, vulgar, ignorant, violent. In the antipodes of the army, however, the narco requires, if not a uniform, yes a uniformity that distinguishes it from the soldiers who in the name of the government will execute it.

Astorga observes that the archetypal clothing of the "narco" model coincides with that of many of the inhabitants of the rural regions of Mexico. How do the military manage to identify the criminals among the ranchers in the country? During the supposed "war against the narco" ordered by President Calderón, according to official data, around 121,683 people were killed. But if the "narcotraficante" staged by the military provoked the laughter of the president, his wife and the Secretaries of Defense and Navy, this was due to the caricature of the phenomenon, close to the way he imagines the traffickers in movies or television series.

In reality, the average appearance of victimizers and victims of the alleged war is radically different. As demonstrated by a study conducted in November 2012 by the Center for Public Policy Analysis, the recurrent profile among victims of intentional homicides during Calderón's term is that of men between 25 and 29 years of age, single, poor and with little or no schooling, which, far from the rancherias and their denim clothes, resided in cities such as Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey or Tijuana.

The profile of the perpetrators during the supposed confrontations between "cartels" does not coincide with the narco represented by the military. It was not the rancher trafficker who killed his enemy with boots and a Texan hat while listening to Los Tigres del Norte runs as a soundtrack for a low budget movie by the Almada brothers.

Before Calderón, the military made the closest thing to a theatrical performance acting simultaneously the role of the hero and the violent enemy of the State and civil society. They had to act because the hero and the enemy, in reality, do not exist in the staged terms. Where does that archetype so recurrent in the collective imagination about the "narco" come from?

It is necessary to go back in time to articulate a first response. In 1989, just at the end of the Cold War, the political scientist Waltraud Morales wrote a fundamental article to understand the new world order after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For half a century, anti-communism occupied the center of the national security policy of the United States. The National Security Act, enacted in 1947, was the mechanism through which the US Congress gave legal support to the global strategy that polarized the planet after World War II. The Cold War, of course, directly involved the Mexican state.

During the same year of 1947, two key institutions of the new security era were created: in the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and in Mexico, the Federal Security Directorate (DFS). Over the next three decades, both agencies intertwined efforts to contain the supposed communist threat in the hemisphere.

Their collaboration was deepened with the so-called Operation Condor, through which the US government deployed an aggressive interventionist policy in the continent in the mid-1970s. The Mexican version of Operation Condor, however, was the only one that focused on drug trafficking and not on combating communism. The thousands of soldiers and federal police officers who destroyed the drug plantations between 1975 and 1978 also produced the mass displacement of peasants and drug producers and traffickers

By the end of the decade, the Mexican "narco" not only continued to exist,
Following the inertia of the United States, the media soon became accustomed to calling the organizations headed by these characters "cartels". But the word "cartel", like practically all the vocabulary associated with "narco", has an official origin. Luis Astorga underlines the contradiction of referring to groups of traffickers as "cartels" despite the fact that, according to official intelligence, far from collaborating horizontally to enhance their profits, the "cartels" act as competing rivals willing to eliminate each other .

In his book the century of the drugs (1996), Astorga registers another revealing episode of the political history of the "narco". It is an interview that Time magazine made in 1994 to Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, the Colombian trafficker who supposedly led, along with his brother Miguel, the "Cartel de Cali". The trafficker states: the "Cali cartel" simply does not exist:

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela

"It is an invention of the DEA [...] There are many groups, not just a cartel. The police know. Also the DEA. But they prefer to invent a monolithic enemy. " The British journalist Ioan Grillo obtained a similar statement when interviewing in Colombia the "narco-lawyer" Gustavo Salazar, the legal representative of the supposed "cartel of Medellín". The lawyer repeats essentially what was said by Rodríguez Orejuela: "The cartels do not exist. What there is is a collection of drug dealers. Sometimes they work together, sometimes not. US prosecutors call them 'cartels' to make their cases easier. Everything is part of the game. "

The cartels do not exist: that is the early lesson learned by the traffickers themselves. There is the market for illegal drugs and those who are willing to work in it. But not the division that according to the Mexican and US authorities separates these groups from civil society and government structures. There is also the violence attributed to the so-called "cartels", but as I will discuss throughout these pages, that violence obeys more to the disciplinary strategies of the State structures themselves than to the criminal action of the alleged "narcos".

