Los Zetas vs. “Your” Government: The Dreaded Comparison

“Could Mexico be the next Benghazi?” asks Greta Susteren of Fox News. “Congressman Michael McCaul is warning us because U.S. agents are helping Mexican police go after the most violent drug cartels, and yet our agents are not allowed to carry weapons in Mexico.”

Politicians and their pet pundits of all stripes and all nationalities love to wave around the bugaboo of “drug cartels” and “narco-terrorism” as an excuse for grabbing more money and power from their subjects. The “war on drugs” is a government monopoly disposing of tens of billions of dollars each year in the United States and proportionally similar proportional sums in many other countries. 185 governments have signed on to the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But when you think about it, the existing drug cartels are actually quite similar to those same governments … except that they are significantly less demanding and deadly to most of us.

To demonstrate what I’m talking about, I’ll take the biggest bugaboo of the bunch, Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel.

The origins of Los Zetas, ironically, are within the Mexican state itself. They started off as special operations troops in the Mexican army — members of Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales — before being hired away as an internal security force for the Gulf Cartel, from which they eventually (and violently) split. They get their name from their first commander’s police radio call sign, Z1.

Los Zetas, according to Wikipedia (which in turn cites a US House Homeland Security Committee document), “operate through protection rackets, assassinations, extortion, kidnappings, and other criminal activities” … in other words, all of the same activities that “your” own government engages in, but on a much smaller scale. And through those activities, they allegedly “control” 11 Mexican states.

But let’s consider the nature of that “control.” Los Zetas is engaged in providing willing customers with useful products (drugs). While it’s true that they assert — and vigorously and violently enforce — a territorial monopoly on that kind of enterprise, just as “your” government does with respect to numerous enterprises (roads, mail delivery, pension plans, you name it), they generally seem content with a much smaller set of such monopolies.

To put it a different way, if you cross either Los Zetas or “your” government’s path, you’ll likely get put through the “protection rackets (i.e. taxes), assassinations (i.e. shot by police), extortion (i.e. fines and fees), kidnappings (i.e. imprisonment)” mill.

But to cross Los Zetas, you really have to work at it by competing with them in the drug business or attempting restraint of their trade in some way. Crossing “your” government, on the other hand, could consist of something as trifling as having “too many” cats, crossing a street against the light, or even just not falling to your knees and presenting approved gang … er, government … paperwork on demand.

To put it yet a third way, Los Zetas really isn’t very interested in running your life on a day-to-day basis. If you leave them alone, they’ll probably leave you alone.

Try getting “your” local city council, “your” national legislature, or “your” friendly Transportation Security Administration affiliated sexual assailant to butt out of your business and see how far you get.

To the extent that Los Zetas are bad guys (and I agree that they are), it’s important to remember that they are almost entirely a creation of even worse guys … politicians. The global “war on drugs” makes the cartels not just possible but inevitable, and guarantees that they operate in the same ways as the states which gave birth to them, for the same reasons. If I could instantly get rid of only one of the two types of organizations, the choice wouldn’t be a hard one to make.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory