When globalization is discussed, most often it is discussed in positive terms namely regarding easy of communication, ready access to information, increased amounts of international business which leads to the development of nations, occasionally there will be mention of borders becoming more porous to the point of being almost meaningless. Individuals are increasingly crossing national borders in search of an education, medical care or employment. This has led to an unintended impact of globalization that being the migration of millions from rural to suburban areas taxing the infrastructure of these areas almost to the breaking point.
The United States is no exception to this. Approximately “1 million in 2005” (Colwell, and Watkins) Mexican immigrants attempted to cross the U.S./Mexico border illegally this rate did drop some in 2011 it is approximated that “286,000” (Colwell, and Watkins) attempted to cross the border illegally. Illegal immigration is not the only unintended impact of globalization. As statistics show hundreds of thousands of individuals attempt to cross the border illegally each year, indicating that the U.S. border is also porous to the point of being useless in the face of national security threats.
Crime and criminal justice have in previous decades been viewed as a domestic responsibility. Meaning that crime that occurs in one nation does not have an impact on other nations, however, with the increased ease of movement across borders. Not only has illegal immigration become a problem, crime in terms of transnational/international organized crime and/or gang organizations are causing an increase in crime along the Mexican/United States border.
This type of crime is known as spillover crime or spillover violence. What this term basically means is that violence that is occurring in Mexico may at some point spill across the border and cause an increase in crime and violence among the U.S. border states, if not also causing an increase in crime further inland. The potential impacts of Mexican drug cartel violence in the United States are many, for example “According to the 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice, the potential harm of Mexico’s criminal groups is formidable. Mexican DTOs and their affiliates “dominate the supply and wholesale distribution of most illicit drugs in the United States” and are present in more than 1,000 U.S. cities.” (Beittel 2011) Drug crime is not the only fear that U.S. policy makers have with regard to violent Mexican drug cartels, “In September 2010, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the violence by the DTOs in Mexico may be “morphing into or making common cause with what we would call an insurgency.” (Beittel 2011) Violence related to drug trafficking is not a new phenomenon nor is it a result of globalization. However, increased levels of violence that are being engaged in by Mexican cartels are something that has not been seen before by organized crime groups.
For example, drug trafficking is an activity engaged in by street gangs to make money. These street gangs are not particularly well organized and for the most part will not cause an explosion of violence that is being seen in Mexico. If the statements made by former Secretary of State Clinton prove to be correct, a metaphorical “war” on drugs will become a literal “war” with a well-armed, trained insurgent group similar to other insurgent (terrorist) groups. This fact will require law enforcement organizations to take a different approach to drug violence and may have a serious impact on U.S. national security.
It should be noted that the violence engaged in by Mexican drug cartels are far and above violence that is normally associated with drug crime, street crime, or gang crime/violence. It has been stated that “violence generated by Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in recent years has been unprecedented and remarkably brutal.” (Beittel 2011) It is possible that Mexican drug cartels are unusually violent for a number of reasons, one primary reason is intimidation. If individuals are afraid of cartel violence they will be less willing to cooperate with authorities, also these groups may be unusually violent so as to defend against potential rivals. If another organization is either unwilling to unable to challenge the power of larger more well established cartel groups, these group(s) will remain in power.
