The leader of the Zetas Mexican drug cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino, was arrested by Mexican law enforcement on July 16, 2013, turning another page in the war on drugs. The Zetas are one of the largest and most violent drug trafficking groups in Mexico. In addition to drug trafficking, they engage in kidnapping, abduction and murders of Central American migrants on their way the United States, their main drug market.
Mexico is a major source of heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana bound for U.S. markets. A full 90% of cocaine comes into the U.S. from Mexico. Conversely, some 70% of firearms recovered from Mexican crime scenes in 2009 and 2010 submitted for tracing came from the U.S. Drug trafficking from South America to the U.S. is a $13 billion dollar per year industry. The question is whether this violent economic system is being curbed or caused by the war on drugs.
Certainly, drug use is a major problem in the U.S. Almost half of 12th graders report having used an illicit substance in their lifetime. In 2009, 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In 2010, an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older (8.9% of the population) were current (past month) illicit drug users.
In addition to use problems, the drug trade begets other crimes, often violent. In Mexico, over 60,000 people have been killed by drug-related violence since 2006. In the U.S., 16-18% of those in jail for violent crimes committed the offense to obtain drugs. In 2007, 3.9% of homicides were drug related, and in 2004, 26% of federal prisoners said they committed their current offense while under the influence of drugs.
Since its creation by executive order in 1973, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been the primary federal law enforcement department for enforcing drug laws. Their budget for FY 2012 was $2.87 billion, and they currently employ over 9,600 people, including nearly 5,000 special agents. They have 266 domestic offices and 85 international offices in 66 countries.
So what are we getting for this money and effort? The capture of Trevino is a major victory for a country plagued with drug violence. It should be noted, however, that Trevino has only been the leader of the Zetas since 2010. His younger brother is slated to succeed him, but there also might be an internal struggle for power if he is seen as weak. So long as the U.S. market exists, entrepreneurial drug salesmen will find a way to make a profit off of it. All too often, that way is through violence.
Reuters, Drug Kingpin’s Capture Spurs Hope Mexico Can Subdue Violent Cartels: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/16/us-mexico-drugs-analysis-idUSBRE96F0XI20130716
The Washington Post, In Mexico, Zetas Kingpin’s Arrest is Display of New Restrained Style in Drug War: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-mexico-zetas-kingpins-arrest-is-display-of-new-restrained-style-in-drug-war/2013/07/16/5641c20a-ee32-11e2-bb32-725c8351a69e_story.html?hpid=z3
The Guardian, Mexico Arrests Zetas Cartel Leader: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/16/mexico-arrests-zetas-cartel-leader
BBC, Mexico’s Drug-Related Violence: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10681249
Office of National Drug Control Policy, Reducing the Supply of Illegal Drugs: https://www.ncjrs.gov/ondcppubs/publications/policy/99ndcs/iv-g.html
Almanac of Policy Issues, Drug Trafficking in the United States: https://www.ncjrs.gov/ondcppubs/publications/policy/99ndcs/iv-g.html