Mar 08

Mexico's Narco-Insurgency: Barbarians at the Gate


Who ever expected the war on drugs to become a real war?

For as long as I can remember, America has been declaring war on concepts.  There’s been wars on poverty, cancer and terror.  It’s hard to take it seriously.

Though you might like to smoke pot, it’s difficult to believe that you’re at war with the American government.  Yet you are.  They declared it.  That you haven’t been attacked is not testament to the good intentions of the DEA but to the ridiculous difficulty of fighting this war.  A lot of people have been attacked.

It’s like that old saying:  It’s a recession when your neighbour loses their job, it’s a depression when you lose yours. Well, perhaps, it’s only a war when you go to jail or a dealer has a gun against your temple.  Because, God knows, a lot of people have gone to jail, been shot and had their shit burned down.

Yet the worst of the fighting has been on the third-world supply side.  So here, in the first-world, consumption side, it’s still quite easy to convince ourselves that it’s not a real war.  Recent events in Mexico are making this illusion rather difficult  to maintain.

Mexico Drug Violence

We can all agree that we are in a war in Afghanistan. In 2008, 2014 civilians were killed.  In total 1095 coalition members have died.  And I’m not sure how many “enemy insurgents” or Taliban have been killed.  For argument’s sake, let’s say 2000 died last year.  That bring us up to about 5000 deaths.

Last year, in Mexico, almost 6300 murders were the result of the drug trade.  This year has already seen over a thousand. It’s more violent than Iraq.

That’s just Mexico.  How many others have died in drug-related murders in Canada, the USA, Europe, Central and South America, Africa and Asia?

But it’s Mexico that concerns us here.

Although it borders the empire, it’s now tottering on the verge of becoming a failed state.  Drug dealers are fielding an army 100,000 men strong to fight against the 130,000 strong Mexican army. Even if one pays no attention to state corruption, it’s an equal fight.  And one should pay attention to state corruption.

The barbarians are at the gate.


What seems to have started as a war of cartels against each other has morphed into a Narco-Insurgency.  The cartels have made common cause against their common enemy.  That is, the Mexican and American governments.

Warfare being what it is, predicting what this insurgency will morph into is almost impossible.  I, of course, have some ideas. Hence the blog post.

Unless these cartels can unite to set up a monopoly along the lines of Rupert’s Land, they have very little to gain from holding territory or overthrowing governments.  Indeed, it is the anti-drug policies of these governments that secure their profit margins.  Their mark-up is caused by the illegality of their product.

Overthrowing the governments who make them rich makes about as much sense as catching Osama Bin Laden.  They need those governments.

But war operates with a peculiar irrationality.  Although this may have started as a war over territory it has become an insurgency.  Once it became that, the dealers were faced with a choice:  They must either win or lose.

In a real war against real people, losing is not an option.


Unable to give up their supply routes into the rich first world, at war with each other and then the government, they have found themselves in engaged in a grim battle for survival; coming into direct conflict with the source of their wealth.

They are victims of their own success.  Equal in guns and gold to governments, they can no longer be controlled by these governments.  It doesn’t matter that their guns and gold are built upon this control.  The situation is beyond that.

The power has shifted.

The model that built the strength of the cartels, while draining that of the state, is undergoing a catastrophic change.  It’s quite literally reached a tipping point.

Whether the cartels like it or not, they’re hovering on the verge of statehood.

Though they may have been successful cartels, they’ll fail as nations if they attempt to form their own.  Even if they manage to defeat the Mexican army and hold a city, a few bombing runs will quickly make them kings of rubble.

But this won’t kill or even wound the cartels.  Their profits will be driven up and they’ll happily retreat out of this well-lit fight, returning to the shadows where they thrive.

But briefly.

More battles will ensue.

They have to.

And the drug cartels will win.


The War on Drugs operates by a self-defeating logic.  Every battle the state wins brings them closer to losing the war.  The more the suppliers are squeezed, the higher the prices become and the more power fewer people gain.  Should whole cartels be wiped out, new ones spring up, selling the same drugs at more profitable margins and controlling more territory than their predecessors.

