Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? Hardcover – Aug 31 2009
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“Grayson has written one of the most comprehensive books on the narco-violence in Mexico. The author provides historical insight into the antecedents of drug production, processing, transportation, and consumption and the evolution of the war on drugs and its impact on the broader US-Mexico relationship. . . . This is one of the best books on the subject to date. Highly recommended for policy makers, graduate students, and anyone interested in the gruesome violence that plagues Mexico today.”
—I. Coronado, Choice
"No, the United States' southern neighbor, with its many sophisticated institutions and complex social networks, is not the next Afghanistan. But as the veteran Mexico watcher Grayson documents in lurid and depressing detail, powerful drug traffickers have corrupted the country's political and law enforcement establishments at all levels. The cartels simply have too much money, and the U.S. government, despite four decades of waging its 'war on drugs,' has utterly failed to stem the cross-border drug flows and the distribution networks that continuously replenish criminal coffers. Grayson seems to approve of recent U.S. programs transferring equipment and technology to Mexican security forces, and he respects Mexican President Felipe Calderón's bold, forceful counterattacks against the criminal gangs. But Grayson's bottom line is pessimistic: 'It is extremely difficult--probably impossible--to eradicate the cartels. They or their offshoots will fight to hold on to an enterprise that yields Croesus-like fortunes.' More out of desperation than desire, Grayson proposes that the United States begin 'thinking about the unthinkable: decriminalization.'"
—Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs Magazine
"[A] historical analysis of Mexico’s political past and the relationship between the country’s ruling class, drug traffickers and society, which is important in understanding the roots of the battle being waged among traffickers today and the institutional weaknesses that have allowed the drug trade to flourish in Mexico. . . . this book provides details about the drug trafficking organizations themselves, their relationships with local, state and federal politicians and each other, and the rise of two new organizations in recent years—Los Zetas and La Familia—which have brought new levels of violence and cruelty to the historic disputes among traffickers in Mexico. Although the names and situations scattered throughout the book can sometimes be confusing, the author’s ‘who’s who’ table on the drug trafficking organizations and other tables with diverse information on the drug trade in Mexico provide valuable information for anyone attempting to make sense of the complex network of actors involved in drug trafficking in the country."
“[A]n extremely thorough and comprehensive history and analysis of the rise of the cartels in the context of the weaknesses of the Mexican state . . . he's got all the busts and the shootouts, he's got what is so far the definitive history of the cartels and Mexico's response to them . . . we also get a history lesson on Mexican politics and culture . . . Grayson's [book] belongs in the library as a desk reference for anyone really serious about following the cartels and Mexican politics.”
—Phillip Smith, Chronicle Reviews
“One of the virtues of the book is Grayson’s examination of the rise and evolution of the modern Mexican state. Too often the U.S. discussion of Mexico comes without any political context. What makes his examination of the state and politics in Mexico so fascinating is the recent return of the PRI as the country’s major political force – an ominous trend, according to Grayson, given the PRI’s history of patronage politics, its opportunistic ‘revolutionary nationalism,’ and its unreformed ways.”
—Tom Barry, Border Lines
"Few American academics writing about Mexico today know more about security, electoral politics, drug-trafficking and criminal violence issues than George Grayson." Mexico, Narco-Violence and a Failed State? addresses the significant consequences of each in a lively and provocative manner, providing revealing, current, and controversial insights into their impact on its political stability, social fabric, and relations with the United States. Anyone hoping to grasp the difficult, multiple, and complex aspects of drug trafficking in our southern neighbor should read this book.
