After two decades of coca crop-dusting as part of a counter-narcotics campaign, Colombia has decided to end its aerial coca eradication program. In a contentious decision, the Colombian government, more specifically, the National Narcotics Council, voted 7 to 1 on May 15 to officially suspend the program. The move was urged by President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s Health Ministry on the heels of a March 2015 report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency on Research in Cancer that concluded glyphosate, the chemical used in the eradication program, was believed to be carcinogenic to humans. The decision represents a profound victory for the Left and green opposition in Colombia, which maintains that aerial spraying has produced detrimental environmental effects, damaged legal crops, and devastated the livelihoods of poor farmers. While the decision received approval from research and advocacy organizations throughout Colombia, it has led to harsh criticism by U.S. and Colombian law enforcement officials who claim that terminating the aerial spray program could lead to a boost in the production of cocaine. Facing mounting pressure, President Santos has reassured critics that Colombia will continue to find ways of eliminating illicit coca plantations used for cocaine production.
For the past 35 years, Colombia has been a key producer for illegal drugs, most notably cocaine, and a notorious hotspot for violence, kidnappings, and an ongoing guerilla war. In the 1980s, Colombia’s drug industry boomed with the rise of drug barons, such as the infamous Pablo Escobar of the MedellÃn Cartel and the RodrÃguez Orejuela brothers of the Cali Cartel. The role of guerrilla and paramilitary groups in the industry throughout the 1980s and 1990s deepened the violence, kidnappings, and guerrilla conflict. It is well-documented that more than 50,000 perished during this period alone. Currently, the annual earnings of the drug trade is estimated at $10 billion USD, and Colombia accounts for 43 percent of the world’s global coca supply.
Let’s rewind the clock 20 years to when Colombia, eager to defeat the illegal drug industry, began to experiment with aerial spraying of coca crops. Under the advocacy of the U.S. DEA, the Colombian government took a militaristic approach, implementing large scale aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca fields throughout much of Colombia. As a pillar of Plan Colombia–the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid package to combat drug trafficking–the aerial eradication program fumigated around 4 million acres of land, at a total cost of $2 billion USD. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, from 2001 to the end of 2013, the coca fields in Colombia decreased in size from 345,000 acres to about 118,000 acres. While the figure seems to validate the effectiveness of the eradication practice, many analysts believe that aerial spraying has actually been inefficient, that the reduction of coca plantings can be attributed to other factors, such as the manual eradication of coca and crackdown of cocaine trafficking rings.
One critic of the aerial eradication program is Daniel Mejia, director of the Center for Security and Drug Studies in BogotÃ¡. The center analyses the drug trade and has advised the Colombian government on drug policy. Mejia has determined that aerial spraying has had a minimal impact and that a single hectare (2.47 acre) must be fumigated multiple times before the coca is actually destroyed. His research has also led him to conclude that people who live in areas where aerial fumigation has been implemented suffer from high rates of miscarriages and other health problems.
In the village of Crucito, Colombia, Manuel de JesÃºs Sanchez, reminisced about an event that occurred four years ago when he was working in a rice paddy. A crop duster flew by and dumped large quantities of what everyone around him referred to as “the poison.” Sanchez claims that from the moment he was exposed to the glyphosate-based herbicide relied upon by the Colombian government to eradicate coca fields, his skin broke out in a yellow rash. Consequently, white blotches have spread throughout his body, while his eyesight deteriorated. He stresses that receiving treatment from a doctor is not an option, due to his inability to pay for the medication that would be prescribed. Sanchez has resorted to selling candy along the dirt streets to make a living, as he is now incapable of tilling his farm.
Accounts of the harmful effects of the herbicide, ranging from skin problems to miscarriages, are prominent in the settlements along the edge of the Paramillo National Park in northern Colombia. However, tracing the health problems related to glyphosate in Crucito is impossible because exposure to other pesticides has gone on for years and the inhabitants, including a majority of coca growers, do not have the economic resources to make the three hour journey to the nearest hospital to receive care.