In the meantime, the state invests money chasing its tail, passes crazier laws that drive huge swathes of its economy underground and finds its officials corrupted by bribery and intimidation.  The best and brightest people see the easy money and chase it.  A brain drain into the underworld starts.

What could have been a great, legitimate businessman becomes a drug lord.  What could have been a solid soldier becomes a street corner drug dealer.    Even research and development is effected.  Genetic research, advanced farming and chemistry follow the cash and deregulation.

The state wilts as the cartels grow.


This is where we reach the tipping point expressed in Mexico.  At some time, the government can no longer enforce its laws.  The state fails.  The cartels supplant it.  They either claim territory as independent kingdoms –a bad policy– or they infest and co-opt the government — a good one. Better yet, they do both.

Using a mixture of bribery and fear, they put the government in their pocket. The state becomes an extension of cartel power.  Adopting the powerful symbolism of nations, the cartels use all the existing structures to grow their own strength.

The police leave some areas alone while patrolling others, the courts pass laws that support the cartels, the army acts against competing dealers, dissidents and enemy nations run by differing cartels.

Pretty soon, you have your average, every-day sort of country.


Just think of Russia and it oligarchs, America and its military-industrialism or Britain and the East India Company.  This is how countries are born, maintained and exist.  The state is just the violent arm of business monopolies. It performs exactly as few decent social functions as it has to keep that game stable.

It taxes more than those functions cost.  Pockets the difference.

Though I see only a difference of degree here, not of kind, and though it’s difficult for me to avoid applauding the suicide of any state, I’m primarily a realist.  A government run by drug cartels, versed in thuggery and accustomed to control by violence is not an improvement over our legal cartels.  It’s a step backwards.

These people are yet to learn the subtleties of governance.  They’ll be blind and brutal dictatorships, utterly unrestrained by law, decency or any of the things that civilized people fought and died to gain.  The cocaine cartels will make Haliburton look like saints.  This is something any would-be progressive might consider while berating SUVs then snorting a few lines.

But I cannot sensibly endorse one version of this statist monstrosity over the other.  Especially when Mexico is being eaten by the parasite its policies have fed.   If anything, this is evidence of the state’s stupidity and unfitness for life.

Let’s not forget — it gave birth to these cartels.


The War on Drugs is a lot like drugs and the state is your typical junkie.  It’s grown dependant on this nonsense, ignores reason, likes the way it makes it feel, is being forced to ever increasing stupidity, short-sightedness and brutality while ignoring that the whole endeavour is suicidal.  It must be ended.

We have to kick this shit.

This solution is so blindingly obvious that even Pat Buchanan is now seeing it.   The only people who benefit from this war are the dealers and the people “fighting” the dealers.  Everyone else is getting screwed by both.

And who wants to see a world without drugs anyway?  At best, people want to see a world without the drugs they enjoy.  That’s simple hypocrisy.

But, in ending The War on Drugs, we should learn what we can from it.

cocainepic nicked from here

The first lesson is that the illegal economy works extremely well.  Pot is one of the few things in our society that is ever-growing in quality.  The state should legalize drugs but not monopolize them.  Let people grow and sell it in the free market. Decrease regulation over other products and let us enjoy the benefits.

It also clearly points to the problems with lawlessness.  Might becomes right and AK-47s replace lawyers.  This should give pause to any honest anarchist.

But, if we continue down the same road we have, we can now see where the path ends.  We glimpse our future in Mexico’s present. The logic is ruthless.

So we have a choice.  Let’s hope that we make the right one.  For a change.

most pics nicked from here

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  1. Lance Morrison

    Since you liked my site so much, I thought I would offer a cop’sperspective:

    1. We rarely arrest folks for marijuana–in CA the D.A. won’t file if its under 50 plants (50 plants equals up to 150 pounds).

    2. 1/3 of my DUI arrests are for marijuana. It is so ‘not a war’ that users don’t even care about driving stoned. Stoned drivers are a definite threat, and when you raise children, you don’t want them in the opposite lane from a buzzed driver.

