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Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's…

Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars

by Sylvia Longmire

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Author is knowledgeable about the subject and relies on facts to tell her story. The story is very depressing with no clear trail for correcting ( )
  DeaconBernie | Apr 8, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
3.5 stars

“If there’s any kind of constant in the drug trade, it’s change. Mexican cartels are run like profit-seeking corporations; so when the market makes a move, so do they. Over the years, they have shown an amazing ability to adjust to both changing drug-consumer tastes and increasing law enforcement initiatives.” -Page 10

The long-running drug war in Mexico has gotten bigger and bloodier over the last couple of decades. It has exacted a huge toll on the people and resources of Mexico with thousands dead as a result of the violence. According to Sylvia Longmire’s book, that war is spreading very rapidly to the United States.

As a former senior intelligence analyst for the state of California and an often interviewed expert on news networks, Longmire knows her stuff. In Cartel, she does a thorough job of detailing the many overlapping aspects of the drug trade. From the locations in Central America, Mexico and the United States where illegal drugs are grown and harvested, to the elaborate distribution networks that move the drugs to users in Mexico and America, we get a complete tour of the carnage inflicted by the illegal drug trade that is run by the Mexican Cartels. Frankly, it can get pretty depressing at times.

Longmire expertly diagrams the emergence of the individual drug cartels in Mexico including details of their past cooperation and the historic complacency of the Mexican government. She then goes into the evolution of the cartels into their fractured, violent current forms and the bloody war that has resulted. Longmire also describes the controversial reformist stance of the new Mexican president Felipe Calderon and the impact on the Mexican people for better and worse. More chilling is her description of how the violence is moving into the United States, and not just the border states of the southwest. Longmire provides piles of statistics, but intersperses them with real-world stories of how people on both sides of the border are being affected.

That is not to say Cartel is flawless. Many of the stories and points from the first half of the book are repeated in the second half of the book. Longmire also brings up statistics that serve to contradict some of her own conclusions. Finally, she devotes the final part of the book to describing what needs to be done to improve the situation, but many of her remedies are somewhat vague or in a few cases, impossible.

In spite of its shortcomings, Cartel is very informative and represents and eye-opening expose on the real-world threats that are threatening the safely of innocent civilians. So the next time one of your friends says there is no harm in doing a little weed, you might want to hand them this book and let them know how much blood is on those drugs they are using.

My reviewed copy of Cartel was provided by the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. ( )
  csayban | Mar 11, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a minimally useful primer on some aspects of the battle between America and Mexico's drug cartels, particularly US policies and their flaws, the enormous challenge border monitors face combating drug trafficking, and some of the Mexican history that lead to the rise of narco warfare to begin with.

It taught me something I never knew before - like the fact that Mexican cartels have taken over numerous acres in US National parks and are attempting to grow marijuana there to avoid having to traffic drugs across the border. I can't even imagine the danger this puts hikers and tourists into if they stumble upon these plots (some so large they are worth millions of dollars after harvesting). But everything else felt very familiar to a regular newspaper reader like me.

It doesn't shed much light on the cartels themselves - it's not a good study of what drives their decisions, how they are organized, which aspects of the violence and commerce are strategic and which are just improvisation. I wish there was more insight into the cartels themselves, so news coverage of the events in Mexico and along the US border made more sense. It would have been helpful if Longmire had woven events from the news into her narrative more to help us orient Cartel activity with her descriptions of policies and agency roles more.

There's a superficiality to this book - few anecdotes (written so blandly I wondered if most of them were composites or hypothetical scenarios), almost all of which are from law enforcement officials describing their jobs, not much about the enemy, and descriptions of policy, agency duties and trafficking methods that don't go much deeper than government websites would provide as boilerplates - that prevents me from calling it indispensable for understanding the Cartels and US efforts to curb them.