Other peasants in the fields of southern Colombia blame their illnesses on glyphosate. Nittson Cuacialpud claims that he developed permanent facial acne a few years ago after a crop duster sprayed his one-hectare (2.47 acre) coca field close to the town of La Hormiga. In a similar story, Fraklin Canacuan, a coca grower, recounts how his eight-year-old daughter became ill after being drenched by glyphosate. He is adamant that the spray makes people sick, usually leading to a fever and skin rashes. While their allegations are unverifiable, there are many claims of glyphosate-related illness in the regions of heavy spraying.
Monsanto, the American agribusiness that manufactures glyphosate, has firmly defended its product despite claims by coca farmers against the herbicide. The company argues that scientific research conducted has determined that the herbicide posed no risk to humans and that the World Health Organization (WHO) blatantly ignored this research. A Latin American protest is gathering in Argentina. More than 30,000 doctors, scientists, and environmentalists launched a campaign calling for Monsanto products to be banned after the WHO report came to light. The movement is spearheaded by doctors who form part of the FederaciÃ³n Sindical de Profesionales de la Salud de La RepÃºblica Argentina(Federation of Health Professionals of Argentina; FESPROSA). FESPROSA claims the chemical is heavily linked to birth defects, unprompted abortions, skin diseases, respiratory illness, and neurological disease. Research and social organizations across Latin America are now protesting against the U.S. multinational corporation. 
However, before the blame is put entirely on glyphosate, it must be understood that coca farmers in Colombia regularly handle toxic chemicals. In the Colombian department of Putumayo, Sandra Tejo, a former coca grower, decided to switch to growing black pepper, admitting that leaving the drug trade was a practical decision due to the danger that comes with mixing powerful solvents, such as acetone and sulfuric acid, to turn coca leaves into cocaine. She explained that most of the coca farmers use strong chemicals without proper protection, like goggles and facemasks. This is the reality that must be taken into account regarding the day-to-day lives of coca farmers.
Reaction in BogotÃ¡ and Washington
Previously Santos–as defense minister under the Ãlvaro Uribe Administration–was a strong proponent of crop spraying as the principal weapon in the drug trade war. However, after the revelations of the negative health impacts of glyphosate from the WHO report, he urged the banning of the glyphosate spraying. Santos’ decision was perhaps influenced by a 2014 Constitutional Court of Colombia ruling, which stated that serious precaution must be taken in the use of glyphosate, if there are risks to human life.While Santos’ decision is being celebrated by critics of fumigation, it has created a domestic and international dilemma. Domestically, many officials are worried about the lack of initiative by the Santos Administration to come up with a comprehensive alternative to the aerial eradication program. Former Defense Minister, Juan Carlos PinzÃ³n, defended the country’s use of aerial fumigation and claimed that it was an indispensable tool in combating narco-trafficking. In a recent statement he asserted, “We cannot permit losing the benefits [of spraying] to delinquency, crime, and terrorism.” PinzÃ³n added, “We will continue using all our tools that help maintain security for Colombians.”
Internationally, Washington had pushed BogotÃ¡ to continue the practice of aerial spraying. In a latest effort to influence the Santos Administration, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that the amount of land used to grow coca increased by 39 percent and that aerial spraying declined sharply last year. In addition, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that there is a lack of evidence that shows glyphosate poses a cancer risk to humans. In an interview with Time, William R. Brownfield, head of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, stated, “Glyphosate is today perhaps the world’s most commonly used herbicide.” He also claimed that there has not been one case of cancer caused by glyphosate.
Kevin Whitaker, the American Ambassador to Colombia, recently published an op-ed article in El Tiempo, one of Colombia’s main newspapers, advocating for the continuance of the aerial spray program. Along with the piece, Ambassador Whitaker also stated that a decision to ban aerial spraying would not affect diplomatic relations, as BogotÃ¡ has been Washington’s main ally in Latin America during its War on Drugs campaign. In an interview the day before the decision was made, he commented that the ban would be Colombia’s sovereign decision and that Washington would continue to assist BogotÃ¡ with the tools necessary in combating drug trafficking.
