Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand their Fan Base

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Here is a link to an article I published in January for AQBlog, titled “Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand their Fan Base” I had forgotten to re-post it in my personal blog so here it is in case you missed it. I’m posting a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it here, but I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

They might be taking their cues from legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was famous for helping out numerous communities in Colombia and donating parks and recreation centers to unprivileged communities. Or maybe they’re inspired by the legend of Jesús Malverde, the so-called narco-saint folk hero from Sinaloa, sometimes seen as a Mexican version of Robin Hood. On the other hand, they may feel threatened  by  the “self-defense” groups spawning in Michoacán and Colima—civil vigilante groups  that have taken up arms against the cartels after declaring that local authorities are unable or unwilling to tackle organized crime battles head-on.

For whatever reason, drug cartels in different parts of Mexico took to the streets this holiday season in order to “give back,” and—ironic as it may sound— spread holiday cheer.

In the southern state of Oaxaca the impoverished communities of Viguera, Bugambilia and Calicanto were surprised on Three Kings Day (January 6) withbundles of toys, which mysteriously appeared in different points of the city, some with signs explaining that they were left there “so that people can see that the Zetas support humble people. ” Not surprisingly, these images did not make it into mainstream national media but were shared via Twitter.

The eerie irony behind these charitable acts is that the Zetas are known for being one of the most cold-blooded criminal groups of the country, often resorting to torture and public displays of their victims.

On the other side of the country, in Tampico in the northern state of Tamaulipas, theCártel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel—CDG) took to the streets on Christmas Eve and handed out gifts, food and money. The CDG had the gall to parade in pickup trucks and set up different distribution points throughout the city, never fearing an attack from the authorities. In what would seem like a well-thought-out, below the line marketing strategy, they recorded, edited and uploaded videos that later went viral on YouTube.

One of the videos shows pickup trucks outside of hospitals, the main bus station and other parts of the city, distributing food bags and giftwrapped boxes. The crowds gather around and some of the cartel members try to organize the distribution as if they are conducting an aid campaign. The clip then transitions to another part of the city, outside of a public clinic, where members of the CDG deliver dozens of pizza boxes to people who not only thank them for the gift, but even organize to yell out a “hip, hip, hooray”-style cheer: “A la bio, a la  bao, a la bim bom ba, ¡el Cártel del Golfo, ra, ra, ra!”

The video shows how children run to these criminals with smiles on their faces and exchange a thank you for a plastic toy trinket. Unbeknownst to them, the toy was bought with blood and drug money. The fact that parents would let their kids get close to the cartel members is the perfect illustration of how engrained organized crime has become in underprivileged communities in parts of Mexico.

The larger problem is not that the cartels have the audacity to do these charity runs. The real and critical situation is that, given their lack of opportunities to survive otherwise, abandoned communities have embraced the cartels and come to regard them as semi-gods and role models. Mexico has become a place where, inside a posh shopping mall in Mexico City, a soccer mom can tell her kids to take a picture with Santa Claus, while a less privileged mother might invite her own children to ask the nice drug dealer for a handout.

What an unfair situation to put a kid in. What a terrible way to sentence our children’s futures.

The United States’ Limited View of the War on Drugs

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “The United States’ Limited View of the War on Drugs”, published on April 6th, 2010.
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1418

Here is a copy of it:

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It took the deaths of two American citizens and the husband of a diplomatic employee—all tied to the U.S. Consulate inCiudad Juarez—for the Obama administration to apparently take notice ofMexico’s drug problem. Still, it seems that even the rhetoric fromWashington will limit itself as much as it can to address this crisis as long as the bloodshed continues to hit outside ofU.S. national borders.

On March 14all the headlines focused on the targeting of U.S. Consulate employees in the border town ofCiudad Juarez, which has become one of the main stages for drug-related violence in the recent years. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quick to respond to these attacks in an unusual address on a topic that had been left off the agenda until recently.

It seems that as long as the victims of drug-related violence did not carry U.S.passports, the Obama administration only cared enough to issue petty warnings to American tourists not to visit our country. Yet when Enriquez, Redelffs and Salcido were gunned down President Barack Obama told the world he was outraged and promised a quick response to the issue. Clinton said that “this is a responsibility we must shoulder together” and subsequently made an official visit toMexico 10 days later. There, she met with key officials in Calderón’s administration to work on a joint solution to the problem.

The promise of a shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration on (in this blogger’s view at least) a problem generally created by the most profitable market for the drug trade filledMexico’s hopes. But we were reminded of former Mexican President Porfirio Díaz’ famous quote “Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to theUnited States.”Clinton’s visit toMexicoturned out to be yet another example of quick and shallow politics to diffuse a media situation, instead of addressing the real problem head-on.

Reminding us of the $1.4 billion investment the U.S. is making over three years in “a thus-far unsuccessful effort to crush cartels who ship $40 billion worth of illegal drugs north each year” Clinton came to Mexico to accept part of the blame of this problem by saying that the U.S. should crack down on gun control. “These criminals are outgunning law enforcement officials […] And since we know that the vast majority, 90 percent of that [weaponry] comes from our country, we’re going to try to stop it from getting there in the first place,” Clinton said. As always, the question ofU.S. consumption was marginally addressed and no specific strategy to decrease it was put on the table.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, President Calderón said that as long as the largest market for these illicit products is not willing to discuss alternative solutions (such as legalization), debate over these strategies in source countries is futile. Both Calderón and Porfirio Díaz’ words hit right on target.

As long as the Obama administration continues to look at the problems brewing south of theU.S.border as something of marginal importance—deeming his attention only when theU.S.media cares enough to cover the death of Americans—Mexicois left alone to deal with this growing hot topic. $1.4 billion and a promise on gun control are just not going to cut it.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.