Despite its inflammatory title, “Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico‘s Drug Wars” is a thoughtful text, which warns not of a literal invasion of cartel gunmen, but of the insidious spread of corruption over the border.
Take the book’s presentation with a grain of salt and keep in the back of your mind that the publisher needed a “sexy” title in order to sell books. Then read this colloquially written primer, and appreciate its achievement in addressing a broad and controversial topic in plain language.
This book is an excellent introduction for someone new to the subject of Mexican drug trafficking. It makes up for its lack of depth in specific topics with its breadth on large policy questions, including discussions of legalization/regulation of marijuana, and revisiting the U.S. legislation (the Tiahrt Amendment) that ties the hands of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in its efforts to prevent the flow of guns south.
In an interview with InSight Crime, Longmire clarified her view that “invasion” did not mean a “war of the worlds” style invasion of the U.S. by Mexican cartels. Rather, the invasion she refers to is the subtle and insidious growth of Mexican drug cartels’ corrupting influence on U.S. law enforcement, and a slow increase of spillover violence.
Longmire is a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. Air Force who has become a consultant on Mexican security issues and asylum cases. Appropriately, her most important contributions are in describing the “tactics, techniques and procedures” of Mexican cartels. Particularly enlightening is her chapter on kidnapping, which details the actual procedures used to kidnap, both in the U.S. and in Mexico. She contrasts Mexican cartel procedures with those of Colombian criminal groups, concluding that the Mexican cartels use higher levels of violence and are more erratic.
However, her discussion of Los Palillos, a spin-off kidnap cell of the Arellano Felix Organization, is illuminating in describing the how of kidnappings but lacks the who. The majority of Los Palillos kidnap victims were targeted AFO members in the United States following an internal feud in 2002, according to the New York Times. Leaving out this crucial point threatens to contribute to the alarmist rhetoric on spillover violence. The average American, uninvolved in trafficking, is still not a target.
Longmire argues for the exploration of “regulatory options for the production, sale and distribution of marijuana in the United States.” This is surprising given her earlier New York Times op-ed piece headline “Legalizing Marijuana Won’t Kill the Cartels.” In the book she develops a more nuanced position which includes demand-side strategies like “public awareness campaigns for underage and adult marijuana users.” While Longmire overemphasizes the importance of border security as part of the problem, the book provides an accessible primer to the policy issues involved in the deteriorating Mexican security situation, and its implications for the U.S.
“Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars,” Sylvia Longmire, Palgrave Macmillan.
Released September 27