Since 2006, when the Mexican drug war began, perhaps 150,000 people have either been killed or disappeared. Very few of these murders have ever been prosecuted. Even the number of dead is controversial, and it is possible that the true figure is much higher. The Mexican government has had significant successes recently, such as the capture on February 25, 2015 of La Tuta, the head of the Knights Templar in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Still, as quickly as one cartel is destroyed, a new one emerges to take its place. In this particular case, the New Generation cartel is quickly filling the space vacated by the Knights Templar. If anything, the level of violence against the state seems to be increasing.
The New Generation cartel is currently engaged in low intensity warfare against the police in Jalisco. Robert Beckhusen has a great post on the War is Boring blog that describes an ambush of a state police patrol by the New Generation cartel that left 15 police dead, and five injured. This was a large, well-planned attack that involved gunmen from ten different vehicles in a head-on assault on the state. The security forces were cut-off, surrounded, and cut to pieces. This attack on the police was the largest this year, but certainly not the only one. At the same time, the New Generation cartel is moving into Michoacan, where is it is battling against the remnants of the Knights Templar to take over their drug trading routes.
This violence serves to make the point that this conflict cannot be ended by military force alone. After Colombia successfully weakened its drug cartels in the 1990s, the trade shifted to Mexico. If Mexico were capable of further undermining its drug cartels, the trade would shift to weaker states, probably in Central America. In 1933 the United States dealt with the violence spawned by illegal liquor by ending Prohibition, by means of the 21st amendment to the Constitution. After decades of fighting, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and countless billions of dollars, the best solution to the drug violence in Latin America remains a public health approach to the drug problem in the United States. The Portuguese example shows what can be done.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University