Interview with Mexico Drug War expert Sylvia Longmire
Question: First, could you please briefly explain who you are and what you do?
Sylvia Longmire: I’m a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and also a former senior border security analyst for the State of California. I’m currently a consultant, freelance writer, and author on Mexico’s drug war.
Q: For readers with little or knowledge of what is going on down in Mexico, could you lay out some of the basics of the situation?
SL: Right now, Mexican drug trafficking organizations, or DTOs, are the number one source for illegal drugs consumed by Americans. Because illegal drugs command such high prices on the black market, manufacturing and distributing these drugs to American consumers is a highly profitable business. Currently, there are seven major DTOs in Mexico fighting each other and the Mexican government for control of the drug smuggling routes that DTOs use to move drugs from their source to American consumers across the southwest border. The fighting between DTOs and with Mexican government forces has resulting in escalating violence since President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006. The violence includes beheadings, public hangings of corpses, mutilation and torture, mass killings, grenade attacks, and shootings in public places with high-powered weapons.
right now. Why is it so complex?
SL: The situation in Acapulco is complex because there is more than one DTO fighting for control of that drug smuggling area, and those DTOs are themselves going through organizational changes. One of them, the Cartel Pacifico del Sur, split off from another major DTO, the Sinaloa Federation, a few years ago, and just recently split in half itself. The name is even new, as it used to be known as the Beltrán Leyva Organization, and also goes by two other names – “El H” and “La Empresa.” Keeping track of who’s doing the smuggling and who’s killing whom gets very complicated when so many DTO players are involved in just one corridor.
Q: How much effect do the cartels in Mexico have for us north of the border? How much effect do we have on them?
SL: DTOs operating in Mexico have a huge presence here in the United States, but most of us don’t know it. They’re actually active in more than 270 U.S. cities, and hundreds more small communities and towns. They use local gangs across the country to distribute drugs for them, and Mexican DTOs even grow marijuana in U.S. National Parks and National Forests. As a result of their proximity in Mexico and their infiltration of our communities, they have become America’s biggest supplier of illegal drugs. Because they’re so in tune with our drug market, Mexican DTOs are impacted by – and usually respond well to – changes in consumer demand. Cocaine demand has steadily gone down over the past several years, but demand for high-potency marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine has gone up. DTOs have made adjustments to their production and cocaine imports from South America to account for these changes.
SL: I think legalization of marijuana would make a financial difference in DTO profits, but would not end the drug war. DTOs are making a lot of money from the production, distribution and sale of other illegal drugs, as well as from kidnapping and extortion operations. They could also ostensibly go into the legal marijuana business, although the profits would be smaller. Just like organized crime groups in the U.S. didn’t go out of business after Prohibition ended, DTOs will still be around if marijuana were ever legalized. As far as legislation and policy goes, I think most of the pro-gun-lobby-backed legislation that limits what the ATF can do needs to be repealed so we can attack the southbound weapons trafficking problem head-on, starting with the Tiahrt Amendment. I think more resources – specifically money and trained people – need to go to border agencies like the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the ATF, etc. But before those resources are distributed, the Department of Homeland Security needs to take a realistic look at what and where the need are. I think DHS management in Washington is too far removed from the border, and doesn’t fully comprehend the challenges along the border and what it takes to meet them head on. I also think both the U.S. and Mexican governments need to stop treating the Mexican DTOs like criminals and start regarding them as hybrid organizations, a cross between organized crime, insurgency, and terrorist groups.
Q: Is there anything specific you think readers need to know regarding the cartels which we have not covered?
SL: Readers need to know that the drug war south of the border affects everyone in the U.S., no matter where we live. DTOs use our highways to transport drugs to every U.S. state. They grow illegal drugs on our taxpayer-funded public lands, and they kidnap and kill people on U.S. soil. Worse yet, they use violent American street gangs to sell illegal drugs to our kids, our brothers and sisters, cousins, parents, coworkers, and friends. All of us have to pay attention to what’s going on if we’re ever going to successfully work with the Mexican government to stop it.
Thank you Sylvia for the eye opening interview. For more information, please visit her blog.