A shotgun blast of news this year shredded what most Americans believe about what used to be called the "war on drugs" -- that it was being fought to curb what were seen as simply criminal enterprises. Instead, it left us all facing the new dangers of narco-politics, whether it is cartels challenging governments and attacking social institutions, capitalizing on corruption, or involvement in the drug trade by terrorist groups.
As a veteran California law enforcement officer told Politics Daily: "What we're seeing in Mexico is cartels as new 'state making' agencies."
That's politics, even if, as that street cop noted, it doesn't sound like politics "in the sound byte sense."
A study by the private Center for a New American Security released in 2010 reported that " . . . crime, terrorism and insurgency are interwoven in new and dangerous ways that threaten not just the welfare but also the security of societies in the Western Hemisphere . . . the capability to destabilize governments has made the cartels an insurgent threat as well as a criminal one."
A March report by our government's Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted that the number of "foreign terrorist groups" involved in the global narcotics trade "jumped from 14 groups in 2003 to 18 in 2008."
Terrorists may "tax" smugglers of drugs, sometimes as a prelude to taking over the business -- CRS, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the California street cop cite as an example Columbia's FARC group, which formed in the 1960s with the goal of overthrowing the government and replacing it with a Marxist regime.
The Taliban, which is not on the State Department terrorist list but is at war with the U.S. in Afghanistan, has alliances with narcotics traffickers, although al-Qaeda does not appear to sanction such connections, according to the CRS.
By the end of 2010, narco-related violence will have accounted for nearly 30,000 murders in Mexico -- everything from grisly beheadings to thug vs. thug gunfights, to raids by squads of cartel gunmen.
Mexico's Congress failed to act on President Felipe Calderon's plan to squeeze the cartels by cracking down on money laundering and reorganizing local police forces so that they could better stand up to them. Mexico's ordinary citizens are losing faith in their government. Cartel-fostered lawlessness has prompted ordinary Mexicans to resort to vigilantism to protect themselves from rapes and kidnappings including, in at least one instance, digging a trench around their town to prevent thugs from reaching it by going off-road in their SUVs.
Cartels attack every element of "legitimate" society – cops, teachers, medical personnel. Cartels attack journalists, prompting El Diario, the leading paper of Juarez, Mexico, this September to publish an extraordinary Sunday front page "letter" to the cartels, saying: "Explain to us what you want from us. What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by? You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city . . ."
In a blood-soaked irony, many guns in cartel arsenals – including AK-47s and other assault rifles -- come from the United States, according to a Washington Post investigation. They are often legally bought here and then smuggled across the border by gunrunners called hormigas (ants) even as cartel drug mules smuggle narcotics in the opposite direction. Efforts to regulate guns are hot-button political issues in the United States, and The Post article quotes Chris W. Cox of the multimillion-dollar lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, as saying: "To suggest that U.S. gun laws are somehow to blame for Mexican drug cartel violence is a sad fantasy."
Meanwhile, Mexican cartels -- already key importers of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the U.S. – now dominate what was once our "homegrown" market in meth, the killer drug that began ravaging our heartland in the 1990's.
Economists talk about "contagion" -- a political, cultural, or social force "infecting" a neighboring group. Contagion is an issue for the United States beyond the cartels' core business of, say, providing the meth that destroys a teenager in Montana.
The Dual "Contagions"
Two narco-politics' contagions are of key concern: corruption and violence.
Narco-cartels in Mexico have corrupted almost every level of government.
However, a spokesman for America's Drug Enforcement Agency told Politics Daily that because our country suffers less from poverty and broken institutions than Mexico, we are unlikely to be infected with Mexico's cartel-related level of corruption.
But Louis Mizell, a private security and counter-terrorism expert, for years has warned about "inside man" corruption. For example, since 9/11, Mizell's data shows that at least 624 corrupt and disloyal Americans have exploited their jobs at borders and ports of entry, allowing terrorists and spies, as well as drug and human traffickers, to defeat our defenses.
Even FBI agents have been corrupted, and Mizell has tracked over 100,000 instances of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) workers providing "breeder documents" -- like driver's licenses -- to outlaws. A seemingly not-so-evil phony driver's license allows smugglers or terrorists to build fake identities, to move and hide in plain sight throughout America.
"Just as athletes claim they need steroids to compete," Mizell told Politics Daily, "hardened criminals and once-legitimate citizens alike are increasingly rationalizing the use of violence and corruption to stay in the game."