—Roderic Ai Camp, McKenna Professor of the Pacific Rim, Claremont McKenna College
"William and Mary Professor George Grayson ranks among the most knowledgeable and insightful analysts of Mexican society and politics writing today. His new book on Mexico's bloody and brutal drug cartels constitutes a major contribution to the growing body of research on the '"drug thugs' who are making bilions by trafficking drugs in Mexico and through their country into the United States while wreaking havoc on both sides of the border. His detailed case studies of Mexico's major drug 'cartels' or organized crime families active in the lucrative illicit narcotics trade - the leadership and internal dynamics of the major criminal organizations, the rivalries and shifting alliances among these ruthless groups, and the shockingly violent tactics they employ against each other, the Mexican government and the Mexican people - make for a fascinating but sobering read. Concisely written and painstakingly documented, Grayson's book is a must for anyone interested in understanding what is happening in the United States' besieged southern neighbor and the implications that Mexico's current crisis holds for American society, American security and U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations."
—Bruce M. Bagley, University of Miami
"One of the greatest fallacies committed today amongst those who discuss and write about organized crime in Mexico is a limited understanding of Mexico's political history, especially how and why the country's leaders have engaged with criminal actors for decades. George Grayson's review of this history is a crisp, concise explanation that expertly frames Mexico today: a country struggling to confront unprecedented narco-violence. Grayson layers this historical backdrop with a full account of Mexican organized crime; it is one of the most thorough discussions of Mexican organized crime that I have ever seen, in English or Spanish. This book is a must read for anyone interested to know why thousands die in Mexico every year and what we can expect to see in Mexico for the rest of President Calderon's term and beyond."
—Samuel Logan, Journalist Writer
"Characterized by exhaustive research, rare in-depth knowledge of the subject outside Mexico, and compassionate wit, George Grayson's new book confirms him as one of the most distinguished scholars of Mexican politics and history. No other publication to date has unpacked and analyzed so thoroughly the labyrinthine and brutal underworld of Mexico's feared drug cartels and their complex relationship with the country's authorities and society."
—Dr. Francisco E. Gonzalez, Riordan Roett Chair in Latin American Studies, The Johns Hopkins University
"Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? is a fascinating update on the ever-evolving story of Mexico and the illegal drug traffic. . . . Professor Grayson has done a remarkable service by reporting this problem in such a complete way. Every Mexican and American citizen should be required to read this book."
—David L. Westrate, The Virginia Gazette
About the Author
George W. Grayson is professor of government emeritus at the College of William & Mary, an associate scholar at Foreign Policy Research Institute, and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. He is the author of Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There are, however, several mistakes. Some are simple factual errors, one of them already in the first page, some simply grammatical errors and misspelling of spanish phrases. One upsetting aspect is that chapter 1 has a section missing, probably due to a printing error, so one parapragh cuts off on one page, and the following page begins a whole new section. You may want to wait until a new corrected batch is printed, or a new edition is published.
Other than that, I recommend the book for anyone interested in learning the basics of the Mexican Cartel wars.
The bulk of the book is a narrative of the activities of the cartels, problems beleaguering the Mexican state (which stem largely from failings in governance), how the perpetuation of these problems are potentially symptomatic of state failure, and the Mexican governments's response to these issues. In response to the ever-increasing magnitude of these problems, the Mexican government has embarked on a campaign to reform on a previously unseen scale. Grayson provides a critique of policies adopted by both the US and Mexico in response to these problems.
Grayson also discusses in detail the cartels themselves: their structure, constituents, modus operandi, territories and the way they interact with each other, the state and the citizenry. These cartels have grown immensely wealthy from cocaine trafficking and as a result wield a dispropotionately great deal of power. Their wealth has allowed them to develop drug production infrastructure, purchase vast amounts of weapons and corrupt law enforcement and public officials.
Mexico has been divided into a mosaic of warring cartels, who compete with the state and each other for dominance. The power of the cartels has increased to the point where some directly challenge the state for control, highlighting the danger the Mexico is in of becoming a failed state. In the case of these cartels, there seems to have been a natural progression from organized crime to terrorism to insurgency. This shift in tactics was catalyzed by the continued accrual of power, a direct result of massive revenue generated by trafficking illicit goods. The steady influx of money into the funds of the cartels as a result of this trade is used by the cartels to bankroll conflict: weapons, vehicle and communications equipment procural, recruitment, training and hiring of mercenaries (GAFES, Kaibiles). These assets, procured via money, are utilized to combat the Mexican law enforcement and military forces as well as rival cartels directly; to assert and maintain their dominance in territories under their control; and to coerce the general populace both physically and psychologically. The cartels have also adopted a population-centric approach. They either attempt to gain support largely through public works projects or pro-cartel, anti-rival, anti-government propoganda, or attempt to coerce the populace via mass murder, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and terrorism. They have also expanded their operations into many of America's major urban centers, including New York, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco. This upsurge in power and violence has, amongst other things, led to the militarization of Mexican drug policy enforcement.