    3. Those who think they can drive well are kidding themselves. ‘Compassionate Use of Marijuana’ was sold in California based on the drug’s ability to surpass morphine as a pain killer and relaxing agent. You can’t have it both ways-if it is that potent-it is that potent when you want to drive.

  2. Ryan Oakley

    Different point of view are always welcome. And never underestimate the utility of bad reviews from the right people :) So here’s my response.

    1. Not arresting people is mere decriminalization. We can probably both agree that it’s sort of liberal bullshit — a type of moral cowardice in which a stand is not taken either way. Keep it illegal but don’t prosecute.

    I imagine that this is practical –if the CA court system is clogged up anything like ours– but it’s unprincipled.

    I’m for outright legalization of all drugs. That is, sell it right out of Starbucks. Have fair trade heroin. Call it Fairoin.

    2. I agree that stoned drivers are a threat. But so are drunks. Being drunk isn’t illegal but driving while being so is.

    One has to be wary of any law that seeks to prevent potential behaviour. We’re all potential criminals and all do things that could, potentially, lead to illegal/immoral behaviour.

    By all means, punish immoral action but banning the action that can lead to immoral action is the first major step against freedom.

    I also said that the bulk of the fighting in the drug war occurs in the third world production side and that the first world consumption side is ignored — not from principle but largely due to the difficulties of prosecuting it.

    I might be reading you wrong here but I think you’re confirming that. I imagine that, if the DA didn’t have better things to do, they’d prosecute a joint. If they didn’t have better things to do, they’d need the work.

    3. Once again, we’re in agreement here. If you’re stoned, drunk or blind, don’t drive.

    I should also mention that I think medical marijuana is a bit of crock but I’m not a doctor. They should be allowed to prescribe what the think works best.

    All in all, I think all drugs should be legal and sold aboveboard. McDonalds doesn’t blow up Burger Kings. They compete. Let capitalism work and, if people don’t have the sense to stay sober, then it’s their sense not to have.

    Their rights, of course, end where someone else’s begin. Like on a highway.

  3. Lance Morrison

    Your idea to legalize all drugs sounds liberating, but it is crazy in my opinion.

    Heroin: Heroin, used between 5-10 times creates addiction that can be lifelong. People under the influence parent, drive, and work loaded.

    Methamphetamine: See heroin, but add a workforce,parenting and driving populationwho are either highly wired, or beat up and tweaking from sleep deprivation.

    Cocaine: See meth

    The country is a shared, communal enterprise. You may feel you have a right to take powerful and addicting drugs, but I have to share my life with you. It might be instructive for you to realize there are pharmaceutcal versions of these three major drugs: heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. They are, morphine, cocaine (used by doctors in ear, nose and throat surgery, and methamphetamine (for narcolepsy and depression). ALL are highly addictive in 5mg doses,while the current street dose of meth is 200 mg. Recreational users simply overdose on a street version of powerful pharmaceutical drugs. Thus, addiction is fast-very fast.

    Your right to use inteferes with my right to not have to entrust my children to bus drivers, airline pilots, teachers, etc. who are junkies. You can’t pretend that these drugs won’t bring major addiction to a vast population-they do now, and they are highly controlled.

    It is a little more complicated than ‘just legalize it.’

  4. Ryan Oakley

    “You can’t pretend that these drugs won’t bring major addiction to a vast population-they do now, and they are highly controlled.”

    This is exactly why your argument undercuts itself.

    If drinking did not escalate during prohibition it also did not decline. The rate of consumption likely remained the same.

    When legalized, it became a safer product. I doubt that it’s the law that keeps me or anyone off highly addictive drugs. Whatever the law is, they’re still easily available. When I was a teenager it was easier to get pot, acid or PCP than booze.

    You might say that drugs are highly controlled but the only people currently controlling the drug market are criminal gangs.

  5. Lance Morrison

    You lack a basic understanding of fact:

    Alcohol can be addicting, but for the vast percentage of users, it isn’t, as addicition is based on frequency (and the basic additive qulities of the drug).

    Heroin, meth an cocaine are highly addictive, and unlike alcohol, will produce dependence very quickly. The alcohol comparison is always made, and is silly on its face.