Peace Process Politics
In addition to the Constitutional Court ruling, the ongoing peace talks in Cuba likely played a pivotal role in BogotÃ¡’s decision to ban aerial spraying. The Colombian government andFuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC) have been engaged in a two-year peace effort to end the five decade long civil conflict that has caused much disorder in the Andean country. The reason for the importance of the dialogue in Cuba is that the aerial spraying has mainly been concentrated in rural areas controlled by the FARC in the southern part of Colombia, whom BogotÃ¡ has accused of financing with drug money. Last May, Santos and FARC leaders reached a provisional plan to combat the drug trade, but the FARC demanded in exchange a halt in aerial spraying. The tentative peace plan calls for coca-growing communities to manually and voluntarily eradicate crops in exchange for governmental food and agricultural aid. Under the plan, with the condition that a peace pact is signed, the demobilized FARC would serve as regulators and enforcers of the coca removal plans in the impacted communities.
Hungry Caterpillars as an Alternative?
Now that BogotÃ¡ is looking for new alternatives to combat the drug trade without harming coca farmers in the process, a small moth could be the answer to Colombia’s war on drugs. The caterpillars of Eloria noyesi, the Tussock moth, also known as el gringo by the locals, are known for their attraction to the leaves of the coca plant. Alberto GÃ³mez, head of BogotÃ¡’s QuindÃo Botanical Garden, has orchestrated a plan that he believes could eradicate coca leaves without the use of chemicals. The plan? To flood the country with these little insects as an alternative to spraying the herbicide. It is more complex than it appears, but it could potentially wipe out the drug trade’s main source of income. First, the plan would be to raise thousands of beige moths in a lab, pack them into boxes, and ultimately release them in areas of cocaine production. GÃ³mez is convinced that the moths will immediately find their way to the coca leaves, lay their eggs, and eliminate the coca once the caterpillars hatch.
However, this would not be the first time that such a plan has been suggested. A similar plan was proposed in 2005, and it drew considerable interest from the Colombian government as an alternative to spraying herbicides. But, the general public, specifically environmental groups, were not interested in the proposal. In a 2005 interview with theAssociated Press, Ricardo Vargas, director of the environmental group Andean Action, claimed that releasing a large quantity of moths into a particular area could potentially muddle the dynamics of the local ecosystem. He added, “With a plan like this, the chance for ecological mischief is very high and very dangerous.” While experts on biological control agree that the moths will not solve Colombia’s drug trade problem, most believe that it could be a better option than carcinogenic chemicals.
Colombia’s unilateral decision to scrap the aerial coca eradication program is a significant stride on the road to peace. BogotÃ¡’s commitment to steer away from its militaristic approach is admirable considering the country’s history; however, this poses a new challenge for the Santos Administration. Illicit coca production and narco-trafficking continue to be major societal issues and the government must implement measures to combat the drug trade in ways that do not cause harm to its citizens. Ultimately, history will decide whether the decision to ban aerial spraying by Santos–a man who has banked his presidential legacy on the outcome of a peace accord–will be successful.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been critiqued as merely serving U.S. and Canadian interests, while making the rich richer and only providing marginal, geographically isolated benefits to the poor in Mexico. Although NAFTA promised to decrease migration to the north, increase foreign direct investment, and provoke universal economic prosperity in Mexico, such outcomes have not materialized. The agreement, however, has undoubtedly facilitated U.S.-Mexican trade. As former Mexican Foreign Minister (2000-2003) Jorge G. CastaÃ±eda argues, “NAFTA brought neither the huge gains its proponents promised nor the dramatic losses its adversaries warned of.”[i]Still, NAFTA has contributed significantly to one market in particular: the illicit drug trade.
While NAFTA can by no means be identified as the principle cause of the drug violence in Mexico, it has certainly attributed to increasing drug traffic over the border through its implementation of free-market reforms. However, this did not come as a surprise. In his book, Border Games, Peter Andreas reveals that “[p]ushing NAFTA through Congress…required deflecting concerns that opening the border to legal trade might unintentionally open it to illegal drugs.”[ii] He expands upon this by noting that law enforcement officials who initially made this argument were silenced.
