Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Americans Talking Up the Mexican Threat

For the past two days, El Universal has run two cover stories about US officials trumping up the threat of Mexican gangs in the US. They are running the criminal show in 230 cities around the country, according to the State Department's Roberta Jacobson. Or, they are controlling the drug market in 143 American cities but have a presence in a total of 1,286, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. In response to this claim (the gist of which is not new), I'll quote myself writing about Los Angeles, though the logic applies across the nation:
[A]lthough there certainly are ample amounts of Mexican drugs in Los Angeles, and surely there are a handful of representatives of some of the most powerful gangs in Mexico, the context in which this is presented is quite misleading. When you talk about seven different Mexican drug gangs fighting it out for control of a city, the images that are called to mind are of car-bombs or mass executions. Yet, there is absolutely no reason to think that LA officials should spend much of their day worrying about that eventuality. Furthermore, any global smuggling network, a label that includes the suppliers of a huge quantity of drugs consumed in the US, will necessarily have to include local distributors. They, in turn, must have a relationship with the foreign suppliers. While these foreign suppliers often have deservedly scary reputations, their linking up with American street gangs to distribute their merchandise does not mean that the Mexican drug wars are going to be fought out on the streets of LA, or any other city. Until we have evidence of something more sinister, all that the people in the article are describing is a black-market supply chain, not the mass invasion of Los Angeles by Mexican drug thugs.
That's not to say that there are no dangerous Mexican smugglers in the US, but I would stake my life savings (or, even more riskily, the couch I am perched upon) on the fact that Mexican gangs do not control criminal activity or even retail drug sales in 230 American cities. Indeed, I'd be shocked if they controlled even a single American city to anything like the degree that they do Torreón or Matamoros.

There is always going to be tendency of experts on any given ill to lose sight of the forest and overstate the size of the threat. This is made far worse because of budgetary incentives: the department that succeeds in trumping up the potential danger of the threat is rewarded with a bigger budget.

Taking this and the previous post in tandem, it has been a bad day for clear-headed thinking on the part of American officials.


Charles Pergiel said...

"... it has been a bad day for clear-headed thinking on the part of American officials." I think you mean this is just another typical day.

pc said...

Yeah true enough.