Hannibal at the gate: border kids, drugs, and guns - and the Mexican cartel war goes on.

AuthorRizer, Arthur
  1. INTRODUCTION II. A NEW BREED OF GANGSTERS: A HISTORY OF THE MEXICAN CARTELS' RISE TO POWER AND CURRENT DISPOSITION A. The Cocaine Trail: The Colombian Cartels B. Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party and the Politics of Narcotics C. Insatiable Appetite: Americans Funding the Cartels D. The United States Firearms Market Arming the Mexican Drug Cartels 1. Surrogate Buyers and "Straw" Purchasers 2. The Gap in Federal Firearms License and Background Check Laws E. The Current Players F. The Mexican Government's Offensive Against the Cartels and the Security Crisis in Mexico III SPILL OVER: THE NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT OF THE CARTEL WAR A. Border Control is a Linchpin of Security B. The Humanitarian Crisis Caused by a Civil War in Mexico C. Our Way of Life D. Cancer Spreading: The Destabilization of Other Central and South American Countries IV ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS A. Reforming the Policy, Revaluating the Mission, and Rethinking the Taboos of U.S. Drug Policy B. Preventing the Trafficking of Firearms to Mexico C. Providing Additional Assistance to the Mexican Government D. Re-identify the Targets: Classifying the Cartels as Terrorist Organizations V CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    The United States has been "at war" with Islamic fundamentalism for over 10 years. The wars in Iraq and now Afghanistan have been the tip of the spear in the national security realignment where we have lost nearly 7,000 men and women. (2) Yet a new threat is upon us--one that is a greater danger to the American way of life than the Mujahideen (3) foot-soldier who is 7,500 miles from our borders. This threat exists at the very edges of our nation and our society--the Mexican Cartels.

    Some have estimated Mexico, one of the United States' closest allies, has lost more than 60,000 people in its drug war. (4) That is approximately a murder every hour related to cartel violence. (5) Some experts claim the death toll has been greatly soft-pedaled, with narcotic trafficking deaths underreported by half or more and with the government reducing violence by simply not reporting it. (6) Indeed, Borderland Beat, a blog that uses open source media to help the public "understand how mayhem and ruthless violence from organized crime touches the people on the borderland," (7) reported that the drug war could be responsible for over 100,000 deaths since 2006. (8) These numbers do not even include "the nearly 40,000 Americans who die each year from" illicit drug use and countless others who are killed in our own "war on drugs." (9)

    The cartels are now reported to be a prime factor in the recent rash of minors who have been crossing (or attempting to cross) the Mexican border; (10) specifically, the "[d]rug cartels in Mexico have hijacked the multimillion dollar human-trafficking business on the U.S. border and are tunneling thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America into ... southwestern states." (11) Moreover, although Central America has a long history of unrest, the cartels have created many of the problems that the border kids are running from. (12) Officials in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have been pleading for help to fight what is seen as a "state of siege" from the Mexican Cartels on their governments and people, and forcing these children to flee to the United States. (13) More ominous, recent reports suggest the cartels are in contact with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who could be attempting to use the cartels' human smuggling services to gain entry into the United States. (14)

    Undeniably, 2006 was a watershed year for the Mexican Drug War. Following an extremely close and contested election, Felipe Calderon, a member of the National Action Party (the Partido Accion Nacional, "PAN"), became President of Mexico in December 2006. (15) Not long after assuming office, President Calderon initiated an offensive against Mexican drug cartels and their narcotics distribution networks. (16) The administration then deployed tens of thousands of military personnel and federal police to several states in an effort to end drug-related violence in Mexico. (17) Although the deployment initially produced some positive results, the level of violence began to increase at an alarming rate. (18) After eight years of fighting, a staggering number of people have died, not only from the conflict between Mexico's federal forces and the drug cartels, but also from fighting between and among cartels for control of narcotics distribution networks. (19) Indeed, in the past two years, both leaders of the two major cartels, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from the Sinaloa Cartel, (20) and Miguel Angel Trevino "Z-40" Morales from the Los Zetas Cartel ' have been captured. Yet there docs not appear to be any end in sight to Mexico's offensive and the cartels' resistance, and the death toll continues to rise, mostly in the areas in and around border cities. (22) Given the power and influence wielded by the cartels, it is questionable whether Mexican authorities will be able to effectively govern some geographic regions of the country. The inability of the Mexican government to subdue the cartels, the escalation of violence, and the increased death toll threatens Mexico's national security. If the crisis worsens and Mexico's security falters, some experts believe that the nation-state of Mexico or geographic areas within that country face the prospect of becoming a failed state. (23)

