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What if they ended a war and nobody left?
July 12, 2012 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Is legalization or at least ending the war on drugs a solution to gang violence? Drug Business is not the Key to Gangs And Organized Crime: With a Prognosis for the Mexican Cartel Wars explores the idea of gangs and other crime organizations as mainly political actors. (previous mention of sociologist Randall Collins)
posted by patrick54 (30 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would like some people more knowledgeable about the drug trade and political science and whatnot to comment on this, but I will just say that I found this article very compelling. Thanks.

Regardless of whether or not ending the drug trade would have a significant effect on the condition in Mexico, I still think it would be a good thing, for a host of other reasons. But this piece wasn't saying that ending it is a bad idea; in fact it largely didn't address the drug trade other than to state it wasn't the most important factor in what drives these organizations.

Fascinating piece, I'd never thought about these kinds of quasi-governmental organizations together as a type before.
posted by dubitable at 8:03 AM on July 12, 2012


Interesting article, but he kind of skims over why the cartels are moving into each others territories now.
posted by empath at 8:16 AM on July 12, 2012


I thought that his analysis would center on the claim that existing drug cartels already derive most of their income from non-drug-related activities as Slyvia Longmire asserts. Instead he says,

"It follows that ending the illegal drug business-- whether by eradication or by legalization-- would not automatically end violence. Mexican crime-orgs could intensify other types of violent extortion (and so they have, with increased pressure on the US border), as along as they still held territories out of government control; and wars between the cartels would not cease. It is a non sequitur to argue that if the US would stop drug consumption, Mexican cartels and their violence would disappear."

I think the basic argument is that the drug consumption under the drug war maintains a robust permanent black market waiting to be catered to by traffickers in return for good money. This steady source of income acts as a fuel that enables corruption and collusion with local governments not willing to stick their necks out for a trade whose principal cargo is just passing through (to the US). Remove the drug war and you remove the supply of steady money. The other activities he mentions like protection money and kidnapping require local victims. Of course that's not going to disappear soon, but to what extent and for how long will cartels be able to reclaim lost revenues. One can imagine a tacit acceptance by the Mexican government and populace of a discreet drug cartel, but what about a gang whose primary activity is kidnapping locals?
posted by daksya at 8:23 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The description of prohibition being not that important a source of revenue to the US mafia simply because the mafia started before prohibition teeters on non sequitor.
posted by destro at 8:35 AM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the author's conclusion:

"It is possible that an electoral victory by PRI, the long-time former ruling party known for its history of corruption, would result in a new policy of accommodation. Some of the more stable and least expansive cartels would be given tacit recognition in their region, while the more aggressive and territorially expansive groups-- above all the Zetas--- would be targeted for extermination. The result might be something like the fate of the Russian mafia of the 1990s: ending their mutual turf wars, reducing conflict among themselves, and finding acceptance by corrupt government officials sharing in their wealth. In the case of Russia, the whole process was finished in about 10 years."

The PRI just won the election...it's still about the drugs.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 8:36 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a fascinating piece! Thank you!
I've always had an interest in these organizations. For one, they gain a sense of legitimacy within society. Secondly, I have been an end user (cannabis) and back in the day before medical marijuana, I was interested in supply chain.

Here in Detroit, it does seem decentralized. I use to buy off of a loose street gang that all they did was drugs. It was their business. They were like a WalMart, they had everything and at much lower prices than what white surburban dealers offered. Always on, and had people manning phones (as well as calling you with the new number periodically) and drivers to meet you in neighborhoods. You could get a twenty sack, or a half a pound (at great discounts). Bonus point, the police were afraid and didn't venture down the neighborhood streets. It was pretty easy, 2 minutes later back on the freeway to the burbs.

One day, I will never forget, because it deeply bothered me. My friend and I were picking up (as we often did for ourselves and others, the buy in bulk method) and waiting on a street as the protocol went. Now two white kids from the burbs in a decent car does draw some attention, but generally we were left alone. A neighbor came out of a nearby house from across the street. She was elderly, and began talking to us. "Goddamn it, I am sick of these dealers in my neighborhood. You guys come down here, and promote the problem". That really stuck with me. Here we were, essentially outsiders, adding to the problem in HER neighborhood. It really made me reflect on what I was doing. I was part of the cycle, I am the end users, or at least one of them.

Its been nice as since then and with the introduction of medical marijuana I know longer have to promote the demise of a neighborhood. Now groups form, one can go to a shop and buy meds, or even grow their own. Less impact in the streets and I don't feel like I am contributing to the problem. Needless to say this topic has always facscinated me.

Thanks again!
posted by handbanana at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


The fundamental driver in all the gangs discussed is money. Yes, there are some exceptions in street gangs (which have very little actual influence and operate only really within certain non-wealthy neighbourhoods), but the majority of gangs and cartels which actually wield influence are able to operate because of money.

Of course stopping the drug trade would reduce gang activity. It wouldn't wipe out every gang, because there's plenty of other criminal means to money, but it would significantly reduce the income of some gangs and cartels.

