Arrests Can’t Win The Drug War

Mexico has captured Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the ruthless leader of the infamous Los Zetas drug cartel. Juan Carlos Hidalgo expects little to change:

Sylvia Longmire and Alejandro Hope have good analyses [in Spanish] on what the capture of Treviño will mean in the near and medium term to the Zetas and to the configuration of organized crime in Mexico. Overall, we should expect a spike in violence as the Zetas might splinter into several violent “cartelitos” which will fight one another for control of territory. Also, we might see a renewed effort from the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán to challenge the Zeta’s control of the lucrative Nuevo Laredo transit route.

But isn’t the ultimate goal of the war on cartels to stop the flow of drugs into the United States? Should we expect a decline in the smuggling of narcotics after the arrest of Treviño?

No, according to reports from the U.S. government itself. 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 arrests or deaths 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.”

Peter Watt agrees that little will change:

Treviño’s arrest will surely be a temporary blow to the organisational structure of Los Zetas. But so long as the conditions that allow organised crime to prosper in Mexico – paradoxically as a result of the so-called drug war – and so long as investors, banks, politicians and drug cartels share an interest in militarisation and conflict enveloping different parts of the country, we would be naïve to think that this latest capture of a capo represents much more than a job opening at the top of a very profitable enterprise.

James Gibney’s bottom line:

While it’s good that Mexican Marines have arrested a guy who liked to stuff his enemies in 55-gallon drums and set them on fire, in the short run his capture may lead to more, rather than less, violence.