As a pressing security concern in the United States, illegal drug trafficking and the resulting violence has become one of the most popular and contentious research topics in academia. This analysis will, first, examine how drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are able to obtain and maintain power within the state system. Second, the study will scrutinize NAFTA’s affects on the drug trade. Finally, policy implications will be offered that could increase cooperation in pursuit of a North American solution to the security threats arising from drug trafficking.
Illicit Power in a Licit System
Despite U.S. and Mexican strategies targeting both the demand for, and supply of drugs smuggled over their shared border, the levels of both drug supply and demand continue to rise. Washington’s post-9/11 policies have intended to harden the border by increasing funding and technology, but by increasing the amount of cross-border trade, NAFTA inadvertently reduced transaction costs and potential risks for the DTOs. The economic success that DTOs have acquired largely stems from their ability to supply to U.S. domestic drug demand, but their operations do extend worldwide. Mexican DTOs have access to cheap cocaine, with a kilogram priced as low as $2,200 USD in Colombia or $10,000 USD in Central America, which they are able to sell at around $27,000 USD in the United States, over $50,000 USD in Europe, and as much as $200,000 USD in Australia.[iii]
DTOs are able to use profits from illegal sales to gain social and political capital through lana (“silver,” or money) by providing public goods (i.e. employment, education, medical care, religious opportunities, security, etc.) to the community that the state is incapable of delivering. Additionally, DTOs bribe corrupt politicians to support or overlook their operations by offering monetary incentives or political support (i.e. providing votes or targeting opposition members). However, operating within an illicit economy enables DTOs to act outside the rule of law. This grants DTOs the option to act violently, should lana be unsuccessful, to obtain the social and political capital necessary for survival through plomo (“lead,” or bullets). NAFTA has only further enables Mexican DTOs to prosper.
Drug trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business in the global illicit economy. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the North American market for cocaine alone totaled approximately $35 billion USD.[iv] Given such significant profits, the DTOsprefer to purchase the support of corrupt public officials as well as the social capital necessary for their operational success. Michael Kenney defines this as the “power principle.”[v] The power principle maintains that the survival of illicit organizations is dependent upon the accumulation of and access to power, notably political power. Consequently, when lana is not accepted in illicit transactions, or individuals renege on their commitments to the DTOs, the organizations incorporate plomo to invoke fear via threats or violence in order to acquire the necessary power.
Prior to 2000, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI) regime (1929-2000) co-opted the major DTOs into its corporatist system. This relationship proved to be mutually beneficial as the PRI achieved stability through managing the drug trade by empowering a small number of DTOs. These DTOs benefitted from the political power afforded to them, and also the exorbitant profits available in the drug trade. In return, the DTOs aided the PRI to remain in power by targeting the political opposition, leading to endemic corruption in the Mexican political system.
Following the transition to democracy in 2000 with the election of the opposition Partido AcciÃ³n Nacional (National Action Party, PAN) candidate Vicente Fox, the new system allowed Mexico to initiate a drug war against the DTOs, appealing to U.S. pressure. With Washingon’s support, the MÃ©rida Initiative effectively militarized Mexico’s Drug War and through decapitation tactics, targeting the drug kingpins, successfully ruptured the four major DTOs: the Tijuana/Arellano-Felix organization (AFO), the Sinaloa Cartel, the JuÃ¡rez/Vicente Carillo Fuentes organization (CFO), and the Gulf cartel. Under the Fox administration, the institution of democratic processes made corruption less tolerable in the Mexican political system. Thus, lana became less effective to win the support of public officials.
However, this change has produced a new threat. The DTOs adapted structurally by fragmenting and diversifying their illicit activities beyond the drug trade to include kidnapping, extortion, weapons trafficking, and money laundering. This also led the DTOs to become extremely violent, using this as a tool to gain power between and within organizations as well as in the state system. Flaring violence and growing economic capacities allows DTOs to continue embedding themselves within Mexican society as well as the state security apparatus, obtaining notable political capital, and establishing narco-states within the country. Today, differentiating between the DTOs and authorities has become practically impossible, particularly at the municipal and state levels.
