Saturday, January 26, 2008

What do we know about US-side drug cartel infrastructure?

Ever since I learned last spring during legislative committee hearings that Governor Perry's border security initiative basically amounts to a Laurel and Hardy routine, I've been paying a lot more attention to the threat posed by drug cartels' violence and corruption trickling (at this point, pouring?) across the border onto US/Texas soil.

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:

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.
Money Laundering
I discussed this in more detail yesterday, but among the recent events I've been watching:
US-Side Combatants
Police corruption
Just in the last few years:
Each of these is reported and portrayed as an isolated incident: My goal is to look more broadly for patterns indicated by these disparate, far flung data, possibly suggesting "outside the box" solutions to what's obviously a growing security concern, though it has nothing to do with terrorism.

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.


Anonymous said...

Either I don't get the joke, or your spellcheck changed "Money" Laundering.

Am I missing something?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thx. Fixed it. Just a typo.

Anonymous said...

One thing is clear, a fence is not going to solve the problems.

The Berlin Wall and even the Great Wall of China may have served some purpose years ago. This is the 21st Century, and a fence is a government boondoggle whose only purpose is to show that "something is being done".

Eventually a fence along the border will came down, but nothing will change in the drug commerce between now and then.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm.... I'm getting the feeling that this drug prohibition thing is futile....

Unknown said...

Actually the Berlin and China walls served no purpose- other than fomenting hate for "those people" on the other side. It served the purposes of those in power to draw attention to "threats" from the "other side". The real problems lie on this side of the fence and leaders who exploit the political system for personal aggrandizement. As long as we micromanage the behaviors of "those people" on this side and the other side with drug laws we will have drug trafficking and increasingly more potent drugs available on this side - and the other side.

Politicians can micromanage personal behavior because they lie. The represent atypical behavior as typical and rally public opinion behind laws targeting specific social classes outlawing their traditional social habits. It works for them since they are in a minority and divisions facilitate control of public resources for private gain. We have had this scenario played over and over. We used government resources to defeat unions and delay workplace reforms. Unions were weakest in the South because they would necessarily unite workers of all ethnic and racial types for a common good - and racism was promoted using public resources. It has never been about "big government"; it has been about government hijacked to promote private gain.

Anonymous said...

Every nation must control its borders. Immigration laws grant a quota for each nation.However, people continue to violate this law daily. This can not continue. Millions can not illegal continue to enter and then demand that they have right to welfare, food stamps, hospitalization, housing, etc...This is no joke! The amnesty program of the 1980's did not work. Many of the amnesty recepients became a public nuisance to our government and were arrested on immigration, drug, and firearm cases. This is an epidemic and must be stopped by all means. The politicians and rich people in Mexico, central, and South America continue to export their citizens to the U.S. Yet, they do nothing to deal with the poverty and social problems of their nations. Instead, people are encouraged and assisted to go "North." Have any of these illegal aliens every considered heading "South?"

Anonymous said...

Thoughts in no particular order:
I'm another one that like the idea of legalisation. You're right, though, that a gang powerful enough to assassinate Mexican Federal officials with impunity is a threat needing taken down--dry up the drug money, they'll find another racket.

I read an article a couple years ago I like: suggested buying up a strip of desert 30 miles wide along the border. Tear up every road (best you can), tear down every structure. You're left with a no-man's land few could cross without being spotted from the air; it would more effective than a fence, less antagonistic, and a good nature preserve to boot. It wouldn't work where there's no desert or high population density, though.

Nice thing about McCain-Kennedy, in this debate, is that illegals who're brought in from the cold can be interviewed for info that can help spot smugglers and their routes.

We need a way to lend people to the Mexican government. Lots of them with lots of training--no way around it. Fortunately, ending the War on Drugs would clear up a lot of DEA agents and the like from other beats.