- Drugs, Violence, and Life in Mexico
Although a steady stream of drugs has flowed northward into the United States for many decades, recent drug-related violence in Mexico has unleashed a flood of studies on trafficking, organized crime, and the Mexican government’s war to stop them. The sample of works under review here represents a cross section of this literature. It includes analyses by journalists, political scientists, security analysts, and anthropologists about the border region of Ciudad Juárez, the intricate inner workings of drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs), the traits of key cartel leaders, and national trends and policies. Collectively, the books profile the nature of the drug trade in Mexico, the horrors of the drug wars, and their impact on people’s lives, thus raising questions about failed policies and failed states.
A Portrait of Life and Death in Mexico in the Twenty-First Century
Most of the studies under review brilliantly describe—often in graphic and depressing detail—life and death in Mexico in the twenty-first century. They depict how the illicit trade in drugs, corruption, impunity, and violence have become [End Page 216] deeply ingrained in everyday life, creating what Howard Campbell refers to as a “complex blend of order and chaos, structure and antistructure” (17).
The linkages attending drug trafficking are many; their impacts hauntingly far reaching. The illicit trade in drugs has become an integral part of Mexico’s economy. Operating through vast networks of street and prison gangs, police, customs officials, front companies, banks, and many others, Mexican cartels employ an estimated 450,000 people; have operations throughout the United States and in parts of Central and South America, as well as Europe; and take in between $25 billion and $30 billion a year. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan estimate that the livelihood of some 3.2 million people in Mexico depends on the illicit trade in narcotics, a figure that does not include the thousands of people and billions of dollars involved in combating it (Bunker, 41). Indeed, DTOs provide financial opportunities where few others exist and pump needed funds into local economies. Drug traffickers pay for “schools and hospitals, pour[ing] money into churches and homes” (Beith, 87). They provide “gifts to children, assist victims of natural disasters, [and] generate employment in poor areas” (Grayson, 122). Overall, Charles Bowden estimates that between 30 percent and 60 percent of the Juárez economy runs on laundered drug money (45).
The contrasting forces of corruption and coercion in turn link the drug trade to the state. Considered the sine qua non of the drug trade, corruption is a major focus of all the works under review. They all address how governors, mayors, high-ranking officials in federal law enforcement, and military officers provide DTOs with access to the transportation routes needed to move their merchandise; how cartels buy the loyalty and protection of district commanders of the federal police and military; how police at all levels of government...