When mainstream media talk about terrorist threats to the United States, the image that comes to mind for the majority of Americans is that of a Muslim extremist of Middle Eastern descent. But there is a dangerous and growing threat to the Nation that is much closer to home, emboldened by U.S. policy and operating in capacities on par with military force.
Mexican drug cartels have, through savvy business and brute force, built an empire south of the U.S. border that Mexican police and the country’s military are seemingly incapable of bringing down. Despite dedicating vast law and military resources to stopping cartel violence and having billions of dollars of American aid money at their disposal, Mexican officials continue to be bested by cartels in the country. And unless something changes, the United States could be battling the cartels on a similar scale domestically, as the drug-pushing criminal entities continue to gain power throughout the United States.
In an interview with Personal Liberty Digest™, John P. Sullivan, a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who also specializes in research related to terrorism associated with narco-trafficking, explained how Mexican cartels are growing in power despite the best efforts of officials on both sides of the border.
Sullivan contends that the biggest source of power for the cartels is the United States’ continued war on drugs, which perpetuates a lucrative black market on drugs.
“I’m not saying that we need to fully legalize all drugs in the United States,” Sullivan said. “But if we don’t take a serious look at our drug policy in this country, including consideration of decriminalization of certain drugs and how the justice system deals with people convicted of drug offenses, the cartels are never going to fall out of power.”
Because the Mexico-to-U.S. drug market is an underground one, there are no concrete figures on how much money the cartels are making shipping drugs over the border; but it can be safely estimated that profits are in the billions of dollars each year. An article published by The New York Times last summer provides a little bit of perspective:
The Sinaloa cartel can buy a kilo of cocaine in the highlands of Colombia or Peru for around $2,000, then watch it accrue value as it makes its way to market. In Mexico, that kilo fetches more than $10,000. Jump the border to the United States, and it could sell wholesale for $30,000. Break it down into grams to distribute retail, and that same kilo sells for upward of $100,000 — more than its weight in gold. And that’s just cocaine.
Selling marijuana to U.S. citizens is grossing cartels anywhere from $2 billion to $20 billion annually, depending on whose estimates you believe. And a growing market for the purer variety of methamphetamine that the cartels are able to produce in industrial-style “superlabs” in Mexico is also driving profits.
Far from the low-tech, low-ambition street-corner lowlifes that Americans usually associate with drug dealers, the cartels aren’t letting the profits go to waste. In fact, in a country with tough gun-control laws, they are able to arm themselves enough to remain evenly matched with the Mexican military.
Recent seizures of cartel assets by Mexico’s military have turned up armored vehicles, thousands of semi-automatic and automatic rifles, rocket launchers, and hand grenades. The cartels have also set up private radio networks throughout the country designed by kidnapped communications engineers.
Beyond using the vast wealth that is created by the drug trade to embolden their criminal activities, some cartels have branched into legitimate business endeavors like running mining operations. According to Sullivan, the cartels are so wealthy and powerful that they are never going to go away; but quelling demand for black-market drugs could force them to at least operate within the confines of the law.
Largely ignored by media and U.S. officials is the growing influence of Mexican drug cartels in the United States, possibly because their actions haven’t become quite as bold in the States as the brutality on display in their country of origin. Of the seven biggest Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa cartel has the biggest foothold in the U.S. Some estimates indicate that the group moves an average of one kilo of cocaine across the Nation’s border every 10 minutes. With the large amount of product coming into the United States, the cartels have set up hubs of operation here to manage distribution, and not just in border States.
In Chicago, where prolific violence makes headlines daily, Sinaloa has set up its American base of operations, tapping in to the heavily Mexican population of the city’s Little Village area.
“Chicago, with 100,000 gang members to put the dope on the street, is a logistical winner for the Sinaloa cartel,” Jack Riley, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s special agent in charge of the Chicago field division, told The Washington Post after a tour through Little Village. “We have to operate now as if we’re on the Mexican border.”
But it isn’t only Chicago that has become the American base of operations for some of Mexico’s most ruthless drug pushers. Cartels have infiltrated the Nation and established hubs or footholds in 1,286 American cities. More disturbing still, ongoing high unemployment and the opportunity to make big bucks pushing drugs for Mexican cartels is drawing a growing number of Americans already at risk for criminality to becoming involved with the brutal organizations.
A similar story of economic trouble preceded the cartel rise to power in Mexico, though the economic woes in that country were more dramatic than they have become thus far in the U.S. Believe it or not, not all Mexicans dislike the cartels. This is because when the drug pushers aren’t chopping off the heads of rival gang members or piling bullet-ridden bodies in public squares, they provide economic opportunity for people who may otherwise have none.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that 34.1 percent of Mexico’s workers are employed in the “informal sector.” Give or take some paid-under-the-table farmers or construction workers, that means that nearly a third of the Mexican working population is involved in some level of the drug production and distribution chain.
As law enforcement agencies continue to face budget cuts and a growing number of Americans look to illegal activities as a means for economic survival, Sullivan said it is possible that the cartels could realize the same power in numbers in the United States within a decade.
U.S. officials are poised to continue to attempt to thwart the growing power of Mexican cartels in the only way that bureaucrats know how: throwing money at the problem. But with the nearly $2 billion Merida initiative from Washington having little impact on Mexican cartels since 2008 and the $350 million lobbed at the Central American region the same year to cut off the drug flow before it reached the cartels not faring much better, it seems a new approach is needed badly. People familiar with the problem, from law enforcement officers in America like Sullivan to Latin American heads of state, say that there isn’t much that hasn’t been tried besides ending the sacrosanct war on drugs. They warn that if legislators fail to at least consider revisions of law to weaken the demand for black market drugs, the war may become much more literal as the horrors of the violence carried out by the powerful cartels become more visible on American streets.