This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 2 February 2017.
After a campaign of “sending rapists,” “deportation force,” “whip out that Mexican thing again,” and “bad hombres,” the Trump administration has moved from the theatrical to the practical in its first steps to build a new wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Prior to the inauguration, President Donald Trump’s transition team approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department about a new physical border. In his first week in office, Trump signed an executive order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to repair existing portions of the border fence and to build new sections as authorized by Congress in 2006. Although the new administration is clearly moving to fulfill its campaign promises, the results of a new physical barrier will likely have a counter-intuitive effect: Mexican drug cartels will grow stronger.
Since 2006, when the Mexican government declared war on the drug cartels, the United States has increased its law enforcement, military, and intelligence cooperation with its southern neighbor. With U.S. support, Mexican authorities have been able to kill or capture 33 out of the 37 most dangerous cartel leaders. The recent extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States is a testament to the value of high-level cooperation between the two countries. As a result of these notable successes, several larger cartels have fractured and have descended into in-fighting.
Boys protest on the street in Honduras
This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute in its World Policy Journal in the Winter 2015/16 Issue.
What are the challenges determining your country’s position within Latin America?
The balance of power in Latin America is shifting. Large, recently thriving countries like Brazil are struggling, hampered by domestic scandals. The economies of oil-dependent countries like Venezuela and Ecuador are stagnant, while other nations, such as Chile and Mexico, seem poised for growth. Amid this turbulence, countries are striving to reposition themselves. World Policy Journal consulted a panel of experts to help understand what issues are defining their countries’ changing roles in the region.
ARGENTINA: NARCO STATE
The most pressing problem Latin America faces today is narcotrafficking. As Pope Francis mentioned in his U.N. speech in September, narcotrafficking is accompanied by human trafficking, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation, and other forms of corruption. This trade increases violence, with Latin America’s poorest people caught in the middle as the state tries to eliminate drug rings or stop rivalries between cartels.
Moreover, the narco state destroys economies. Illegal networks arise, concentrating on trafficking in substances, arms, and persons. But then they “diversify” into general smuggling and kidnapping. Narco-economies generate enclaves that displace other productive endeavors. Financial and human capital are chased away by the prospect of escalating violence.