Corruption is a slice of America's apple pie. This year, we reelected a Republican senator linked to prostitutes and a Democratic congressman on his way to being censured for financial irregularities. Wall Street deals that triggered our recession still savage our economy with their amazing mixture of corruption and arrogance.
While an investigation by Politics Daily found no evidence that the cartels tried to influence the defeat of California's Proposition 19 that would have legalized marijuana, this did not surprise Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project for the Institute for Policy Studies. Tree said the cartels don't need to involve themselves with trying to block American efforts to relax drug laws, because drugs are "a third rail issue," and no American politician wants to be seen as soft on crime or drugs.
Violence is the other key contagion issue from the cartels. Politics Daily checked with Texas border-town crime reporter Jared Taylor of the McAllen, Texas Monitor, who notes that while "on the Mexican side (of the border), all hell has broken loose," on the U.S. side, "it's mostly life as usual," although there's been a rise in carjackings of high-end vehicles favored by cartel bosses. (If a vehicle is carjacked instead of stolen by often-damaging hot-wire techniques, the carjacked vehicle is in better shape for personal use).
"The cartels don't (mess) with U.S. authorities if they don't have to," said Taylor. However, he notes, on both sides of the border "there is a definite fear of violence. And that may be just as bad as an actual spike of crime."
The cartels' 2010's narco-trafficking reveals a new phenomenon found by most experts that Politics Daily interviewed. Organized crime and the cartels were "early adapters" to the 21st Century Facebook-like "social networking," according to John Sullivan, senior research fellow at the Center For Advanced Studies on Terrorism.
Someone who's run afoul of a Mexican cartel in Los Angeles can be "green lighted" for murder via criminal social networking connections made in Virginia by gangs like MS-13, which began with Salvadoran nationals and has since expanded and operates in Central America and the U.S.
That means these cartels don't need to operate with the movie-famous Mafia's old-fashioned hierarchical structure. Yes, there are jefes, but rather than needing to import a rank-and-file structure to the U.S., cartels utilize network connections, selling meth or heroin to existing American organized crime groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Russian or Albanian crime families, prison-based gangs.
"Keystone Cops" Policies
Money may or may not make the world go round, but politics comes out of our global spin -- and that adds another complication to 2010's multibillion dollar network of narco-trafficking. Keeping abreast of everything from terrorists to who's running Moscow means Uncle Sam often closes his eyes as our soldiers patrol past fields of Afghan poppies cultivated for heroin, or as our spies sneak down alleys in search of treacherous characters whose essential corruption might serve America's essential well-being. Thus, sometimes what happens is more a Keystone Cops-Spy vs. Spy farce than coherent public policy.
This month, The New York Times broke a story that Haiji Juma Khan, currently awaiting trial in New York City and described by prosecutors "as perhaps the biggest and most dangerous drug lord in Afghanistan." He had supplied the Taliban with money and weapons . . . was also a longtime American informer, working with both the DEA and CIA, and was paid "a large amount of cash" by the United States, as well as having been "secretly flown to Washington for a series of clandestine meetings with CIA and DEA officials" in 2006. On that trip, says the Times, he went shopping and sight-seeing in The Big Apple.
Whatever comes next in the Khan case, we can at best be sure we're seeing only a glimpse of "the whole truth," which, as Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi noted in "Star Wars," all depends on your point of view.
America's "point of view" toward narco-politics has changed since our first major legal effort in 1914 to regulate intoxicants like tobacco, alcohol, opium products (heroin and morphine), as well as marijuana and the host of Frankenstein chemicals like LSD, Ecstasy and meth that emerged from labs and trailer park cookeries after World War II.
President Richard Nixon famously declared our "war on drugs" in 1971, but newly released snippets of the famous White House tapes indicate he linked this drug strategy as much to his hatred of marijuana-using "radical demonstrators" opposing his Vietnam war policies as to concerns about heroin then ravaging both our troops there and civilians in our cities.
But regardless of your point of view, come this time next year -- in addition to the $181 billion annual cost to America because of "drug issues" estimated by the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy -- whether from overdoses, the wasting death of addiction, "collateral casualties" of gangsters' gun battles, criminal disputes settled with high-caliber insistence, or brave cops cut down by narco-bullets -- you can be sure we'll see thousands more human beings worldwide sprawled dead in the red dust of narco-politics.
26 Dec 2010