Money, Guns, and Drugs: What's Fueling the Violence in Mexico

Written by Michael Braun


March 12, 2009
By Michael Braun

Today I testified before the Subcommittee on National Security & Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the escalating violence in Mexico. My viewpoint arises from my 34 years in law enforcement and as a U.S. Marine. I served for almost four years as the Assistant Administrator and Chief of Operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and for one year as the Agency's Acting Chief of Intelligence.

I also served in a number of DEA offices throughout the United States, including service on both our Southern and Northern borders, on both our East and West Coasts, in the Midwest, as well as two years in various countries in Latin America.

Here are several paragraphs of that testimony, and you can download it in its entirety here.
Drug related violence is nothing new to Mexico, but the intensity and duration of hostility currently ongoing in Mexico is unmatched by any experienced in the past. Why? Because President Calderon and his Administration had the courage to admit that the Mexican drug cartels had become so powerful that they challenged the authority of the Mexican government at all levels, and were becoming more powerful than their government's security institutions. The cartels had successfully destabilized democratic governance and eroded political stability, which is exactly what they had worked hard to achieve for many years.

The Calderon Administration was even more courageous when they developed and implemented a long-term strategy to take back Mexico from the traffickers. When this strategy was implemented, the cartels were already feuding amongst themselves for lucrative turf, as they had so many times in the past. When the cartels came under simultaneous attack by the full weight of Mexico's security forces, over 45,000 Mexican military personnel bolstered by the country's federal law enforcement services, they began to lash out like never before. There were over 6,000 drug related murders in Mexico in 2008, and 530 Mexican law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, of which 493 were drug-related homicides. To put that into context, 140 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2008, of which 41 were killed by gunfire.

The level of brutality exhibited by the Mexican cartels and their assassination teams exceeds anything we have witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past. The number of beheadings last year alone numbered about 200, and some of those were police officers. The head of one police officer was actually impaled on a spike on top of a wall in front of a police station with a note stuffed in the mouth warning the police to show more ‘respect' for the traffickers. Traffickers have actually broken into the communications network of law enforcement in the Tijuana area to broadcast the identity of the next round of law enforcement officers to be targeted for assassination, only to find the bullet riddled bodies of those officers on the streets of Tijuana a few hours later.

Which takes us back to the question, "Why?" Roughly 90% of all the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana consumed in our Country enter the United States from Mexico. The money generated by the cartels' global drug trafficking is staggering. The United Nations estimates that the drug trade between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada generates about $147 billion dollars annually, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) estimates that our fellow citizens here in the U.S. spend about $65 billion dollars annually to satisfy their insatiable appetite for drugs. The United Nations estimates that the entire global drug trade generates about $322 billion dollars annually. No other illicit global market comes close to those numbers. The National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that somewhere between $8 - $24 billion dollars in ‘bulk currency' alone transits our Country each year destined for the cartels' coffers in Mexico-ultimately smuggled across our Southwest Border.
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