What Will Become of Mexico in 2010?


As 2010 unfolds Mexico’s future hangs heavily in the minds of its citizens. The end of 2009 seemed exceptionally bloody. A series of events are unfolding that hold unpredictable outcomes for Felipe Calderon’s administration and Mexico. The killing of drug cartel boss Arturo Beltran-Leyva in December and the revenge killings of the family of a marine who died while storming Leyva’s luxury condo in Cuernavaca loom large. Also, the recent capture of Leyva’s brothers in Sinaloa. Mexican officials already know that the dismantling of the Leyva cartel will only escalate the violence further. So, what exactly is the endgame?

More than 15,000 have died in drug-related violence since Felipe Calderon took office three years ago. Each week there are more decapitations, more kidnappings, and more grotesque murders. The blood soaked news headlines can’t keep up with the body counts.

Friends and family in Mexico used to take solace in the view that the kidnappings and killings were isolated events that only happened to those involved in the drug trade.

That old view is disappearing. It’s being replaced by fear and a nagging insecurity. These days being in the wrong place at the wrong time can get you killed. The Mexican Army shoots with impunity and cartels exact their revenge in the streets. Innocent bystanders, many of them children, are routinely killed. Shortly before Christmas on the international bridge crossing into Laredo, a 27-year-old was killed and two others were injured while waiting in line. They were caught in the middle of a shootout between the Mexican Army and cartel members.

Many educated Mexicans who have the means to leave are choosing exile. A friend tells me her family is selling their ranch in Durango. The ranch has belonged to their family for generations. They plan on moving to New Mexico. These days in Durango, Chapo Guzman’s Gulf  Sinaloa Cartel ( Thanks to commenter gtodon. Mixed up my cartel bosses) rules the night. My friend and her family haven’t been able to get to their ranch at the edge of the city for more than a month because they are too scared.

Armed men from the cartel have taken up residence on the neighboring ranches. It’s not unusual to see pickup trucks of masked men carrying assault rifles. One day, a dead body lay on the side of the road. No one dared stop.

“I hope I am doing the right thing,” my friend’s mother told me about selling the ranch. I could hear the note of sorrow and regret in her voice. But my friend has a 4-year old and a 4-month-old baby. She doesn’t want to raise her daughters in a climate of fear where kidnappings and killings are becoming a daily occurrence.

And this is an even greater tragedy for Mexico. Besides an ailing economy and a drug war, Mexico is losing its educated class.

How can Mexico or the United States ever see victory in the battle against the cartels? I include the United States in this mess because it creates the market for the drugs and the weapons used by the cartels.

A recent web article in the Wall Street Journal lays out the drug business in cold hard facts.

“Because governments make drugs illegal, the risk associated with transporting them translates to high rewards for those willing to take that risk. The wholesale price of a single kilo of cocaine, for instance, costs $1,200 in Colombia, $2,300 in Panama, $8,300 in Mexico, and between $15,000 and $25,000 in the U.S., depending on how close you are to the Mexican border. At a retail level on the streets of New York, it can run close to $80,000. With markups like that, the business is bound to keep attracting new entrants, no matter what governments do to stop it.”

This year, Forbes magazine listed Mexican drug cartel boss Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman as No. 401 on the world’s list of billionaires. With the promise of billions in profits, if Guzman or Leyva is killed, there will always be someone willing to take their place.

In the same article, the author David Luhnow floats an interesting solution to the endless War on Drugs: the legalization of marijuana. It’s somewhat of a surprise to see such an idea expressed by the conservative WSJ but it is at least partly a logical solution to the mess. Unless North Americans and Europeans are ready to stop getting high ( Do we really believe that will ever happen?) Then what other options are there?

“Advocates for drug legalization say making marijuana legal would cut the economic clout of Mexican cartels by half. Marijuana accounts for anywhere between 50% to 65% of Mexican cartel revenues, say Mexican and U.S. officials. While cocaine has higher profit margins, marijuana is a steady source of income that allows cartels to meet payroll and fund other activities.”

If the U.S. and Mexico don’t do something radically different in 2010 then both countries risk Mexico’s fragile state of balance. I don’t believe in the sensationalistic “failed state” premise but I do believe a seismic shift will take place.

In 2010, Mexico will celebrate two meaningful anniversaries: The 100-year anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution and the bicentennial of the battle for Mexico’s independence.

Mexico has a penchant for monumental social upheaval on the 10th year of every century. I was reminded of this reading Journalist John Ross’ new book “El Monstruo” on the history of Mexico City.  Ross who has lived in Mexico for decades warns of the “Curse of the Centennial.” He writes:

“The Mexican metabolism seems to schedule massive social upheaval on the tenth year of each new century – Hidalgo in 1810, Diaz’s fall in 1910. As I write this, a few hundred days away from the bicentennial of independence and the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans are peering into the future and wondering what the stars might have in store.”

What might 2010 have in store for Mexico? I hope peace is somewhere in the equation. I want to remain optimistic for my family’s sake and for Mexico’s sake.