Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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"The Real War in Mexico: How Democracy Can Defeat the Drug Cartels," Foreign Affairs, July/August 2009

by Shannon K. O'Neil
June 25, 2009

Presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon at Los Pinos. Courtesy of El Enigma at Flickr.

President Obama has recognized that Mexico should be a high priority for his administration. In the issue of Foreign Affairs that hit the newsstands today I argue that U.S. and Mexican interests will be best met if the United States goes beyond the current focus on border control and support for Mexico’s public safety institutions and pursues a more ambitious goal: supporting Mexico’s democracy. I hope you enjoy reading it and look forward to any comments you may have.

(Photo: Presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon at Los Pinos. Courtesy of El Enigma at Flickr.)

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by H. S.

    bien hecho!

  • Posted by pc

    I don’t suppose we could get you to paste the whole article on the blog for those of us living in places where Foreign Affairs can be hard to track down…

  • Posted by DustinGH

    Miss O’Neil,

    Thank you for another great piece on the continuing drug trade-fueled, security issues in Mexico and the United States.
    I do, however, wonder why you continue to use the “90% of illegal weapons recovered in Mexico came from the United States” fact. I know you have used it in previous posts and other readers have commented on this statistic. In April, Newsweek published an article by placing the estimate somewhere closer to 37%.
    Undoubtedly, thousands of weapons are illegally making their way to Mexico from United States. Furthermore, your arguments about gun trafficking are just as valid whether the number is 90% or 37%. I just don’t think it is necessary to continue to use a figure which is most likely not correct.

  • Posted by GG


    As I understand the 90% figure is taken from the group of weapons that can be traced

    “According to a draft copy of the report, which will be released today, the growing number of weapons being smuggled into Mexico comprise more than 90% of the seized firearms that can be traced by authorities there.”,0,4097841.story

    Then there are the weapons that cannot be traced.

    But I dont know if the 37% figure is a mix of both groups though.

  • Posted by Shannon

    There are significant problems with tracing these weapons in Mexico, most of which involve the limitations of local police (as these weapons are found at local crime scenes around the country). They don’t often know to and know how to collect serial numbers and other data necessary; they don’t have the easy ability to get that information to Mexico city to the few people authorized and experienced in using e-trace or with contacts with the ATF; and then even those people/offices at times have trouble as e-trace has yet to be translated into Spanish. When the ATF itself goes down to warehouses in Mexico where these captured guns are then collected and does its own random searches and tracing, it finds most all the guns traceable, and that some 90 percent do come from the United States.

    But, whatever the percentage, some 20,000 guns have been traced back to the United States in the last few years. If the situation was reversed, and Mexico had allowed some 20,000 guns to end up in the hands of U.S. criminals, I do believe the reaction on our side would not be as measured as theirs has been.

  • Posted by Ben Davis

    I read your article with interest but am somewhat skeptical of the claim that one-third of Mexico’s 108 million people (not including the 12 million living in the US) are “middle class.” As there is no precise definition of this term, how in fact are you defining it – in terms of income, assets, consumption, “values”? How much of the growth of the Mexican middle class over the past decade has been the result of a credit bubble that, with the onset of global recession, has definitely popped? Do you think that the growth of the middle class is sustainable as long as wages remain low and unions continue to fucntion as corporatist mechanism for worker control rather than advocates for improved living standards?

  • Posted by Rodolfo Estrada

    Miss O’Neil,

    Thank you for this great article.

    I would like to point out that the increase of supply of drugs from Mexico have also, a direct correlation with the biggest wave of immigration of the century which started in the nineties.

    In fact the immigration phenomena and increase of drug usage due to oversupply was not just confine to US it happened as well in Europe.

    Interesting the wave of immigration has been totally forgotten when it cames to macro economic analysis. Specially, drugs and housing demand.

  • Posted by Rodolfo Estrada

    Please include this link in my comment.


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