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Canada and Mexico: Drug cartels, gang warfare: a new security risk?

March 5, 2009

This week’s must read on Canada, Mexico and the drug cartels: The Globe and Mail on what law enforcement officials and economists have been predicting for over a decade: a North American “river of drugs” means  not just increased crime but a “national security risk,” for Canada.

The RCMP in British Columbia have linked a series of gang murders – 43 in 2008 and over 10 since the start of 2009 – with Mexico’s war on drugs. Prices for substances such as cocaine are soaring, as rival cartels fight for a dwindling supply. The theory? The more aggressive the Mexican government’s actions to end its criminal drug trade, the more the cartels react. More violence, less supply, which then squeezes out smaller gangs and dealers, resulting in fights about distribution  here in Canada.

In Mexico, in the last two years, under President Calderon’s “war on drugs,” more than 7,000 people have been killed. Mexico, the supplier, and the U.S. and Canada, the market, are now linked in this “underground” NAFTA.

The Globe also points out that Mexico is Canada’s number one source country for asylum seekers for the past three years – 15,000 refugee claimants in last two years, with an 11% acceptance rate.

Last December, the Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy reported from ground zero – Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez – his descriptions of the “feral slaughter” between drug war lords and their gangs makes for chilling reading in light of this morning’s latest “targeted shooting” in Vancouver.

So does his analysis of the narco-capitalism that drives the violence as per “Almargen” an investigative media service: “The cartels don’t need to control the streets, because they cannot, so they franchise them, get other people to kill and die, and collect taxes and commissions.”

In January, local papers carried a Daily Telegraph (David Blair) piece with what sounded like both an ominous and fanciful headline, “U.S. Army fears collapse of Mexico” – classic Telegraph fare citing military sources, specifically, a “Joint Operating Environment” report by the U.S. high command. The thrust of the report as reported by Blair in his lede: “The United States may be forced to intervene in Mexico to prevent its ‘rapid and sudden collapse.'” Now, at least one Washington think-tank (Council on Hemispheric Affairs) again raises the notion of Mexico as a potential “failed state.” Disastrous news for Canada.  How will we respond?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. marakardasnelson permalink*
    March 13, 2009 3:05 am

    I heard just a few days ago that Mexico was now being considered by some to be a “failed state.” Like all of you, I’m concerned about the language used here, and am cautious to throw around such terms unless they are absolutely warranted (as they are in very clear cases like Zimbabwe). It’s clear that Mexico’s “war on drugs” is failing, and that this in turn affects heavily citizens, security and the economy. From my perspective, and this is just my gut instinct, it is being termed this because of the other states it affects, namely the U.S. and Canada, rather than how “failed” Mexico actually is. Undoubtedly Mexico is currently a mess, but as you state its indicators are no where near as severe as those of Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, etc. It is “failed” because it is garnering a lot of media attention and because the violence is spreading over the border and because these three countries are already intricately connected, especially in terms of migration. There have been reports of more Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. and Canada because of fears of violence, especially within border communities like El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California. This means that the situation in Mexico is quite visible and “sexy” from a media perspective: little sells better than stories on drugs and gangs and fleeing citizens. But the actual indicators in Mexico are, in my opinion, still significantly better than those of other countries within the world. Considering Mexico a “failed state” is dangerous in that it is inflammatory and may incite fears within Mexico and across North America, which then may prompt more violence and also lead to further anti-immigrant notions, especially within the U.S.–i.e. Mexico equates violence, and therefore Mexicans movements must be further restricted. It is also dangerous because it turns our already small and waning attention from states that are actually failed, like Zimbabwe, to a more “hot” and geographically close story. This terminology must be placed correctly so that we as citizens and our governments can respond correctly and the the necessary urgency.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    March 10, 2009 1:54 pm

    Dear Cor and Rev Dave: yes; spot on on the “national security” language – my intent was to raise this not necessarily agree but perhaps i was getting too caught up in the B.C. media blitz on this stuff? It’s all been quite horrific and very immediate in my home community.

    re failed state – good to get your views, Cor. I’m mixed on this one. One the one hand, completely see what you are saying; on the other, hmmm. Maybe it’s a kind of “false dichotomy/frame” this description – “failed state” – maybe it depends on which citizens/immigrants/refugees/etc one speaks to?

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    March 10, 2009 11:03 am

    Great post, with a nice collection of links – I particularly enjoyed the Guardian article, which was lurid, informative and incidentally really well-written.

    I agree with Rev Dave about the inappropriateness of “national security” language, though. As long as we’ve got the US as a buffer, the effects on Canada of whatever happens in Mexico are going to be fairly indirect. Sure, the supply of cocaine is being squeezed and Canada’s gangsters are killing each other as a result (no great loss, in my opinion). But it’s worth reflecting that the same thing would presumably be happening if Mexico had successfully cracked down on the drug trade.

    In fact, I’d go a bit further and suggest that all the talk about Mexico becoming a failed state is overblown. They have a problem with organised crime getting out of hand in some areas – but if that qualifies a country for failed statehood, then Colombia and Italy, among others, obviously failed some time ago. I’d rather save the “failed state” terminology for places like Somalia, where there has been a truly catastrophic breakdown in governance. Our Mexican friends would probably prefer it that way, too.

  4. March 6, 2009 5:31 am

    This is very serious news, especially for Mexico and for the families of those who have come to tragic harm in Vancouver.

    I’m a little skeptical about the language of “national security,” though. This is certainly a criminal issue – and we should expect the police to make every appropriate effort to find those who are responsible. But what, in Canada, might make this a “national security” issue?

    National security issues typically are used to justify expansion of state coercion and secrecy – or, in the alternative, the language gets over-used and we lose focus. We should be careful, I think, about labelling something a national security problem if that’s not the best way to go about tackling it.


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