Latin America

Mexican Cartels' Bloody Campaign For Sovereignty

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Has democracy ceased to exist in parts of Mexico because of drug cartel influence? How did the country get to this point? Host Scott Simon talks to William and Mary Professor George Grayson, author of Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?, about the state of lawlessness in Mexico spurred by fighting among rival drug cartels.


Joining us now is Professor George Grayson of the College of William and Mary. He's the author of the book "Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?" He's at member station WHRO in Williamsburg, Virginia. Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

Professor GEORGE GRAYSON (College of William and Mary): Very nice to be with you. I would add, however, that there's a question mark at the end of that title, because I don't believe Mexico is a failed state, although there is that potential.

SIMON: Our correspondent Jason Beaubien reports that the people who live in Reynosa feel that they're living under what amounts to a cartel dictatorship.

Mr. GRAYSON: I see Mexico moving increasingly toward vertical governments - one elected, the other imposed by force. What the cartels want is what might be called dual sovereignty - that is, you would have a city such as Reynosa and it will have an elected mayor, a police chief, a finance officer, a public works administrator. But cheek by jowl with the elected government will be a cartel boss, and he's probably going to call the shots.

He will have his own hit men who act as police. He will have his own tax collector - we might call it extortion - and there may be some public works built just to try to ingratiate themselves a bit with the population.

SIMON: So why is there a question mark at the end of the title of your book, "Narco-Violence in a Failed State?"

Mr. GRAYSON: The cartels don't want the state to fail. If the state fails, that would raise the hackles of the elite and most of Mexico's elite in Mexico City and Guadalajara are cocooned from the violence. The other problem is U.S. involvement. If Mexico were to fail, we would see American troops entering Mexico, and that, of course, is something that the cartels want to avoid at all cost.

SIMON: Should the U.S. do it anyway? Is that what it'll take to end the violence?

Mr. GRAYSON: I don't think you can end the violence. The U.S. has a role to play. We should be providing intelligence. We should be working to secure our border, and I think only as a last resort should we consider sending troops into Mexico. Mexico is a toxically nationalistic state, in part because they lost half of their territory to the United States in the mid-19th century.

And so there's nothing that irritates Mexicans more than the thought of having U.S. armed forces return to their territory.

SIMON: Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GRAYSON: Thank you.

SIMON: George Grayson, professor of government at the College of William and Mary.

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