Repercussions of NAFTA
In 2013, about 350,000 loaded truck containers, 442,000 loaded rail containers, over 1.2 billion personal vehicle passengers, and more than 41 million pedestrians crossed the U.S.-Mexican border.[vi] Exports from Mexico to the United States increased from $51.6 billion USD to $280.5 billion USD between 1994 and 2013, an increase of 444%.[vii]Whether by train, truck, or foot, the amount of traffic crossing the border has increased exponentially since NAFTA came into force on January 1, 1994. It is not surprising that the flow of drugs has also increased. As of 2003, only 12.1 percent of all containers entering the United States nationwide were actually inspected.[viii] While an impressive number of containers are being searched, given the amount of total trade across the border, there remains ample opportunity for the smuggling of illicit materials.
Despite the successes of NAFTA in increasing U.S.-Mexican trade, its failures have ultimately exacerbated the drug trade today. This further emphasizes the ambiguity in the relationship between the state and the DTOs. Even though state policies threaten the existence of DTOs, these organizations cannot survive without state support. Andreas labels this as a paradoxical “state-smuggler” relationship.[ix] NAFTA has manifested as state action inadvertently supporting the DTOs.
Increased U.S.-Mexican trade resulting from NAFTA has benefitted regions primarily along the border in the northern regions of Mexico. In Ciudad Juarez and a number of other border cities, the income per capita hovers around $10,000, primarily due to the economic boost from the maquiladoras operating in the free-trade zones, which import raw materials duty- and tariff-free in order to create finished products that are then exported. Contrarily, the average income per capita for the rest of the country is about $7,000.[x] The southern Mexican states remain less industrialized and widely impoverished, suffering from inequality.
One of the most notable components of NAFTA targeted the communal land sharing system, ejido, established under Article 27 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution. During the NAFTA negotiations in 1991 under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the Constitutional right to ejidos was eliminated. Despite ejidos continuing to be recognized, the state removed subsidies to farmers, and eliminated government price regulation for the poor. Consequently, prices of basic foodstuffs increased dramatically. Mexico, previously self-sufficient in food security, must now import cheap foreign products, primarily from the United States, where farmers benefit from state subsidies.
The upper class in Mexico has benefitted from the country’s efforts to attract foreign investors by privatizing the economy under the neoliberal program. By excluding Mexico’s south from these benefits, the ensuing inequality has contributed to the success of the DTOs, particularly in the states of Guerrero and MichoacÃ¡n. Without opportunity to participate in the formal economy and earn a satisfactory income, NAFTA has created a network of disenfranchised individuals for the DTOs willing pursue profit in the illicit economy, rather than the formal economy.
Whereas Mexico supplies the U.S. drug demand, the United States, with its comparatively lax gun laws, participates in the “smuggler relationship,” providing the Mexican DTOs with the weapons used in plomo. DTO agents frequently travel across the U.S.-Mexican border on drug runs to satisfy the U.S. drug demand. The income generated from successful drug deliveries is often used to purchase weapons in southern U.S. border counties, but also Central America, which are then smuggled back into Mexico.
The cycle of smuggling drugs into the U.S., using the profits to purchase weapons, and smuggling the weapons into Mexico is perpetuated by both the violence occurring in Mexico and the insatiable drug demand in the U.S. NAFTA has effectively increased the flow of goods and people across the border, not only enabling and influx of U.S. firearms into Mexico, but also exacerbating the violence there. This makes the DTOs’ access to weapons critical to their survivability, perpetuating the cycle.
The 1994 Free Trade Agreement ushered in Mexico’s single market development plan, which essentially pinned the Mexican economy to the U.S. market. Nearly 80 percent of Mexican exports were destined for the United States and the U.S. in turn provides about half of Mexico’s imports.[xi] The Mexican economy’s dependence on the U.S. market has political implications in Mexico, making Mexican policymakers susceptible to pressures from Washington. Analysts suggest that Mexican policies that militarize the drug war and criminalize drugs are an outcome of Washington’s influence.[xii] These policies have contributed immensely to the prominence and violence of the drug trade today.