    You have a naiive sense of ‘let the people do what they want, as if it doesn’t affect ‘the other people.’ Do yourself a favor–look up Desoxyn. That is pure methamphetamine hydrchloride. At 5mg doses, the maker of the drug recommends doctors only prescribe THEIR drug for 2 weeks to avoid dependence. Again, street meth doses are 100-200 mg, so you can see why cranksters become wholy dependent, HAVE to drive loaded, work loaded, parent loaded…maybe you want to be a part of that–not me.

    The basic misunderstanding you have is this: Meth, Coke, and Heroin are nothing but street versions of legal, pharmaceutical drugs. The legal versions are so controlled because they are so addictive in a very short period.

    If you ask your self why are these drugs different from, say the alcohol argument, I would answer with this example:

    Heroin: The first time user injects it. Heroin passes through their brain barrier and it releases massive amounts of endorphins and seratonin. These are neurochemicals that are designed to be released in samll amounts when we need relaxation, pain relief,and stress management. The brain has no idea why it was called upon to release so much of that reservoir, so when it re generates those neurchemicals, it holds some back–it makes less. The next time the user injects, it feels good, but not AS good, as there is less of a brain blast. So the user uses more the third time, and with each attempt to get that initial high, the brain withholds the generation of the actual neurochemicals incrementally. In 8-10 days, the user has exhausted their inborn supply of endorphins, etc, and now they feel stress, pain and can’t relax unless–guess what–thhat add from theoutside what they used to make on the inside. THAT is not a beer comparison, my friend.

    I won’t smack down your ideas–they are worthy of considring. I think you should consider my oberservatons. I have been a police officer for 31 years, have counselled drug addicts for a private firm for 20 years, and have a Master’s Degree built on an addicition thesis.

  6. Ryan Oakley

    Believe me, I am considering your ideas and these are the sort of comments I enjoy because they add a different perspective to the post. Plurality of opinion is something the internet does well.’

    Heroin is certainly a different drug from alcohol. I agree that it’s a highly addictive, life destroying substance; the only real purpose of which is to addict people and pull in cash for some very bad people.

    I saw a friend and neighbor of mine go from decent, hardworking guy to crackhead in the course of a week. Smoked crack twice and that was it. Vanished. Next time I saw him, he was homeless and trying to borrow 5 bucks.

    So I do understand the addictive nature of these things.

    Where we seem to differ is not so much in our analysis of the dangers of these drugs or in the character of the dealers, but in how we would approach the problem and mitigate the damage.

    I’m not sure that the law can deal with substances as addictive as these, dissuade people from trying them or stop them once they’ve started. I think it often makes a bad situation worse by creating an illegal market.

    For me, the main question is how do we put these dealers out of business and stop them from killing each other, innocent people and destabalizing whole socities.

    A certain portion of the public will always be on very bad drugs. As the drugs increase in potency, this will only get worse. And drugs are going to keep getting stronger.

    The power of the dealers will increase thus putting more people on these drugs. It’s a loop.

    And that loop has to be broken.

    As I said in the post, I don’t think that can be accomplished by increasing penatlies, increasing police or ramping up the war on drugs. I don’t even think it can be accomplished through education and reducing poverty.

    I think the best we can currently hope for is to put the dealers out of business by incorporating their drugs into a regulated marketplace and medically treating those addicts who want treatment and punishing them when they break laws.

    My hope is that the pushers become relatively normal busninesses, pay insurance and become answerable about their product’s quality, danger and effects.

    Combine this with preventive education programs, try to get at the root causes of drug use, be it family, poverty, whathaveyou, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

    I don’t think the war on drugs can be won and it’s making the wrong people rich. By doing so, it’s making the problem worse.

    Although junkies have a bad effect upon society, I’d say it pales in comparison to bad effect that the dealers and their illegal business model has.

    A junkie can destroy whole families and that’s terrible. But the dealers have detroyed whole countries and are working on others. Fighting them makes them stronger, richer and faster.

    I think it’s time to put them out of business. The best way to do that is to put them into it.

