I posed the question after Governor Perry's security guru Fred Burton from Stratfor asserted that America had no large cartel-style criminal organizations because US law enforcement was too efficient and hard to corrupt. It turned out, only 3% of Grits readers agreed with Mr. Burton, but a surprising number overall - around 42% - agreed generally that America did not have large, Mexican cartel-style organized crime gangs.
With more than 200 responses, 14% said the US drug market is dominated by small, regional distributors, while 24% thought that the cartels' organizations themselves already extend into the US and control drug-smuggling crime gangs here in the states. Fifty-eight percent agreed with my assessment in this post that, since most of the huge sums of money spent on drugs comes from the US, some American capitalist crook was probably controlling the US portion.
I'm glad I asked the survey question, because having it up there made me think about the topic all week, and the range of responses actually made me reconsider my position (even though most readers agreed with my original stance). The more I read and think on it, the more I believe it likely that Mexican cartels work directly in America with decentralized networks of regional distributors and corrupt law enforcement. One commenter suggested that prison gangs were the de facto national network, and that could be partially true as well.
Of course, maybe there is one or more big-league American Gangster who's been successfully shielded from media and law enforcement scrutiny. We can't know for sure. But capitalism is a messy and dynamic thing, and it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Mexican crime organizations have extended their reach far enough into the United States to control their own distribution channels.
In any event, it's hubris in my view to believe, as Burton and 3% of Grits readers do, that US law enforcement is significantly shielded from corruption. Hell, we've seen elected sheriffs and drug task force supervisors shepherding drug trafficking caravans through their jurisdictions!
I've argued before and still believe that border security money should first go to root out official corruption on both the US and Mexican side before wasting money on "training" corrupt police. (In the worst case scenario, the US brought a team of Mexican commandos to Fort Benning, GA to receive special forces training who went back home, defected, and became Los Zetas, a feared mercenary band who fight on behalf of the Gulf Cartel.)
I'm increasingly frustrated that US border policies not only seem to ignore but worsen the threat of powerful Mexican criminal gangs operating in America. While a whopping 73% of Americans currently think illegal drugs are a "serious problem," honestly you haven't begun to see real trouble until Los Zetas show up in your town.
UPDATE: Mark Bennett from Defending People emails to say:
I don't think there exist American druglords. I've seen lots of cases involving American drug dealers, and all of them end with small-scale (tens of kilos) purchases from Mexicans. If there were American druglords, I would expect to have seen at least one case where the trail petered out with someone who wouldn't talk about his American boss.There is undoubtedly corruption in US law enforcement, but there are too many agencies with jurisdiction over drug crime for a druglord to confidently preserve his freedom by bribing cops.