Thursday, June 19, 2008

American guns fueling Mexican cartel violence

Speaking of the Mexican justice system, our neighbors to the South would have a lot easier time getting crime and drug running under control if the United States didn't allow massive trafficking of guns southward, often in the same vehicles used to bring drugs north. That's the subject of an excellent investigative story by James Verini in the July issue of CondeNast Portfolio, who relays this tidbit in passing about the identity of Los Zetas' commander in Nuevo Laredo that I'd not read elsewhere:
Everyone knows who the Zetas are. They dress in designer jeans and boots and drive around in new Jeep Cherokees and pickups, the butts of their guns visible through the windows. Everyone knows Nuevo Laredo’s Zeta gatekeeper by reputation, but few know him by sight. When I ask Ana [a reporter's pseudonym] his name, she refuses to say it, beckoning me to hand her my notebook. She hides it from view and scribbles “Miguel Treviño.”

Treviño’s name has an incantatory power in Nuevo Laredo, and his sadism is notorious. He is said to be fond of employing the guiso—a word that means stew but has come to signify a form of execution in which victims are burned alive in oil drums. With Treviño’s help, the Zetas have taken on sideline operations that go beyond their Gulf cartel duties: human smuggling, extortion, and, of course, gunrunning. There are warrants out for Treviño in Mexico and Texas, but Ana has little faith that the police or army will arrest him. To her, they seem mostly inept, not to mention mendacious. Whenever she asks the police about a murder, she says, they call it a suicide. “No one tells the truth here,” she adds. Lately, the Zetas have even taken to hanging recruitment banners in public spaces. “Kids used to say that they wanted to be police. Now they want to be Zetas,” Ana says. “They think that’s the only way to get respect.”

Meanwhile, regard for the U.S. has never been lower. “The only thing the people here know about the U.S. is that it won’t give them visas,” Ana goes on. Actually, they do know something else—that the Zetas’ guns come from across the border."
It's an important mitzvah for reporters to expose cartel leaders in the press, even if it sometimes places them in as much danger as the cops who're trying to capture them. I'm increasingly of the belief that in the modern era, old "intelligence" strategies used by police holding sources close to the vest have become outdated, that what's needed is a new open-sourced intelligence model that exposes drug cartels to sunlight's inevitable disinfectant even when law enforcement fails to eradicate them.

Anyway, the tidbit about Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo is just a smidgen from what I thought was a fantastic piece. It's a long one, but anyone interested in guns, Mexico or the drug war should read the whole thing.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

The zetas (not capitalized as a sign of DISRESPECTto these playgroung bullies) are like cockroaches. Everyones dislikes them, but no one has found a way to rid the earth of this scourge. I propose that the Mexican government grow some GONADS, terminate this problem and make Mexico a place where tourist feel safe to go and spend their money.
Some retired Army Rangers and Delta Force personnel could end this problem quickly.
More evidence that drugs are related to VIOLENCE which is contrary to what the media/attorneys would like us to believe!!!!!!!!!!
Lone Ranger

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Gee, Lone Ranger - why hasn't anybody thought of that before?

BTW, who do you think trained the original Los Zetas? Oh yeah, Army Rangers and Delta Force personnel!

Anonymous said...

Yes Grits,

The fact that it is purported that they were originally trained by Ranger personnel, that was a small part of their organization. If you *could* use present or retired Army SF and Delta personnel, I don't think Zeta would have much of a hope. Personally I would request assistance from the Mosad, or the SAS however. Both of these esteemed units are well versed in counter-intelligence ops, as well as subversion and precision take out of targets. Our Delta units are also trained in that arena, but most of them are tied up in Gov. Bush's War on himself,opps I mean terror.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Using US Special Forces in Colombia sure cleaned up the problem, huh? What could go wrong with using them on our own border?! :-/

I do agree with the gist of your comment (if not the call to bring in Mossad) that what's needed is not so much greater military might as a much keener use of counterintelligence tactics. At the end of the day the cartels can't actually out-gun the Mexican Army, IMO, but they can and do outwit or bribe them. Those illicit relationships cannot be discovered or prevented only through brute force.

rericson said...

In the alternative, we could legalize drugs....make them go through customs....and let 'em shoot each other to their heart's content......

Anonymous said...

Along with legalize drugs, we could issue visa's to citizens of Mexico that whant to work in the U.S.

