If Mexico were not next to the world’s most ravening drug market, it would be a corrupt, but functioning and reasonably successful upper Third-World country. If this were not so, Mexico would not have the huge number of American who have come here to retire. But the country cannot withstand a drug business that, by a common figure, brings the traffickers forty billion dollars a year. The money means that the cartels can buy heavier armament than can the government, as well as buy heavier officials on either side of the border. (It is an American conceit that corruption exists only in other countries. Tell me another story, Grandpa.)
It is getting out of hand. The killing of policemen, judges, and mayors is now common. Journalists die in droves. After the murder of another of its reporters, El Diario, the major paper of Ciudad Juarez, published the following editorial, addressed to the drug lords:
“We bring to your attention that we are communicators, not mind-readers. Therefore, as workers in information, we want you to explain to us what you want of us, what you want us to publish or stop publishing, what we must do for our security.
“These days, you are the de facto authority in the city, because the legally instituted authorities have been able to do nothing to keep our co-workers from continuing to fall, although we have repeatedly asked this of you. Consequently, facing this undeniable fact, we direct ourselves to you, because the last thing we want is that you shoot to death another of our colleagues.”
This is astonishing. It is worse. A blue whale singing Aida would be merely astonishing, but here we have the editors of the major newspaper of a substantial city stating candidly, with perfect clarity, that the narcotraficantes, not the national government, exercise sovereignty over the city. The federal government understandably denounced the editorial. No capital wants to be told that it does not control its territory. But this is exactly what the paper said.
As Fred notes, part of the problem is a criminalized drug market that funnels inflated black market profits to gangs who use the proceeds to out-gun and out-bribe the Mexican government. We all know the libertarian response: de-criminalize drugs, deprive the gangs of their black market profits, and order gets restored. After all, we legalized payday loans and when was the last time you got kneecapped by a loanshark?
I suspect, unfortunately, the problem runs a little deeper. In the first instance, to say the problem is that drug markets are criminalized leaves some questions begging. There are black markets in many things, including marijuana on college campuses, but you don't read about college kids beheading people and dissolving the bodies in lye over marijuana distribution. Thus, a more comprehensive statement of the problem is that drug markets are criminalized so they end up controlled by criminals. The assumption that the traffickers would respond to de-criminilization by trading their AK-47's for laptops and marketing consultants strikes me as awfully optimistic, but maybe not.
I think the problem goes a little deeper, and what we are actually seeing is the visible part of a civil war between Mexico's urban Iberian elites and its rural Meso-American peasantry. This, by the way, is exactly the situation in Afghanistan, where US-funded viceroys pretend to govern the rural, opium-growing tribal areas. Fred, of course, recognizes this and so does former State Department employee Matthew Hoh.
In other words, Mexico = Afghanistan and folks, this one is going to be fought right here.