DIAGNOSIS: The Drug Cartels of Mexico

November 5, 2010

This blog is based on conversations I have had recently with leading Mexicans; it represents my diagnosis of issues relating to the drug trade there. (I am in Mexico monthly on various consulting assignments.)The Mexican drug trade is conservatively estimated to be a $32 billion dollar business. That's more than big enough to buy off not only the countless mules who carry the drugs into the United States, but also enough to buy off corrupt police officers and politicians.Here's another unpleasant reality: The cartels are fighting a bloody war for dominance. Each time the Mexican government catches a leader of one of the cartels it ignites a new round of inter-gang bloodshed. Most of the murders are cartel members killing each other or the mules of a competing cartel. Some of the dead are policemen who did not heed warnings to stay out of the conflicts.As if that weren't enough, the crime rate in Mexico is growing. Kidnapping for ransom is on the rise; the victims are typically businessmen and well-to-do professionals like doctors.One more stark fact to consider: The US has established free trade in armaments. This enables the cartels to buy machine guns and other lethal weapons easily, and then transfer them to Mexico.Diagnosis:The kidnappings for ransom are most probably not related to the drug trade. Mexico has had kidnappings for ransom for as long as anyone can remember. The problem might be more acute now, however, because the police have been compromised by the drug cartels and are comparatively ineffective. This is Mexico's problem.The same cannot be said of the drug problem, because only a very small percentage of the illegal drugs are intended for the local Mexican market. Most of them are destined for the US. Mexico is not even the main producer of the drugs that cross its borders; it is mostly a distribution center.What is happening, as I see it, is that the US has the problem, but is putting the burden to solve it on the Mexicans.For years, America has "exported" its wars to foreign lands: Fight the radical Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq, so they do not advance to the USA. This has happened before, too: Fighting in Korea and Vietnam was meant to halt Communist expansion, and fighting in Europe had the goal of stopping Nazi expansion. The difference here, though, is that Americans aren't doing the fighting.Now, instead of America aggressively fighting the cartels, it is asking the Mexican government to do the job - while at the same time, for purely political reasons, it is not delegitimizing the sale of arms that end up in Mexico and fuel the inter-cartel wars.The problem is that drugs remain a big business. The way to solve the problem is to "drain the swamp where the mosquitoes dwell" – by destroying the business. That is what the former President of Mexico is trying to accomplish by legalizing the drugs.In my opinion, though, this legitimization of the drug trade will not solve the problem. It will only make narcotics a legal business, which means legal entities will develop distribution centers, advertise, and make the problem even worse.To totally destroy the business, Ricardo Salinas Pliego suggests that hospitals dispense these drugs for free, as we are currently doing with condoms and needles to stop AIDS from spreading. He also advocates that we launch big campaigns to educate people of the dangers of drugs, and that we set up a network of free clinics to treat drug addicts.It's a good idea. If this were done, there would be no drug business. The honey would disappear, which means the flies would disappear, too.There is a catch, however. These measures must be undertaken in the USA. If Mexico did all of this on their side of the border, that would not solve the problem ... because the real business is being done in the US, and not in Mexico.If I advised the Mexican government, I would say, “Leave the drug cartels alone. This is an American problem, not yours. Your focus should be on your problem, which is the kidnappings. Communicate to the drug cartels that they must peacefully divide their territories and stop their wars and help the government stop the kidnappings, in exchange for the Mexican government looking the other way.What about the Americans? I would advise them to listen to what Salinas says. There is merit in his suggestion. Drugs are not a legal problem but a health and education problem. Prosecuting drug addicts does not stop the use of drugs. Drug addicts are sick. Subjecting them to legal penalties only makes the price of the drugs go up, which means the addicts need to be more courageous to be able to afford them. That means the profitability of the distributors becomes even bigger, and it also means that bigger, stronger, and more ruthless dealers are attracted to the business.The criminalization of drug use only makes the drug trade stronger – not weaker.Will the US ever follow this advice? I doubt it.In the meantime, Mexicans are dying.Sincerely,Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes

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Dr. Ichak Adizes