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Mexico: Dealing With Drug Violence
Obama Targets Mexican Cartels: Sanctions Imposed, U.S. Firms Warned

George Grayson
Professor, Latin American Politics and Author, Mexico's Struggle With 'Drugs and Thugs'
Thursday, April 16, 2009 1:00 PM

George Grayson, professor of Comparative Politics (Latin America) and author of "Mexico's Struggle With 'Drugs and Thugs,'" was online Thursday, April 16, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the drug problem and the administration's attempt to crack down on the narco-traffickers.

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George Grayson: Welcome. George Grayson here to talk about Mexican drug cartels.

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Wokingham, U.K.: There seemed to be serious talk a few weeks ago about dealing with the Mexican problem by means that included legalizing some currently illegal drugs. Was this just idle chatter? We seem to have moved back towards the tried and trusted methods of crackdowns, bleak prisons, blazing guns.

George Grayson: Prohibition of alcohol didn't work. To the contrary, it spurred an increase in crime and violence. We will never win a "war on drugs" and should be moving to decriminalize and legalize drugs under medical and government supervision. Eventually, our politicians will get the message. Thank you, George

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Boston, Mass.: Could you imagine if the situation was reversed and there was a huge flow of assault weapons coming from Mexico into the U.S. and being used in drug related crimes? I would imagine U.S. conservatives would be demanding that the Mexican government (or the U.S. government) do something about it. Given the reality of the NRA, can Obama really do anything about this?

George Grayson: Even if the U.S. and Mexico stopped all southbound flow of weapons, the cartels have so much money that they would obtain sophisticated arms from Russia, Central America, and other areas. However, the power of the gun lobby will limit action on this issue by the White House and Congress.

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Woodbridge, Va.: What will it take for the Obama administration to stop pushing this bogus statistic that 90 percent of the guns used by the cartels are from the U.S.? That number only includes guns that are traceable by the ATF and excludes the overwhelming majority of guns that are untraceable and come from Guatemala, China, and Africa. The real number is only 17 percent.

George Grayson: An extremely astute point. The 90 percent figure applies only to weapons that have been traced. Many firearms captured by police go in one door of the police headquarters and out the backdoor. I try to make you point in media appearances.

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Fall Church, Va.: While Mexico repeatedly cites the U.S. demand for drugs as the cause for the cartels' power and violence in Mexico especially along the border -- how do you explain Mexico's resistance to assistance from the U.S. in the form of an increased presence of U.S. law enforcement personnel and even the U.S. military? Clearly, that approach helped reduce violence in Colombia. why won't it work in Mexico?

George Grayson: The Mexicans are incredibly nationalistic. Their textbooks refer to the Mexican-American War as the "War of North American Aggression." Defense Secretary Galvan has stated and reiterated that he will not accept U.S. troops. Moreover, with Afghanistan and Iraq hanging fire, I don't believe we need more theaters of military operations.

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Boston, Mass.: Their drug war has spread into Tucson and El Paso. Their clientele lives in Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago. Their armaments come from unregulated "Gun Shows" throughout the American south. How the heck is President Obama going to "pledge" American help on the drug issue?

George Grayson: The answer is politics, politics, politics. Until our politicians show the guts to stand up to the NRA and similar interest groups, various U.S. states will remain an open sesame for firearms. Virginia, where I live, is such a state.

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San Diego, Calif.: From a business perspective, looking to invest in Mexican manufacturing; how long will the climate be dangerous for investment -- in terms of drug violence and kidnappings?

George Grayson: The Mexican economy, which will contract about 2% this year, will probably contract 4 or 5% in 2010. Although the cartels pose a threat to investors, the larger problem will be weakened aggregate demand for many goods and services. In any case, foreign investors should hire first-rate security firms to protect their employees and facilities.

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Fairfax, Va.: How do the Mexican people feel about the wall constructed along the border? Has it been effective in thwarting the immigration traffic of the movement of drugs?

George Grayson: The border wall is only one element in impeding the influx of illegal aliens. The U.S. should also (1) crack down on employers of illegal workers, (2) begin issuing difficult-to-counterfeit ID cards, (3) inspect vehicles entering Mexico (many carry weapons and cash), (4) keep a closer eye on small aircraft that ferry drugs and money between Mexico's northern states and the Southwest, and (5) monitor the whereabouts of the 30 to 40% of foreigners who enter the U.S. legally only to overstay their visas and disappear into the population.

