The American Factor

 The American Factor

The U.S.-Mexico border has been the scenario of America’s longest was:  the drug war.[1]  Since the beginning of the XX Century, the Mexican counterdrug efforts have been influenced by the United States, either in a direct way or through the international agreements in which the American Government has played an important role.[2]  It all started in the 60’s when America’s increasing demand for drugs prompted Richard’s Nixon decision to declare a war on illegal drugs.  Consequently, in 1969, the border with Mexico was shut down unilaterally by the U.S Government action, which resulted in the beginning of an era of illegal drug trafficking and consumption on both sides of the border.  Moreover, these actions taken by the U.S. required drug traffickers to increase the effectiveness of their operations and thus resulted in “a logic of escalation between law enforcement and criminal organizations – on that evidence shows U.S law enforcement has been loosing.”[3]

The drug war on the border is constantly changing and adapting to news laws, enforcement policies and the technology that the U.S brings into play.  Consequently, the drug cartels respond with even more creative ways to circumvent the latest U.S.’s efforts, which have made these organizations flexible and adaptable.  At the end, the small-time smugglers are the ones who do not survive the increasing and sophisticated efforts made by the U.S.  The major drug cartels are not only constantly responding to the logic of escalation produced by the U.S., but also even if they had a pyramidal hierarchy, they would operate in ways that make them extremely adaptable.  Thus, the main difference between the U.S bureaucracies and the criminal organizations is that, whereas the former is a structured organization surrounded by ethics or administrative and legal rules, the latter are flexible and adaptable organizations, which do not follow any handbook and may easily change their structure.

Corruption is a fundamental component in any illegal industry.[4]  Drug trafficking is not an exception.  It would be naïve to think that a multi-billion illegal business is only a problem in one side of the border.  Corruption propels the drug trafficking business and assures the flow of drugs into the U.S., as well as the return of profits to both Mexico and Latin America.  The tremendous amounts of money generated by the increasing consumption of illegal drugs in the U.S and Europe provides enormous amounts of economic resources to drug traffickers, which allows them to corrupt and hire several thousands of employees – “from buyers to spotters to smugglers to weapons producers to sicarios (executers for the drug cartels) to accountants – but indirectly it pays of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, particularly law enforcement officials and politicians.”[5]  And even though American corruption is less extensive and systematical than Mexican corruption, a single corrupt American official is enough to allow tons of illegal drugs and money to pass through a security checkpoint.  Furthermore, the increasing efforts of the U.S Government to stop the illegal trafficking of drugs into the U.S has made the bribing of officials more expensive – and thus kicking the small-time smugglers out of business.

Additionally, certain studies sustain the view that “70 percent of the firearms recovered from crime scenes in Mexico were traced to the United States.”[6]  Notwithstanding the above, the United States’ Government continuously argues that enough resources and efforts are being made in order to stop the illegal trafficking of guns from the U.S to Mexico.  However, in 2009 an undercover operation leaded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – named Fast and Furious – was set into motion by sending more that 2,000 arms illegally[7] to Mexico without neither the knowledge nor the consent of the Mexican Government.  The official story states that the governmental agency sent the arms to Mexico in order to have “long periods of surveillance in which agents watched loads of legally bought weapons move from straw purchasers to third parties, hoping that the transactions would lead them to bigger criminal targets.”[8]  In 2011, the operation was uncovered and the Justice Department was accused of putting guns in the hands of the Mexican organized crime when “[t]he agency lost track of the guns, and many were found at the scene of crimes, including two that were recovered at the site of a U.S. Border Patrol agent’s killing.”[9]  This scandal, which affected many U.S government agencies and high-ranked officials, entailed not only sending illegal arms to drug traffickers – and therefore perpetuating the “war” – but also a violation of the sovereignty of the Mexican State by taking this “enforcement measures” into their own hands.

The relationship between the U.S. Government and the Mexican Government has gone trough rough patches since the beginning of the Century.  The “war on drugs” has been a constant subject in the security agenda of both countries, where each government and its civil society has some responsibility for the current situation.  Even though the violent “war” is taking place within the southern frontier the United States, the latter not only contributes – but also finances – the “cartels” with the profits provided by the increasing demand for illegal drugs supplies drug traffickers with arms, which perpetrate the ongoing “war.”

The United States has admitted some responsibility and offered to help the Mexican Government with the necessary economic and technological mechanisms to combat drug traffickers, being this program called The Merida Initiative.  This initiative is described as follows:  “a multi-year program to provide equipment and training to support law enforcement operations and technical assistance for long-term reform and oversight of security agencies.  In 2008, Congress approved an initial $400 million for Mexico and $65 million for Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.  In 2009, Congress approved $300 million for Mexico and $110 million for Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. In 2010, $450 million for Mexico and $100 million for Central America has been requested from Congress.”[10]. Nevertheless, even if the U.S is economically helping Mexico in the “war,” it is important to note that no help is enough if consumption of illegal drugs continues to fund drug traffickers.  Wherever there is demand, there will always be a need for supply.

[1] Tony Payan, The Drug War and the U.S. – Mexico Border: The State of Affairs, South Atlantic Quarterly (2006), Vol. 105, Issue 4, p. 864.

[2] Jorge Chabat, Mexico’s War on Drugs:  No margin for Maneuver, The American Academy of Political and Social Science, July 2002, p. 1.

[3] Tony Payan, The Drug War and the U.S. – Mexico Border: The State of Affairs, South Atlantic Quarterly (2006), Vol. 105, Issue 4, p. 863.

[4] Id., p. 875.

[5] Id.

[6] G. Thompson, Justice Department Accused of ‘Reckless Technique’, N.Y. Times, June 14, 2011 (available at

[7] Jorge Ramón Ávalos, Con Obama y sin Osama, Periódico Reforma, May 8, 2011 (available at

[8] G. Thompson, Justice Department Accused of ‘Reckless Technique’, N.Y. Times, June 14, 2011 (available at
[9] Richard A. Serrano, More federal agencies implicated in gun-trafficking controversy, The L.A. Times, July 6, 2011 (available at,0,6997495.story).

[10] U.S Department of State, Diplomacy in Action, June 23 2009 (available at


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