The superficiality extends to the recommendations and insights Longmire offers - dismissing reducing demand out of hand as a fantasy, she proscribes relabeling the narcotraffickers as an insurgency, but doesn't make the case that would solve the problem versus just being something new to try. She speaks mostly favorably about legalizing marijuana (though I don't think she's a zealot about it), but I'm convinced that won't change the drug problem in Mexico one bit. After reading Methland by Nick Reading, which described how efficiently Mexican producers overtook American producers of methamphetamines, collapsing domestic production in less than a decade - I am convinced that Mexico will just become a Big Box Store for pot if it's legalized here - driving out those LA marijuana boutiques in less time than it took Wal-Mart to swallow mom and pop stores in the Midwest. Narcos will retain their stranglehold on Mexican youth, Mexican police and politics, and will have saved billions they had previously had to burn to smuggle the goods here. Legalizing pot will just save narcotraffickers the one check on their power they currently face. I can't imagine anything worse.

Any book on the subject of Mexican drug cartels is welcome now - the threat is growing faster than popular media can adapt to cover it. So this book serves a useful purpose - giving you the lay of the land and understanding some of what's happening. But I'm still waiting for the book that really unlocks how modern cartels operate, so readers can start thinking about surgical strikes we can make against the scourge of narco trafficking.

Edit: Many of the other LT reviews also complain that the book is not the deep dive into cartels that we expected. It may be that the title "Cartel," created those expectations, so we were disappointed to see that most of the sourcing and narratives were drawn from readily available government information from north of the border. ( )
1 vote spacecommuter | Dec 26, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars
By Sylvia Longmire
St. Martin's Press 246 pgs
Rating: Yeah....Okay + 1/2

As an introduction to the subject of Mexico's drug wars, Cartel does a good job. It tells you who they are, what they do, and how they do it. The book reads like a textbook and the data is impeccable. It comes alive at times with anecdotes but otherwise is pretty dry. The author, Sylvia Longmire, was an analyst for drug trafficking and border violence for the state of California, which is why Cartel sounds as if it was written by an analyst. I don't recommend it for someone who has been following the news and National Geographic or lives in a border state (I live in Texas and know a few people who have relatives in Mexico) because you won't learn anything you don't already know. But for beginners it is ideal.

The book begins with a short history of cartels in Mexico from their beginnings to the present day, names such as El Chapo, Arellano, Fuentes, Sinaloa and Los Zetas. Once upon a time a man named Gallardo was the king of the cartel. Then he broke up his own monopoly and created Baby Bell cartels with his people in charge. Seems to me that someone should have foreseen that the result would be competition, and that competition would lead to fights over smuggling corridors in the future. There was a time when the Mexican cartels followed the same creed as the Mafia in this country (not that the Mafia is a good thing.) They negotiated, family members were strictly off limits, violence against law enforcement was to be avoided and necessary violence was kept in-house. Sort of an honor among thieves thing. No more. The cartels in Mexico have flipped their lids. They kidnap, torture, kill and extort. Their victims are everybody. To make matters even worse, law enforcement in Mexico, from the local beat cop to the attorney general, are notoriously corrupt, paid off by the cartels to at best look the other way, and at worst perform an execution or two themselves.

And now these atrocities happen here. Phoenix has had such an increase in kidnappings that they have formed a special task force. Arms trafficking is a growing problem especially in Arizona and Texas which have the most lenient state laws. Straw buyers visit gun shops and shows and purchase several firearms that they then deliver to the guy who will take the guns across the border. This is important because, believe it or not, guns are not easy to buy in Mexico. Serial number searches have proven the link between US firearms and deaths in Mexico and in this country.

The cartels are a business like any other, and as such look for efficiencies. One of these is using US public lands such as national parks to grow marijuana. This way they don't have to try and run the product across the border and risk detection. Two or three employees of the cartel will scout a location; set up camp, which can include generators, irrigation pipes, trip-wires, etc. They are armed and will live with and protect the crop from planting through harvest and processing. Our park rangers and law enforcement are up against much more dangerous criminals than have historically been encountered in our parks. So this is another way that the drug war is spreading north from our border.