One constant geostrategic component of the U.S.-Mexico relationship is their shared border. Thus, the two countries are natural partners, which is the reason that the institution of NAFTA was practical. This geography also underlies why the United States is the primary market for Mexican drug exports. Since the United States is the hegemon of the international system, Mexico’s policy options to tackle the drug problem are constrained by its neighbor. This is why Mexico has been unable to pursue policies such as drug legalization, which has been occurring elsewhere in the hemisphere. Washington is overwhelmingly more capable of influencing Mexican drug and, more generally, security policy (i.e. the MÃ©rida Initiative) than Mexico is able to influence U.S. drug or gun control policies.
Despite a preference for militarized action against DTOs, Mexico and the United States have been unable to produce any new mechanisms to facilitate security cooperation or coordinate cross-border policy through interactions via NAFTA. The U.S. continues to predominantly address the increased drug trade violence and resulting migration by militarizing the border, ineffectively curtailing the passage of drugs and people from Mexico over the border. There have been recent increases in cross-border cooperation, but skepticism persists between Washington and Mexico. Mexico continues to concern itself with the lack of U.S. respect for its sovereignty and the U.S. worries that Mexico is unable to ensure its own security and contain the residual spill-over that may occur across the border.
Tony Payan, Fellow and Director of Rice University’s Mexico Center at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, argues in his book, The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars, that in order for security to be achieved, regarding drug trafficking or any other threat, a North American solution must be found.[xiii] This could take the shape of a North American security community. However, unlike the U.S.-Canadian relationship, the U.S.-Mexican relationship has not yet reached a point at which trust in security cooperation is achievable.
Payan reveals a significant factor that must be addressed before concrete advancement can occur between U.S. and Mexico: NAFTA has contributed to the widening of the development gap between Mexico and the rest of North America. While he prescribes undertaking actions to reduce the development gap to improve “[t]he social and economic dislocations in Mexico [, which] have turned to security problems on the border for the United States” (i.e. increased undocumented workers fleeing to the north), it is also crucial in tackling the illicit drug trade problem.[xiv]
The development gap, frequently referred to as the North-South divide, emphasizes the developmental, economic, and educational differences between developed countries, primarily in the North, and the developing countries of the South. Bringing the Mexican economy on par with the United States reduces inequality and economic frustration that many Mexicans currently endure. Thus, not only does it mitigate an incentive to migrate north, it will also hopefully decrease unemployment rates and raise wages, consequently limiting the network available for DTOs to exploit and employ in the illicit economy. Still, for any real progress to be made in mitigating the development gap, the United States (and Canada) will need to shoulder some of the burden in pursuit of a more secure North America.
One advantage, stemming from the development gap, that the United States does benefit from the cheap labor of around 12 million undocumented workers, primarily from from Central America and Mexico, that the U.S. able to exploit.[xv] Contributing additional economic and technological aid in order to reduce that gap would result in losing that cheap labor force, which the U.S. economy has essentially depended on. However, in the post-9/11 security environment, it has become obvious that Washington prioritizes national security. This priority has been highlighted by the inordinate amount of spending since September 11, 2001 in securing the southern border.
Ultimately, a solution to the problems caused by DTOs must be a comprehensive, North American one. Inequality and poor governance in Mexico has been exploited by the DTOs and exacerbated by NAFTA. The amount of trade and flow of people over the U.S.-Mexican border has become impossible to thoroughly regulate. While it is important to control the border, identifying and addressing structural problems at the root of the drug trade is of greater importance.
Reducing the development gap between Mexico and the rest of North America and increasing the average income of both ordinary people and public officials in Mexico diminishes the network from which the DTOs are able to recruit. Domestically, Mexico must promote infrastructure development projects that aim to connect the most impoverished regions of the country, which are largely outside the influence of the state and susceptible to DTO influence. Through connecting these areas to the state, the federal government can foster targeted social service provision.
Still, the U.S. and Canada must become more invested in promoting development in Mexico, especially given Mexico’s poor economic growth, as their aid now directly correlates to their increased security in the future.[xvi] In turn, this helps to satisfy Washington’s concerns about illegal immigration and violent spill-over by reducing inequality and increasing public security in Mexico, seeking to eliminate incentives to migrate north.
