Sylvia Longmire worked as a senior intelligence analyst for the California state fusion center and the California Emergency Management Agency’s Situational Awareness Unit, focusing almost exclusively on Mexican drug trafficking organizations and southwest border violence issues. For the last six years, she has regularly lectured on terrorism in Latin America at the Air Force Special Operations School’s Dynamics of International Terrorism course. She has packaged some of her knowledge on the US-Mexico drug war in Cartel.
When the publisher offered me a copy of the book to review, it caught my eye because of last year’s travel warnings about violence in Mexico. From news reports, it seemed that the violence around the drug wars had spilled over into previously safe tourist areas. Longmire theorizes that the Mexican cartels are behaving more like the Colombian cartels and combining traditional criminal activity with insurgency against the government, military, and law enforcement.
The big insight I picked up from the book is the US contributions to the Drug War. There is the obvious contribution of cash from the purchasers of the drugs. The other big contribution is guns. Lots and lots of guns. The easiest source of weaponry for the Mexican cartels is at the lax gun shops in the southwestern United States. At one end you have the very strict gun sale laws in California. At the other, you have the gun-friendly state of Texas, with a limited background checks, no waiting periods, and no license requirement. There is little inspection on the way south into Mexico to stop the flow of guns.
Longmire paints a bleak picture for the future of Mexico. Even the current enforcement by Mexican president Felipe Calderon seem to have mere displaced the violence into other areas of Mexico. This week’s Economist put together a great infographic showing the huge number of murders and the changes in murder rates throughout Mexico.
It’s probably not fair to Longmire that I read Cartel after just finishing Michael Lewis’s Boomerang. Lewis is master of weaving his thesis around characters to create a coherent narrative. Longmire’s narrative reads more like a collection of blog posts. What I found lacking was detail on the major cartels themselves. Longmire provides only a little insight to the people behind them and their history.
If you have even a passing interest on Mexican violence, Cartel is worth a few hours of your time.