As Waltraud Morales recalls, when US anti-drug policy displaced communism as the new doctrine of national security, the public of that country was already prepared to confirm the irruption of the "drug cartels": a survey conducted in 1988 by the chain CBS television showed that Americans believed that the trafficking and consumption of prohibited drugs posed a greater threat to national security than terrorism or arms trafficking.

This change of perception in the American public was not the result of a correct understanding of the drug trafficking issue. On the contrary, the belief in the "drug cartels" as the new threat of national security was the direct effect of the implementation of a State policy based in part on the conception of a permanent enemy that allows to justify actions that otherwise they would be illegal and even immoral.

In order to give legal form to this securitization turn, President Ronald Reagan signed in 1986 the National Security Decision Directive 221, which since then has designated illegal drugs as the new threat to the national security of the United States. The "war on drugs", that had begun in the 1970s during the presidency of Richard Nixon as a domestic strategy to combat leftist dissent, would now take the place of communism to legitimize US interventionist policy.

 The prediction of political scientist Waltraud Morales in her 1989 article, which is as relevant and urgent in the contemporary context as it was then, is staggering: "The danger, therefore, is that a generation of foreign policy in the United States will be rooted in the hatred of a mythical enemy, in conspiracy and not in democracy, and in ideological doctrines of national security ".

Anti-drug policy as the new social security doctrine in the late 1980s produced one of the most significant political scandals in the modern history of the United States. Although some journalists had approached the subject, the revelation was made with all its force, before the national and international commotion, by the investigative journalist Gary Webb in a series of three reports published in the newspaper San José Mercury News between the 18th and August 20, 1996.

Webb demonstrated direct links between the so-called "crack cocaine epidemic" in the black neighborhoods of the South-Central area of ​​the city of Los Angeles and the CIA-backed counterinsurgency strategy in Nicaragua to overthrow the Sandinista government. According to Webb's report,

In 1998, the CIA admitted in a report from its inspector general that the agency "had not only worked with 58 Contras involved in cocaine trafficking, but had also concealed their criminal activities from Congress [of the United States]," according to the slogan the already classic academic study of Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin. CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (2003). That same year of 1998, the celebrated journalist Charles Bowden met with Webb in the city of Sacramento, California. Bowden underscores the resolute confidence with which Webb defended the informative validity of his report when Bowden mentioned that his work had been associated with conspiracy theories: "I do not believe in fucking conspiracy theories," Webb said. I'm talking about a fucking conspiracy. "

From the open adoption of the US national security discourse in the following decade, especially with the creation in Mexico of the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN) in 1989, the political system gradually increased a violent militaristic strategy that culminated, as all Mexicans were able to witness in the daily horror of Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey or Tampico, with the crimes against humanity committed during the presidency of Felipe Calderón.

The supposed crisis of national security that Calderón said justified the "war on drugs" is based mainly on a discursive strategy without material foundation. The sociologist Fernando Escalante Gonzalbo already showed, with a simple statistical analysis based on official figures, that the violence in the country began after the militarization ordered by Calderón in 2008. In the previous decade, between 1997 and 2007, the homicide rate was going down in the main areas of the country where the thousands of soldiers and federal agents sent by President Calderón were concentrated. The presidency of Calderon wanted to militarize the country to contain a supposed "war of cartels" that did not produce violence. The army and federal agents took cities where there was no emergency.

In one of his journalistic columns, Juan Villoro analyzes the bi national tension between Mexico and the United States generated by the unexpected election of Donald Trump as president of that country. There Villoro recalls, on the subject of the infamous border wall proposed by Trump, an episode of the television series Los Sopranos. As you know, Tony Soprano, the protagonist, is a gangster from New Jersey whom we see face the challenges of daily life in American society while driving their violent illegal activities.

 In the episode in question, their neighbors can not hide the fear caused by forced coexistence with a criminal. Villoro points:
To satisfy the morbidity of living together, Tony Soprano fills a box of sand, wraps it and in an accomplice tone asks his neighbors to keep it. They can not refuse; They accept the box thinking that it contains something compromising without knowing that it is about sand. In a single gesture, Tony ingratiates himself with them and poisons his life.

The "narco" in Mexico and the United States works like that clever and perverse scheme of Tony Soprano. The "narco" appears in our society as a fearsome pandora's box that, if opened, we believe it would unleash a kingdom of death and destruction. If we could overcome fear and confront what we call "narco" by finally opening the box, we would not find in it a violent trafficker, but the official language that invents it: we would hear words without an object, as fragile and malleable as sand. Let's open the box, then.


