Sunday, February 6, 2011

American Chapos?

Richard posted the following commentary from a blog called Chihuahua Resiste the other day:
[A]n unsuspected number of executive authorities, legislators and U.S. federal and state court officers are on the payroll of drug lords.

If nothing is done and nothing is known by anyone from secretaries of state down (Every man for himself), the conclusion is that governors, legislators (senators especially), judges, journalists, police officers of all kinds, the FBI and the DEA and even the infamous and feared Border Patrol — everyone could be deeply involved in the lucrative narcotics trafficking business just as they were with other criminal imports in the prohibition era.


Where are the American drug lords?

Why — in the U.S. — have they not begun to prosecute major drug traffickers?

I know, I know… it’s because neither the consumers nor the authorities nor the narcos or the press want you to know who they are.

Everyone supports this business, and everyone colludes in it.

Better, to blame Mexico for all their woes …
This is a rather overwrought version of an argument you hear a lot in Mexico, and I've never found it particularly convincing. It's hard to refute, what with the difficulties of proving a negative, especially a conspiratorial one based on the doings in a hidden industry. But even if one falls short of absolute proof, the logic here argues against a class of American Chapos protected from view by his pawns in the media and in government.

The only reason that American authorities and journalists, who simply love a new enemy to blow up into an existential threat, wouldn't want us to know about these supposed American Chapos is that they're all in on it, as the author suggests. All the DAs and US attorneys and editors in newsrooms around the country, all of the people with the capacity to disseminate this information and thus make their career doing so, are receiving cash in order to avoid doing so. That, frankly, is absurd, for a plethora of reasons. To take but one: in this scenario, there isn't an honest minority in the American elite who would resist temptation, as there is in even the most corrupt nations' governments? Surely this group would be capable of offering some evidence of American Chapo.

The differences in the respective place occupied by the drug trade in the two nations are much more convincingly, albeit boringly, explained by other factors:

1) There is an asymmetry of attention to drugs in the two nations. People think it's so much worse in Mexico in part because no one outside of shrinking metro desks and Radley Balko pays attention to the government's pursuit of the war on drugs in the US. For instance, did our author above notice this note about 78 people being arrested in Texas on federal drug charges earlier this week? I expect not. Federal drug arrests are utterly commonplace, yet they receive little attention. In Mexico, a similar sweep would have landed on the front page of Milenio, but in the US, it's maybe gets mentioned on the local news website. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, with arrests for corruption.

This fact is a valuable counterpoint to the hysteria regarding Mexico: Lots of people suffer and die in the US because of drugs, too. Anyone who wants to make that point, kudos to you. But to turn widespread ignorance of drug enforcement in the US into an argument that there is an epic web of deceit hiding our eyes from the truth about American Chapo doesn't hold up, to put it mildly.

2) Because Mexico is a trafficking more than a consumer country, large quantities of drugs tend to be more concentrated among a smaller group of people, which lends itself to larger sums of money going to this same group, which gives them an inordinate amount of power. In the US, drug sales and the profits derived from them are smaller and spread among more people, which makes the accumulation of wealth and power comparatively difficult for US criminals.

3) American law enforcement institutions, for all their flaws and misguided zealotry in the war on drugs, are much, much more effective than their Mexican counterparts. Evidence of this is everywhere: mass escapes from Mexican prisons, inability to convict arrestees, inability to arrest suspects, polls and surveys on corruption, the mordida one pays every time they get pulled over, et cetera. As a result, American drug kingpins have to adopt a much more defensive approach to business to survive, and typically do not survive for as long as do Mexican capos.


malcolm said...

well said. the fact that there aren't 50,000 soldiers in the US shooting it out daily with drug dealers probably plays into the lack of media attention too.

Richard said...

If you're looking at numbers, there's somewhere around a million and a half police officers in the United States (not counting supervisors and part-time officers), not to mention an Army in Afghanistan, undercover agents here in Mexico, overt agents in Colombia ... and the U.S. still manages to ingest a quarter of the world's narcotics.

Rampant "corruption" among the U.S. political class, as in bribery by "drug lords"? Probably not, but the Mexican author I translated is quite right to be cynical in questioning U.S. motives in pushing their problem onto Mexico.

pc said...

Sure, cynicism is justified, and there's no doubt some hypocrisy from the US in its conduct of the war on drugs. There's just a big difference between a healthy dose of cynicism and concluding that the reason for the differences in US and Mexico is that literally everyone charged with enforcing drug laws in the US is on the take. The author may have meant that hyperbolically, but it didn't seem like it.

Anonymous said...

Anybody on the take out there?

Prohibition can only lead to corruption. Why will we never learn?

"The lure of easy money has a very strange appeal" -- Glen Frey

Anonymous said...

Glen Frey, "Smugglers Blues"