Actions of foreign entities such as the US government and Colombian cartels are also shown to have a significant impact of the situation in Mexico throughout the years: the US through its foreign policy and counternarcotics operations; the Colombian cartels, as primary suppliers of cocaine, through their responses to counternarcotics operations and their business transactions with the Mexican cartels.
The problems in Mexico are shown to be complex and multifaceted and have a direct impact on American national securtity. The majority of major drug trafficking routes run through Mexico into the US, who is the primary consumer. In addition to importing drugs and precursor materials from a host of foreign countries in order to sell primarily in the US, the Mexican cartels have constructed their own drug production and distribution infrastructures, which exacerbates the problem.
I found this book to be extremely informative. Grayson provides a context and a history that allows those unfamiliar to the enormous complexity and implications of the conflict for control between the Mexican state and the narco cartels. He also shows why what is going on in Mexico is important (or should be important) to both the average citizen, especially those in urban centers with significant narco activity and border areas, and policymakers in the US. Better maps should have been included. 5 stars for the tremendous informative value, 3 for the read.
*on page 30 Grayson states that "The "live and let live" ethos that enveloped these activities [activities of the narcos] began to change in the 1980s and 1990s when oppertunities to make vast fortunes mushroomed because of changing routes for cocaine trafficking - a phenomenon that coincided with an upsurge in PAN electoral victories." Shifts in trafficking routes as a result of the reorganization of law enforcement agencies and their jurisdictions under the PAN, granting these authorities greater autonomy and increasing their propensity for corruption by narco dollars, may have had some influence on the profitibility of cocaine trafficking, but Grayson omits the primary contributing factors to the vast increase in profitability: a surge in demand in America for cocaine after the introduction of crack cocaine to American urban centers, and that this increase in profitability was compounded by the Reagan administration's subsequent anti-drug legislation.
According to Bruce and Hayes in Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs, "In the early 1980s, the white powder [cocaine] that had once been a white-collar drug exploded into American inner cities in the form of crack cocaine. By 1985, the use of cocaine among young adults reached an all-time high with over 8 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 and 6 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 34 admitting to the use of the drug. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan called drug abuse "a repudiation of everything America is" and implored Americans to join the "national crusade against drugs." With the increasing fervor over the issue, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (378-16) in favor of a $1.7 billion Omnibus Drug Bill." ("Hostage Nation" page 47)
The impact of these factors on the profitability of cocaine trafficking was twofold:
1) per supply and demand, the surge in demand for cocaine and its derivatives in America as a result of more widespread use stimulated the increase in profitability
2) The US government's response to the upsurge of drug use was more or less an extension and expansion of Nixon's "War on Drugs". The Reagan administrstion increased the degree of illegality of drugs via the the "national crusade against drugs", passed the Omnibus Drug Bill and further emphasised the supply-side approach. These new measures further compounded the revenue generated from cocaine trafficking. Illegality increases risk which increases price which, given that demand is fairly constant, increases profitability. It is in this way that there is a direct relationship between illegality and profitability. "Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault." (Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate economist)
Therefore, to attribute the increase in profitability of cocaine trafficking only to changes in trafficking routes as a result of PAN reorganization of law enforcement structure as Grayson does on page 30, and to not address the significant upsurge in crack cocaine consumption in the US and the subsequent anti-drug legislation and its effect on demand, is inaccurate and misleading. This assertion by Grayson allows him to level criticism more directly at the Mexican state and its complicity in the debacle it currently finds itself in.
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