The article conveniently discusses the gangs and cartels which haven't made significant money from drugs, while failing to discuss those which have. The central american cartels wouldn't be able to afford the influence they have today without drug money. It's commonly known that gangs and prohibition were intimately linked. Many of the gangs involved in that fizzled out after the legalisation of alcohol.
posted by leo_r at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought that his analysis would center on the claim that existing drug cartels already derive most of their income from non-drug-related activities as Slyvia Longmire asserts.

That's really interesting. Do you have a link about this?
posted by Sangermaine at 8:57 AM on July 12, 2012


There is still quite a bit of criminal activity in cigarette smuggling, prescription drugs and alcohol.
posted by humanfont at 8:59 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other sources of income he talks about pale in comparison to the money in drugs. These gangs didn't become international syndicates that are the defacto government in some areas by running protection rackets.
posted by spaltavian at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was an interesting comparative analysis of criminal organisations but the conclusion was quite anti climactic: the violence will subside because the PRI will accommodate the cartels. That's not much of a prediction, it's more of a common sense "re-staging the past will probably engender the same outcome it did then". You don't need a sociologist to tell you that, you have a nation voting them in for some good reason - going back to what suddenly doesn't look like such bad times after all.

At this point, figuring out the distribution of the Narcos income is total guesswork. You tend to have conservative people telling you the income stream from the drug trade is dwindling compared to other activities which then becomes a convenient anti-legalization argument. And, obviously, pro-legalization ones will say the drugs are the biggest source. Everybody is working on assumptions and you choose the ones that fit your ideology.

In any case, it seems obvious that the way to diminish their power is to diminish their income, sabotage their logistics operations and freeze their assets which seem to be, so I read here and there, in American banks. Why the US boasts of curtailing terrorist organizations by drying out their financial funding but can not do the same to these guys is something I'd also love to have someone explore.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 9:09 AM on July 12, 2012


A couple of links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/opinion/19longmire.html

http://www.samefacts.com/2011/10/crime-control/mapping-the-revenue-of-mexicos-organized-crime-organizations/
posted by daksya at 9:11 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is an interesting piece from the NYT about prices and the failed policies of the drug war.
Mentions that a gram of cocaine has only decreased in value. Considering seizures of larges caches of drugs regularly, yet prices continue to fall suggests from an economic standpoint that availability is high, as well as the purity of the product entering the US.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/article?a=943308&f=130

It is a mobile link, if it doesn't work, go to the Business Section and the article is located there.
posted by handbanana at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2012


You can easily identify the people who don't really understand or believe in the power of capitalism, because they think it's possible to defeat the uber-capitalist drug market using socialized law enforcement.
posted by mullingitover at 10:09 AM on July 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


That was interesting...

Legalisation may not end gang violence but one thing it will do is take away one of America's most powerful weapons in the War on Black Men.
posted by klanawa at 10:13 AM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


1. Drugs are a high margin business, they give the sellers a high rate of return on their investment. People like to get high and will pay for this-- it is the same reason that restaurants, especially fine dining places, earn most of their money on alcohol.
2. More profit means better equipment and easier access to corrupting local authorities. Let's just look at the US. In the 50s, the article points out, there were plenty of street gangs in NYC. One of my classmate's dads was in one and all he did was get in fights with other kids and carry switchblades. What changed? Profit. When you have more profit, you can upgrade from switchblades to AR15s and those are a lot more lethal. As proof of this-- street gangs in the US really turned up the volume in the late 70s/early 80s, that's when you started seeing dealers with all the higher grade hardware. Those weapons in semi-auto form were easily available in the 60s, such as the AR15. Hell, there wasn't even a background check in those days you could walk in and get it across the counter. The thing is though, that street gangs couldn't afford such things-- until the money was good. It is much easier to bribe local officials when a gang has money. Additionally, the popularity of drugs gives gangs easier access to a wide swath of society. Powder cocaine was a luxury item in the 70s and 80s-- who buys such a thing? The upper class of society. Therefore, dealers will have easy access to the movers and shakers. It's like a hidden country club of the corruptible.

On the other side of the world, look at the drug financed warlords of S.E. Asia. There's a very good and peer reviewed book on this, The Politics of Heroin by McCoy.

3. The author of the article kind of misses the boat on the Yakuza. They were heavily involved in the drug trade in China. Japan had a colony in Manchuria and in N.E. China, where the Japanese colonial government manufactured heroin. The rumor was that they used drug sales to finance their colonial operations, and to subvert local Chinese authorities, and break the will of Chinese people. Some people would say it was just Communist propaganda. In fact, there have been recent revelations proving that the Japanese did this, a senior politician died and gave his papers to a reference library-- surprise, the papers included records of the financing of Japan's colonial efforts via the narcotics trade. As the Yakuza were often the hidden hand of the Japanese militarists, they picked up a lot of cash and connections to the drug trade. The Japanese colonialists made huge fortunes in dope dealing.
posted by wuwei at 10:21 AM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, I found it: Japan profited as opium dealer in wartime China
posted by wuwei at 10:27 AM on July 12, 2012


The thing about the drug business is: It's a business...because it is an illegal business, it attracts criminals, but at least it keeps them busy.