Some of the violence associated with these groups includes “mass killings, the use of torture and dismemberment, and the phenomena of car bombs.” (Beittel 2011) Violence has become so extreme among these groups that it has reached almost genocidal proportions, “at least 60,000 homicides related to organized crime since 2006. Some analysts see evidence that the number of organized crime-style homicides in Mexico may have reached a plateau in 2012, while other observers maintain there was a decline in the number of killings. It is widely believed that the steep increase in organized crime-related homicides during the six-year administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) is likely to trend down far more slowly than it rose.” (Beittel 2011)
One of the groups behind this violence is the Los Zetas Cartel. What separates Los Zetas from other drug trafficking organizations and even some organized crime groups is their recruiting practices for example “Trained as an elite band of Mexican anti-drug commandos, Los Zetas evolved into mercenaries for the infamous Gulf Cartel, unleashing a wave of brutality in Mexico’s drug wars.” (Lyons) Members of Los Zetas were not criminals initially; they had been recruited to operate with Mexican law enforcement in an attempt to end drug violence in Mexico. Instead of functioning in this capacity, the Los Zetas evolved to become a trained mercenary drug cartel. In addition to this, Los Zetas are not seeking to recruit common street criminals into their ranks “the FBI judges with high confidence that Los Zetas will continue to increase its recruitment efforts and establish pacts with non-military trained, nontraditional associates to maintain their drug-trafficking and support operations.” (Lyons) If this information is accurate Los Zetas will be seeking individuals with military or law enforcement experience and/or training in assisting with moving narcotics across the Mexican/U.S. border. In addition to this, if successful Los Zetas will create alliance between rival U.S. street gangs involved in selling narcotics. This has the potential to “violence along the Southwest border posing a threat to U.S. national security” (Lyons)
Violence in Mexico connected to the Los Zetas cartel has become epidemic, there is a fear that this violence will spill across the border and cause an increase in cartel violence within the United States, however the border region is not the only area that has experienced the impact of cartel violence. “In November, five reputed Los Zetas members were named in a federal grand jury indictment in a Chicago-based drug operation that transported more than $12 million in drug profits between Chicago and Mexico. FBI agents also seized more than 550 pounds of the gang’s cocaine in the Chicago area.” (Lyons) This violence is serving as an example of the intermingling of international relations and law enforcement. Internationally the governments of the United States and Mexico need to form alliances to maintain security in both nations and attempt to end the violence associated with drug cartels. This is a law enforcement issue due to the fact that narcotics are being trafficked and sold within the United States, not to mention other violence crime associated with the drug subculture.
- Literature Review
Violence in the United States associated with the Los Zetas Cartel began in the southwestern region of the U.S. “Research has indicated that cartel activity in Houston has steadily increased over the last few years” (Hesterman 2012). Research also indicates that “According to law enforcement personnel, Zeta tactics in the united States are adapted to avoid detection. They use “cloned vehicles,” such as replicas of delivery trucks and ambulances, to run drugs and other contraband. Group members are extremely proficient at falsifying paperwork for big rig trucks to successfully navigate weigh stations and other checkpoints.” (Hesterman 2012) Unlike other criminal organizations the Los Zetas have shown an amount of criminal sophistication, instead of attempting to smuggle contraband into the United States undetected, Los Zetas have utilized the cover of legitimate business such as delivery trucks to move narcotics across the border in an attempt to avoid detection. “We should not underestimate the sophistication of this group; undetected, it plans and practices for operations, performing surveillance and patiently waiting for the right time to strike.” (Hesterman 2012) It is most likely that Los Zetas are more sophisticated than other organized crime groups due to the nature of their development. Instead of a group of relatively unorganized, untrained individuals coming together to form a criminal enterprise, Los Zetas was formed to combat criminal enterprise and devolved into a drug cartel.
It becomes necessary for U.S. national security and law enforcement organizations to take notice of the violence that is occurring in Mexico and being pretreated by the Los Zetas cartel because it its proximity to the United States. For example “San Fernando sits south of a 200-mile stretch of the US Mexico border that runs between Brownsville and Laredo, Texas, that has surfaced as the site of some of the most brutal acts committed in the increasingly violent and complex conflict known as the Mexican drug war.” (Paley 2011) This close proximity to violence occurring on the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexico border will most certainly have an impact on crime rates within the United States due to the fact that violence that is occurring in one area is likely to spill over into the surrounding areas. When discussing the potential of crime occurring on the U.S. side of the U.S./Mexico border is related to the idea of crime displacement, “By definition, crime displacement is the relocation of crime from one place, time, target, offense, or tactic to another as a result of some crime prevention initiative. Sometimes offender displacement (when new offenders take the place of offenders who were arrested or have desisted from crime) is also listed as another form.” (Met Life Foundation 2011)
It is important to understand that displacement of border crime is not occurring due to law enforcement efforts to stop the activity. Instead the crime is displacing itself meaning that crime in one location is starting to spread into other geographic locations. Evidence that this is occurring is demonstrated by “The state’s highways have become so dangerous that bus routes have been canceled, and many Mexican commuters take US roads whenever possible. Driving new-model vehicles is almost taboo, and taking the wheel of a new SUV, or worse, an extended-cab pickup, is akin to asking to be held up.” (Paley 2011) Since it has become well known that U.S. roads are a preferred method of travel, Mexican criminal elements will increasingly turn to perpetrating crime on these roads. Also, as it becomes increasingly common for these roads to be utilized by Mexican citizens that will be driving newer model vehicles, it then becomes likely that the same routes will be utilized by Los Zetas to move narcotics into the United States. This will be done because a tactic of Los Zetas is to use clone vehicles, newer model vehicles disguised as delivery vehicles and the like will not arose suspicion of U.S. authorities.
