Baghdad on the Rio Bravo Revisited


In December of 2008, in a column titled „You Gotta Know When to Fold”, I wrote that there are only three options for México in the continuing Mexican drug war. Namely continuing the present hard line fight against the cartels, working with the US in a bi-national effort to reduce the drug market that fuels the cartels, or to unilaterally reduce the anti-drug effort in México. Needless to say, this third option evoked some strident opposing commentary from readers.

Now, 6 months later, these choices are becoming stark reality. Consider the history of the war.

In the Fox administration, under the party that unseated the PRI party that controlled México with an iron fist for 71 years, he started something new. He caught heads of the cartels and convicted them and sent them to prison. The problem was two fold. Some of these high level prisoners continued to operate control of their cartels via cell phone from their prison cells. Others were sprung in Hollywood style organized prison breaks including using helicopters and in one case, sneaking out a top drug lord in a laundry basket. That last one has never been caught to date. The second problem is that the only effect has been destabilization of the cartels. With more and more of the top chiefs arrested or killed, leadership devolved on the „young Turks” who were more violent than their predecessors.

Then at the beginning of the Calderón administration in 2006, his first act after 10 days as the president to unleash the Mexican army against the entire cartel organizations. This started an uptick in the war that continues to this day. During the two and one half years of the present Calderón administration, the total death toll in the war is around 13,000. Most are fatalities from cartel to cartel operations for securing more control on the export routes. Second are police fatalities, both from the cartels and against corrupt police working for the „wrong” cartel. Then come the Mexican military fatalities followed my civilian deaths, mainly for getting caught in the crossfire.

Considering that the population of México is 110 million, this is
a lot of causalities. And we should mention that over 60,000 cartel members are in Mexican jails now. In addition, it is increasingly common for México to extradite high-level drug lords to the US for trials in that country where they are wanted for crimes committed there. This is unprecedented. In fact, cross border cooperation has never been higher than now. A year ago a top wanted Mexican citizen was wanted in the US for murder in a military related case. It was the Mexican police that located him in México and extradited him to the US. And just two weeks ago, in the shooting of a US border control agent by Mexican drug runners, the Mexican police arrested and are holding four good suspects in that case for possible extradition. In other words, the cross border cooperation is at an all time high, regardless of the well-known level of corruption in the Mexican police forces. This is a condition that has been rampant for decades and is going to take years to completely overcome. But Calderón and his party, the PAN, is giving that issue high priority including arresting mid level politicians like mayors for corruption charges.
Where are we going on the war now? The only real thing is that the violence is rising daily by the cartels. Now, if a high level member is arrested, the cartel response is to assassinate. A recent upstart cartel, operating along the western border killed, after torturing, twelve federal police officers and dumped their bodies along a roadside near a large border city. The message was that this was in retaliation to the arrest of one of that cartel’s chiefs. And this retaliation action is getting common. No one can even guess where this increasing violence is leading.
This leads us to consider another factor. In a recent column by Ruben Navarette of the San Diego Union Tribune, he points out that the recent mid-term elections has cost the present ruling party, the PAN, control of the Chamber of Deputies (the House of Representatives). While president Calderón will remain in power for another 3 and a half years, his control of the federal government has been reduced. He will need some input from the PRI to get anything through congress now. And that includes the federal budgets that must be agreed on by the end of each year.

Recently, there was a published „offer” by the head of one of the strongest cartel chiefs to „negotiate” a settlement between the government and the cartels to allow them to continue an „orderly” method for drug exports to the US. This evoked an immediate and unanimous rare statement by ALL political parties not to even consider this offer. But as Navarrete points out, it will only be a simple thing for the congress to vote out funding for continuing the war, little by little. And the Mexican people are becoming increasingly concerned about our economy and more „stimulus” money. This process can seriously affect the Mexican effort in the war.
In closing, consider this (again). If you want to reduce the power of the cartels, reduce the profits. Cut down the vast amount of money that is funding their operations. Money is the fuel, and the biggest single product profit is marijuana, by a long shot. This reminds me of the 1920s prohibition in the US. When the total alcohol prohibition was gradually reduced, and alcohol was put under government control, the stranglehold of the Mafia was reduced. And lo and behold, a new tax source was opened up and a new government service was formed, the Alcohol, Tax and Firearms service.
We also note that gradually, in both countries, there is a pattern of local relaxation of marijuana possession laws. Partly looking at prospective tax revenue down the road but also to reduce the burgeoning cost of the jail space for two-bit pot possession for having a joint or two.  The Mexican capital (the Federal District), many areas in California and even in Chicago have added softening of pot possession laws recently. And high in bankrupt California is the thought of badly needed tax sources for a billion or two tax income dollars.
The bottom line is to cut down the profit of the drug business to reduce the powers of the cartels. As it is, the war is only going to get worse and last longer. And the Mexican people will gradually tire of the increasing casualty lists.

Richard N. Baldwin T., a ( contributing columnist, lives in Tlalnepantla, Edo de México. E-mail at: [email protected]