What about Latin America and the Cartels?

Blizzard

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There is always a lot of discussion about Russian and Chinese moves around the world, and rightfully so. In addition, there is constant discussion about ongoing conflict in ME and Africa. Also warranted. I've seen posts about marijuana fields and recall the poppy fields in AFG. It's an issue. There clearly is no shortage of threats.

But what about Cartels and the arguably more imminent threat they present to U.S. national security? It's often viewed and presented through a much different lens in the press - one that's more a law enforcement issue as opposed to a military issue. It's also seemingly viewed as an issue that has impact to the U.S. but is largely an external problem to solve.

We have and continue to provide military support at a variety of different levels over the years to fight cartels/drug trafficking but it's still mostly a secondary or even tertiary issue. We can look to our greater involvement as far back as Escobar and the Medellin cartel all the way through current actions. The question is, at what point, if any, do/should our actions against cartels become more open and direct?

Over the past several years we've seen popular vacation destinations in Mexico quickly become overrun by Cartels and essentially abandoned as destinations, consider Acacpulco and Mazatlán. Looks like Cancun may be next:
GRAPHIC -- Cancun Wraps 2018 with At Least 540 Homicides

We know of continued violence in towns along the border, like Ciudad Juarez. But it's not just Mexico. There's Honduras, El Salvadar, and Guatemala -- our own little shitbox just down the road. There is a resurgence in Columbia.

We read stories and have documentaries on people like this (I haven't seen the documentary yet - I'm torn between watching it and having it be viewed as encouraging the "stardom" of fuckstains like this and ignoring for the same reason):
The Sicario’s Tale: Pablo Escobar’s Top Hitman Tells ‘How I Blew Up More Than 100 People’

Watch Cartel Land. Many of us have seen the Sicario films, which wile fictional, don't seem to stray too far from reality. The Mexican government does not appear capable of effectively addressing the issue. Cartels are increasingly emboldened. They are increasingly moving into territory on the U.S. side of the border.

Corruption as a result of cartel influence can be found at all kinds of levels. We even have examples in various posts throughout this forum as to how drug trafficking and usage takes place among our own elite military teams; how could/would this impact our effectiveness? As cartel influence grows, so does the direct threat to our national security through increased violence.

Change our approach militarily to something more direct and overt is certainly not without pitfalls but so is the current approach. Is the cartel threat overstated? Understated?
 

SpitfireV

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I think comparing the threat of the PRC and RF to the cartels is a bit of a false economy since you're comparing a set of state actors with all the capacity and resources that implies to a non-state actor who, while powerful in their own right, don't have the same depths of technology and skills to plumb that a state does. I think a better comparison would be to counter terrorism.

I think this is a great topic but I also think you could refine it down a bit. Which cartels are we talking about? Just grouping them a bit more strategically into by country the Mexicans operate differently to the Colombians and the Central American states I wouldn't say have their own "cartels" as such but do have their own gangs that work closely with the cartels; each has their own resources and capacity that is different to the others.
 

Blizzard

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It wasn't my intent to necessarily compare China and Russia to the Cartels; the threats are obviously very different. Cartels may not be overtly state sponsored but at best the governments in the core countries they operate, particularly Mexico but also the Northern Triangle, are ineffective in dealing with them and at worst are outright complicit in their activities. The threat from cartels is very asymmetric. In many ways, it's tantamount to the way terror groups and tribes operate in Afghanistan.

In Mexico, cartels occupy various regions and continually fighting to expand their control. Some carry more influence than others; some, such as Sinaloa, have partnerships and alliances with other cartels. All are not only willing, but seemingly embrace the idea of inflicting harm on innocent civilians to create fear of opposition and freedom of movement. There is no honor or dignity in tactics. They will torture and kill innocent children and women just as easily as they will an actual rival cartel member. When rival cartels battle, collateral damage is not a consideration.

The new Mexican president has proposed a change in tactics:
Mexico’s new president has a radical plan to end the drug war
In my view, it sounds an awful lot like he's just throwing in the towel.

The fact that there are so many cartels operating makes this issue more complex. I don't think the discussion can be just one cartel because it's such a tangled mess. Right now, the Mexican cartels are seemingly the strongest and looking to expand. They're all opportunistic and quick to jump in and fill any voids. Smash one, another pops up -- case in point, FARC in Columbia. It's interesting this article notes Colombia's progress against FARC and Urabenos at a time when cartels are seeing resurgence and expand there:
What Is the Mexican Cartels' Strategy for Post-FARC Colombia?

Also, there is more to this than just drug trafficking. Human trafficking and extortion plays a major role, as well.
 

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Cartel influence in the States is largely through the distribution networks, the street-level retail end of the pipeline, usually through gangs. The violence this side of the border tends to be business-related, that is, among buyers, sellers and competitors, rather than the open unrestrained bloodshed we see in Northern Mexico. Cartel representatives in the United States tend to keep a low profile to avoid detection.

