US Drug Demand, Violence in Mexico, and Security Initiatives


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.20141120

Mexican DTOs and Drug Demand in the United States

The presence of Mexican DTOs in the United States reveals a general drug problem and demonstrates the strong demand that exists in the United States. In fact, the latest National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that approximately 22.5 million individuals used drugs including marijuana (primarily), non-medically used prescription drugs, and methamphetamines (Finklea, 2013).

Strong demand for any product beckons would be competitors to make aggressive attempts to control the market. So it is with Mexican DTOs who are accustomed to using violence to get what they want. According Finklea, “Mexican DTOs are situated between the world’s largest producer of cocaine (Colombia) and the world’s largest consumer of cocaine (United States), leading Mexico to be a natural drug transshipment route between the two countries” (Finklea, 2013 p. 6).

The southwest border region of the United States (approximately 2000 miles in length) is where most Mexican DTOs smuggle illicit drugs into the United States (Finklea 2013). This presents a competitive interest to Columbian and Mexican DTOs who stand to earn between $18billion and $39billion in drug proceeds (Finklea 2013).

The Reach of Mexican DTOs and the Prospect of Spillover Violence

Partnerships with various types of street level and prison gangs have allowed Mexican DTOs to access many markets inside of the United States (Finklea 2013). Because DTOs operate outside of the law, legal or peaceful remedies to conflict are out of the question and violence becomes an inherent means of resolution.

Despite a recent decline in violence, approximately 10,000 drug trafficking related murders occurred in 2012 alone (Finklea 2013). Mexican DTOs had increasingly targeted rival DTOs, police, military personnel, and others who interfere with their operations along the U.S. border. Although 90% of the victims of drug-related violence were members of DTOs, isolated incidents in Mexico and the United States raise concerns that targeting of government officials may increase as the violence continues (Finklea 2013).

Still further, the partnerships of DTOs connect them beyond the southwest border across “1,286 or more cities,” making it difficult to determine the true source of the violence (Finklea, 2013, p. 18). Currently, there is no reliable data to determine if there has been a spillover of violence in the United States. But one thing is certain; the counter-drug-trafficking efforts exercised by President Calderon’s, and more recently, President Nieto’s administrations resulted in an increase of violence in Mexico. If the United States is to avoid the same it will need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the policies that were implemented in Mexico.

Policies to Strengthen the Southwest Border

So far, the policies in Mexico (namely-the Merida Initiative) that were intended to strengthen the Southwest borders have not prevented the corruption of U.S. and Mexican border officials. Moreover, an alarming percentage of border security officials polygraphed by CBP during 2009 “…were found unsuitable for service” (Seelke & Finklea2014, p. 21). Further, between 2004 and 2012 more than100 CBP officers have been arrested for participating in the same crimes associated with the worst violators of international crime. Additionally, the Mexican military has lost credibility as reports of human rights violations and complaints against Mexico’s Department of Defense (SEDENA) and the Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR) has dramatically increased directly after being tasked with anti-DTO efforts (Seelke & Finklea 2014).


The U.S. will need to avoid the potentiality of an over-militarized response that could lead to human rights violations and should ensure human rights provisions are incorporated into all counter-crime policy making decisions. Demands for security-sector reform, with measurable progress, should be an immediate conditionality in any decision to further cooperate or finance any Southwest Border initiatives in the U.S. or Mexico.



Seelke, Clare R., Finklea K. U.S. Mexico Security Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Beyond. Congressional Research Service. April 8, 2014.

Finklea, Kristin M. Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence. Congressional Research Service. February 28, 2013.


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