Reprinted with perimission from James Bosworth, of Bloggings by Boz.
One of the regular critiques of the Mexican government's offensive against the drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and of fighting organized crime in the hemisphere in general is that it's a game of "Whac-a-mole." We'll see that come up again this week with the reported successful operation against La Familia leader Nazario "El Mas Loco" Moreno. The conventional wisdom is that hitting the cartel leaders only leads to new cartel leaders emerging.
[When countries go after organized criminal leaders, pundits accuse them of playing a worthless game of whac-a-mole. When they go after lower level criminals in the organization's structure, pundits accuse them of ignoring the real criminals. It's easy and fun to be a pundit, but I digress...]
However, as Gancho and others have noted, Mexico has whacked a lot of moles this year. At the very least, they've gotten "Moreno, Nacho Coronel, La Barbie, Sergio Villarreal, Teo García, Tony Tormenta, and Arturo Beltrán" among others. Additionally, there are indications that the pressure has increased on some of the other top-level leadership in the criminal organizations.
With good reason, most analysts focus on the violence suffered by the Mexican population due to the ongoing conflict this year. But let's face it, 2010 wasn't an easy year to be a drug lord either. The Mexican military, particularly the Navy, increased the pressure and the rivalries among the DTOs became more intense and more violent, particularly anything involving the Zetas.
It's easy to point out the flaws of the whac-a-mole strategy, but played well, it sucks to be the mole. Also, in spite of the standard narrative, criminal leadership doesn't spring from nowhere to take the place of a fallen capo. These leaders have years of experience, connections, institutional knowledge and publicity. The Mexican government taking out multiple high value targets within a few months degrades the DTOs' capabilities and organizational structure in a way that's not easily replaceable.
Unlike the moles in the arcade game, these are intelligent and adaptable organizations. They may have had a profitable year, but did not have a good year in 2010 as they faced violence and pressure. If 2011 looks like 2010, the bad guys are going to change their strategy so they can survive long enough to enjoy their profits. Do the DTOs change countries or transit routes? Do they downsize their organizations or their own rich lifestyles to attract less attention from authorities? Do they merge or split? Do they find new ways to attack and terrorize the state or the population as a response to the pressure? Do they try to make a deal with the state?
I'm not sure which direction they'll change next year, but I do know that the moles did not enjoy how the game was played this year. From their end, as they think about strategy moving forward, something has to change. The Mexican government should be prepared.