It won't be long before U.S. drug officials join their Mexican counterparts in celebration of the significance of yesterday's death of Arturo Beltran Leyva, kingpin of Los Zetas cartel, in Cuernavaca.
Known as the jefe de jefes, the patron de patrones, Beltran Leyva went down in a blaze of gunfire and grenade explosions during a military raid on a high-rent apartment complex in the capital city of Morelos, Mexico, about 45 minutes from Mexico City. Two hundred Mexican Navy marines had stealthily evacuated other residents before surrounding the targeted third-floor apartment and rappelling into position. Beltran Leyva and his gangsters refused to surrender and instead opened fire on the marines, leaving one dead, two injured. When the smoke cleared some 90 minutes later, the kingpin and six of his lieutenants were deceased. A man and two women were taken into custody, five assault weapons recovered.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, reached at the Copenhagen climate summit, boasted to the Associated Press, "This action represents an important achievement for the government and people of Mexico."
Right. What it actually represents is a job opening.
Beltran Leyva was a sadistic thug, resorting to torture, kidnapping, and beheadings to assert his organization's supremacy and to send a message to rival drug gangs, snitches, uncooperative police chiefs, other government officials. But he was far from alone in carrying out this reign of terror.
Law enforcement on both sides of the border had identified Beltran Leyva as one of the top three "most-wanted" drug traffickers in Mexico. When the other two, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada are killed or captured, their eventual fate, officials on both sides of the border will crow, as Calderon did yesterday, of the "resounding blow against one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in Mexico, and on the continent."
It's a claim that defies history and ignores reality. Every time a Mexican drug kingpin is left lying in a pool of his own blood or frog-marched into a brassy press conference--picture a table sagging from guns, currency, drugs; behind it, a small army of half-grinning cops and politicians--a good 10 or 20 or 40 of the organization's lower-level wannabes start calculating promotion possibilities, clambering over one another to fill the vacancy, or to move up a rung.
That's exactly what happened when Ramon Arellano Felix of the dreaded Tijuana cartel was shot and killed seven years ago. Today, thousands of homicides later, headless corpses are found stacked in public places, notes appended to their torsos informing loved ones or authorities where the missing parts can be located. The unseeing heads, incidentally, are often rolled into civic gatherings or popular restaurants. Just in case someone didn't get the message.
Mexico's drug-related violence, unprecedented in number and nature, simply will not end with the decommissioning of vicious drug lords. Neither today's crop nor tomorrow's.
Until we wise up and recognize the systemic causes of the carnage, namely drug prohibition, the unchallengeable law of supply and demand, and the U.S.-led global war on drugs, the violence will continue to intensify and expand. In Mexico, throughout the U.S. and beyond.
The international illicit drug industry--untaxed, unregulated, and out of control--yields a gross of $300 to $500 billion annually. That represents an enduring lure to greedy and evil people, as well as to young innocents in countries where legitimate job openings are rare.