  1. Another blah blah blah guy who is raising white flag of surrender. Don't fight the cartels, don't fight the bad guys, just be nice - and by the way, drugs should be free and widely available, because they are harmless candies.

    I am disgusted with such soft, delusional, naive people.

    1. The author is not being naive, he is simply stateing the facts and what is known by people with their minds on reality and not on the theatrics created by governments.

    2. Actually this author makes sense in a different perspective if we look!
      This invention / fabrication given; created what we term today as “ Cartel”. A justification for actions as described by its author to combat an enemy of the state.

      Interesting article B.B.
      We are all aware of manipulation / fabrication
      by those who have an objective to carry out. How one achieves its purpose / goal is questionable!
      Curious what fabrication / invention was applied to those bankers for doing what they do?


    3. Naive? Who is so naive that he thinks he can win the "drug war"? Or delusional? That he thinks there is some enemy that he can defeat? I have had dealings with the DEA and the guys who cooperate with them and believe me, you have no idea what the real truth is.

    4. The author in no shape or form did he implies to stop combating narcotic traffic. The way the U.S. and Mexico have develop their combat strategy is not realistic and has not worked that is a reality and as long as they continue to misdirect the efforts, there is no solution. We need people with knoledge of the problem to come out with solutions, and governments to come out with viable strategies to address the real problem and the real actor of these narco cultures that have our society hostage here in Mexico and in other contries. Misdirection of the effort will only make things worse and permit the problem to become bigger.

    5. So can it be fair to say the same about America as a cartel?
      Reference: To past Exposure / involvement of drug trafficking by American government for political interests?

      Maybe what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander?


    6. Correction for 6:51
      Curious as to what favorable invention / fabrication was given to bankers for doing what they do?

    7. America as a country does not get involved in drug trafficking except when it gets dragged to fighting the War on Drugs that only serves to fill the pockets of the expert drug traffickers themselves, they know where the fight is being fought and they can skirt the defenses to keep up with the drug trafficking,
      Blaming the Texas cowboy hat and ostrich cowboy hats wearing poster boys of the narco helps them deflect blame, what the author says is that the narco and the cartels are a smoke screen tk throw the dogs off the scent of the real drug traffickers in Mexico and the US, and he /she is right,
      zhenli ye gonewas losing millions and millions of dollars in Las Vegas casinos, they all became clean Laundered money immediately, that how it works, and the US government should have confiscated all of it, there are too many greedy billionaires with offshore businesses that do nothing else but laundering money and they have agreements to be left alone 99% of the timeall over the world, no Mexican Drug Trafficking Cowboys have ever been seen in those banks...their hats and boots would be on videos all over the place, but you can see NY Stock Exchange executives coming to conferences with the drug trafficking FARC in Colombia on YouTube.

    8. I am a cowboy , but not Narco. But a lot My friend are ja ja

    9. @5:07: HA HA you are delirious! After 30 years of WoD we are inundated with cheaper, stronger and more plentiful drugs than EVER!

      If you ever lifted your head from the screen, opened your door and ventured outside you would see this fact for yourself.

      So I would say the WoD is GOING EXACTLY they way out governments want it to: creating mayhem and insecurity making us (US and Mex) more vulnerable to government abuse.

      The author of this report describes it exactly as it is: the mother of all 'cartels' are the governments.

      REMEMBER: a HUGE part of the drug traffickers costs are being paid as bribes to government officials who are raking it in and becomming rich from the blood of the poor and hapeless underclass!

      The biggest (and only) winners from the illicit drug trade are the goverment officials. The WoD simply provides a boost to the rate at which their pockets are being filled.

    10. 7:16 bottom feeds del narco support the top of the food chain in mexico, but the biggest of the criminals get a little fine here or there on the US, about 1% of their illegal money laundering, most of it drugs profits, and sometimes it is for amounts in the hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes it is 600 million dollars for chewing gum.
      Google: Largest Fines to Banks for Money Laundering.

