El Narco: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency

Last summer we heard how Mexico was already a failed State.  All the data not withstanding, Mexico was fighting an insurgency, fueled by the twin enormities of a dominant illicit drug trade and inept political institutions. But we miss something if all we do is count bodies, something both Robert McNamara and Bundy discovered the hard way.  The proper relation is to discover the field of intelligibility, the context driving the body count.  For the current crisis have precedents in Mexican history.

Both the Mexican War of Independence (1821) and the Mexican Revolution had far greater death tolls, but equivalent ferocity.  Both events were politically motivated outbreaks of violence stemmed by authoritarian governments.  The first by dictator Porfirio Diaz, the second by the formation of PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) in the 1930’s, which created a powerful Executive elected every six years.  This system lasted until just a few years ago.  Ironically, no authoritarian solution can solve Mexico’s narco-insurgency.

Neighboring nation states have statistically higher murder rates in Honduras, Guatemala, Columbia and Brazil but in Mexico we are enduring an escalation of political violence, torture, decapitations, mutilations, kidnappings and mass executions that evidence a greater political problem than just simple violence.  In the most afflicted areas, narco-terrorists threaten to supplant local civil authority.

Anyone familiar with Spanish nation states that are predominantly authoritarian and Roman Catholic suffer from not possessing sufficiently developed civilian authority.  Something that occurred in cultures that had contact with British mercantilism in the form of either the Protestant Reformation or the Enlightenment.  Nevertheless, Mexico’s highly remunerative savagery can be defeated with a political strategy.

The roots of the Mexican drug trade go back to the end of the nineteenth century, along the western coast of Sinaloa.  Here in Mexican Sicily, Chinese laborers who arrived to construct new railroads planted small fields of opium poppy.  By the 1930’s many local farmers persecuted the Chinese into giving up their crops.  The decisive moment came in 1976 when both Mexican and American policy advisers consulted to regulate this illicit drug to favor unofficial taxes used to defeat Marxist guerrillas throughout the region.  This collusion of military, law enforcement and government is the precedent from which to discern our contemporary political crisis.

The boom years for the illicit drug trade were the 1980’s.  Direct flights from Columbia to Miami with Pablo Escobar’s cocaine were used to finance both Manuel Noriega’s Panama and the Castro Brothers. The CIA and its illicit co-conspirators helped themselves shipping cocaine to Honduras with profits used to pay the Contras.

Today’s conspiracy is far less complicated. Colombian narco-families enlist the support of Mexican counterparts to keep their shipments flowing since US interdiction efforts have picked up throughout airports and Caribbean sea-lanes.  To reduce the explicit agreement between either party, the Columbian families use cocaine and coca leaves as payment instead of cash.  The arrival of NAFTA only accelerated these relations.  By the late 1990’s traffic between the US and Mexico was thriving and with it official trafficking in illicit drugs between Mexican federal officials and US counterparts. Make no mistake, under both President Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, the trade in drugs skyrocketed.  This changed in 2000.

The electoral defeat of the PRI in Mexico in 2000 made Mexico a functioning democracy with a division of power, complete liberty of political expression, free elections and transparency.  The unexpected consequence was the status of drugs between all mentioned counterparts. Democracy ended the authoritarian control the Mexican Presidency had over its cartels and the social arteries that constituted this profiteering.     A show down was imminent.

What US intelligence officials are now witnessing is how this power vacuum has been usurped by Iranian proxies in a scenario that is similar to how the Soviet Union dominated South/Central America throughout the 1970’s ending with peace accords for both El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1990’s.

Iranian proxies found a willing conduit with former Mexican Army and Special Forces units, many of whom have retired or willingly left.  Known as the Zetas; this narco-terrorist group has many former Guatemalan officers formerly trained at the John F.  Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Although they behave in a manner worthy of undisciplined gangs, they excel in terror through the use of mass killings, decapitations and sophisticated internet propaganda.  Zeta criminal activity currently shows no limits as it incorporates or purchases hardware unbecoming simple gangs.

In January of 2007, President Felipe Calderon declared a war against the narco.  His only hope was to use Mexico’s most trusted institution:  the Army.  President Calderon understands the insurgency he’s fighting; he knows the political machination required to defeat an insurgency, namely a functioning civil society.  Although he is cornered into acknowledging his discrete limitations he does have one very powerful weapon:  capitalist opportunity!

The Chicago School of Economics, specifically the late great Frederick Hayek and his protégé Milton Freedman spoke of how to defeat all gang/black market like criminal activity, including the illicit drug trade:  defeat inflation!  The primary reason for the appeal of any illicit vocation is the opportunity to make money.  Erode the foundation of Keynesian macro-economics, namely ever higher prices and any nation state removes the appeal to ‘go underground’.

Currently, Mexico is experiencing a rapidly growing middle class with purchasing power unrivaled in its history.  Calderon knows that if he can succeed in creating opportunities while strengthening civil society, he can usher in a large defeat to every narco-terrorist group in Mexico.

My money is on Hayek!


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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