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Nothing new — beads and trinkets and marijuana

14 July 2009

Blogging By Boz, which manages to avoid most of the “color commentary” that usually accompanies these kinds of stories, gives a good account of the latest outbreak of gangster violence:

Mexican authorities arrested Arnold Rueda Medina, one of the top figures in the La Familia cartel in Michoacan. The arrest was a serious hit to the organization and a win for Mexico’s intelligence and security forces. What happened next, however, was a sign of just how powerful some of these transnational criminal organizations have become.

Within two hours, paramilitary units controlled by La Familia attackedthe police station where Rueda was being held. Failing to free him, the group began a ten hour, eight city coordinated attack against security forces in the area. Media reports say the attackers used military grade weapons and grenades. Three police officers were killed as they responded to the scene of an accident, only to have a convoy drive by and shoot them down. Two soldiers were assassinated while returning to their barracks. 18 other police officers were wounded in the series of attacks, some of which attacked targets out in the open patroling while others assaulted buildings where security forces were located.

Two of the attackers were arrested and one killed, but it’s uncertain at this point how many attackers were involved in all of the incidents combined. It looks like the attacks were focused on security forces with no civilians targeted…

I don’t see anything new in all this, other than now the government is targeting,  La Familia, one of the weirder criminal gangs.  There’s nothing surprising in noting the gangsters STILL have access to weapons and communications despite U.S. promises to stop the gun trade, and the money laundering that finances these groups.

A heretical thought.  Despite a doubling in narcotics use in Mexico since what the Los Angels Times calls “Calderon’s drug offensive” began, this country has very little market for the stuff.

North of the border, and they’re willing to trade objects of value for narcotics.  So.  I was recently reading Juan Antonio Crespo’s “Contra la historia oficial” where he mentions in passing that the colonial trade in beads and trinkets for gold was considered a fair deal. Narcotics are our “beads and trinkets.”  That others are foolish enough to part with valuable items for them shouldn’t be Mexico’s problem.

It’s more than beads and trinkets and gold and a few isolated pockets of people, here.  The “Times” headline suggests that the “offensive” is a presidentially directed.   Which — given last week’s election results — have been repudiated by the voters. It’s not that there’s no stomach for the war (though, I doubt anyone in the U.S. would for very long support military action against a major industry in their own country), it’s that there’s no real sense of necessity.  While the Times goes on about “corruption” from the narcotics trade, next to nothing is heard from the U.S. about it’s own money laundering (except when the banks collapse) nor is there any demand that political and police officials be detained on suspicion of receiving funds from any of the unsavory businesses that have brought the whole world economy to a screeching halt.  Cleaning up north of the border might be a fair deal… you stop pissing away you  gold  — and everyone else’s — and we’ll stop sending the beads and trinkets.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 July 2009 9:12 am

    Play your cards right and Mexico ends up with Manhattan… .

    Never mind, ending up with an island of New Yorkers would only be another way to screw-over Mexico.

  2. Telzey permalink
    14 July 2009 2:21 pm

    If Mexico has no obligation to stem the flow of drugs to the US, since the US is creating the demand for them in the first place, then we would also have to conclude that the US has no obligation to stem the flow of firearms to Mexico, since Mexico is creating the demand for them in the first place.


  3. 14 July 2009 3:30 pm

    Well, strictly speaking the U.S.-backed crackdown on the drugs is creating the illegal markets that are creating the demand for firearms. So, Telzy’s deal might work out well for both sides. If the last century has taught us anything, it’s that trying really hard is no guarantee of success. I bet the flow of guns to Mexico would be the same whether the U.S. tries really hard to stop them or continues its current half-assed efforts, all other things being equal. We already know that to be true of the drug flow. We’ve spent $500 billion trying hard to stop the flow of drugs with zero effect on their price or availability.

    The problem isn’t even the US’s appetite for drugs. It’s the appetite for moral panics. If we just let people use the drugs they want, we’d have more than enough money left over to treat the minority who get into trouble.

  4. Telzey permalink
    14 July 2009 3:46 pm

    Lindsay –

    How is the demand for drugs in the US “driven by” the war on drugs? Time and time again it has been shown that the “war on drugs” has little if any effect on the price or availability of drugs. Yet the only way it could drive demand would be if US anti-drug forces could meaningfully impact supply. Yet this is what they fail to do.

    So it’s hard to see the causal connection that you do here.

    It will be interesting to see if the recession drives down the demand for drugs all by itself. American consume drugs by the bushel because they can afford them, after all.

  5. Brent In KY permalink
    14 July 2009 8:00 pm

    Ok, the War on Drugs has made this whole mess because, it has set up a criminal black market that gains power and money from marijuana, well 70+% of it anyhow. The war on drugs has failed again and agian, the cartels are only captalizing on that failure. If we were to allow the adult use of marijuana, set controls and regulations, tax it, use the “We Card” program, that has seen great resolts in stopoping teen smoking and let everyone choose to use, grow, or sell, to bigger distributers, like tobacco today, it would drive the price down to the point that no criminal would want to touch it,there would be no money nor power from it. Then from that savings of billions and profit from taxes too boot, billions more, all; that could be used to wipe out violent crimes, weapon smuggling and the cartels grip on this nation.