Presidents of Mexico and their administrations have failed miserably in the past to crack down on the cartels. But in 2006 Felipe Calderon was elected president and he immediately announced a new policy. He would bring the fight to the cartels with the Mexican Army. He deployed thousands of soldiers, then he fired large numbers of state and local law enforcement for corruption. New officers are hired only after they pass a lie detector test. Judicial reforms have been implemented to make the process transparent to encourage in the public more faith in the system. President Calderon has also floated novel legislation to ease up on criminal penalties for users in the hopes that the drug prices would drop and become less lucrative for the cartels. The jury is still out.

The author puts forward a few strategies and tactics to lessen the flow of drugs into the United States and lessen the danger of the fallout of Mexico's drug wars. She says we need to learn to manage a war that we can't win. We should send more money to the right places, increase use of the National Guard, change some of our own drug and gun laws, etc. Those last two will realistically never be done.

President Calderon has about a billion strikes against him and those strikes are dollar bills. Consider what he's up against. Cartel chiefs have been listed in Forbes magazine's list of the world's top billionaires and Forbes world's most powerful people. Check out El Chapo Which brings up an interesting point. The truth is that the cartels incomes are larger than Mexico's defense budget. Larger. More money than the government. There's an event coming up in 2012 in Mexico which I cannot stress enough the significance. Mexico elects a new president next year. I'll be watching with great interest because cartel influence will make or break the next presidency. ( )
1 vote TexasBookLover | Dec 21, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I asked for this book because I am not really familiar with the involvement of Mexican cartels in the US drug trade. It was an easy read, written in a journalistic style. For the most part, I thought it was a good introduction to the various issues affecting U.S. (and Mexican) law enforcement in their continuing struggle against increasingly violent and lawless drug cartels based in Mexico.

Like other such books, it was organized by topic, and it included a reasonably helpful index, a bibliography and a very important list of acronyms (the alphabet soup of the various Federal agencies working on cross-border drug and gun trade is dizzying).

There are a couple of mild critiques I had of this book.

1) It seemed overly simplistic in some ways. Although I don't know a lot about the drug trade or about cartels or about Mexican law enforcement and institutional organization, a lot of what she said seemed too much like what my common sense already assumed to be true.

2) I thought she was at her best in her mild critiques of existing policies that are wasteful/harmful (she described the gun lobby's fight against ATF and how it affected ATF's ability to do its job, for example), but I thought she was VERY mild in her critiques and not sufficiently visionary as to some possibilities like legalization being workable. She thinks legalization of marijuana might help in several ways, and she makes good arguments to this effect, but is under the impression that that's just not going to happen, whereas from my (admittedly not great) knowledge on the issue marijuana legalization is fast gaining support in the US and could be totally politically feasible, particularly if the Feds were not so focused on enforcing Fed law over local state law where marijuana has been partly legalized. The gun lobby issue is the other main issue where I thought her remarks were a little too timid.

3) Her style was fine overall, but once in a while it sounded too "internetty" (use of words like "snarky" for example) and I thought this made her seem less serious as an expert source.

Overall, I learned a fair amount from this book and am glad I read it. I will look for a library to donate it to - perhaps a school library would be the best bet. ( )
1 vote anna_in_pdx | Dec 14, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0230111378, Hardcover)

Having followed Mexico's cartels for years, border security expert Sylvia Longmire takes us deep into the heart of their world to witness a dangerous underground that will do whatever it takes to deliver drugs to a willing audience of American consumers. The cartels have grown increasingly bold in recent years, building submarines to move up the coast of Central America and digging elaborate tunnels that both move drugs north and carry cash and U.S. high-powered assault weapons back to fuel the drug war. Channeling her long experience working on border issues, Longmire brings to life the very real threat of Mexican cartels operating not just along the southwest border, but deep inside every corner of the United States. She also offers real solutions to the critical problems facing Mexico and the United States, including programs to deter youth in Mexico from joining the cartels and changing drug laws on both sides of the border.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:13 -0400)

Having followed Mexico's cartels for years, border security expert Sylvia Longmire takes us deep into the heart of their world to witness a dangerous underground that will do whatever it takes to deliver drugs to a willing audience of American consumers.… (more)

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