The recapture of the Mexican drug kingpin will not lessen the drug violence, it will incite even more

Last week Mexican Marines re-captured Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. On Tuesday, raw footage from a Go-Pro was released which shows the shoot off between the Mexican authorities and members of the cartel. While Mexican and American law enforcement tout this act as a big success, his capture could mean less in ending the so called drug war.

Statistics from the Mexican government show that between 2007-2014, close to 160,000 Mexicans have been victims of homicide, with approximately 55% of those deaths being attributed to drug violence. The increased violence in a war that was suppose to be swift has turned into Mexico’s own Afghanistan. Mexico now finds itself in a dilemma that at times seems to have no end in sight.

Many experts attribute the high levels of violence to the targeting of drug kingpins. Of course, the idea of taking down the main honcho who holds down the organization is good in theory. But in real life, there seems to be no benefits to this strategy when compared to the costs.

One of the problems of taking down drug leaders, like El Chapo, is the power vacuum that is left behind. Every time the leader of a drug cartel gets taken down, there is a vast opening for many drug cartel members to seize upon the opportunities of new resources and power in the lucrative trade. The ambition often creates splinter groups that go to war over the resources, smuggling routes, turf, and connections of the previous cartel.

One of the most relevant examples is of the Familia Michoacana. The Familia was a ruthless drug cartel that operated mostly in the Pacific coast Mexican state of Michoacan. During its run of luck, the cartel was able to build up a huge amount of resources and wealth. As Insight Crime explains:

“When the Familia was at the height of its power, it was one of the most potent, bloody and powerful of Mexico’s criminal organizations…The Familia had international contacts for methamphetamine distribution, including in Holland, India, China and Bulgaria. Criminal groups based in the US, including in major cities like Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Atlanta, conspired directly with the Familia for cocaine shipments “

When the Familia’s leader, Nazario Moreno, was taken out, splinter groups surged and fought to take control of the former cartel’s territory. The warring factions also faced the threat of the ruthless Zetas and other drug cartels who wanted to seize upon the valuable resources that had once belonged to the Familia. In the process, this turf war made the state of Michoacan one of the most dangerous in Mexico.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries that are also plagued by drug violence, the common thought is that violence will stop when “los gringos” take care of their “goddamned junkies”. While I disagree with this approach, the United States is certainly at fault for its prohibition of drugs, but that is slowly starting to fade. Evidence as of late has shown that marijuana legalization in certain American states has coincided with the decreasing flow of marijuana confiscations at the US-Mexico border and by Mexican officials.

While drugs continue to remain an illegal substance, the drug cartels have enough incentive to continue in the lucrative and violent business. Capturing cartel leaders will not be enough to end the lucrative business that feeds the violence.

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