  7. Lance Morrison

    In a nutshell, what I am asking you about ‘legalize them all,’ is: Are you willing to legalize all prescribed medicines to whoever wants them? Contrary to the idea that meth, coke and heroin are street drugs–they are simply street-made versions of highly controlled pharmaceuticals. So, do we make Valium available to whoever wants it? How about morphine? Percodan?

  8. Ryan Oakley

    I wouldn’t go straight to outright legalization except in the cases of mild drugs — pot, mushrooms, MDMA, that sort of thing.

    A good first step with the hard drugs, to take a bite out of the dealers, is to view established addicts as medical cases and licence them. Set them up with their drugs, clean needles, all that sort of thing and completely undercut the dealers on price, quality and safety.

    Even if only some of the junkies use these places only some of the time, it’d still hit the pushers in their wallet. If they raised prices or cut their dope, they’d lose more business.

    It’s not the end game but it’d be a government action that actually puts the pushers on the defensive and shrinks them where it counts. In their income.

    Valium, morphine, oxycontin, whathaveyou — actual unmodified, not home-made pharmaceuticals, could be legalized and sold out of parlours to the general public. In fancy containers no less.

    “I’ll take a pack of Malboros, some slim jims and, I dunno, let’s add a tin of Uncle Sal’s Olde Fashioned Morphine. Oh and a can of coke.”

    This stuff is already easy to get. How many housewives are taking their kids’ ritalin?

    By these drugs being blackmarket, big-pharma simply avoids any legal culpability by their abuse. Make it legal, recognize recreation as an actual use and put them on these companies on hook for the resulting damages.

    As it is, they have very little incentive to make better but less addictive drugs. You ever wonder how much of their sales is geared towards abuse?

    I do but I’m cynical like that.

    “Let’s make a pill that calms hyper kids down and gets their stressed parents high.” I might be nuts but that seems like a great idea. A little too great to be accidental.

    Once legalized and sold to the general public, once the companies are held to account for their product in all its uses, I bet you start seeing a lot of really fun drugs with very few side effects. Those bastards will start producing X-Treme Heroin, Heroin Light and the anti-heroin cure. All with less Addictine!

    It’s not perfect but it would, at least, set the dealers up in the open as stable corporate entities. And, I think, it would replace a lot of the shooting with lawsuits.

  9. Lance Morrison

    Got your points–good ones. I may be a cop, but like I said, I have also counselled addicts for years. I have a great deal of compassion for them. I have come to think that the only way to help people is to have rehab (and it has to be live-in to have a chance to work)as an option to jail. Let the offender choose. You’d be surprised how many would choose jail over forced rehab. Unless they want to get clean in their heart,they will choose an equal amount of time in jail where they don’t have to follow that regimen. Most wouldn’t believe that, but it is definitely true.

    30 days in rehab, or 30 days in jail–their choice. (Believe it or not,30 days in jail dries them out and they leave without being physically dependent.

    30 or 30

  10. Ryan Oakley

    You know it’s a good day when a dandified Canadian anarchist and a Vic Mackey looking American cop can get off to a bad start, have a reasonable discussion and find some common ground on an incredibly difficult issue without anyone being hit in the head.

  11. Lance Morrison

    Vic Mackey?!? I have NEVER hit a suspect with a phone book…(but I have shot a few…)


  12. Mario González-Román

    Great blog! So good, I’ve adopted a pic of yours, here


    If not yours, LET ME KNOW the source asap, please

  13. Ryan Oakley

    Most of those are either AP or Reuters. They’re marked.

  14. dwessevox

    For a second everything went quiet in the cab, then the driver said, “Look mate, don’t ever do that again. You scared the daylights out of me!”

  15. done wrong

    To: lance morriso
    You my be a cop for 31 years but you cant go and arest someone who you said passed your field test but your gut tells you other wise ! I thought training was what you relay on not your gut. Get off your high horse and realize people who have used meth for a number of years then quit still have some side effects like nerve damage or people who have prior run in with the law are going to have a elivated heart rate so insted of ruining someones life because your gut felling, stick to your training!!

    oh yeah and quit lying on the stand!!!!!!

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