Take that business away from them, and now you have unemployed criminals, looking for work...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 10:38 AM on July 12, 2012


AFAIK The tong and the triads have always operated both as pseudo governmental organizations first and foremost, secondarily as a mafia/cartel/gang.
posted by Freen at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2012


The thing about the drug business is: It's a business...because it is an illegal business, it attracts criminals, but at least it keeps them busy.

Take that business away from them, and now you have unemployed criminals, looking for work...


I hope you're not saying we should keep the status quo so criminals aren't put out of work. Especially in the drug trade, the easy money is a huge reason people get into the business. Take that away from them, and they have to do things that may require more work or higher risks. And if someone resorts to stealing cars instead of growing pot, well you have a lot less chance of getting away with that one. Not saying they will get caught, but they have a higher chance of it.
posted by trogdole at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2012


Yakuza among first with relief supplies in Japan
posted by Freen at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2012


The thing about the drug business is: It's a business...because it is an illegal business, it attracts criminals, but at least it keeps them busy.

Take that business away from them, and now you have unemployed criminals, looking for work...


Or you could turn that on its head and posit that if it were a legal business then these ambitious entrepreneurs could put their talents to good use. If you knew everything there was to know about processing and distributing cocaine, you had an extant supply and distribution chain, then why in the world would you get out of the business when it went legit? What're you gonna do, go rob people in alleys, or become a consultant for Glaxo-Smith-Kline's new Peruvian branch?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bitter Old Punk: This is exactly what has happened, with the medical marijuana business...plenty of former "illegal" marijuana dealers and growers thought they could transition to a legal model. Only problem is, the Federal government won't let them...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 11:29 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aside from the gang aspect, ending the drug "War" should at least slow down the SWAT team shootings of innocent victims and potentially restore at least some of the fourth amendment.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:52 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some stuff on this from Brookings : One and Two
posted by stratastar at 12:04 PM on July 12, 2012


Prohibition created the mafia, but once prohibition went away the mafia stuck around. The gangs that were fueled by the drug trade will probably stick around, but they'll have a lot less money to spend on stuff. They'll get weaker and weaker and it will be easier and easier for the government to clamp down on them.

In addition, the Mafia "went legit" to a a large extent as well. They had to funnel their ill gotten gains through legitimate companies
Take that business away from them, and now you have unemployed criminals, looking for work...
But it's low-risk work. You only work with other criminals, or customers. No one you're directly involved with has a problem with you (unless there's a disagreement, which they obviously can't take to the police)

If they try to get into armed robbery or something, suddenly you're putting yourself at far greater risk. You're much more likely to just get shot or arrested that way. And the crimes are much easier to solve.
If you knew everything there was to know about processing and distributing cocaine, you had an extant supply and distribution chain, then why in the world would you get out of the business when it went legit? What're you gonna do, go rob people in alleys, or become a consultant for Glaxo-Smith-Kline's new Peruvian branch?
The distribution game would change completely. You'd just ship the stuff the same way everything else is shipped. I don't think the processing is all that complicated. You can probably look it up online.
posted by delmoi at 12:07 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think what the article missed is how hard it is to do large-scale extortion if the state is strong and legitimate. The Mafia was restricted to ethnic sub-communities in the US because those were the people who wouldn't go to the police, and the Mafia in Sicily had a lot to do with historic divisions between Sicily and any centralized Italian state. Mexico is an interesting case, but would the gangs have succeeded in undermining the state to the extent they have without all the drug money they got?

In contrast, drugs can supply you a lot of money in all political circumstances.
posted by zipadee at 2:46 PM on July 12, 2012


David Simon - A Fight to the Last Mexican
Having embraced the American drug war, having taken our dollars to battle the cartels, the northern states of our southern neighbor have become an abattoir. Fifty thousand bodies in the Mexican streets, and so much drug-war weariness that voters have turned against the incumbent regime and last week restored to power the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which was, in fact, often accused of accommodating, rather than battling, the traffickers.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:14 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think what the article missed is how hard it is to do large-scale extortion if the state is strong and legitimate.

I think this is the central point the article is making: organized crime flourishes where the state is weak and illegitimate because it works government-like and replaces at least some functions of the state. The article's hypothesis is that even cutting off the major source of income won't bring these organizations down if the state doesn't reassert itself and fill this power vacuum.
posted by patrick54 at 1:47 AM on July 13, 2012


The article's hypothesis is that even cutting off the major source of income won't bring these organizations down if the state doesn't reassert itself and fill this power vacuum.
Right, but the reason the state lost it's legitimacy is that these organizations made a shitload of money. If they lose their major funding source, it's going to be more difficult for them to keep it up. Just like with the US mafia, they'll eventually go out of business or go use their current money to go legit. Either way, the violence level goes way down.
posted by delmoi at 2:20 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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