Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lots of Words on Juárez

I was expecting this Boston Review piece to be a long dissection of Charles Bowden's Murder City, but it's much more about the general decline of Juárez over the past a couple of decades. There's nothing too surprising in it, but it's a thorough, entertaining overview written by a woman who knows the city. Which is to say, it's well worth the read.

At one point, she mentions that Amado Carrillo's fortune was "estimated at $25 billion". I've read that figure before, and it seems both extremely unlikely and of a piece with the estimates of Chapo's fortune at $1 billion (though I'd say that the Carrillo estimates are farther from the mark). Amado Carrillo, for all his fame, didn't actually spend that much time running Mexico's most formidable gang. For years, he shared space (and profits) at the top the organization he would later command alone, until he killed his partner and rival Rafael Aguilar in 1993. Carrillo died in 1997 (at which point Bill Gates had a fortune of $36 billion, up from $18 billion in 1996), which meant that he had only four years to really rake it in. This is an industry that in 2009 was worth an estimated $25 billion in Mexico, which, if you account for inflation and assume no growth since his death, means that it was worth about $18.4 billion in 1997. It seems exceedingly unlikely that a single man could have profit margins anywhere near 10 percent of the entire industry's revenues, but let's say he took in 15 percent, or about $2.7 billion annually. This is almost certainly exaggerated, but it would give him almost $11 billion in profits in his most profitable years, which is to say he would still be short more than $14 billion. And it's also not like he was an elder statesman who had been breaking the bank in anonymity for decades. He was 42 when he died, which means basically he'd have to average more than a billion per year his entire career to have a fortune in the $25 billion range when he died.

This isn't the most important element of the drug war, but I do think it's important that we (by which I mean law-abiding citizens and analysts on both sides of the border) not make our adversaries out to be ten feet tall.

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