Maybe that would incentivize American youth to take fewer drugs and more of their education seriously!

rericson said...

anon,
methinks we have the skeleton of a plan evolving, here....*smile*

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The truth is, rericson, it's now well beyond drug policy. The US has stopped building new ports on the West Coast to accept Asian goods, while Mexico's constructing a bunch of them (plus east coast ports to expand trade to Europe), and new superhighways to connect them with the US. The country's planning to bet its economic future on its geographic centrality and turn itself into a massive distribution hub.

So it's not just about drugs anymore, but every kind of smuggling you can imagine. Just as Mexico's political elites want to be the hub for legitimate goods, the cartels foresee themselves as importers and wholesale purveyors for every kind of good sold on the black market (which in Mexico is big part of the overall economy).

We've let this grow into a much larger mess, IMO, than can now be solved just by "legalizing drugs" (whatever that means; I find it's always in the eye of the beholder). We've screwed our border affairs and foreign policies up much more profoundly than that!

If you legalized drugs tomorrow, IMO you'd still need a bunch of good-guy badasses (whether Special Forces or otherwise) to violently put down the most brutal elements of the remaining (if financially weakened) organized crime infrastructure. Legalization may well reduce violence and criminality, but I'm leery of those who believe it would be a cure-all. I don't think that's right, either. It underestimates how profoundly counterproductive the last four decades of drug policy has been and how long it will take and how difficult it will be to turn the ship.

rericson said...

grits....my appologies for being flip...and in so doing, minimizing the complexities......
I wholeheartedly agree with you on how we got where we are, the global impact of tunnel vision....and the lack of dollars to support any plan to remediate things....of course if we got rid of some of the mandatory sentencing laws.....at least decriminalzed pot....got ourselves out of Iraq.....and created flying pigs in test tubes...well maybe......
oh...and I forgot, regulate pharmeceutical companies...and what they can charge, whom....(my own personal pet peeve)

rericson said...
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Anonymous said...

Normally I would post under my name, and not as "anonymous". But, not about something like this.

No reporter who has to live on either side of the border (and I've worked on both) is going to name names when it comes to the narcos. Maybe we "should"... but that's like belling the cat. More than just fear of being killed, none of us want to be tortured, or see our friends killed.

As to the suggestion above of using U.S. retired rangers or whatever in Mexico, what makes him/her think that paid foreign troops wouldn't work for the highest bidder. You've already had Border Patrol and local police officers suborned. Wait til some ying-yang puts open mercenaries like Blackwater along the border.

Anonymous said...

If an American take so much as 1 bullet into Mexico, they'll get thrown in jail for 10 years. Looks like gun control works just as good in Mexico as it does in the US.
Of course the ATF jumps on helping them with stopping the flow of arms from our gun shows; yet not diddly squat is being done to shut the border down to keep drugs and aliens out of the US.

jed said...

Your initial paragraph has me a bit confused, because I'd gotten the impression you were one of the people who realized that prohibition doesn't work. Certainly, in the War on Drugs we've seen that it doesn't. The U.S. has been unable to control the flow of both immigrants and drugs across the Mexican border. The reason, of course, is that there is a demand. And economics tells us that if there's demand, and money to be made, someone will step in to fulfill the supply side of the equation.

So when you write, "if the United States didn't allow massive trafficking of guns southward", I have to wonder how you think the govt. would stop it. And you presume that the govt. "allows" it. The export of arms and other munitions is already regulated. But assume, for the moment, that the U.S. banned in toto the export of any arms, for any purpose -- even military, to Mexico. Do you think that the zetas, or other gangs, would suddenly find themselves without weapons? Of course not. The people who already know how to smuggle other things would simply run more guns than they already are -- and yes, I'm assuming that smugglers are already dealing in weapons. Why wouldn't they, since there's clearly a market? And BTW civilian gun ownership is severely restricted in Mexico, so these gangs are already acquiring their guns illegally. You mention that the same vehicles that bring drugs North are returning with guns, so clearly there's a criminal element involved.

In comments, you also mention how Mexico is increasing its port capacity. That means even more avenues for bring in weaponry.

In England, where guns are nearly 100% banned, the police aren't having an easier time getting crime under control. They've seen a huge increase in violent crime since they've embarked on a program of gun prohibition.

Really, there's no evidence anywhere to support a conclusion that gun control will reduce crime, or make things easier for police. That's just a happy fantasy on the part of people who like to imagine that criminals, despite breaking any other law on the books, will adhere to gun laws. It doesn't work that way in the real world, and in the mean time, citizens who do follow gun-ban laws are deprived of the means of self-defense.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To the anonymous commenter at 6:06, what do you think of the "open source intelligence" idea?

