Heymann convenes leaders to define a new strategy
The murderous track record of Mexican drug cartels along the U.S. border has recently reached new heights of brutality.
While the situation appears both frightening and overwhelming, Harvard Law Professor Philip Heymann ’60 believes that by examining the violence with a new perspective—including recasting the problem as one of organized crime in general, not drug trafficking in particular—the cartels’ tenacious grip may be loosened.
To that end, Heymann and Mathea Falco, president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research institute Drug Strategies, organized a working group on “Transnational Organized Crime” at Harvard Law School on April 7 to dissect the Mexican drug trade from past to present.
The daylong conference brought together about 20 investigators, prosecutors, enforcement officials, legal scholars, and anti-drug activists to take a hard look at the Mexican narcotics industry and to develop effective counterstrategies.
With support from Harvard Provost Steven Hyman, they invited experts like Harvard Law Professors Alex Whiting and Gabriella Blum LL.M. ’01 S.J.D. ’03, and Viridiana Rios, Harvard teaching fellow in government, to meet with enforcement officials such as David Gaddis of the Department of Justice; Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation; and Boston-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann ’82.
The group focused on the multifaceted genesis of Mexican drug cartels, with presentations by, among others, Sergio Silva-Castaneda, Harvard history lecturer; Peter Andreas, associate professor of political science and international studies at Brown University; Merilee Grindle, a professor of international development at the Kennedy School of Government; and James Jones, a former ambassador to Mexico.
The growth in Mexican traffickers is, somewhat ironically, linked to successful enforcement efforts against cocaine traffickers in Florida and Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s. As Colombian cartels were weakened, the trade moved north. New drugs, such as methamphetamine, were added to the more traditional marijuana trade, while economic imbalances in Mexico spurred the growth of drug trafficking by many poverty-stricken Mexicans. Cartels became more sophisticated and more violent; some, in effect, hired their own armies. As long as U.S. demand is high, dealers will find a way to meet it, slipping from region to region or country to country, the presenters concluded.
But Susan Snyder of the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs observed that U.S.-Mexico relations are at an all-time high point, and Mexico now has the political will to confront drug traffickers.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, expressed reservations about using the military as a drug enforcement arm, saying this raises potential for human rights abuses and may create a politically volatile situation.
More effective, she said, could be the development of special investigative and enforcement agencies, particularly if information about drugs could be shared among investigators in other Latin American countries. Prosecutions could then occur where defendants could be safely contained.
Could market forces be harnessed to combat the cartels? Heymann pressed Aldo Musacchio, Harvard Business School associate professor, and Jorge Dominguez, Harvard professor of Mexican and Latin American politics, on whether an increase in drug “players” would drive up production and reduce prices, thus reducing profitability and possibly violence. Legalization of marijuana also could have an impact. But, participants concluded, cheaper drugs could become more available to users.
The discussion underscored Heymann’s contention that Mexican drug trafficking is an organized crime problem as much as a narcotics problem.
And that could mean the U.S. anti-mob model could be effective in Mexico. Bruce Ohr ’87, chief of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, described this approach, saying that efforts should be focused on the “enterprise, not on individuals,” and that all sectors—from prosecutors to prisons—had to be involved.