What happens if Mexico settles with the cartels?

The U.S. Department of Defense defines irregular warfare as “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations.” By this definition, Mexico is fighting an irregular war. The Mexican government’s campaign against the drug cartels is far more than a law enforcement problem; the two sides are engaged in a violent struggle for influence over the Mexican population.

Four years after Mexican President Felipe Calderón threw 80,000 soldiers at the cartels, their businesses remain as strong as ever. According to the Los Angeles Times, the overall drug trade continues to flourish, bringing in by one estimate $39 billion a year to the Mexican economy, equal to 4.5 percent of Mexico’s economic output in 2009.

The cartels, formerly just smuggling businesses operating largely out of sight, have evolved into political insurgents, and Calderón has openly wondered whether the Mexican state will survive.


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