Even though NAFTA has increased trade between the United States and Mexico, it has failed to deliver on the benefits that its proponents promised. Instead, NAFTA has unintentionally, or through the negligence of those championing the free trade agreement, benefitted the DTOs. Not only has NAFTA exponentially increased border traffic, allowing the probability that drugs passing across the border to shrink, but it has made the smuggling of weapons back into Mexico easier as well. The increase in weapons being purchased in the U.S. and smuggled back to Mexico for the DTOs to carry out plomo in pursuit of political capital.
This analysis argues that a North American solution is necessary to resolve the problems that the hemisphere is facing as a result of the drug trade. Reducing the development gap between Mexico and the rest of the hemisphere is critical to mitigating the power of the DTOs. The inequality and economic frustration that the Mexican people experience allows the DTOs to exploit these networks and recruit people to work in each point on the supply chain (i.e. production, transportation, distribution, security, etc.). Higher rates of unemployment and higher salaries will encourage more people to participate in the licit economy as opposed to the illicit one to which many turn to today in order to obtain the necessary resources to survive.
Support from the United States and Canada will be required to foster the development of their southern neighbor. Increase investment in Mexico’s development directly correlates to the mitigation of U.S. security concerns, such as illegal immigration and the spill-over of drug related violence. However, the North American countries must reflect on their past and current policies to realized that they have largely failed to effectively curtail the drug trade and its related security problems. The three partners must collaborate to ensure that Mexico invests efficiently in programs that build the necessary infrastructure to connect the poor regions with the state. This interconnectedness within Mexico combined with the provision of targeted social services to those must vulnerable to DTO influence must be cornerstones in the North American plan addressing the drug trade.
[i] Jorge G. CastaÃ±eda, “NAFTA’s Mixed Record: A View from Mexico,” Foreign Affairs,January/February 2014.
[ii] Peter Andreas, Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide, Second Edition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 58.
[iii] Scott Stewart, “Mexico’s Cartels and the Economics of Cocaine,” Stratfor Security Weekly, January 3, 2013.
[iv] Estimating Illicit Financial Flows Resulting from Drug Trafficking and Other Transnational Organized Crimes, Research Report (Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011), Preface.
[v] Michael Kenney, “Turning to the ‘Dark Side’: Coordination, Exchange, and Learning in Criminal Network,” in Networked Politics: Agency, Power, and Governance, edited by Miles Kahler (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 88-89.
[vi] Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Border Crossing/Entry Data: Time Series Analysis,” accessed February 11, 2015, http://transborder.bts.gov/.
[vii] M. Angeles Villareal, “U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications,” Congressional Research Service (July 1, 2014): 2-3.
[viii] Robert Bonner, “U.S. Customs Overhauling Trade under Terrorist Threat,” Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Commerce, September 9, 2003.
[ix] Andreas, Border Games, 22.
[x] Tony Payan, The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006), 61.
[xi] United States Department of State, “U.S. Relations with Mexico,” Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Fact Sheet, September 10, 2014.
[xii] Luis Astorga and David A. Shirk, “Drug Trafficking Organizations and Counter-Drug Strategies in the U.S.-Mexican Context,” Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California – San Diego (2010): 26.
[xiii] Payan, 133.
[xiv] Ibid., 132.
[xv] “Unauthorized Immigrant Population Trends for States, Birth Countries and Regions,”Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends, December 11, 2014.
[xvi] Mexico’s annual GDP growth was about 4% in 2012, but fell to 1.1% in 2013. While it increased to around 2.1% in 2014 it is still below the forecasted growth for that year. See “Global Economic Prospects,” The World Bank. Additionally, Mexico’s Central Bank has now cut its 2015 GDP growth forecast twice leading to the current prediction of between a 2.5-3.5% growth. See Eric Martin and Brendan Case, “Mexico Central Bank Cuts ’15 GDP Forecast for Second Time,” Bloomberg Business, accessed March 3, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-18/mexico-central-bank-cuts-15-gdp-growth-forecast-for-second-time.