Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings Institution, 9/23/2010
The past weeks in Mexico have brought a series of heart-wrenching events: the massacre of migrants in Tamaulipas, car bombs, continuing assassination of mayors, investigators, prosecutors, and journalists, mass graves, narcoblocades and shoot-outs in Monterrey. The escalating violence has claimed more than 28,000 people over the past four years, is expanding geographically, and shows little sign of abating even in the hotspots, such as Cuidad Juarez. Despite the deployment of the military, police reform efforts, and occasional spectacular arrests of top capos, the drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) give little indication that they are anywhere near burnout. They continue in their violent contestation over reestablishment of territories, smuggling routes, corruption networks, and influence over other illegal and informal economies.
Increasingly, voices in Mexico, including some highly influential ones, such as former President Vicente Fox, are calling for legalization, especially of marijuana. Yet it is doubtful that legalization under the current conditions would necessarily reduce the violence and weaken the DTOs. In fact, it could exacerbate violence and paradoxically increase the DTOs’ political power.