Jed, part of the reason I framed it that way is that I think a lot of rhetorical emphasis gets placed on drugs flowing north, but probably more harm (in terms of volumes of deaths) comes from illegal gun smuggling headed south, which is given less priority by law enforcement, the media and the public, for whatever reason.

As you know, I'm a gun owner and a 2d Amendment advocate. But I'm not naive enough to think that anywhere near the resources are being expended to stop gun smuggling by criminals as we use to arrest domestic drug users, for example, though I think we'd both agree the gun smugglers are doing more serious harm. The reason I say the US allows (would "cause" have been better?) it is that US demand pays for it and corrupt border enforcers allow the traffic.

We blame Mexico for the drugs, but the guns are a 100% American generated crisis. Indeed, if Congress agrees to pay for the Bush Administration weapons package, we'll literally be responsible for arming both sides!

mikegtr said...

It's all about demand actually.

Let's just say that we were able to magically remove guns from the u.S.from the equation. The demand will still be there. They'll simply shift the location of the supplier.

Chavez ordered how many hundred thousand AK's a few years back? I wouldn't bet even money against ol' Pugsley deciding to let a few thousand go at a profit - since he has to fund his failing economic system somehow. Asian port of call increase someone said? If Bill & Hillary got mixed up with that shipment of full auto ak's from the Chinese a while back I see no reason why those Maoist bastages wouldn't make a dime or two by supplying a new batch to help out the aspiring revolutionaries to our south.

& I do recall, before it became hip & trendy to blame the u.S. for Mexico's crime problem, that a lot of the gangs were ex & current Mexican military & a lot of their arms were coming from Mexican military arsenals.

& a while back The Smallest Minority had a nice little pic of some guys in a cave in the middle east making weapons for the locals. Decent quality weapons (mainly AK's & refurbished Mosins if I recall) that were made or rebuilt from what they had available. A cottage industry would not be that hard to imagine in ol' Mexico if no other source was available.

So the demand is going to be there with or without us. As is the supply. It's easier while running drugs or people to come back with guns, but that's not to say it's our fault the drug cartels are armed in the sense the press has been saying as of late.

Besides, it's not the guns that causes a problem or harm - it's the uses they're put to by the sadistic [multiple expletives deleted]down south. Blaming an object or its availability for the evil behavior of humans is simply not logical.

The solution? Either seal the borders & wish Mexico well or open them completely. Pros & cons to each, but as long as there is an incentive there will be smugglers, & as long as they're smuggling they'll be violent to some degree. Either make it unprofitable (seal the borders tight) or make it not profitable enough for violence (open the borders & legalize the drug trade). Ya don't have to like one or the other, but those are the 2 best chances at decreasing the violence, which presumably is the main goal. & either way pressing Mexico to stop denying the Right to Arms to its people wouldn't hurt (they allow the locals to have guns but the restrictions are almost as bad as D.C. or Chicago).

Nothing will stop the bad things people do completely, & it is a bit more complex than I laid out (what'd ya expect in a comment? Footnotes? :D ). But either completely open or closed borders (as I defined above) will be a marked improvement over the current situation, at least for our side of the fence. Not perfect or Utopian, but better than present & more efficient than the way we're doing things presently.

LaredoForums said...

They were trained to help Mexico to get rid of all the drug cartels. Now they are the main reason the drug cartels are stronger.

LaredoForums.com said...
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LaredoForums.com said...

It is only going to get worse in Mexico. If the Zetas or any other cartel kill each other off. Another group will emerge and take control of the streets in Mexico. Sad to say, but the cartels run the show in Mexico. Without them Mexico would sink.

Anonymous said...

the reason its so hard to stop them is because most cartels consist of several families or trusted individuals. Then add the strong arm branch and you've got a juggernaut. It also doesn't help that probably nine out of ten political officials are corrupt. So SAS or SF would have their cover blown. Plus what would you think if some "gringos" just showed up in your neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

They U.S Marines, USMC BABY1

Anonymous said...

nobody can get rid of los zetas unless you get the United States Military in Mexico then thats when the problem stops. Los Zetas are very intelligent and ruthless, they will stop at nothing to get to their target.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Zetas have the hydra problem u cut one head off and two take its place until the rid all of them not, and not just put them in jail, because they run that also there is no stopping them until there no longer breathing.

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