    11. Charles Bowden told Gary Webb aboit people accusing him of promoting "conspiracy theories"...Regarding the CIA and the cocaine/crack connection
      Gary Webb answered:
      "we are not talking about a fucking conspiracy theory, we are talking about a FUCKING CONSPIRACY here"
      Quoted from "Los Cartels no Existen" in PROCESO

  2. Interesting. Is the book available in English?

  3. around 2007-2008 Zacatecas was hit hard by Z. i remember this clearly because the citizens of my family hometown would boast of working with them. The municipal police were working for them at least where my family was from this happened. In that area i had never heard of drug traffiking but the Z changed that. i remember the fear some of my family would talk of them in a low hush voice as if it were prohibited to speak of them. We didnt have videos of shootouts or decap or really even the narco websites didnt exist yet. Nobody had any knowledge of who they were . It was a big mystery . They didnt announce themselves like they do now. They were local teenagers who the plaza bosses hired to be halcones. Those local ranchero boys had everybody in fear. I remeber this story i heard from my aunt who said it happened to a friend of a friend. That in the pueblo some lady was at a unisex hair salon. she was talking in a low voice about the Z in the town , and when she was done some guy who had overheard got up and shaved her hair and told her to be quiet and never talk about Z. Well i live in US and i heard this story from my coworkers.. one from Michoacan, JALIsco, and Durango. this story of fear happened in all Mexico in everybodys hometown.. lol

    1. I heard that story in Durango, before the Zetas were kicked out...Must be a myth then.

    2. 8:25 people said that lady who got her head shaved was governor Amalia Garcia who got Ricard monreal to run for governor as PRD candidate and who won, she was the next governor and had a lot of problems with monreal and secretary of governance Miguel Alonso who became next governor for PRI PARTY.
      Ricardo monreal is said to have brought the Zetas to zacatecas since he was presidente municipal de fresnillo

  4. He’s probably correct in that our definition of these groups as cartels is a bit reductive. There aren’t any organizations in Mexico which function with the corporate, top-down management style, with the possible exception of CJNG—which Mencho seems to rule with an iron fist, and which has only seen one group defect. However, if you think of these subgroups as their own organizations, which work together for a common purpose, then the name cartel is the best word to describe the overarching federation of groups. Or maybe we should go back to calling CDS the Sinaloa Federation. Then you could more accurately term CJNG, los Z, Juarez, BLO, CDG, etc. as federations.

    1. aun todavia los viejos les llaman grupos no por cartel. y se dijo que los gabachos empezaron a llamarlos asi. pero son grupos . grupo tijuana. grupo sinaloa grupo de juarez. esa es la manera que los viejos le llaman. grupo. llamarle cartel fue idea de los gabachos JAGL

    2. The Mexican government on top delegates military zones and commanders and police directors from judicial federal to state police and transit federal to local traffic cops and municipal in charge of Corner stores and local gramero chieftains paying their penny pinches with Marchand on the credit plan...
      And that is just the local corner level top down, extensive country wide drug trafficking cartel, imagine the big boys like golfas, zetas or chinolas, kagadas templadas or the juangabrielas del cdj and Decaf?
      The CIA and the DFS formed to fight communism soon turned to drug trafficking because Communist Cadres take a LOOOONG TIME to create, raise and nurture, but drug traffickers just take a handover of goodies and party time opportunities, soon the hippiadas and evening parties every day took over mexico, more fun than reading Das Kapital or any other Marx/ Engel's treatises or the Leninist-Stalinist approach to revolution or how to truce the mencheviks or assassinate their prophets in Mexico for trotskistas...o ly other things left were mao''s little red books, the little school red book, and the treatises from jehova's time wins...

  5. MB story on the death of Don Gera please. Him being sent to Puente Grande was a death sentence. Don Gera's death will only strengthen CJNG as he was the main actor keeping CJNG's presence in Colima relatively limited. Lots of chaos in Colima ahead as Don Gera's organization will no doubt strike back at the CJNG cells/supporters in Colima.

  6. I believe it, mak4s sense

  7. María Consuelo Loera Pérez has a dea file its connected to this post.

  8. Well, it is a matter of definition. I dont see any new ideas really.

    1. Exhibit one shows the Mexican melitary showing off for FECAL, stopping a car and dragging a "narco" out of it, the stereotyped narco wears cowboy hat and boots, looks like former president Vicente fox, alias La Chachalaca...
      In real life they shoot into the car and assassinate the husband and wife and kids by an honest mistake "for not stopping at the checkpoint", while they might have been scared for their lives.
      Others get assassinated for looking like drug traffickers at first sight, if they were not that is their pedo...