    But no, we are still on the path of failure, 70 years have proved nothing and now we are paying the price for our ability to believe the lies and scare tactics used to keep this failed policy going on and on and on. In turn we arrest 800,000+ americans each year for marijuana and those numbers are rising each year. We can only lock up so many people and soon we will have 50% of our population behind bars and the other half paying for it! Why not, we already have 25% of the worlds prisoners locked up and we only have 5% of the worlds population, so we already look like we do. So who cares right?

    We all should care, its are kids that will have this mess, like so many we have left them, and they will hopfuly do the right thing and End Prohibition and then kick our headstones and ask why we didnt fix this years ago! Plus, its a free country or suppose to be and when is it anyones right to tell me what I can and cant do to my own self my own body my own anything, as long as it doesnt effect you and yours, then why are we arresting non violent drug users at all.

    Cartels, ha, we havent seen anything yet, just wait till they are killing our cops and people daily. Its not too far away guys! You all best wake up and see the truth about marijuana and the failed Drug War!

  6. 14 July 2009 8:18 pm

    No, the demand for guns is driven by the war on drugs.

    As far as I know, narcos are the main consumers of illegal guns in Mexico.

    Why do they want these guns? Because they’re involved in a volatile market where brute force rules. Why is the drug market so violent? Because it’s illegal. Illegal markets are inherently violent because players can’t call the police or sue to settle their differences. Why are people willing to put up with the huge risks? Because the drug trade is insanely lucrative. Why is it so lucrative? Because drugs are illegal and therefore expensive.

  7. 14 July 2009 8:25 pm

    Prohibition tends to make drugs more expensive. If there are draconian penalties, rational actors will demand higher returns to justify the high risk.

  8. Timo permalink
    14 July 2009 11:03 pm

    Lindsay –

    OK. So you’re just agreeing with me that Mexico has a voracious addiction to firearms. Therefore it’s not the responsibility of the US to stop the flow of arms into Mexico.

    And the war on drugs is absolutely NOT what creates the demand for drugs. Because that forces us to assume that the war on drugs has actually been effective. And there is no evidence to support that claim. None.

  9. 14 July 2009 11:54 pm

    Like I said, the war on drugs is what’s creating the demand for illegal firearms in Mexico. Drugs create their own demand.

    Mexicans aren’t addicted to guns. I’m sure there are a few wealthy gun fanciers who would buy black market weapons for the sheer pleasure of owning them. And if Mexico’s gun laws stay the same, there’s always going to be a certain amount of smuggling to meet that baseline demand.

    But that’s not what the “iron river” of guns flowing from the U.S. to Mexico is for. Most of the smuggled guns are tools. Under heavily militarized drug prohibition, the narcos need increasing firepower operate in an illegal market where they are constantly under assault from the military and rival gangsters. Guns are a business expense. Every dollar spent on firepower is one less dollar in profit. If they didn’t need them, they wouldn’t waste money on them.

    You’ll notice that alcohol exporters are not armed to the teeth these days, but they certainly were during the era of U.S. alcohol prohibition.

  10. Timo permalink
    15 July 2009 9:01 am

    Lindsay, I see you’ve become very much entagled in the contradictions of your double standards.

    If Americans only want drugs because they are illegal, and if the way to sap that demand is to make drugs legal, then, to be logical (ahem), wouldn’t you have to say that the demand for firearms from the US is caused by the fact that they are illegal in Mexico? And that this Mexican ban on firearms is what is driving demand for them? And that the real solution to the problem of illegal firearms from the US is to make them legal in Mexico?

    But you don’t say that, do you? Because you want to be selective and opportunistic in how you supply your, er, logic.

    And you’ve given absolutely zero evidence that demand for drugs in the US is driven by the war on drugs. This is a pretty lame POV, since demand for drugs is driven by the enjoyment people get from using them, and/or the physical dependence drugs create. As I’ve pointed out twice now, the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs is shown precisely by its demonsrated failure to affect the price or the availability of drugs.

    Your position, on the other hand, forces you to claim that the war on drugs has been effective, otherwise it could not have any influence on demand in the US. But if that’s true, then it’s hard to see how you can say the war on drugs has not been effective. Etc.

    Good luck with that tangle of contradictions.

  11. Timo permalink
    15 July 2009 9:06 am

    By the way, the comment above is from me, Telzey, as is this one. Timo is my boyfriend and we use each other’s computers. And we both enjoy following this blog. Sorry for any confusion.

  12. 17 July 2009 11:02 pm

    Telzey, I don’t think Americans want drugs because they’re illegal. Americans want drugs for their own sake–it’s obvious that they want them because they enjoy using them.

    Outlawing drugs doesn’t make people want them less. Which is why prohibition inevitably creates black markets. The demand is still there, so enterprising entrepreneurs step in to fill it one way or another. Problem is, black markets tend to be violent.

    The fact that drugs are illegal in the U.S. creates a black market which creates the demand for guns.

    You’ll notice that tequila exporters don’t tend to be heavily armed the way narcos are. Why not? After all, tequila brokers exporting a drug that Americans want for its own sake, just like narcos.

    The difference is that the tequila exporters are operating in a legal market whereas the narcos are operating in a black market.

    During alcohol prohibition, booze smugglers were heavily armed by the standards of the day. But they put the guns away when prohibition ended. They armed themselves because they needed guns to operate in an illegal and violent market.

    If you make the drug market legal, the violence goes away and the guns become unnecessary. Demand for guns will drop when drug exporters no longer need them to do business.


  1. Posts about the Drug Cartels as of July 14, 2009 | EL CHUCO TIMES

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