ANSER | Mexico’s Cartel Problem: A Systems Thinking Perspective
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Mexico’s Cartel Problem: A Systems Thinking Perspective

Mexico’s Cartel Problem: A Systems Thinking Perspective

Client: Systems Thinking; National Policy Communities

Mexican cartels are entrepreneurial, complex and highly adaptive enterprises and understanding them requires a rigorous and systematic methodology. The Applied Systems Thinking (ASysT) Institute, a research institute of Analytic Services, was created out of a recognized need to apply systems thinking principles to problems of national and international significance. ASysT specializes in using a systems thinking approach to define and assess complex problems and further the understanding and application of systems thinking by the homeland security/national security communities. A recent paper published by ASysT titled Mexico’s Cartel Problem: A Systems Thinking Perspective endeavored to thoroughly define this challenge and provide policy recommendations. Highlights include:

  • Comprehensive conceptualization of cartel engagement in multiple domains of illicit activity and their growing power within various drug markets and the Mexican society
  • Association between cartel operations and the deficiencies and corruption within critical public sectors (i.e., police force, judicial system, customs and prisons) in Mexico
  • Long-term implications of the cartel presence on Mexican culture
  • Evaluation of the Merida Initiative

To enhance the understanding of the Mexican Cartel problem, ASysT employed causal loop diagrams (CLDs), systemigrams and portions of the Conceptagon framework. Findings concluded that economic underdevelopment, deficient public schools and pervasive corruption are the three systemic ills contributing to cartel activity. Additionally it was concluded that aid and assistance programs are predominantly focusing on reducing cartel violence and interdiction of cartel operations supporting mostly low leverage law enforcement measures.

Retired four star general and former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey said “If you want to fight a war on drugs, sit down at your own kitchen table and talk to your own children.” Without a doubt, parental education is part of the solution, but unless authorities synchronize high-leverage interventions to address the systemic failures, the Mexican cartel problem will be hard to control and mitigate.

Mexican Cartels

A Cartel is an economic agreement among competitors to align prices, production and other efforts. Drug cartels are criminal networks that conduct and control drug trafficking operations as well as a range of other illicit activities. Beginning in the early 1980’s and partly a result of the DEA’s successful interdiction efforts in the Caribbean, the Columbian Cali and Medellin, drug cartels there re-routed their shipments through Mexico. Due to enormous profits, similar logistics cartels were formed in Mexico. Today, Mexico is the largest exporter of illicit drugs and contraband to our Nation. Competition amongst cartels has caused unprecedented amounts of violence on the US-Mexican border, escalating from nearly 6,600 homicides in 2009 to over 11,000 in 2010*.

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*STRATFOR Global Intelligence: Mexico and the Cartel Wars in 2010.

Applied Systems Thinking