Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Mexican drug cartel sent orders to a hit squad to break into the homes of nine police officers in a ranching town in northern Mexico. The squad kidnapped the officers, piled them into a convoy of SUVs and sped off into the night. After being summoned by local authorities, troops from Ciudad Juarez, 80 miles to the north, located the convoy and a gun battle ensued. After a shower of bullet casings and a smoke fog cleared, 21 people were discovered dead, including six of the nine policemen. This is only one instance in over a thousand in which the recent drug related violence has brought to light the seriousness of drug trafficking. In our safe Huntingdon neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine the brutality and bloodshed that is happening south of our borders so we turned to Professor Bob Reilly, Dana Professor of Social Work, for some answers.
What is a cartel?
A cartel is an organization. They’re hierarchical, feudal, and militaristic structures. The system is set up so that there is a method for accomplishment of a purpose to allow for different successes. These are generally unitary, freestanding organizations.
An example is that when you become a member, you’re bound by your position in the system and you’re bound by the rules of your cartel. Otherwise you’ll be killed. It’s not a hidden rule. Intimidation is fundamental.
Sometimes cartels need to work together to better succeed. On one hand they go around patting and scratching each other’s backs; other times they’re out killing each other. They also can’t be successful without people in civic positions feeding them. They need them. In Mexico each cartel controls a territory.
Mexican cartels historically dealt with marijuana and methamphetamines. They had a relationship with Columbian cartels. The Columbian cartels would pay Mexican cartels for their service. The Mexicans changed the deal though when they discovered they could develop their own drug trafficking systems. Profits expand. You might think you’ve caught the kingpin but cartels are Hydras. They have multiple heads.
The government thinks that if they cut the head off of the system, it will fail. Not likely.
Why aren’t the Mexican authorities stopping the violence? Why is it so easy for them to be corrupted?
Cartels can’t be successful without help from the inside. They also offer an easier lifestyle with better resources to officials. Mexico is basically a developing country. The cartel provides opportunities to get greater resources than if people stay in their own communities. They find themselves asking “is this a risk worth taking”?
Now we see the Mexican government just firing officials to wean out all the bad ones. The CIA and DEA look at the concentrated trafficking areas. Drugs come from two major places in the U.S., New York airports and Miami. The other places are on the Mexican border. The key element is civic duty. Mexicans are too afraid. Someone will say “I’m not going to run for Mayor. I’ll get killed.” In the north there is more collateral damage.
Mexican President, Felipe Calderón, ran an anti cartel campaign and they (the cartel heads) came out and said publicly that they’d kill him. He just looked at them and said, “Bring it on.”
What can the US do to help stop this brutality in Mexico? What is our role?
The main thing is to keep it there (Mexico) and not here. On a military and civic level give them money and training to support them and help them with this problem.
Who’s responsible? And what’s the solution?
This problem exists for one reason; there is a consumer group that demands something illegal. There is this consumer demand. I see these cartel bosses as successful entrepreneurs in an illicit market.
The solution? We need harm reduction strategies here instead of prohibition strategies. There are people out there who can function just fine on a little dose of heroin and then there are the people who are heroin train wrecks.
Perhaps we should have publically dispensed heroin. When we prevent something and people try everything to get at it, it ruins the communities. What can we do to make it available without increasing the harm?
We also need to have better public education. The old DARE program was a disaster. Whatever we do to intervene has got to be based on our best wisdom of the problem and not these strict prohibition strategies.
Rachel Kern ’09, Juniata Online Journalist