  9. Yes there are organizations of Narcos

    1. 3:44 yes, but if they are not card carrying members of some weighty confederation that has some good English speaking political, intelligence and international business banksters to assist them, those little cartels will get it up the ass quickly

  10. The definition of Cartel is; a an association of manufactures or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level & restricting competition. There are no Cartels in Mexico and there never was. The name Cartel was used by the US Gov to scare Congress. The cells within the Sinaloa federation fight each other for market share at the retail level. They get their drugs & weapons from the big dogs at the top. And only align if an opposing group threatens their respective territory. Sinaloa created the federation in order to buy bulk shipments together at lower prices from Columbia. Example; Nacho was a major player but teamed up with the others to get his shit cheaper. The Zetas for example is an organized crime group of ex military and cops. Not even close to a Cartel. The powerful drug families in Mexico are mafia families by definition. Some control production. Some distribution. And some traffic product to the US. Some are involved in a combination. Now that being said. The larger groups like Sinaloa who traffic drugs to the US sell wholesale shipments. Their cells sell on the retail level in Mexico also. The wholesale West coast price and the East coast price very drastically. The only Cartel in the world is OPEC. Which controls the worlds oil supply and price on the wholesale level. The Sinaloa federation fight each other at the lower level (retail) & ( within the Guzman family) and Sr. Mayo doesn't give a fuck. Chapo tried to keep control for order limiting chaos and to not heat up the plazas. The media will glorify things to sell, but the facts are facts. Its simply organized crime groups and or mafia families. My brother in law got popped with 200 kilos of coke in Ohio in a tractor trailer. So before you mouth off, I have a deeper understanding & knowledge than 99% of you.

    1. 2:33 the Cartel the Bogota and the Cartel de Medellin were some if the first cartels, the language has traved from Colombia to mexico, including the "fiscalia" and the "falsos positivos" we only had "procuradurias" since the end of the Mexican revolution
      Policia Nacional is another Colombian word.

    2. All that is cool and all but the real question it, did you replace the in law then 😂

    3. 8:48 whenever the cuñaos get cogidos and sent to prison,
      the Sanchos always take over, drink the cuñao's beer and wears his Calzones back again, the cuñao never knows he is wearing his sancho's calzones all along.

    4. BIL, got popped so you know more than anyone. So, you are complicit? He told you the way all his biz worked??? My pop's cousin is El H of BLO's wife....none of us know details of their business.

  11. This writer must be blind deaf and dumb

    1. 10:39 I suspect the writer only wants to stir his readers' pedorros, I am glad it worked in your case...

  12. no hay carteles pero si hay organizaciones bien poderosas. same thing!

    1. The cartels are invented, much like "El Chapulin Colorado"
      But El Chapulin Colorado never got demonized so thorugly, except for a few reports of his being a puppet of Don Pablo who financed him and set him up with televisa one of Don Pablo's best customers since the culombians suicided Arabella Arbenz daughter of former guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz for betraying texas born emilio "El tigere" azcarraga with Chavela Vargas.

  13. First, here in Mex, on the street people refer to all gangsters most of whom are connected to a "cartel" as 'mafia', or 'narcos'. The word cartel is never used.

    But it seems true to me at the top organization level, each 'cartel' is a cartel. One boss or junta. Then gangs all over the place who receive their product or produce their product for sale. These local gangs (pandillas) only exist at the pleasure of the boss and are controlled by the boss' directions. In this way the cartel is an organization of individual subgroups who operate in synchronicity. If there is a territorial change (change in who owns the plaza), the existing local gangs switch to the new boss/cartel.

    But in general, they could as easily be called 'families' from the crime model from which they spring - mafia.

    The governments - USA and Mex - are run by technocrats/bureaucrats who distill everything down to bullshit jargon... simple words, acronyms. The government can brainwash the general population with propaganda using these words and initials even if misusing them. After all, this is propaganda and brainwashing. The concepts of 'cartels', 'war on drugs', 'support your local police', CIA, etc become the endless mantra which puts most of the population in a sort of mindless state about it all. Apathy.

    The governments and the 'cartels' need each other. The government clamps down on drugs, cartel profits go up. Drug cartel fighting is a lucrative public enterprise providing jobs to lower mentality unemployed and underemployed stooges and huge profits to those who equip the war.

    Like the article says... the government needed a new boogie man after the cold war trailed off, and those pesky liberals took to the streets with their disenfranchised allies. The Democrat convention in Chicago, 1968, led to fear that the military industrial complex was under attack.


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