Slicing And Dicing The New Cocaine Cowboys
A couple of months ago, former administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Robert C. Bonner wrote an article in Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs is the quarterly publication for the Council on Foreign Relations, a roundtable group based in New York City. Called The New Cocaine Cowboys, Bonner tries to figure a way to curb some of the wild violence and lawlessness in Mexico. If you would like to read the full article, this link will take you to the piece.
The cover byline for this piece boasts, “With U.S. Help, Mexico Can Beat Its Drug Gangs, Like Colombia Did.” And THIS is where I begin to have a problem with the article. If Bonner’s work is supposed to offer an effective way to ease the tension in Mexico, I demand a return to sender.
Rather than satirizing or making light of this article, I will choose a few passages from the piece, to hopefully illuminate how bad an idea following the Colombia model would be for the United States.
Please note, I am taking passages and re-arranging them. I sincerely hope I am not twisting the meaning behind this article, but rather showing, well, how fucked up things could turn out following this path.
Let’s dive right in, and see if we can illustrate how The New Cocaine Cowboys is a recipe for disaster. (Please note, all text is taken from Foreign Affairs and Robert C. Bonner. This is not my own work)
Destroying the drug cartels is not an impossible task. Two decades ago, Colombia was faced with a similar – and in many ways more daunting – struggle. In the early 1990s, many Colombians, including police officers, judges, presidential candidates, and journalists, were assassinated by the most powerful and fearsome drug-trafficking organizations the world has ever seen: the Cali and Medellín cartels. Yet within a decade, the Colombian government defeated them, with Washington’s help. The United States played a vital role in supporting the Colombian government, and it should do the same for Mexico.
Sounds benign enough. There was a drug trafficking problem in Colombia, and we aided in fixing that problem. Awesome.
So what happened?
The recent headlines from Mexico are disturbing: U.S. consular official gunned down in broad daylight; Rancher murdered by Mexican drug smuggler; Bomb tossed at U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo. This wave of violence is eerily reminiscent of the carnage that plagued Colombia 20 years ago…
Over the last two decades, Mexican drug cartels have acquired unprecedented power to corrupt and intimidate government officials and civilians. Three factors account for their rise: preexisting corruption, the inability of weak law enforcement institutions to counter them, and the demand for illegal drugs in the United States.
Wait a tic. As we ‘beat’ the Colombian cartels, they moved right next door? Over the past two decades, we’ve seen our cocaine production and distribution move CLOSER to our border? That does not sound like a win to me. Rather, it sounds like we’ve shrunk the distribution line over the last two decades. This can’t be right.
In fact, that’s exactly what has happened. Coinciding with the ascent of the Mexican cartels has been a plateauing of cocaine use (you can also see a skeptics website corroborates the claims of the Federal Government). The picture emerging is lower consumption and a dethroning of the grand cartels from the 1980s. Seems we should be happy that cocaine abuse has faen
Not so fast, hombre.
[Mexican President Felipe] Calderón has also taken action to tighten security at Mexican ports along the country’s southern border in order to disrupt the inflow of cocaine, weapons, and drug precursor chemicals.
See that? Right there, clear as day. Cocaine is still traveling north into Mexico. While the cartels in Colombia are gone, the product is still alive and kicking.
Bonner says as much further into the article.
In Colombia, the objective was to dismantle the Cali and Medellín cartels – not to prevent drugs from being smuggled into the United States or to end their consumption. Indeed, there are still drug traffickers in Colombia, and cocaine is still produced there, but compared with the old cartels, the trafficking groups there today are smaller, more fragmented, and far less powerful – and, most important, they no longer pose a threat to Colombian national security.
Of course the Colombian cartels no longer pose a threat to Colombian national security. That was shipped north, to Mexico. Bonner’s assertion that our fight in Colombia improved life there rings hollow, since the violence and corruption has simply been moved to a different country.
Not only that, but the operation was moved closer to its primary market, America. Let me get this straight. We beat cartels in Colombia by seeing the cocaine trade make a wholesale move closer to us. On top of that, we did nothing to cease production in Colombia. The net effect of us ‘winning’ in Colombia has been to move the violence, corruption and havoc into our back yard.
Let’s extrapolate this trend. In a logical sense, the solution to the Mexican cartel problem should lead to one conclusion: export the cartels north. That’s what won the day in Colombia, and if we want to beat Mexico’s drug gangs like the Colombians did that’s the inevitable conclusion. Bonner waxes rhetorically on improving the federal government in Mexico, creating a Mexican equivalent to the FBI.
Ignore the flowery solutions. If the plan to defeat Mexican cartels is to follow the Colombian model, the inevitable conclusion will be American cartels. I’d like to imagine a different conclusion, but everything points towards violence and corruption coming closer to home.
As violence declined in Colombia, we saw a sharp rise in Mexico. All of this is thanks to our role as the premiere market for cocaine. It’s more a case of cutting out the middle man than anything, and that’s not a great potential trend. Mexico is as close as cartels can come to being situated in the U.S. without setting up shop for good. It’s like Rick James famously said……
I do not have a solution. But the solution obliquely pitched by Bonner, defeating cartels (to see them reemerge closer to home), is not going to improve things tangibly. It will only have the effect of moving the problem, likely right into the U.S.