Displacement of drug crime is not the only impact that spillover crime will have in the United States, for example “Since 2006 there have been more than 34,000 deaths officially linked to the drug war, and 5,397 people have been reported disappeared. Los Zetas has extended its presence throughout the country, much to the ire of more-established cartels. In Tamaulipas, there were 1,209 officially recorded murders in 2010, the third-highest rate in the country after Chihuahua (4,427) and Sinaloa (1,815).”(Paley 2011) This brings into question violent crime that is occurring in relation to the narcotics trade. Los Zetas is able to maintain control of Mexico through fear “The cartel’s control is so extensive that cops and cabbies and street vendors are its spies, watching the Mexican army’s patrols, watching for rival drug traffickers, watching for federal investigators, watching, even, their fellow citizens,” reads a report from Reynosa published late last year by the Committee to Protect Journalists. These spies, called antennas, or halcones, which means falcons, form a surveillance network that spans the city, complemented by checkpoints on the highways into and out of town. It is said that Matamoros, considered a sacred plaza to both the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, is even more tightly controlled.”(Paley 2011) This intimidation is so complete that it is unlikely that any witness will be willing to speak out about the violence and narcotics trafficking being perpetrated by the Cartel. It will also be difficult for the Mexican government to get a handle on the violence and narcotics trafficking due to the fact that moles are present within the government that will tip the cartel off to impending raids. Finally, when other forms of intimidation do not work, the Cartel will commit murder to keep a lid on their activities. Murder also serves as an excellent intimidation tool, faced with the risk of death it is unlikely that anyone will be willing to speak out.
Efforts are being made by both the governments of the United States and Mexico to end violence associated with the Los Zetas Cartel. “The escalation of violence and kidnappings in Tamaulipas has taken place in tandem with President Felipe Calderón’s decision to use the military to attack the cartels, deploying more than 40,000 soldiers throughout Mexico since late 2006. In 2007 George W. Bush announced the Merida Initiative, signaling that the United States had cast its weight behind a militarized approach to reducing drug production and trafficking in Mexico and Central America.” (Paley 2011) It would appear that these initiatives are having little to no effect upon the operations of Los Zetas. If anything as government authorities attempt to disrupt the operations of Los Zetas they appear to become more violent in relation to law enforcement pressure. As enforcement efforts appear to be having the opposite effect on the Los Zetas Cartel the question becomes what can be done to reduce the violence and stop it from spreading into the United States.
It has been reported that “the Mexican army confronted the Zetas convoy after receiving intelligence on its location and the Zetas gunmen opened fire on the soldiers. Subsequent media reports said gunmen in one of the Zetas vehicles launched grenades at the pursuing military convoy. Soldiers reportedly killed two gunmen and took three more into custody. Media reports also say roadblocks were set up in several locations in the city. According to the sources, witnesses said that a Mexican military helicopter fired upon fleeing cartel vehicles and that several people were killed in the incident.” (2011) This event is revealing for several reasons. Primary among them is the idea that the Los Zetas Cartel is well armed to the point that they have been able to engaged in a confrontation with the Mexican military. This in and of itself poses a problem for U.S. law enforcement and national security authorities namely how to defend against a well-armed insurgent force such as the Los Zetas. An additional problem this poses is the idea that the level of violence being perpetrated on the Mexican side of the border could be replayed in the United States if U.S. authorities were to attempt to confront Los Zetas.
The level of violence in the Mexican border region cannot be understated as “the violence directly across the border stems from a battle between the rival Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels that has transformed a former tourist town into one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Last year alone, 2,600 people were murdered in Juárez, a city of 1.4 million people, after more than 1,600 killings in 2008. By comparison, New York City, with 8.3 million people, reported 461 murders in 2009.” (Mangan 2010) This violence also has an impact on potential educational and humanitarian aid that the United States is willing and/or able to offer Mexico. The University of Texas at El Paso has had to shut down programs that allowed American student teachers to travel across the border to work in schools in Mexico due to violence. In addition the Universality of Texas El Pasco has also shut down programs that would allow nursing staff to cross the border to offer medical care. Both of these events will have a negative impact on Mexico.
