Mexican Drug Cartels

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Is Mexico on the verge of becoming a “narco-state”? Recent news about drug cartels dismantling local governments suggests they’re power is growing.
Dr. Llewellyn Howell, an Emeritus Professor of International Management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, shares his thoughts about how to address the growing power of Mexico’s drug cartels.

Ted Simons: The drug war in Mexico continues as the Mexican government tries to stop organized narco-traffickers. Thousands have been killed as the drug war rages on. Here to talk about the growing violence of Mexican drug cartels, Dr. Llewellyn Howell, an emeritus professor of international management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale. Good to have you here.

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: Nice to be here.

Ted Simons: How bad is the problem of violence in Mexico?

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: It's getting serious now. It has been growing for a number of years and the actions that president Calderón started taking in 2006 were already at a point where this had become a very serious problem that spills across the border. Some of the cartels and gang activities that are funded out of the drug trade in northern Mexico are spilling over here. There's local affiliates and connections here in Glendale, Phoenix, PEORIA, even, I saw named and spillover that is concerning us in the U.S., not just Mexico.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to the U.S. in a second. In Mexico, how ingrained are these cartels in the Mexican government. I'm hearing of elections that can't be held because the process is corrupt.

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: Every country has corruption and corruption is a big problem all over the world and Mexico certainly has its share. It's probably still not the major problem, I think that many of the people are attracted into the gang activities and supporting the cartels simply because they don't have an alternative for earning income. It's not that they're making bad choices. They don't have any other choices. The economy in Mexico has been in tough straits for a long time and it's -- you know, not -- not recovering any more than ours is from what has happened here in the last couple of years.

Ted Simons: With that in mind and the growing influence and power of these drug cartels, some analysts are seeing Mexico as very very close to a narco state like Colombia was back in the '90s.

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: I think that's exactly the best description to give it. It's alarming description in a sense to say it's turning into a narco state and it might be deemed prejudicial by some people. But there's a seriousness here with regard to what is happening in the rural areas and small towns and throughout Mexico. The cartels extend all the way from north to south, although in the northern parts they've been more active in recent times.

Ted Simons: Compare and contrast what's happening in Mexico and what has happened -- and did happen for years in Afghanistan.

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: Well, Mexico in a sense is going one way and Afghanistan is coming the other. But they will meet before very long and Mexico could become a serious problem as we have in Afghanistan, with regard to people in rural areas, small towns, even now into some of the cities of Mexico, being a part of the drug world. Just like we have that drug world in Afghanistan. It's the opium is the way people earn money. Some estimates have for states in Mexico, maybe 20% of the economy being dependent on the drug trade at source. Which means, they're not necessarily all directly dealing in drugs but the drug trade has turned into other businesses and people are employed by those businesses owned by the cartels so it makes them kind of a government within a government in those states. And it's quite differentiated across the states in Mexico but still a serious problem everywhere.

Ted Simons: How much is the illegal immigration problem in America, the crackdown in America, the bad economy in America, that means fewer immigrants, illegal or otherwise coming across, sending money back to Mexico. Is that at core here as well?

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: One of the ironies of illegal immigration, is that it has, in fact, helped support Mexicans. That is illegal immigrants they come here and earn money and sometimes astounding to me how much of it they send home to these small Mexican villages. As the illegal immigration itself diminishes and some of these people are sneaking back into Mexico, but even for the illegal immigrants that remain and not working and not sending that money back. In those villages the people who were dependent on this income are now looking for other sources of income and they're turning to the cartels as their employers of necessity in Mexico.

Ted Simons: Interesting, let's get back to the United States here. What do we do? We've encouraged Mexico and there are some suggesting that the Mexican president's crackdown was not necessarily the smartest thing to do. How do you feel about that? Did it stir up a hornets nest here?

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: The crackdown in a sense had reached all the way into the United States. Many of the efforts such as marijuana farming in Mexico have now been pushed out of the country. Now in federal parks and other facilities in the United States and California, Oregon, maybe Arizona, I don't know the extent of that there, but some of the industry, drug industry has shifted to the United States where it's safer than it was in Mexico. So there's some effect in Mexico and it is pushing some of that into the United States.

Ted Simons: So what does the United States do? How do we handle this?

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: Certainly on our side of the border, we have to be more diligent and put the resources out there to try to control that and to control those industries that are there, marijuana, the processing of methamphetamines and others, and that are from those drug cartels in Mexico, but the events are occurring here on our territory in the United States. So we have to go after them. I agree, though, with the people who argue we have to do something about the pull here. That is, cocaine and marijuana and some of the methamphetamines from Mexico are really big industries because we're the customer, we're the demand, we're pulling it across the border. Until we address our own part in this, and our interdependence with Mexico on this issue, we're not going to solve this.

Ted Simons: That sounds like either decriminalization or the just the legalization of drugs. Do you think America is ever going to reach that point?

Dr. Llewellyn Howell: It's hard to imagine, isn't it? We've fought it for so long and we made it almost into a religion of being -- there's a medical use of marijuana and a religious use of marijuana. But we've kind of made that into the evil that we cannot ever tolerate. I don't think we're going to be able to change that very easily. Not under the current president because he would be the guy we would expect to make this change, to decriminalize marijuana and -- and deal with this in a different way. So he can't. He's up against a political wall -- wall and it's difficult to imagine he would be able to change this.

Ted Simons: All right. Interesting stuff. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Dr. Llewellyn Howell Thanks for inviting me.

Dr. Llewellyn Howell:Emertius Professor of International Management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management;

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