ORGANIZED CRIME SYNDICATES are modern enemies of democracy that relentlessly engage in kidnapping and assassination of political figures, and traffic not only in addictive and lethal substances, but also increasingly in human beings. To create an environment conducive to success in their criminal interests, they engage in heinous acts intended to instill fear, promote corruption, and undermine democratic governance by undercutting confidence in government. They assassinate or intimidate political figures and pollute democratic processes through bribes and graft in cities along both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In the long term, such actions erode individual civil liberties in America and Mexico by undermining both governments' abilities to maintain societies in which the full exercise of civil liberties is possible. This danger is ominously evident on the Mexican side of the border, where 86 percent of those responding to a poll in Mexico City in 2004 said they would support government restrictions of their civil rights in order to dismantle organized crime, and another 67 percent said militarizing the police force would be the only way to accomplish this.1 These views suggest that an extremely unhealthy sociopolitical environment is evolving at America's very doorstep. We should see this not as a collateral issue associated with the War on Terrorism, but as a national security issue deserving of the same level of interest, concern, and resourcing as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article provides an ethnographic analysis of narco-terrorism, narcocorruption, and human trafficking in the northern states of Mexico, and an overview of Mexican organized crime and its destabilizing effect on Mexico's attempts to create a functioning, uncorrupt democracy.
The Legacy of Spanish Conquest and Revolution
Mexico's territorial confines were the site of advanced Native American civilizations dating from well before the beginning of what archeologists now refer to as the Common Era. "Mexico" itself comes from the Aztec word mejica. The Aztecs were a relatively late-developing indigenous civilization that came to dominate the key central region of the area. From the late 15th century they aggressively expanded their territory through military conquest until the arrival of a Spanish military contingent in 1530. Almost immediately after the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztec's hegemony in the region collapsed. Disease, dissatisfaction among the Aztecs with their monarchy, and superstitions regarding the arrival of white Europeans (seen as returning gods) combined to undermine Aztec religious and political authority. In an astonishingly short time, the conquerors became the conquered, succumbing to the technologically superior Spanish forces led by Hernando Cortez. Shortly thereafter, Spain absorbed Mexico into the Spanish empire, and Mexico remained under Spanish rule for nearly three centuries. Although Spanish became the national language and Roman Catholicism the virtual national religion, Mexican culture evolved as a liberal mix of Spanish practices, indigenous customs, and native religious traditions.2
Inspired by the Enlightenment ideals behind the American and French revolutions, Mexico declared independence from Spanish colonial rule at the end of the 18th century, and in 1810, it won its autonomy. However, political stability proved difficult to achieve, and Mexico underwent a series of revolutions, rigged elections, and other political misadventures.3 The nation was victimized by a war of expansion waged by the U.S. in 1848 and lost a significant amount of territory. French forces then occupied and annexed Mexico in 1863, holding dominion until they were thrown out in 1867. The Mexican people once more attempted to establish an independent state ruled by a pluralistic democracy, but suffered another setback when Porfirio Diaz came to power in 1876. This strongman assumed dictatorial powers and ruled for 35 years. …