VF on Mexico’s Ongoing Collapse

This is a must read article. Here’s the upcoming book by the author, Ed Vulliamy.

“I used to call my town a city of two economies,” Cardona explains, “one legal, the other illegal. But now that both are globalized, the dividing line has gone.

The overview:

The Mexican narco-war may be the first real 21st-century war—a war that is, in the end, about nothing. Yes, there are regional and clan identities involved—loyalties of a sort to Tamaulipas, to Michoacan, to Sinaloa—but they are too fluid, too subject to betrayal, for the war to be defined as tribal. Yes, the Mexicans are torturing and killing one another over money and the smuggling routes that provide it, but much of the savagery, as noted, is over the smaller profits of the domestic market, the street corner, the sprawling colonia—savagery perpetrated for little real reward, and mainly for its own sake. Mexico’s war has no single propelling cause, no single objective, and certainly no grand ideology. It is a conflict of a post-political era.

Data points:

  • There have been more than 28,000 killings since 2006.
  • Estimated illicit traffic at the Nuevo Laredo/Laredo crossing: $4.5B/year.
  • The Mexican cartels now supply some 90 percent of the cocaine and a substantial portion of other drugs entering the United States.
  • It is a business estimated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) to be worth roughly $323 billion a year.
  • Doctors are employed to ensure that those questioned or tortured do not lose consciousness.
  • Cartels use YouTube to exhibit their interrogations and executions, and to threaten rivals and public officials.

The story:

The ‘legal’ economy brought hundreds of thousands of people to Juárez, me included, to work in maquilas, as I did, and offers to pay them $3 a shift. The illegal market needs people, and offers better opportunities, to double that money for street dealing, multiply it by 10 for a carrier, and by a hundred for killing. The maquilajobs market can’t support what it created, so it sends you to get sucked into the parallel drug market, where you get paid in kind, you become an addict, you cut the drugs to sell, so that your addiction becomes an activity in the market, and you become an economic agent. When the recession comes, the maquilas find cheaper labor in Asia, so more people lose their jobs and turn in even greater numbers to buying, taking, and selling drugs. And killing.”

Unregulated gun shows (bizarrely also driven by the nutters stocking up on firearms because they’re terrified of cartels):

“All our investigations,” says Webb, “show that Houston is the No. 1 source for firearms going from the U.S. into Mexico—the No. 1 source in the country. Texas has 8,000 gun dealers, and in the city of Houston there are 1,500. The pattern we’re seeing is that they’ll go to the shows to buy ammo and supplies, combat gear, and so on, and go to the dealers to get their weapons, using straw buyers for $50 per gun, on up. They come, and they just keep coming back. It’s simple because we make it simple. There’s no black market in the U.S. The guns are not being stolen—it’s all legal.”

‘White collar’ crime’s contribution:

Last March, the Bloomberg financial-news Web site reported that Wachovia Bank, now owned by Wells Fargo, had admitted to federal prosecutors that, in the years 2003–8, it had failed to prevent the laundering of at least $110 million of drug-cartel money through the exchange houses it operated in Mexico. The bank also admitted that it had failed to monitor $420 billion in transactions through these same exchange houses.

The psychology:

“They’re doing it for the money, but more than that, they’re doing it for kudos. They’re doing it to show they can wear this T-shirt by this designer worth this much money—instead of that one that the other guy is wearing. It’s like stripes on a military uniform—corporal, sergeant. It’s a system of rank: if you have this T-shirt, you get a cute girl to show off; if you have a more expensive T-shirt, you get a cuter girl. Same with the cars, phones, gadgets. They’re disgusting people, high on amphetamines, but in Reynosa they can wear the uniform of their rank, and they’re somebody.”

A new symbology:

If the tongue is cut out, it means the person talked too much—a snitch, or chupro. A man who has informed on the clan has his finger cut off and maybe put in his mouth.” This makes sense: a traitor to a narco-cartel is known as a dedo—a finger. “If you are castrated,” Muñoz continued, “you may have slept with or looked at the woman of another man in the business. Severed arms could mean that you stole from your consignment, severed legs that you tried to walk away from the cartel.”

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  • The US guns angle is bs. Gun shows are NOT unregulated. They follow the exact same federal and local laws that gun shops do. US laws dont change just because you’re at a gun show. If people there don’t follow them then they are criminals.

    Plus, much of the hardware people talk about (explosives, fully automatic weapons) are not available to US civilians. The cartels get a lot of hardware from Mexican army/police and other central american countries. Also, part of the problem is that Mexico doesn’t allow its citizens to arm themselves legally. Thus, just as Americans ridiculous criminilization of drugs is what’s responsible for the drug wars in the south, Mexico’s outrageous criminilization of guns is what’s created illegal trafficking.

  • halfmonk
    Oct 23, 2010

    what the article states is that the guns are being bought by proxies who are a front for the cartels. it is done legally and i have no doubt it is true.

    the previous comment sounds like someone is pimping for the NRA. the NRA is part of the problem. as long as the US is unable to effectively regulate sales of firearms (as it is done is europe) it will be easy for criminal to acquire weapons.

  • Note paragraph two halfmonk.


    The LA Times, defenders of all things NRA no less.

  • Chirol – private sales at gunshows are unregulated. The use of proxies comprises the rest.

    Sure, military grade stuff comes up from the rest of the continent, but it’s a mistake to not acknowledge the role of small arms in the Mexican conflict.

  • Gun shows….if only there were no gun shows then $323 billion dollars would have no place to buy weapons.

    The naivete is strong in this one!

  • OldMarine
    Oct 27, 2010

    I have been a cop for nearly 20 years and have yet to see a criminal with a legally obtained firearm, so please get off that point. To restrict good law abiding citizens from gun ownership is lunacy, the criminals love that mind set. Not pimpin for NRA, my observations as a street cop.
    Secondly, Mexico is a failed state, our federal gov needs to wake up to that fact and stop laying the onus on local cops, we do not have the hardware or resources to fight that one.

  • LOL. No one said cartels source all their weapons from gun shows.

    OM. Regulate. Not restrict.

  • > This is a must read article. Here’s the upcoming book by the author, Ed Vulliamy.

    What very peculiar formatting. The links are formatted as standard black text, and what *isn’t* a link is all specially highlighted in attention-grabbing red.

  • LOL. No one said cartels source all their weapons from gun shows.
    OM. Regulate. Not restrict.

    Please elaborate on this “regulation” that you propose.

  • Nothing too complex. Track sales. Prevent straw purchases.

  • Thanks, gwern. I’d concluded that there were no links. Time for a CSS fix here.

  • From the pics shown online and in the press, the cartels have access to fully automatic weapons, grenades, and bazookas. Please let me know at which gunshow in the US dealers are selling these as I would also like to own some. No doubt if we further restricted law abiding citizens from obtaining weapons as you suggest Shlock, the cartels would go back to working in sweatshops and paying taxes on their pitance like their government would prefer.

  • Thanks gwern, misc. Just some WordPress theme.

    Judo. Refer to above.

  • Nothing too complex. Track sales. Prevent straw purchases.

    Then you’ll be assigning an ATF agent to each attendee as they enter…glad to see that was such an easy fix!

  • Jake S.
    Oct 28, 2010


    Don’t worry about these loons. Reading comprehension clearly isn’t their forte.

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