The Cartels: The Story of Mexico's Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U.S. Security

By Bunker, Robert J. | Parameters, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

The Cartels: The Story of Mexico's Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U.S. Security


Bunker, Robert J., Parameters


The Cartels: The Story of Mexico's Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U.S. Security

By George W. Grayson

Santa Barbara: Praeger Security International, 2013

328 pages

$63.00

The Cartels, written by George Grayson, a noted expert on Mexico and Emeritus Professor at the College of William & Mary, is a no-holds barred expose of the criminal violence, corruption, and crisis of governance gripping Mexico. The author has over two-hundred research trips to Latin America, two recent books on the topic--one focusing on Los Zetas (2012; with Sam Logan) and the other on narco-violence and Mexican failed state potentials (2010)--and three recent US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, monographs concerning La Familia cartel (2010), the rise of vigilantism (2011), and Felipe Calderon's policies influencing the Mexican armed forces (2013). The reviewer, having read all of these more specialized works, can see where material has been drawn from them for this new endeavor. This book, in fact, can be considered Dr. Grayson's production of a more generalized work on the subject much akin to Sylvia Longmire's Cartel (2011), Paul Rexton Kan's Cartels at War (2012), and loan Grillo's El Narco (2012).

The work, which was published at the end of 2013, draws upon very up-to-date Spanish and English language works, interviews, and email correspondence providing as current a picture as possible when it went to press. It is composed of preface and acknowledgements, introduction, ten chapters, thirteen appendices, notes, selected bibliography, and an index. Its chapters can be grouped into four basic themes, each of which will be discussed in turn. The first theme, comprising the introduction and Chapter 1, is that of the historical era when drug traffickers were subordinate to an autocratic state. It begins with the story of Mexican president Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) successors through Ernesto Zedillo (ending Nov 2000). The rise of Miguel "El Padrino" Gallardo and the relationship of traffickers to the government are also discussed along with the fact that, if the rules were not followed, enforcer teams would be dispatched from Mexico City to levy PRI extra-judicial justice. The second theme, comprising Chapters 2-4, is that of the transitional era in Colombia, South Florida, and Mexico when the fortunes of the Colombian cartels waned and the Mexican cartels become ascendant. It chronicles the shift in cocaine flow from Florida to Mexico and then provides information on the Gulf, Los Zetas, Sinaloa, Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), Juarez, La Familia (Knights Templars), and Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) cartels. Also covered is the National Action Party (PAN) policy shift--under Vicente Fox (Dec 2000-Nov 2006)--of no longer sending out governmental kill-teams to punish traffickers who got out of line. The resulting second-order effects, along with other factors, inadvertently contributed to the power balance reversal between the cartels and the federal government.

The third theme, comprising Chapters 5-6, focuses on the Calderon era (Dec 2006-Nov 2012). It is one of direct confrontation, with the cartels spurred on by the increasing national security threat they represented to the Mexican state. This second PAN administration's approach, one with a kingpin strategy focus, reliance on the armed forces, and close coordination with the United States, is highlighted. The experiences of the Mexican military are also chronicled; as a mission for which they were ill prepared to undertake as well as the impacts, including human rights abuses, this has had on Mexican society. Military engagements (firelights and arrests) with municipal and state police forces in the pay of the cartels are also detailed. …

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