- Methodology and Research Strategy
Primary research into the nature of violence associated with Los Zetas both in Mexico and the United States can be completed by case study. A review should also be conducted of crime rates on the United States side of the border and as much information as possible should be collected about crime rates in Mexico. It would be unwise to limit research into crime trends to immediate border areas due to the fact that crime may be spreading and limiting research may give an inaccurately low number of crimes associated with Mexican drug cartels.
It would also be unwise to simply focus on law enforcement issues such as crime trends. To maintain a clear picture of the threat posed to both Mexican and U.S. interests by the Los Zetas Cartel in specific and other potential organized crime groups in general it is also important to take into account the political climate of both countries. If the current U.S. political administration is seeking to take a hard line against illegal immigration and border security it is likely that the violence associated with both illegal immigration, and narcotics trafficking(also including weapons and human smuggling) will be emphasized so as to make things appear to be worse than they actually are. If the current administration does not wish to place as much emphasis on illegal immigration in addition to human and weapons smuggling emphasis will not be placed on the potential threats posed by drug cartels. Also, Mexican political sentiment will have an impact on U.S. views of potential threat. Depending on the political climate in Mexico, Mexican authorities will attempt to down play the potential violence to the point of ignoring the situation so as not to financially impact Mexico by hurting the tourism industry or scaring businesses out of the country. It is also possible that Mexican authorities would attempt to place more emphasis on the threat posed by organized crime groups in an attempt to benefit financially.
Taking these potentials into account it would therefore be necessary to conduct case studies of the political climate of the United States and Mexico in an attempt to judge where current administrations lie in relation to border security and spill over violence from Mexico. It will also be necessary to review information related to the Mexican government response to violence perpetrated by drug cartels.
Participant observation should not be completely discounted; researchers should make an attempt to travel to the border regions and other areas that have been impacted by drug cartel violence so as to complete the picture of violence and its impacts.
The media can also be utilized to conduct research on the nature of cartel violence in the border region. News outlets may be reporting on drugs and crime and/or crime associated with gang violence and possible connections between gang violence and drug cartels. However, if media outlets are being used as methods of research it will be important to bear in mind that it is likely that news stories will sensationalize information to make news stories more interesting. In a similar vein as conducting research through mass media, the internet can also be used to conduct research on the nature of Mexican drug cartels. Social media outlets can be used to judge if individuals living in areas known to be hard hit are discussing the issues and if inland regions of the United States are beginning to see a rise in violence connected to Mexican drug cartels.
Potential downsides to conducting research based primarily of case studies and related to drug crime and violence will be the wealth of information about the topic at hand. A researcher will have to make every attempt to limit research to a specific question such as the relation of gang crime in the United States and drug cartels based in Mexico or violence connected to spillover in the United States of Mexican based crime. It becomes necessary to limit research to very specific questions due to the fact that so much information has been published on the nature of drugs and crime the researcher without a clear picture of what information he or she is looking for will expend time and effort on a project that is doomed to failure due to an overabundance of information.
Another potential downside to conducting case study research is that the political leaning of the author of the case study. Printed information will be biased in some fashion or another, it will therefore become important to take any potential bias into account and make efforts to conduct research in places that will balance bias. For example instead of simply utilizing sources published by liberal sources the researcher should make an effort to utilize conservative sources as well.
Finally it will be important to remember that information as it relates to drugs and crime will not only be limited to law enforcement sources. As outlined about drugs and crime, especially crime that has crossed national boundaries will be a political issue as well as a law enforcement issue. Therefore research related to the topic can be found in a variety of places. A source should not automatically be ruled out because it would not normally be connected to a law enforcement and/or national security issue.