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Chiapas, Mexico: Where does the figure 17 percent come from in regard to American guns used by the cartels? Mexican statistics certainly disagree with this figure.

George Grayson: The 17% figure was disseminated by Fox News several weeks ago.

It may be erroneous, but the 90/95% figure is far too high because it only takes into consideration guns that have been traced in the U.S.--not weapons that Mexican authorities do not show to their American counterparts.

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Dallas, Tex.: Mr. Grayson, wondering if you think the weapons mentioned in the adjacent picture,"...two Mexico City mansions stocked with grenades, automatic weapons and body armor" are easily available for purchase at U.S. gun shows, like I've read about recently?

George Grayson: I am not familiar with all that is sold at guns shows in the U.S. It is possible to acquire semi-automatic weapons and high-powered pistols. Be that as it may, the cartels have so much cash that they can purchase arsenals on the world arms market, which is bursting with Russian-made firearms.

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San Diego, Calif.: Pundits have compared the current violence and corruption in Mexico to the violence experienced in Chicago and other major cities during prohibition. Is that a fair comparison?

George Grayson: There are similarities. However, advances in technology mean that Mexican cartels have much more sophisticated and powerful weapons. While Chicago politicians are not immune to corruption, they are choir boys (and girls) compared to their Mexican counterparts. The crime syndicates have penetrated every Mexican law-enforcement agency.

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Falls Church, Va.: Yesterday DHS announced the appointment of Alan Bersin as "Mexico Border Czar." Other than some comments from a former Baja, Calif., governor, do you have a sense of how he will be viewed by the Mexican government and the public? How was his prior approach to erecting a fence along the border in the 90s viewed by Mexicans and will that legacy affect his reception in Mexico?

George Grayson: I view the appointment of a "border czar" as cosmetic. We have a strong bilateral network of diplomats who can communicate with each others. In addition, virtually all U.S. federal agencies are in continual contact with their Mexican counterparts.

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Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas: I'm an American who has been teaching English in Chiapas for five years. Every day, I pass a State Police checkpoint for drugs and arms so I see the effort first-hand. Calderon's efforts to curb drugs are real and the former Attorney General of the State of Chiapas is in prison now for corruption. Americans, however, seem to discount any sincere efforts on the part of the Mexicans to combat this problem that is not theirs alone. What must Calderon do with this PR problem to get more American support or is the anything he can do considering the NRA lobby and the forces of Fox News?

George Grayson: Calderon is sincerely committed to fighting a "war on drugs." The problem is that a critical mass of other Mexican politicians are either owned or leased by the cartels. Moreover, corruption suffuses the local, state, and federal police forces, not to mention elements of the armed forces.

Mexico may not yet be a "failed state," but it is one with increasing enclaves of "dual sovereignty"--that is men and women may hold elected positions but the drug barons hold the power.

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McLean, Va.: How deep is the corruption in the police force in Mexico?

George Grayson: Every Mexican police force is corrupt--local, state, and federal. The Agencia Federal de Investigaciones (AFI) is probably the pick of the litter, but it is anything but a "mean-clean-law enforcement-machine."

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San Diego, Calif.: How does Mexico stop the violence and corruption? What can the U.S. do?

George Grayson: I don't believe either country can stop the violence and corruption. What Mexicans could do is to uplift their downtrodden who live a rag-pickers in fetid slums and barren communal farms, even as the elite enjoy princely lifestyles.

What to do: (1) recover the public education system from the hugely corrupt SNTE teachers union led by Elba Esther Gordillo; (2) open PEMEX, the national oil company, to private investment before Mexico becomes an oil importer; (3) undertake trust-busting against food-processing, cement, and telecommunications giants; (4) reform the fiscal system so that the government collects more than 11.8% of GDP in taxes; (5) hire Canadian or Scandinavian firms to assume control of Customs operations, etc. etc.

Mexico is an extremely wealthy country whose future lies in its OWN hands!

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Chantilly, Va.: Over spring break, college students were warned of the violence in Cancun and other places along the coast. Would that violence have been targeted toward the college kids or was the warning about so much crime in the area that they might get hurt in the crossfire?

George Grayson: Thus far the cartels have not targeted foreigners. If visitors exercise common sense, they should be able to take full advantage of Mexico's fantastic resorts--not accessible at bargain rates.

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Arlington, Va.: A friend of mine who lives in San Diego says that there is a significant drop in tourism in the border Mexican cities because of the fear that an unsuspecting tourist will be caught in the crossfire between the cartel and the police. How real a fear is this in Nogales, Juarez and Tijuana?