Until the Mexican government declares unconditional warfare against all drug traffickers, suspends their legal rights and starts killing them on sight, the cartels will survive. In Columbia, in the latter days of Escobar and Ochoa, Columbia had to resort to extreme measures...covert actions were arranged and drug traffickers and cartel members started disappearing, only to be found later, garroted or throat-slit, some made to look like the work of rival cartels. It was illegal, deniable and very effective.

Our people (Centra Spike) helped with location and targeting information, fed to the covert police units and their operatives.
 
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CQB

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Take the Sri Lankan option. It has worked. Whilst cartels are arguably different from Insurgents, the LTTE are no more due to a ruthless offensive & they were a very effective organisation.
 
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RackMaster

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Cartel influence in the States is largely through the distribution networks, the street-level retail end of the pipeline, usually through gangs. The violence this side of the border tends to be business-related, that is, among buyers, sellers and competitors, rather than the open unrestrained bloodshed we see in Northern Mexico. Cartel representatives in the United States tend to keep a low profile to avoid detection.

Until the Mexican government declares unconditional warfare against all drug traffickers, suspends their legal rights and starts killing them on sight, the cartels will survive. In Columbia, in the latter days of Escobar and Ochoa, Columbia had to resort to extreme measures...covert actions were arranged and drug traffickers and cartel members started disappearing, only to be found later, garroted or throat-slit, some made to look like the work of rival cartels. It was illegal, deniable and very effective.

Our people (Centra Spike) helped with location and targeting information, fed to the covert police units and their operatives.
Frankly, it's how we need to treat the Cartels and terrorist organizations worldwide. We weren't winning "hearts and minds" in Germany and Japan.
 

Gunz

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Frankly, it's how we need to treat the Cartels and terrorist organizations worldwide. We weren't winning "hearts and minds" in Germany and Japan.
The web of the cartels becomes so interwoven into the fabric of the host nation's infrastructure, its economy, government agencies, legislative bodies, nothing is left untouched by the corruption and influence. It strangles from within. In Columbia, desperate times led to desperate measures.

I don't know if Mexico has the cojones to attack the cartels like the Columbians did. It would require giving free reign to certain covert elements within law enforcement or the army, money for the latest ISTAR assets and technology and the recruitment of people as ruthless as the coldest cartel killers...and for everybody else to turn a blind eye while the purification process unfolds over weeks and months and anybody associated with the cartels is hunted down like a dog and executed.

You can't kill the cartels domestically by lowering demand through treatment and education because it would never work. The demand will always be there. Decisive direct action is the only way to make the environment scary, lethal and unprofitable for the drug barons. Anything less and they will continue to thrive.
 
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Diamondback 2/2

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The cartels are only militant due to the people who attempt to disrupt/stop their business. No different than the American bootleggers of the early 20th century. Controlled distribution and regulations is how you change the dynamic. You can't kill them a off, you won't stop lil Juan from making money to feed his mom and sister.

Marijuana, cocaine and heroin can all be controlled and regulated. Meth? Not so much, but thats a different animal all of its own.

But I digress, control and regulations won't happen, so fuck it, let's keep whackamoling until we get bored with that...
 

Blizzard

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The cartels are only militant due to the people who attempt to disrupt/stop their business. No different than the American bootleggers of the early 20th century. Controlled distribution and regulations is how you change the dynamic. You can't kill them a off, you won't stop lil Juan from making money to feed his mom and sister.

Marijuana, cocaine and heroin can all be controlled and regulated. Meth? Not so much, but thats a different animal all of its own.

But I digress, control and regulations won't happen, so fuck it, let's keep whackamoling until we get bored with that...
The issue with this is that cartel business is more than just drugs. It's human trafficking and extortion, among other things.

They aren't only militant against those in the way of their business. They willing kill innocents to create terror and discourage opposition. An example to this is the slaughter of 17 lime workers as documented in Cartel Land. They were all innocent, a number of them children that were in the field with their family. All were brutally murdered with the youngest ones so small they were reportedly smashed against rocks by swinging them by their feet. They were killed because the owner of the line field refused to pay a higher "tax" to the controlling cartel. So they took retribution on his workers.

So, there are different dynamics at play here.
 

Gunz

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The issue with this is that cartel business is more than just drugs. It's human trafficking and extortion, among other things...So, there are different dynamics at play here.
Yes, and it's intricately more complex than bootleggers in Chicago. The gun-running, human trafficking, drug trafficking and all aspects of smuggling, transportation and protection are interconnected. The Maras control the railheads, Chinese triads are involved in human trafficking, Mara Salvatrucha is protecting drug and human shipments along the Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana, the main freight line from Chiapas through Veracruz to N. Mexico...Lots of players is right, even FARC cells in Mexico maintaining drug routes in return for cash and weapons. Not only that...the drug trade brings $40-billion annually to the Mexican economy and has caused 160,000 deaths.

In Columbia, the Bloque de Busqueda, a special covert police unit operated with Centra Spike's technical assistance to track down cartel members. There was an alleged unspoken alliance with Los Pepes and pretty soon cartel sicarios started disappearing or showing up dead. It wasn't whack a mole, it was putting the fear of God into cartel leadership and led to Escobar's death and the destruction of his empire.
 
