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The fire next door

February 23, 2014

I’ve been making my way through Ted Carpenter’s book The Fire Next Door. (If you follow that link, you’ll see that Mr. Carpenter is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.)

The premises of the book are that:

(a) the US drug prohibitions are creating chaos in Mexico,
(b) this civil chaos is likely to cross the border into the United States, and
(c) drug prohibition should be repealed to de-fund the violent Mexican drug cartels.

The leaders of the Mexican drug cartels — the "drug lords" — have become wealthy from the black market profits due to prohibition. And they very reasonably have used their wealth to corrupt the Mexican police, Mexican prosecutors, and the Mexican military (when it’s been involved in drug law enforcement). The Spanish phrase Carpenter mentions repeatedly is plata o plomo, meaning "silver or lead". The drug cartels give police and prosecutors the choice of taking a bribe or taking a bullet, in other words.

Carpenter cites one case of a hardy Mexican prosecutor who refused the bribe and has avoided the bullet (so far). But the man had to relocate his family to the US to keep them from becoming pawns in his struggle with the cartels.


It gets worse. While the Mexican government denies it, Carpenter claims that the government has lost control of parts of Mexico where the cartel leaders have become de facto regional governments. Independent news report support Carpenter’s view. Here’s an article about that which appeared in the Wall Street Journal five years ago.

This loss of civil law enforcement has led to the rise of Mexican vigilante groups who fight the drug cartels on their own because the Mexican police don’t support them. Here’s a photo essay that appeared last month at Business Insider.

Intense Photos Of Mexican Vigilantes Battling A Drug Cartel For City Control

Mexico has long suffered blistering violence and crime at the hands of its homegrown drug cartels.

Though the Mexican government has waged war on the cartels, the effort has struggled to go anywhere. More than 90,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict.

Fed up with a corrupt police force that is often in bed with the cartels and a military that has to this point been ineffective, some Mexicans have taken it upon themselves to fight the cartels and protect their families — with an incredible conflict happening this week in the city of Paracuaro. […]

Over the last year, vigilante groups, known as fuerzas autodefensas have sprung up all over Mexico, particularly in the southwestern state of Michoacan, an area plagued by the Knights Templar cartel.

Here’s a picture I ran across recently of a Mexican vigilante (in the adelita tradition). Abuela, ¿qué tal?

Female Mexican vigilante


Yesterday the New York Times reported the arrest of El Chapo at Mazatlan. It’s a good article to get up to speed on the topic, if this is news to you.

El Chapo, Most-Wanted Drug Lord, Is Captured in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Just before 7 a.m. on Saturday, dozens of soldiers and police officers descended on a condominium tower in Mazatlán, Mexico, a beach resort known as much as a hangout for drug traffickers as for its seafood and surf.

The forces were following yet another tip about the whereabouts of one of the world’s most wanted drug kingpins, Joaquín Guzmán Loera — known as El Chapo, which means “Shorty” — who had eluded such raids for 13 years since escaping from prison, by many accounts in a laundry cart. With an army of guards and lethally enforced loyalty, he reigned over a worldwide, multibillion-dollar drug empire that supplied much of the cocaine and marijuana to the United States despite a widespread, yearslong manhunt by American and Mexican forces. […]

Mexican marines and the police, aided by information from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, immigration and customs officials and the United States Marshals Service, took him into custody without firing a shot, according to Mexican officials. […]

Mr. Guzmán faces a slew of drug trafficking and organized crime charges in the United States, which had offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest in the hopes of dealing a crippling blow to an organization that is the country’s top provider of illicit drugs.

Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel is considered the largest and most powerful trafficking organization in the world, with a reach as far as Europe and Asia, and has been a main combatant in a spasm of violence that has left tens of thousands dead in Mexico.

“Big strike,” said a Twitter posting by former President Felipe Calderón, who had made cracking down on drug gangs a hallmark of his tenure.

Note the involvement of the U.S. DEA and "American forces". The U.S. has agreements with Mexico to assist in the enforcement of drug prohibition laws. Also note that the DEA wants Mr. Guzmán for breaking U.S. laws.


It will be interesting to see the effects of this arrest. Mr. Carpenter documents in The Fire Next Door that the violence in Mexico usually increases when a drug lord is arrested. This happens because the leadership of a very profitable drug cartel is up for grabs and different factions will fight in the streets to claim it.

Is it not enough that drug prohibition has made war zones out of some of America’s inner cities, has created a whole gangsta sub-culture, and has given us a prison population that dwarfs that of most other countries?

Must we imperil our Central American neighbors with our prohibition policies too?

End the War on Drugs.

This seems like a good place for this video from the Drug Policy Alliance.

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One comment

  1. […] What does pique my ire, though, is when the Nicotine Nazis get their hands on the levers of power and start proposing laws like the one described below. Banning tobacco is just another form of Prohibition, after all, and we know how well that works. […]



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