More Pyrrhic Victories in Mexico’s Drug War

The New York Times reports today that Mexican authorities have arrested a major operative of the Sinaloa Cartel, adding to a string of significant blows against Mexico’s most important drug organization. The Felipe Calderón administration now boasts that since 2009, it has arrested or killed 22 of the 39 most important drug kingpins.

Is this significant? Not according to official documents of the U.S. government. The Office of Intelligence and Operations Coordination of the Custom and Border Protection agency looked at drug seizure data from January 2009 to January 2010 and matched it with the arrest or death of drug operatives (11 capos in total). It found that “there is no perceptible pattern that correlates either a decrease or increase in drug seizures due to the removal of key DTO [drug trafficking organization] personnel.”

And, as the latest National Drug Threat Assessment report by the Justice Department puts it, “The overall availability of illicit drugs in the United States is increasing. Heroin, marijuana, MDMA [ecstasy], and methamphetamine are readily available, and their availability appears to be increasing in some markets.” [p. 24]

The truth is that for every drug kingpin arrested or killed, there are many others waiting to take his job. As long as there is demand for drugs in the United States, there will be a supply. The question is whether that business should be in the hands of legal entrepreneurs—as in the alcohol and tobacco industries—or in the hands of violent criminals.