Do the United States and Mexico Really Want the Drug War to Succeed?

Posted on May 29, 2014


In many respects, the drug organizations operating in Mexico exemplify what “free enterprise” is about: developing and marketing a product that satisfies willing consumers. Their armed components make their competition deadlier than competitors in other industries, but their methods of operation duplicate those of legitimate corporations: they seek (or buy) government support, network a well-organized retail trade, and invest their profits in condominiums, the stock market, and high-visibility consumer items. Their corporate structures, divided into distinct operations and with well-defined chains of command, enable them to replace any executive who is arrested or killed without that materially affecting production or sales.

The money they bring into Mexico, unlike money brought in by legitimate corporations, does not require government investment and consequently is untaxed and unreported (which prevents it from benefiting the nearly 80 percent of the population with inadequate and/or poverty level incomes). Nevertheless, what the mafiosos spend on purchases, construction, and salaries circulates throughout the economy. The owner of a Michoacán taquería reflected the viewpoint of many Mexican residents: “They have lana [literally wool, but popularly used to describe money], they eat well; I now have five locations instead of just one.”

Proposals to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as various states in the United States have done, came under discussion during the early years of President Vicente Fox’s administration but evoked a vehemently negative response, particularly from the Catholic Church hierarchy and those influenced by Church doctrine. Calderón’s PAN government seemed more inclined to reinstitute the Salinas de Gortari era of tacit coordination with a single dominant drug corporation, a process that could not be discussed openly and would involve purging local, state, and federal governments of alignments with everyone except the chosen affiliate (which many sources in Mexico insist is El Chapo’s “Sinaloa Cartel”).

As long as the assassinations, beheadings, cateos, and the majority of the corruption of government official remain south of the border the United States can maintain its pro-military stance, send money and arms to Mexico’s conservative government, and focus on more demanding issues. Mexico, in contrast, rejecting any form of legalization, remains bound to its U.S.-appeasing commitment to continue a bloody confrontation that seems to have no end.

From “Do the United Stfates and Mexico Really Want the War on Drugs To Succeed?” first published in The Monthly Review