    Because Mexico and the United States not only share a common border, but also co-exist as international trade partners, the United States should be greatly concerned about the crisis in Mexico. Indeed, with the rising number of casualties in Mexico's drug war, U.S. politicians and officials, journalists, writers, and pundits have begun to debate whether the crisis in Mexico threatens U.S. national security, and, if so, the extent to which U.S. national security is at risk. This article seeks to establish that the crisis in Mexico is a current threat to the national security of the United States for several reasons: the crisis could (1) adversely affect control over the U.S.-Mexico border; (2) cause a humanitarian emergency, including the historic rush of unaccompanied children; (3) lead to the collapse of Mexico's economy, negatively impacting the economy of the United States; and (4) cause the destabilization of other Central American nations. However, the current threat is still reversible and there are still measures that can be taken to prevent further damage to the United States and Mexico. This paper recommends that the United States should take specific steps to prevent the crisis from breaching our own security.

    To better analyze Mexico's situation and its impact on the United States, it is important to first know how Mexico's drug war developed and evolved into a crisis. The first two parts of this paper provide background on the Mexican drug cartels and Mexico's drug war. Part I is an overview of the evolution of the Mexican cartels, from their birth as criminal gangs, to their partnership with the Colombian drug cartels, to their present status as formidable adversaries of the Mexican state. In addition, Part I describes the historical relationship between the Mexican cartels and Mexico's government. Part I further explains how the United States has, in part, facilitated the rise of the cartels through the consumption of drugs and selling of firearms. Part II gives an account of Mexico's drug war, beginning with the commencement of President Calderon's offensive against the cartels and its progression to a national security crisis. Part III argues that the crisis in Mexico is a potential threat to the national security of the United States. Part IV recommends several ways to alleviate this threat to U.S. national security. Although the recommendations are not exhaustive, they are intended to contribute to the debate and to generate further discussions about how to approach the security problem.


    To explain the government of Mexico's offensive against the Mexican drug cartels, the resulting crisis in Mexico, and how it represents a threat to U.S. national security, it is important to understand the development and evolution of the cartels. To be sure, even before Mr. Calderon was elected to the presidency in 2006 and set his sights on the cartels, Mexico experienced substantial drug-related violence. (24) Indeed, for decades, the cartels have competed with each other for territory and border transit points into the lucrative, illegal narcotics market of the United States. (25) By the mid-1990s, the cartels had begun to diversify their criminal portfolios to include activities such as kidnappings, robberies, human trafficking, and extortion. (26) At the same time, the cartels' power and influence began to rival the authority of Mexico's local, state, and federal governments. (27) Using that power and influence, they threatened the authority of the Mexican state and, consequently, the stability of the country. (28)

    1. The Cocaine Trail: The Colombian Cartel Alliance

      During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the people of the United States developed an even greater appetite for illicit narcotics; correspondingly, demand grew in the U.S. for marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and synthetic drugs. (29) Colombian drug cartels supplied the majority of these drugs to buyers in the United States, using transportation routes in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. (30) Ultimately, the drugs reached South Florida for distribution on the streets of American cities. (31)

      By the 1980s, the U.S. had joined forces with governments in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean to neutralize the Colombian cartels' trafficking network. (32) In many respects, the joint interdiction efforts of the United States and its Latin American and...

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