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ThunderHorse

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The cartels are only militant due to the people who attempt to disrupt/stop their business. No different than the American bootleggers of the early 20th century. Controlled distribution and regulations is how you change the dynamic. You can't kill them a off, you won't stop lil Juan from making money to feed his mom and sister.

Marijuana, cocaine and heroin can all be controlled and regulated. Meth? Not so much, but thats a different animal all of its own.

But I digress, control and regulations won't happen, so fuck it, let's keep whackamoling until we get bored with that...
I would say cartels are more similar to the Klan at it's height in the 1920s. To the point that they controlled the governors office in Indiana with an open member of the Klan in office.
 

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I see the problems akin to the modern terrorist movement: the strategy must be military and law enforcement. Unfortunately it's not just "let's legalize your-favorite-drug-here", the cartels are a scary mash-up of the mafia and terrorists.
 

Gunz

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I see the problems akin to the modern terrorist movement: the strategy must be military and law enforcement. Unfortunately it's not just "let's legalize your-favorite-drug-here", the cartels are a scary mash-up of the mafia and terrorists.
The problem with that is corruption within military and law enforcement, plata o plomo, silver or lead. You have to sift out a handpicked group of absolutely courageous and incorruptible people to form the core of your task force. Again, I cite Columbia's Colonel Hugo Martinez, head of the Search Bloc, who lived with death threats every day, who steadfastly turned down Escobar's bribes...and who's efforts eventually led to the demise of Columbia's powerful cartels.

But again, Columbia was paralyzed by the cartels--cops, judges, politicians, military officers--either bribed or assassinated. It took that paralysis, that sense of hopelessness to provide the impetus to take the gloves off and attack the cartels relentlessly using their own brutal methods.
 

Devildoc

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The problem with that is corruption within military and law enforcement, plata o plomo, silver or lead. You have to sift out a handpicked group of absolutely courageous and incorruptible people to form the core of your task force. Again, I cite Columbia's Colonel Hugo Martinez, head of the Search Bloc, who lived with death threats every day, who steadfastly turned down Escobar's bribes...and who's efforts eventually led to the demise of Columbia's powerful cartels.

But again, Columbia was paralyzed by the cartels--cops, judges, politicians, military officers--either bribed or assassinated. It took that paralysis, that sense of hopelessness to provide the impetus to take the gloves off and attack the cartels relentlessly using their own brutal methods.
I profess to know very little outside Sicario and a handful of other movies and a few headlines about cartels. Just a topic about which I have done little research. But on the face of it, I can see how the infiltration into the indigenous military and LE organizations throws a huge roadblock into any inroads to success.
 

Blizzard

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I profess to know very little outside Sicario and a handful of other movies and a few headlines about cartels. Just a topic about which I have done little research. But on the face of it, I can see how the infiltration into the indigenous military and LE organizations throws a huge roadblock into any inroads to success.
To your last statement, just consider this statement from the article I posted earlier today:

The New York Times said:
Mr. Zambada also testified that his father’s bribery budget was often as much as $1 million a month. An Army general who worked as an official in the Mexican defense department earned a monthly stipend of $50,000 from the cartel, Mr. Zambada recalled. He also said that his father routinely bribed a military officer who once served as a personal guard to Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox.
O_o
 

Flagg

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I see the problems akin to the modern terrorist movement: the strategy must be military and law enforcement. Unfortunately it's not just "let's legalize your-favorite-drug-here", the cartels are a scary mash-up of the mafia and terrorists.
I’d go so far as to add Entrepreneurs to your Mafia/Terrorist combo mashup.

Remove one revenue stream, they adapt and expand into other revenue streams like any corporation adapting and sustaining itself through a disruptive business environment.

But at the same time they’re like a “black Mirror” opposite of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs create jobs and wealth that has a net positive impact on society(in most of not all cases with outliers being socially harmful ones with high costs to taxpayer).

Cartels create jobs and wealth that has a net negative impact on society(in most if not all cases with outliers being hearts and minds activities for home field support).

David Kilcullen’s book “Out of the Mountains” covers the concept of “conflict entrepreneurs” quite well.

Behavioural Economics of drug cartels and illicit networks would be an interesting book or course if such a thing exists.
 

BravoOne

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The most capable unit the Mexican Government has (the Mexican Marine SOF) is very small and can’t cover all the work they COULD do to counter cartel operations. The other forces are all corrupt or incapable of making it happen.

Remember also that historically the Mexican Government has a very funny relationship with the DoD and there are restrictions on their end in working with our Military. The MX Government definitely could use somebody help.

The U.S doesn’t even do everything we CAN on our side of the border. We are limited by available resources and priorities of the SES grade folks. As an example, my Team is engaged in these issues but when I worked the recruiting booth (and came back with a number of well qualified Vets and LE folks) I was told we couldn’t hire anyone at that time and nothing has changed. We desperately need additional people for that area of concern but the resources are devoted to other priorities. Countering the cartel activity in the area is definitely a mission space we don’t have to fight for and can excel at but only if we are going to be given the proper support and guidance. I personally pushed up two easily doable proposals that are being sat on in favor of support to other operations. It’s very frustrating to say the least.
 
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