George Grayson: The fear is palpable. The streets of these cities have few tourists during the day and only a handful at night. For example, U.S. soldiers from military installations around El Paso are prevented/discouraged from spending evenings in Ciudad Juarez, which used to be a "happening place."

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Abuela Jorge. Just wanted to let you know that your former students see you in TV (and in print) a LOT!!

George Grayson: Great to hear from you. I trust you are thriving with a W and M degree. As for TV: I should be on CNN between 7:30 and 8 p.m. tonight, Thursday. Possibly on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer earlier.

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Arlington, Va.: Do the drugs come mostly from Mexico itself or are they filtered through there from further south? How much comes from just Mexico?

George Grayson: The cocaine comes from Andean nations, principally Colombia; precursor drugs for meth come mainly from Asia, entering Mexico through ports like Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo; Mexico grows poppy and marijuana. Regrettably, about 20% of the drugs in Mexico are now consumed by Mexicans.

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Washington, D.C.: Supposedly the world's biggest drug kingpin, Daniel Rendon Herrera, was captured and arrested in Colombia. Is this anything significant in the whole drug world picture?

George Grayson: Although capture kingpins is always good news, such "successes" often lead to lieutenants engaging in bloody fights to succeed him and/or other cartels using violence to take over his turf. This occurred when the top leaders of the Arellano Felix cartel in Tijuana were killed or captured.

Tijuana is more dangerous because of intra- and inter-cartel mayhem.

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Washington, D.C.: Scott Wilson of the Washington Post today reports that President Obama will announce today that he will push the U.S. Senate to ratify an inter-American arms trafficking treaty designed to curb the flow of guns and ammunition to drug cartels and other armed groups in the hemisphere.

"Senior administration officials confirmed that he will make the announcement after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The meeting is the centerpiece of Obama's first visit to Mexico, whose government is engaged in a broad war against heavily armed drug cartels now threatening the integrity of the state."

Comment please.

George Grayson: That will be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. It is an irony that 2/3rds of Americans favor restricting firearms. However, the other 1/3--often mobilized by the NRA and sister organizations--are more vocal, politically active, and committed to their cause. Color me: "Skeptical."

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Formerly Williamsburg, Va.: Your suggestion that (certain) drugs be legalized and regulated by medical and government agents doesn't seem to address the problem of illegal use. If I use drugs recreationally without a medical reason, I will still need a flow of illegal drugs to support my use. Wouldn't that be true of the majority of the U.S. drug market?

George Grayson: There is no perfect answer. But if you could buy drugs from government stores (like ABC stores in Virginia) at marked up but no excessive prices, three things would happen: (1) you decrease violence sparked by informal street sales; (2) you deprive the cartels of huge amounts of money; and (3) you can spend your days in lala land.

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So it's the NRA: To blame for the mess in Mexico, and not the system in Mexico. I know we like to blame every single instance of violence on the NRA but aren't you reaching a little bit..

George Grayson: I do blame the NRA for our incredibly lax gun laws. However, even if no weapons flowed from the U.S. to Mexico, the Croesus-rich Mexican cartels could buy sophisticated arms on the international armaments market.

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Washington, D.C.: How will President Obama's meeting with President Calderone go down in Mexico? Do you think the crackdown the president is asking for will work?

George Grayson: Mexican politicians/journalist/professors may attack Uncle Sam, but the overwhelming majority of Mexicans like Americans, have family in this country, and are optimistic about the Obama presidency.

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San Diego, Calif.: In response to the question about border tourism; going down the coast to camp, surf or day shop along Rosarito Beach and Ensenada were commonplace before the increase in violence. It was part of the lifestyle the way going to Annapolis for crab cakes is in D.C. It is no longer; to the point where Mexican businesses with the ability have opened San Diego locations.

George Grayson: I would not recommend day trips to Rosarito Beach or Ensenada, although I love both places. Chances are you would be safe, but there is competition for turf being waged by two factions of the old Arellano Felix Organization--and outside cartels are trying to move into the area.

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washingtonpost.com: Continue the discussion here: Planet War: Is America Ready to Ramp Up Gun Control?

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes today's discussion with George Grayson. Thanks for joining in.

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President Obama has ratcheted up efforts to curb the flow of drugs and guns across the southern border, imposing financial sanctions against three of the most violent Mexican drug cartels and threatening to prosecute Americans who do business with them.

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