Wednesday, June 22, 2023
By Steven L. Taylor

(Somehow it has become Drug Day here at PoliBlog…)

Scott Gosnell e-mails with the following from CNN: Mexico’s Zetas: Soldiers defect to drug cartel

Zooming around in sport utility vehicles bristling with weapons, Mexican soldiers-turned-drug hit men have taken this border city to the brink of anarchy, infiltrating local police and threatening anyone who gets in their way.

Residents and law enforcement officials say the men are the feared Zetas, former members of a military intelligence battalion sent to the border to fight drug trafficking. Instead, they joined the Gulf Cartel, one of Mexico’s top drug gangs. They adopted the name Zetas — a radio code for a military commander — recruited followers and made the city of 300,000 their home base.


“There isn’t much that authorities can do, because even if they get new police officers, the mafia will buy them off again or kill them,” said Ramon Garza, who roams the city selling tacos from the back of a pickup truck.

It is a lengthy, interesting and depressing piece that is worth reading of the issue of the Drug War or just border politics is of interest to you.

To me what this story underscores is the remarkable power of money–in this case drug money. Why is it possible to to bribe members of the military to join the cartels? Why is there a gang war between two drug cartels? Why do the cartels exist in the first place? The answer is the tens of millions of dollars that are to made per annum control the cocaine, heroin and marijuana that is in high demand in the United States.

This is no to absolve the behaviors described, lest anyone misunderstand, but also one must remember, actions don’t happen in a vacuum. My point, however, is quite simple: because these drugs are both illegal and highly desired, organized crime is going to occur. And states, especially developing ones like Mexico, Colombia, Peru, etc., cannot hope to compete to the point of victory against these cartels. Even the infusion of huge sums of US tax dollars, military equipment and military training has not resulted in the ability of any of these countries to adequately control their own territories in the face of the global demand for these substances.

We see here the remarkable power that markets have. Supply and demand are substantial forces that are driven by, and affect, human behavior.

According to one UNODC study [PDF]:

global illicit drug sales to consumers, gives a figure close to $400 billion. A similar turnover was also estimated by the International Criminal Police Organization/ Interpol.5 Such a turnover of the illicit drug industry would be equivalent to approximately 8 per cent of total international trade (see Figure I). It would be larger than the international trade in iron and steel and motor vehicles (2.8 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively) and approximately the same size as the international trade in textiles (7.5 per cent), oil and gas (8.6 per cent) and world tourism (see Figure II).6 The estimate is significantly larger than the global turnover of all pharmaceutical companies (assessed at $233 billion in 1993)7 and approximately six times larger than the amount spent on official development assistance ($69 billion in 1995).

That is a staggering amount of money, and certainly enough for certain criminal elements to fight bloody wars over and to use to subvert militaries in places like northern Mexico. Not to mention that if the choice one is given is between violent death of oneself and one’s family and taking gobs of cash, it is not surprising that many persons take the gobs of cash. It isn’t a pleasant thought, but such is human nature.

Here are the figures noted in the above text:

Of course, all of this leads us to the unpleasant fact that it is prohibition that leads to the radically high prices and extensive black market in regards to these products. Which leads us to the fact that, as I noted this morning, we need a radical re-thinking of anti-drug policy, because what we are doing isn’t working (not even on its own terms) and the collateral damage, and unintended consequences, of the Drug War are immense–just ask the innocent citizens of Nuevo Laredo.

I say this not because I like or use these substances or what they do to those who use them. I say this because we are literally wasting billions of dollars per annum and accomplishing very little while simultaneously helping to create conditions that foster such situations as those described in the CNN story and that take place daily in other areas of the world.

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