- Analysis and Findings
Analysis indicates that the Los Zetas Cartel has engaged in violence in the border region of Mexico. The BBC news has reported on the violence occurring in Mexico, “official figures have been issued only sporadically. Most estimates put the number of people killed in drug-related violence since late 2006 at more than 60,000” (BBC News) Unfortunately no breakdown is given to how many may be victims of cartel and/or drug related violence and how many victims can be associated with other types of crime. Based around this it is difficult to say how much cartel related violence is occurring, but it is safe to say that violence along the Mexican border region has reached epidemic proportions. “Violence was first concentrated in the northern border regions, especially Chihuahua, as well as Pacific states like Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guerrero. Ciudad Juarez, just across from El Paso in Texas, was the most violent city.” (BBC News) Intelligence also supports the fact that violent crime is occurring close to the Mexican/U.S. border, the question becomes, what responsibility if any does the United States have to assist in reducing violence in Mexico and is this violence spreading into the U.S. border region. U.S. response to this issue include “In March 2009, the US government announced that it would step up efforts to disrupt the illegal flow of weapons and drug profits from the US to Mexico” (BBC News) and “a Senate report in June 2011 suggested that some 70% of firearms recovered from Mexican crime scenes in 2009 and 2010 and submitted for tracing came from the US.” (BBC News) It would also appear that a united effort among Mexican and U.S. law enforcement to end violence is working “In a report to Congress this month, the U.S. State Department said some efforts to combat cartels in Mexico have paid off. Major cartel leaders have been captured, the report says, and the number of annual deaths because of drug-related violence declined from 2011 to 2012.” (Shoichet) While law enforcement efforts to appear to be working, violent crime rates in Mexico are extremely high, especially when considering that “The United States and Mexico's cooperation to fight cartels is "unprecedented," according to the State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which says the United States has provided $1.1 billion in security aid to Mexico since 2008 through the Merida Initiative.” (Shoichet) what remains unclear is the impact violence on the Mexican side of the border is having on the United States.
CNN is reporting “Street gangs with cartel ties are not only in Los Angeles and Dallas, but also in many smaller cities across the United States and much farther north of the Mexican border. Mexican cartels had a presence in 230 cities in the United States in 2008, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Its 2011 report shows that presence has grown to more than 1,000 U.S. cities. While the violence has remained mostly in Mexico, authorities in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Alabama and other states have reportedly investigated abductions and killings suspected to be tied to cartels.” (Fantz)
Taking all of this into account it seems that violent crime associated with Mexican drug crime is occurring in the United States but is being misidentified as traditional gang and/or drug crime. It should also be noted that lacking a national police force it is likely that drug crime connected to Mexico that is occurring in Georgia or Alabama will not be identified as being related. It is also important to understand that gang crime and drug crime are not completely law enforcement issues in the 21st century. As crime continues to cross borders it becomes important to combine political and international resources as well as law enforcement resources to ensure a complete response to the drug crime threat originating in Mexico.
More than ample evidence bears out the fact that Cartel violence in Mexico is occurring at an unusually high rate and that the Mexican and U.S. governments have taken steps to stem the tide of violence and these actions are working to some extent. There is also evidence to indicate that some drug related and/or gang related violence occurring in the United States is linked to Cartel violence in Mexico. However, the rates of violence occurring in the United States are not occurring at anywhere near the rates that it is occurring across the border.
In an effort to decrease the violence occurring across the border and prevent more violence from occurring in the United States a combined effort needs to be made among law enforcement agencies, political and military leaders or both countries. As violence has becomes a trans-border issue, law enforcement will increasingly have to become a trans-border issue.
Forming any conclusions about the nature and cause of crime are difficult as there are many reasons why a group will engage in criminal activity while another group avoids criminal activity. Having said that, what makes the Los Zetas Cartel more dangerous (as well as more organized) comes from the fact that this Cartel did not form primarily as a criminal organizations. In fact that founding of Los Zetas came from the fact that the Mexican government was attempting to end cartel violence and slow down if not completely stop the narcotics trade that is occurring in Mexico. Instead of forming an organization that could be used a achieve these goals, the organization became the largest most powerful drug cartel in Mexico.
The United States well aware of these issues have made attempts to assist the Mexican government with enforcement of narcotics laws and with financial support to develop counter narcotics strategies. This is due to the fact that violence from Mexico is slowly starting to cross the border and progress deeper into the United States. This progression is starting to take the form of a traditional gang type progression. For example a traditional street gang will form in a large urban setting and overtime (because of incarceration of members or natural migration) the gang will slowly move into suburban areas brining drugs and gang violence to other areas. This is what is occurring with the Los Zetas, the cartel and violence associated with the cartel is starting to migrate not only across the border into the United States but increasingly is migrating to locations further inland.
The case of the Los Zetas Cartel is interesting for another reason. It appears that American street gangs are taking on a transnational character. Instead of being content to traffic narcotics within the United States on a small scale, street gangs are allying themselves with larger groups such as Los Zetas to traffic narcotics within the United States. This becomes an interesting development due to the fact that street gangs are starting to evolve into larger criminal conglomerations.
Given this evolution law enforcement and national security can no longer be viewed as domestic issues and discussion and policy should be taken at a more international level.
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