What is interesting to me about this response to the death of El Lazca is not the usual platitudes about how we are winning the struggle against drug trafficking organizations through the decapitation strategy, but that the State Department’s top narcotics official, William Brownfield, seems to tacitly accept a Pax Mafiosa. To wit:

“Second, the Zetas are being devoured by the two other principal cartels, the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa cartel who, in a marriage from hell, have got together to decimate the Zetas.”

Brownfield said that as a consequence of this two-sided assault, the most formidable narcotics organisation in Mexico, is now in its death throes.

“I lived through this with the Medellin and the Cali cartels and I think I know what the death throttle of a dying drug cartel sounds like, and it sounds like indiscriminate killing and … a decapitation of your command and control so 19 year-old kids with virtually no education whatsoever are making decisions. It sounds like parts of the organisation turning on other parts of the organisation,” the US diplomat said.

“You take them down one by one. You don’t try to take on all organised crime at the same time and you whittle them down until the target has been neutralised and to a large extent killed off by fellow criminals. And then you pick your next target and you do that two or three times and then eventually the law of market economics come into play and the criminal organisation says [this is getting] really expensive … and they say let’s go do business somewhere else,” Brownfield said.

“That is when Mexico will become a much more peaceful and livable country. My own view is we are already crossed the point of return. It will probably be two years before we know for sure, but my own view is that we hit that turning point during the course of this year in Mexico.”

While Brownfield’s suggestion is that anti-cartel strategies focus on the winners of inter-cartel struggles, it is functionally incoherent policy. His metric for success (decreasing violence) would be best achieved by Sinaloa cartel hegemony, and there is zero reason to believe that enforcement pressures could ever outweigh the market incentives that sustain the drug trafficking organizations operating in Mexico (As the article notes, Calderón’s campaign has neither raised street prices nor reduced the northward flow of drugs). It also merits comment that, despite Brownfield’s assertions, the Zetas are hardly the chief trafficking concern; to target them over Sinaloa is to seemingly prioritize violence reduction over narcotics.

The possibility that Peña Nieto will oversee a reduction in drug war violence seems to be a real one. David Shirk has suggested as much, observing that as Sinaloa appears to be the only DTO left standing, the likelihood of a reduction in enforcement pressures as part of a Pax Mafiosa seems high.

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