I may not think arresting drug users is the answer to any problem I believe needs solving (on that me and the Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics Division agree), but that doesn't mean I have any common interests with the killers and thugs who're turning parts of Mexico into a full-blown battle zone.
Thanks to massive amounts of legal, desirable commerce that's largely unappreciated by those who've never visited the border, a wall cannot stop corruption or drugs from entering the US. Nor will it keep drug cartels (or immigrants) out, not when smugglers are capable of building tunnels across the Rio Grande, for heaven's sake! Only Mexico can fight Mexico's battles. They're a sovereign state and we can't control what goes on there. But we can pay attention to what's happening on the US side.
So before we hand $1.4 billion to Mexico to combat the cartels, what do we know (or rather, what do I know - y'all help me out here) about the US side infrastructure of these multinational smuggling operations? Here's an overview derived mostly from past Grits coverage:
- Despite a steady supply of drugs nationwide, US drug seizures overall dropped in 2007.
- Legitimate north-bound border traffic will continue to increase, making expanded inspections impossible without harming commerce. Currently less than 1% of vehicles entering the country are searched.
- The Mexican Attorney General alleges that a fleet of 50 US-registered planes was sold to the Sinaloa cartel by unidentified American interests, including one captured and one that crashed in the last year, both filled with tons of cocaine.
- Someone has begun using submarines to transport drugs by sea.
- People, rafts, and a tunnel were used by the Gulf Cartel from Reynosa to McAllen
- Heightened enforcement has empowered cartels to seize control of immigrant smuggling, making illegal immigration more entangled with organized crime than ever before.
- Corrupt local police officers on the US side sell protection to smugglers on a per-load basis.
- Cartels purchase firearms in US - particularly at gun shows in Houston and Dallas - that are smuggled into Mexico and used in nearly 100% of drug related killings.
The cartel wars boil down to a clash between two different business models:
- Old Model: Gulf, Juarez, Tijuana cartels appear to be more of a gatekeeper for other, smaller smuggling groups, largely in collaboration with local law enforcement.
- New Model: The Sinaloa federation appears to have a more corporate-esque structure with a vertically integrated supply and distribution chain. And they don't want to pay any tolls for the privilege.
I discussed this in more detail yesterday, but among the recent events I've been watching:
- Seventy employees of currency exchange company taken into custody in Mexico City, accounts frozen at Wachovia (Miami) and Harris Bank (Chicago).
- Another currency exchange with ties to US banks was recently taken down by authorities for laundering Euros.
- Ex-Im Bank gives loans to cartel figures; new guidelines promulgated to stop the problem aren't mandatory. (The Chairman of the 9-member Ex-Im Bank advisory board is Wachovia's General Counsel.)
- Drug cash is used to purchase cars in the US to re-sell in Mexico. Makes you wonder what an investigation of new and used car dealerships might turn up, huh?
- A subcommander of Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel's enforcement arm, did his grocery shopping in McAllen where he was arrested last summer buying watermelon.
- Los Zetas train US-citizen teenagers in America as young as 13 to work as hitmen, assassins and fighters in their war with the Sinaloa federation.
- Los Zetas have been blamed for US-side murders as far north as Dallas.
- One of these "Zetillas," or "little Zetas," allegedly participated in 30 murders on both sides of the river before his 17th birthday, according to Laredo police.
- In Laredo, more than 25 US children have been kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico.
- The Chinese businessman in whose Mexico City house authorities found $220 million in drug money lived in New York City (where he was arrested) and claimed most of the cash was for paying off members of President Calderon's ruling PAN political party.
Just in the last few years:
- A former El Paso FBI regional director allegedly took bribes from an informant.
- Numerous official corruption cases at all levels routinely popped up in the MSM, each usually portrayed as an isolated incident.
- Extensive allegations of corruption on both sides of the river in the El Paso "House of Death" case were never fully vetted because a man who participated in multiple murders while working as a ICE informant was quickly extradited to Mexico before he could testify. He claimed Juarez police kidnapped and murdered people on behalf of the eponymous cartel, and that local ICE officials also took bribes. His description of the Juarez cartel, reported the Dallas News, "reveals 'The Office as a business enterprise in which no one is indispensable and in which dozens are killed each year for disciplinary reasons."
- A Laredo Drug Task Force Deputy Commander directed cartel smugglers around enforcement.
- The Cameron County Sheriff and some deputies helped smugglers caravan drugs safely through county
- Additional residual corruption abounds: E.g., the Troup police department was disbanded for taking drugs and alcohol from the evidence room
What else can we say about the US-side cartel infrastructure? As a policy matter, how do you get a handle on a problem this big? (Even for those who leap to say "legalize," large-scale criminal smuggling organizations like those described here still must be confronted.) There needs to be a broader conversation about short-term answers, because what we're doing is not working, from any perspective. Please leave any related thoughts, leads, hunches, or other suggestions for further inquiry in the comments.
Image of the Laredo international bridge via Penny de los Santos.